Neal Newsom and his family have been growing grapes in Texas since 1986. He is a past president of Texas Wine and Grape Growers Association and is also this year’s recipient of the TWGGA Foundation Lifetime Achievement Award. I had the opportunity to catch up with him at the 2017 TWGGA Conference to hear a little about his journey. I started by asking him about his first “TWGGA” conference.
The very first meeting we went to wasn’t called TWGGA then, I think it was Texas Grape Growers Association. We went to a meeting in Odessa, Texas of all places and one day was a bus tour of the University of Texas lands and vineyards with experimental winery, experimental vineyards and then the St Genevieve winery and vineyards. And that’s kind of what tripped the switch for me… if they could do it there, I thought “I can do it where I’m at!” I also met a lot of people that were an information resource that I did not know about before.
He recalled the inspiration that got him to start with Cabernet.
Well, our farm had quite a lot of low vigor soil, some of it was very rocky. Back then I would read all about the wine industry in other parts of the world and everything that I could find about wine growing then was that low vigor soil, usually very rocky – almost no soil at all, were the highest valued vineyards in Europe. I thought ‘heck why not, we’ll try it out and see!’ We planted Cabernet on that block almost 32 years ago and to this day it is still our most valuable grape.
Over 3 decades of wine growing has earned Newsom Vineyards a sterling reputation in the Texas Wine industry. They have grown to over 145 acres of Cab Sav, Merlot, Sangiovese, Orange Muscat, Tempranillo, Malbec and Pinot Grigio. Their high plains vineyard sits at 3700 ft with hot days and cool nights on shallow, sandy, red-clay soil over limestone. From this perch Neal has witnessed the wildfire expansion of the Texas wine industry.
The buy local movement is helping us a lot, a whole lot. And then 10 years ago or maybe longer there was kind of awareness that wine in moderation is actually good for you. That helped influence wine buying tremendously. But in 2003, our state organization, TWGGA, got a constitutional amendment passed that made it legal to make and sell wine anywhere in the state of Texas. And that’s what caused the boom that we’re still in today. It’s not slowed down, the increase in the number of wineries increased the price of grapes to the grower, which is cause and effect. More acres of grapes have been planted almost exponentially as the wineries grow.
This boom creates a need for more grapes. That means plenty of growers who are new to the game. When I asked Neal what mistakes new growers need to avoid he didn’t hesitate.
They start too big. They think they’re going to do it all themselves, they’re gonna do it on their days off and that’s just not an option. When it has to be sprayed, it’s gotta be done then or the integrity is gone or the weeds are too big or you went past your harvest day. There’s too many things that have to be done timely. Pruning is very, very hand labor intensive and that gets people in trouble a lot. Pace yourself, start small. You know .. if you overload your boat you’re sunk!
But Neal also said that growers have a tremendous advantage because they are in Texas.
You get to be lifelong friends with these people and that’s probably the best thing about this industry, it is the friendliest industry in the world. You know if we were in data or technology or anything like that, we wouldn’t think about sharing secrets, you would have to do it yourself. But here in this state you can ask anybody any question. And nowhere else in the world or any other industry could you do that.
-Guest Blogger Travis Matheny