The Oswalds: Growing Grapes on the Llano Estacado

Tyler and Jessica Oswald are the owners of Crazy Cluster Vineyard and are local producers who grow grapes near Brownfield, TX. They first began growing grapes with their parents about seven years ago. During that time, they learned valuable information about what varieties of grapes perform well in this region. This past spring, they decided to take that information and use it plant their own 10 acres just northwest of Brownfield. Currently, grapes from the Oswald’s vineyard go to wineries North and East of Dallas, to the Hill country, and to one in Hye, Texas.

Some people might be surprised to find that grapes actually grow incredibly well in the Llano Estacado region, With the high heat and low moisture, vineyard owners in this region don’t have to worry as much about the pest and disease pressures that often plague growers in other areas. The Llano Estacado’s arid climate is actually very similar to several grape growing areas in Italy and Spain, well-known for their incredible wines.

The typical season for grapes in the Estacado region will change depending upon the variety of grape that is being grown, but bud break usually occurs in mid-April. The grapes will continue to grow until the first freeze in the fall. Harvest will depend upon the variety of grape being grown, and will generally occur as early as late July through mid-October.

Currently, the Oswald family grows the following varieties of grapes: aglianico (Italian red), dolcetto (Italian red), marsanne (Rhone white), muscato giallo (Italian white), and Negro amaro (Italian red). Their penchant for Italian varieties comes from the fact that the climate in the Llano Estacado is similar enough to the regions these grapes are known for, and the grapes seem to do very well here. Because Spanish varieties also do well here, they are looking to add some of them as they continue to expand.

The off-season has a very different pace of life for the Oswalds. January and February are slow months for them, and involves taking the time to repair fences and equipment, and prepare for the season ahead. From mid-February to mid-April, they prune their vines. In order to help delay bud break, they practice double pruning. This means that they come in and mechanically prune the first pass, just cutting every shoot to within a couple of inches of where it needs to be. On the next pass, they finishing pruning by hand selecting which shoots they will leave to grow.

From that point until harvest, the Oswalds have to keep a close eye on the water and nutrient needs of the vines as the crop begins to grow and mature. During a “wet” year, they will have to watch for and then spray any fungus and mold that could develop. This insures that the berries will stay healthy until they are ready to harvest.

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