Thursday, March 13, 2014

Texas Wine from the Rio

Texas travel brochures will tell you that the hill country of central Texas is the location of the state's wine-making industry.  Last Saturday we learned that there are new developments in the wine-making business in the Lone Star State.

Rio Farms is an agricultural research facility located just a few miles north of our winter home.  The Director of Research there is a friend from church.  Several weeks ago he invited us to attend their up-coming "Grape Growing Seminar" which was to be co-sponsored by Texas Department of Agriculture, Texas A & M AgriLife Extension, and USDA-ARS. The event was to include specific grape growing information, as well as introductions to the wineries and vineyards of the Rio Grande Valley and tasting of their vintages.

It sounded interesting, even though we are neither grape-growers nor connoisseurs of wines.  So we went.  As we arrived, we were invited to enjoy appetizers of Gulf of Mexico-caught shrimp from Shrimp Outlet, a developing new industry located in Brownsville. As we sipped on wine samples (some of us, that is!) we heard illustrated presentations by an expert viticulturist and a plant pathologist.  We had no idea there was so much to know about growing grape vines!

After sitting for awhile, it was time to walk a bit.  Most of the 150 persons in attendance loaded into school busses which drove us out to the Rio Farm Vineyards.  These vines were planted in 1998 after a previous trial with table grapes was unsuccessful due to Pierce's disease, a common vineyard threat.

The growing of wine grapes on a small scale in the Rio Grande Valley dates back to the early 1900s.  But only recently has it begun to be considered as a viable option for diversifying the agriculture of the area.  With "citrus greening" threatening the citrus industry, the growing of wine grapes is becoming a more attractive alternative.  About a decade ago, Southwest Farm Press estimated that established vineyards could earn between $1500 and $1800 per acre.
Three types of wine grapes have been found to be resistant to Pierce's disease and other vineyard threats: Blanc du Bois, Black Spanish (Lenoir), and Convent.  Rio Farms has vines of each.  Currently, there are 60 acres of vineyards in the Rio Grande Valley, 45 of those acres in Hidalgo County where we live.  Last year, these vineyards sold more than 25 tons of grapes to long established wineries in the hill country.
As we returned to the auditorium, a generous and delicious meal had been prepared for us.  As we dined representatives of four Valley wineries  introduced us to their vintages.  In addition, several home wine makers spoke of their experiences.

Many of those in attendance took home souvenirs of the day: bottles of wine made from Rio Grande Valley grapes!  What an interesting, informative -- and tasty -- event!

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Winter Woes

The Oldtimers like to tell stories
Of their winters of long ago,
When blizzards howled for days on end
And houses were covered with snow!
The water pump froze, so melted snow
Filled in for liquid need.
They tunneled through drifts to reach the barn
To see that their livestock had feed.
But the blazing fireplace kept them warm.
Garden produce, canned and drying,
Gave them food that was plenty and good
Through snowbound days so trying.
Now, Oldtimers. I’ll tell a winter’s tale,
So sad – and oh so new –
Of the winter of 2013 and 14,
The one we’re now living through!
Winter arrived about Hallowe’en
With a blizzard a week piling snow.
Some polar vortex (s) – (a brand new word) –
Dropped temps to a new Arctic low!
From West to East, frigid blasts roared.
Roads were ice rinks from coast to coast!
Traffic pile-ups were a daily risk.
The Great Lakes froze over – almost!
Even the South took a winter punch
As snow fell in Georgia and Texas.
The kids liked the snow days off from school.
The adults felt cursed by cold hexes!
Electric lines broke under weight of ice.
Water pipes froze and burst.
Grocery shelves soon became bare of food.
Old Man Winter had thrown out his worst!
No heat. No light. No food or drink.
No TV, movies or video.
Not safe to go out to make snowmen or forts
When it’s 35 below zero!
All we could do was shovel snow.
The next day, shovel more – and get mad!
St. Pat’s Day came and the snow lingered on.
This year’s "luck of the Irish" was bad!
We wondered, "Has Spring forgotten to come?
Or been kidnaped by Winter’s punks?
Will Winter now reign over half the year
Instead of just three months?"
Yes, Oldtimers, your winters were hard
‘Till Spring turned season’s page.
But we don’t know if this Winter will end
Or just bring in a new Ice Age!