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Becker Vineyards: Harvest Time, New Winemaker

Nairn harvester thrashes its way through the Sauvignon Blanc grapevines at this year’s harvest at Becker Vineyards. (Photo Courtesy Becker Vineyards)

By Nichole Bendele

Becker Vineyards’ general manager says this should be a year of good harvest.

“This year the yields are up.  The vines are loaded with grapes,” said Bret Perreoud, general manager, about this season’s grape harvest. “We are predicted to harvest about 1,000 tons of grapes … similar to 2010.”

Last year Texas encountered a drought year.  Grape tonnage was down across the state not because of lack of watering, but instead from factors like triple-digit numbers for 86 days, birds, raccoons and dust storms.

“Because of drought conditions, there wasn’t enough vegetation to hold the dirt down in the Texas High Plains. Some of the grape growers experienced fierce dust storms which basically sand blasted the grapes off the vines, said Perrenoud.

“Monday morning (July 9) we harvested 3 ½ tons of Sauvignon Blanc from the vineyard in front of the winery,” said Perrenoud.  “But we will officially begin full harvest either July 15 or 16.”

The popular tasting room/gift shop in full swing, at Becker Vineyards

Meanwhile, a new winemaker has joined Becker, while the former consulting winemaker, Russ Smith, has headed for exciting new challenges in Spain.

Smith worked the past 13 years at Becker Vineyards. He recently purchased a vineyard in Spain. The six-acre property is in the Montsant District, about a half-mile from the Priorat region and has 40- and 60-year old Carignan vines.  He will be growing grapes and making wine under his name. He and his wife, Susan, plan to divide their time between Spain and Texas.

Jonathan Leahy joined the Becker Vineyards team last month as winemaker.  Leahy hails from California where he was winemaker at Terroir Napa Valley in St. Helena – a 95,000-case production winery – as well as a consulting winemaker at Inspiration Vineyards in Santa Rosa, CA.

Although Leahy is a native Californian, his family is from Texas.  He has relatives in  Grapevine, Flower Mound, and San Antonio.  His father was in the Air Force, stationed in San Antonio and then transferred to March Air Force Base in Riverside, Calif. where Jonathan was born.

He is excited to be closer to family and to make wine in Texas.  He has been impressed with both the quality of the grapes and as well as the wines in Texas.

The Leahy and Becker team will also be working with the two other vineyards, one in Ballinger and one in Mason, that seem promising this year. The Ballinger vineyard was purchased in 1997; Jesse Pena is the vineyard manager there. “This vineyard has some of the oldest Cabernet Sauvignon vines in the state – 30 years old,” said Perrenoud.

“There is extraordinary fruit across the state of Texas,” says Leahy. I tried some great (Texas) wines and then visited the grape growers. They take great care in growing the grapes and are fastidious about their grape culture. It solidified the wine I had tasted in the glass,” he said.  “Texas is poised — a grand boom is about to take place.”

The Mason vineyard was purchased from Beverly Cartwright in February 2011.  Perrenoud mentioned the 12-acre vineyard produces some of the limited production wines only available in the Becker Vineyards tasting room, including the Pinot Grigio, Barbera, Zinfandel, and Albarino.  Clay McCrea, Vineyard Manager (of the Mason vineyard), said, “The Pinot Grigio grapes are ripening up.  We will be about two weeks early for harvest also.”

Becker Vineyards is open 7 days a week, Monday thru Thursday 10 a.m. – 5 p.m.; Friday and Saturday, 10 a.m. – 6 p.m., and Sunday, Noon – 6 p.m.  For more information visit or

Nichole Bendele is Becker public relations director and tasting room coordinator.

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