It may surprise some to learn that award-winning wines are crafted using grapes from the Rio Grande Valley, said Rio Farms Director of Research Andy Scott.
“We have an advantage here because it doesn’t rain that much. That’s very advantageous … for wine-grape growing,” he said. “We can produce some excellent quality grapes, and have.”
Texas vintners such as Chisholm Trail Winery in Fredericksburg, SouthWind Winery near Refugio, Dry Comal Creek Winery in New Braunfels and Lavaca Bluffs in Lolita all use Valley grapes. Wine enthusiasts gather Saturday to celebrate local wine-grape growers, and winemakers, as locally sourced vintages are featured during Rio Farm’s annual Grape Growing and Wine Festival.
Rio Farms, a private agricultural research foundation, owns more than 22,000 acres in Monte Alto. They started with table grapes in 1992, which was unsuccessful due to Pierce’s disease, deadly bacterium infecting grapevines. But the farm pivoted to wine grapes, specializing Black Spanish, Blanc du Bois and Convent grapes — all resistant to Pierce’s disease.
“It’s a high risk with a chance of great reward research in … crops not currently grown in the Rio Grande Valley,” said Scott of the farm’s mission.
Visitors will tour the more than six-acre vineyard on Saturday as part of the festivities. While most of the roughly 50 acres of Valley grapes use a drip system to water the crop, Scott said Rio Farms uses flood irrigation.
“As the grapes are flowering and setting the crop, we like to have a full profile of moisture in the soil,” he said.
George Bennack, head of the newly established Center for Sustainable Agriculture and Rural Advancement at UTRGV, started home winemaking three years ago.
“We were doing some viticulture, study of grapes, and had a research project looking into different flavors based on rootstocks,” Bennack said.
On Saturday, Bennack will conduct a survey assessing attendees’ preferences of 10 different wines made from the Rio Farms grapes — and one from grapefruit.
Previous festivals focused on how to plant grapes, selecting a trellis system, nutrition and fertilization, and protecting grapes from pests and disease, Scott said.
“Now that we have more and more people that are growing the grapes and making the wine, the meeting has shifted a little bit to the enology side,” he said, “which is the science of winemaking.”
Establishing grapes can cost upwards of $10,000 an acre and requires a lot of passion, said Scott.
“It’s not the weak-hearted,” he said. “It’s lots and lots of work and it’s very expensive.”
Receiving the state and federal licenses to sell can be difficult, Scott said. So local home winemakers grown or ferment for themselves or friends.
“For some of the people, it’s never been about making money,” Scott said.
WHAT: Grape Growing and Wine Festival
WHEN: 4:30 to 8 p.m. on Saturday, April 7
WHERE: Rio Farms, 25601 FM88 in Monte Alto