FREDERICKSBURG, Texas (KLBK) — Bret Perrenoud is busy this time of year. If you can catch him for a few minutes, he’ll tell you about his livelihood: turning grapes into wine.
“We make about 100,000 cases of wine a year,” said Perrenoud, the general manager of Becker Vineyards outside Fredericksburg, Texas. “We need grapes to produce that.”
And he’s picky.
“We need the best grapes,” he said with a smirk. “We can’t take substandard fruit to make a great wine. It’s just not going to happen.”
So he turns west. Most of the state’s grapes are grown on the High Plains, primarily in Terry County, which was proclaimed the “Grape Capital of Texas” in 2015. Perrenoud partners with more than a dozen grape growers in the Brownfield and Lubbock regions. Conditions in West Texas are more conducive to growing grapes, he said.
As the end of August nears, Perrenoud and his team are in the thick of harvest, along with the laundry list of winemakers and growers around the state. On this summer day, a truck rolled up around 9 a.m. full of grapes that started the day in Brownfield and traveled more than 300 miles overnight. Becker vineyards processed 80 tons of grapes before noon.
“When we hit the spurts where everything is ripe at once that’s when we are really getting after it,” Perrenoud said. “These next two weeks will be the brunt of what we take in.”
State lawmakers have taken notice of the increasing grape production in Texas. Terry County falls under State Sen. Charles Perry’s district.
“It’s becoming a real player on the global market,” Perry said. “Texas wines are beginning to get that reputation as solid. So it is huge, it continues to grow.”
Perry said some cotton farmers in his district, which is made up of 51 counties, including cotton king Lubbock, are choosing to plant more grapes on their farms as somewhat of a counter to the uncertainty of cotton prices.
“It kind of gives them some diversity,” Perry said.
Last year, lawmakers killed legislation that would require wine labeled as “Texas wine” to be made entirely from Texas grapes. Regulations only require 75 percent of the wine’s makeup to be Texas grapes in order to call it “Texas wine.” That bill died in committee, partially because lawmakers and industry leaders worried about low-production years and what would happen in case of a bad harvest.
“We will continue to have legislation every session that promotes that grape industry,” Perry said.
A 3-mile drive down US Highway 290 from Becker lies Grape Creek Vineyards. There, the growth is obvious, as the team is constructing an additional building for guests scheduled to open next year.
“I think the growth and progress of the Texas wine industry as a whole over the last 10 years has been incredible,” Jeff Binney, who works in the tasting room, said. He serves as self-titled educational director, writing hundreds of articles for the winery’s website.
Binney admits California rules the wine world, but Texas wineries are beginning to make their mark, entering, and medaling, in national competitions.
Grapes don’t require much water, Binney said, so after a strong yield last year, he’s hopeful for repeat success.
“The vines went fully dormant this year which they hadn’t the past two years,” Binney said. He explained the roots work harder when they go dormant during the winter to store up energy and come back with a “more vibrant bud break.”
Standing in a field of ripe Montepulciano grapes, he said they would come off the vine any day.
“It’s going to be a good harvest for us,” Binney said.
Perrenoud is also optimistic about this year’s yield, after last year’s results.
“Last year’s wine was the best we made, ever,” he said confidently. “Hands down.”
Next time you take a sip of Texas wine, you likely have a team of winemakers, and West Texas grape growers to thank.