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Drought Withering Local Vineyards

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BURLESON (CBSDFW.COM) – Dry, warm climates are usually good news for grape growers, but this year even North Texas vineyards are struggling.

At Lone Oak Vineyard and Winery in Burleson, the drought means an earlier harvest.

“I suspect we’ll be harvesting this weekend, the Shiraz,” said owner and winery president Gene Estes. “This is the earliest we have ever harvested our whites or our reds.”

The drought and the extremely hot temperatures are to blame, Estes said.

“We’re starting to see some shrivel, almost like raisins, that’s when the grapes are getting very, very ripe,” he explained. “Last year we harvested our Shiraz on August 11th, and the Tempernillo on the 28th, and here we are in July, the 21st, so it’s almost a month earlier than normal.”

On average Lone Oak gets about 38 inches of rain per year. This year the vineyard has only gotten four inches.  Even with constant irrigation, it has been a challenge to keep the vines green.

“The vines are pretty yellow and we have a lot of low foliage that is already dying, that’s just because the vines are so stressed,” Estes said, “If we waited until mid-August this cluster which is already showing a little bit of shrivel, would be completely dried raisins, it would not be suitable for wine making.”

Despite the shortened growing season, there could still be one big advantage to the drought. When the grapes are turned into wine, the product will likely have a bolder flavor, Estes believes.

“I think this year will be different because of this severe drought and because of the heat,” he said. “I think the wines will be richer, more robust and even age longer.”

In 2008, when the vineyard experienced moderate drought conditions, the Lone Oak Tempernillo won an international taste test. Estes hopes the 2011 grape harvest will have similar results.

“We were very pleased with the last time we had this type of weather,” Estes said, “with the intensity we got in the end product.”

Another advantage of the drought, this year the grapevines haven’t had as many fungal diseases, a common problem during more moist growing seasons.

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