CHEERS Y’ALL: GETTING TO KNOW TEXAS WINE
By Shelly Wilfong
Unless you live in Texas, you may not have had the pleasure of sampling wines that are made in the Lone Star State. Although Texas ranks 5th in U.S. wine production, most Texas wine is drunk in Texas too. There’s simply not enough produced to satisfy demand in other states. Thankfully, most Texas wineries are able to ship wine to most states, allowing consumers to join wine clubs and place online orders.
Some may consider Texas an emerging wine region, but grapes have been grown in the state since the 1650s when Spanish missionaries brought winemaking to Texas. The modern Texas wine industry started in the 1970s, and the industry has had exponential growth in the last 10-15 years. Texas now has over 400 bricks and mortar wineries, placing it behind only California, Washington, Oregon, and New York. While the largest winery density is in the Texas Hill Country, there are actually wineries across the state, including many outside of eight designated American Viticultural Areas (AVAs).
Texas has a larger footprint than France, and approximately 6200 acres of grapes grow across the state. However, 80% of the grapes for wine production are grown in the Texas High Plains AVA near the city of Lubbock. Vineyards on this flat plain lie at a significant elevation of 3000’-3500’. The elevation keeps nighttime temperatures cool, providing the grapes a break from daytime heat. This nighttime cooling preserves the grapes’ acidity and extends the growing season compared to other locations in the state. Irrigation is necessary, and frost prevention measures are important as well. Late spring frosts and hail are ever-present concerns.
There are over 60 grape varieties planted in Texas vineyards. Most Texas growers find that Mediterranean varieties grow best in the hot, dry Texas climate. Grapes from southern France, Spain, Italy, and Portugal can tolerate the hot Texas summers and withstand the intense sun. While international varieties like Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Chardonnay, and Sauvignon Blanc are certainly grown in Texas, less familiar varieties including Aglianico, Tannat, Picpoul Blanc, and Vermentino are becoming local favorites.
Approximately 25% of the grapes grown in Texas are white grapes. The most common white variety planted is Blanc du Bois, a hybrid grape that was created in Florida. It can be made into a range of styles including sparkling, dry or sweet wine. Viognier is the next most planted variety and makes some of the most awarded wines in international competitions. Some consider this the best white grape in Texas.
Although the most common red grape planted is Cabernet Sauvignon, Tempranillo, the second most-planted red grape, is often lauded as the top red grape in Texas. An up-and-coming grape is Mourvèdre. Top Texas grower/producer William Chris Vineyards is the second-largest Mourvèdre grower in the nation and makes a whopping nine single varietal Mourvèdres. The grape buds late, making it a safer bet for the unpredictable Texas spring weather. Tannat does very well in Texas and is another grape to watch in the future. Texas Tannat is a big wine with powerful tannins.
Rosé is a style that is particularly well suited for Texas vineyards and for Texas wine drinkers. Winemakers utilize many different grape varieties to craft rosé. In most cases, the grapes are harvested early and are pressed quickly in a style similar to that of the dry rosés of Provence. A chilled rosé can be enjoyed year-round in Texas and is the perfect pairing for many favorite dishes. Rosé and Tex-Mex is a personal favorite.
The Texas Hill Country is another important area for grape growing and the primary tourism destination for the Texas wine industry. This large region is the third-largest AVA in the nation and encompasses 9 million square miles. Since it sits at a lower elevation than the Texas High Plains, the Texas Hill Country has a lower diurnal shift and a shorter growing season. Disease pressures are higher here, but it is at a lower risk for freezing temperatures.
From sprawling tasting decks that overlook estate vineyards to downtown tasting rooms tucked into shopping districts, Texas Hill Country wineries showcase a little bit of everything. Each year, one million tourists visit these quaint towns whose names have become synonymous with fine Texas wine: Fredericksburg, Johnson City, Hye, Stonewall, Comfort, and more. This is one of the most beautiful areas of the state, and it features not just vineyards, but fields of wildflowers, rugged hills, and idyllic farms and ranches that are pure Texas. While this may be the first stop on your Texas wine journey, don’t let it be the last.
Keep an eye out for Texas wine on restaurant lists and on store shelves wherever you live. Additional Texas vineyards are being planted each year, allowing wineries to ramp up production. With more wine to sell and increased distribution across the United States, Texas wine will be making its presence known more boldly in the future. Better yet, come visit our tasting rooms and enjoy world-class Texas wine and hospitality.
Shelly Wilfong is the creator and host of the podcast “This Is Texas Wine”. She is a Dallas, Texas-based wine educator and founder of the Dallas Women’s Wine Club. Shelly is also a frequent contributing writer to the Texas Wine Lover website. Shelly holds a Certified Specialist of Wine designation through the Society of Wine Educators as well as the Level 3 Advanced award from the Wine and Spirit Education Trust (WSET). She is a Specialist of Texas Wine through the Texas Wine School. Podcast website: www.ThisIsTexasWine.com