How Austin Winery Handles Harvest Time (And How You Can Help)
Harvesting season is in full swing for the team who hand-picks grapes across Texas vineyards
Texas might not come up very often when people discuss “major” wine regions throughout the world, but if you ask Ross McLauchlan, the CEO and president of Austin Winery, he’ll say that the Lone Star State is long overdue for some serious wine-world credit. “Texas is great for so any other types of agriculture, so why would wine grape growing be any different?” McLauchlan points out. At Austin Winery, which defines itself as an “urban winery”, McLauchlan’s team brings only Texas-grown grapes to their South Austin facility for pressing, fermenting, and bottling, and their annual harvest season is now in full swing.
Harvest season usually runs through August, but this summer’s hot temperatures pushed everything up.
For Texas vineyards, the grape-growing calendar is subject to change depending on weather conditions throughout the year. For instance, the March 2021 “snowpocalypse” caused a major slowdown of the growing season because, as McLauchlan says, “our grapes were coming out of hibernation in February. But then, that March snowstorm killed a lot of that young growth,” which had a particular impact on the more delicate white grapes.
While Austin Winery’s partner vineyards aren’t losing large quantities of grapes to the sweltering summer that we’ve experienced throughout the state, McLauchlan tells us that these high temps have had an effect on the harvest schedule by “accelerating and hastening our pick days, since ripening is happening fast.” That means that their usual harvest time, which has historically happened from late July through September, began weeks before this year and will also come to an earlier end.
Austin Winery sources grapes from both the Hill Country and the Texas High Plains.
Because Austin Winery handles all of its winemaking in Austin proper, they don’t grow their own grapes on-site. Instead, McLauchlan and his team partner with vineyards in both the Hill Country of Central Texas and the High Plains of North Texas. These regions have different growing conditions, which factor into Austin Winery’s harvest scheduling. “The Hill Country will always harvest before the High Plains because the High Plains is at higher elevation and gets much cooler nights, allows for a longer maturation process,” McLauchlan says. He explains that the white grapes in the Hill Country get picked first, followed by the Hill Country red grapes. There’s some overlap between the Hill Country and High Plains harvests (which the Austin Winery team handles by through plenty on-the-road travel time), and then the end of the High Plains harvest finishes off the harvest season.
According to McLauchlan, the 2023 harvest has proven bountiful and promising thus far: “We actually had a ‘cool’ spring that was moist and humid and green. Up until the last few weeks , the grapes had the chance to build up water ‘sunscreen’ and leaf cover, which kept them from turning into raisins.”
The Austin Winery team participates directly in the harvest, and they do it all by hand.
McLauchlan emphasizes the fact that, while some wineries import pre-harvested grapes for their winemaking purposes, Austin Winery goes directly to the source and participates in the picking process themselves. Their team picks all of the grapes by hand with no mechanical assistance beyond harvesting shears. The grapes are then transferred into large bins, which are sealed and loaded into trailers to transport back to Austin.
If you want to volunteer for Austin Winery harvests, keep an eye on Instagram.
Austin Winery prides itself in making inventive and flavorful wines that are both fun and approachable, and by keeping their bottles primarily in the $30-40 range, they give fans of fizzy pét-nats, spicy Tempranillo, and fruity and funky orange wines a chance to bring home a quality vino at an affordable price. Another way in which Austin Winery keeps their operation by Austinites and for Austinites is by inviting wine lovers throughout the area to participate in their harvest.
McLauchlan tells us that the Austin Winery team posts calls for harvesting help on social media throughout the season, and volunteers can accompany the winery employees to their partner vineyards in the Hill Country and get in on the grape picking. When the grapes return to the winery in Austin, volunteers can also help with the pressing process that releases the juice from the grapes (think the grape-stomping scene from “I Love Lucy”, but done with machines rather than with bare feet!). McLauchlan’s team rewards helpers with meals during their “shifts”, with wine to take home, and with the knowledge that they’ve played a role in an ancient art that’s still hugely important to Austin’s hospitality scene.
Be sure to follow @theaustinwinery on Instagram for up-to-date news on how to get involved with harvest season activities this year and in years to come!