Julie and I thoroughly loved visiting with the winery guides and winemakers this week in Lubbock, TX and the High Plains area, but our main purpose for heading there was to visit Clint and Alexis Bingham, part of the Bingham Family Vineyards family (please pardon the redundancy) and vineyard owners in their own right.
Clint and Alexis have planted a vineyard on 10 acres of their land with plans to increase this as the market for their grapes grows. Cliff Bingham, Clint’s father, has 170 acres of vineyard planted, a brother and a cousin who have also planted vineyards on their land close to Clint’s. Even though there are four vineyards between them, all the Binghams work together to plant, prune, and harvest the grapes.
This evening’s visit was particularly special for Julie and me as Clint drove us to two of the vineyards: his and one of Cliff’s. The first vineyard we visited was the one Cliff started in 2002. The Gewürtztraminer and Viognier will be the first harvested this season and trucked to Cap*Rock for crushing and pressing. The juice from those grapes is destined for a client winery in the Hill Country.
Clint talked to us a lot about how the long term drought in Texas impacts the quality and yield of grapes – he should know because his vineyard has received only 3/10ths of an inch of rain since last October. Even though the Binghams can make up for the lack of rain with drip irrigation to prevent the grape vines from drying out, they can’t (yet) control the daily temperatures or the constant bombardment of the grape vines by the sun in cloudless skies.
We have read and heard that the drought should improve the quality of grapes because it stresses the grape vine more, and a stressed vine produces better fruit; however, Clint is concerned that this year’s crops have *ripened* too quickly to give the grapes time enough to *mature*. In other words, the grapes may be sweeter but less full of flavor. Note that this is ONLY a concern of Clint’s and NOT a prediction. Only time will tell, but Julie and I were impressed with Clint’s concern and honesty here.
Clint showed us how he tests the grapes for ripeness: he picks a grape from the vine then squeezes the juice and pulp into his mouth and separates the seeds from the pulp, which he puts on his hand. He lets the juice and pulp flow over his tongue – this tells him how sweet the grape is and is one indicator of its ripeness. He then consistently macerates the skin with his front teeth to estimate its tannin content and also check for ripeness. He does the same with the seeds.
It sounds simple enough, but I tried it on several of the grape varieties he is growing and I could tell between green and “not green”, but his more experienced taste buds could tell a lot more. I can tell you this: those grapes were TASTY.
Julie and I were fascinated by the differences between the varieties: the size of the grapes, the color, and the size and density of the clusters. Although we could see the differences, I can’t guarantee that we could tell you which variety a grape cluster is if you show us a picture. Still, vive le difference!
Throughout our walks in the various sections of the vineyards, Clint told us how his family got started planting grape vines and their philosophy of farming in general – waste nothing and return every part of the plant to the soil that doesn’t go with the grapes. Cliff, Clint’s dad, has learned how to get the most out of their soil while keeping it healthy, and has passed this knowledge, and passion, to Clint. Julie and I hope we can visit with Cliff and Betty soon 🙂
Before we left Clint to rest from his long day, I asked him, “If you could have or do one thing for or in your vineyard, and money wasn’t the limiting factor, what would that be?”
“Knowledge.” He told us that he wants to know all he can about the vines and how to give them the best soil in which to grow. He’s already working on a dream project to pass on to future generations: a vineyard containing one hundred vines each of (I think I got this right) a hundred different varietals.
This was our best road trip so far.