Written By: Nan McCreary
We all know that things are bigger in Texas, and wine is no exception.
Since October is Texas Wine Month, now is a good time to look at the history – and the future – of an industry that now boasts over 400 wineries and ranks as the fifth largest wine-producing state in the U.S.
Wine has been an integral part of Texas since the 1650s, when the Spanish missionaries planted mission grapes along the Rio Grande River near present day El Paso.
Prior to Prohibition, Texas had a small group of wineries, but only one, Val Verde Winery in Del Rio, survived and is still producing wine today.
In the 1970s, as wine was taking off in California, Texas had its own grape-growing pioneers. Those included Clinton “Doc” McPherson, a chemistry professor at Texas Tech University, his business partner, Bob Reed, who founded Llano Estacado near Lubbock in 1976, and Ed and Susan Auler, who founded Fall Creek in the Texas Hill Country.
Others soon followed: Richard Becker of Becker Vineyards in Fredericksburg put the Viognier grape on the map in Texas; and Paul Bonnarrigo brought his family’s Sicilian wine traditions to Texas. He and his wife Merrill established Messina Hof Winery near Bryan.
Today, Texas has earned its rightful place as a top wine region in the country. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Texas produced 14,180 tons of grapes in 2019, up 22 percent from 11,600 tons produced in 2017.
Bearing acres in vineyards for 2019 were 5,020 acres, up 11 percent from 4,541 acres reported in 2017. The total value of wine grape production in Texas for 2019 was estimated at $22.7 million, up from $18.9 million in 2017.
At the same time, agritourism is booming. Texas wineries attract 1.7 million tourisms per year. Thanks to the Texas Hill Country, Texas is home to the second most visited wine region in the U.S.
While the Texas wine industry is growing bigger and bigger, Texas wines are getting better and better. In the early days, winemakers tended to grow the wines that had been successful in France: Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay, for example. After a lot of experimentation, they have learned that certain varieties — Mediterranean and Rhone varietals — adapt much better to the Texas climate and soil. Red grapes such as Tempranillo, Sangiovese and Syrah are doing very well in Texas, as are white grapes that include Viognier, Vermentino, Roussanne and Picpoul and, to a lesser extent, Chenin Blanc and Albariño.
A testament to these successes is the accolades that are coming to wines from Texas. Fall Creek, with a long history of award-winning wines and international recognition for its world-class wines, recently received an “Outstanding American Wine” recognition from renowned wine critic James Suckling, who awarded a 90-plus score to five Fall Creek Vineyards in the tasting report “American Wine Revolution.
The wines include three of Fall Creek’s ExTERRA wines — Mourvèdre, Syrah and Tempranillo — and two of their Terroir Reflection wines, Chardonnay and GSM.
Most recently, Chris Brundrett, cofounder of William Chris Vineyards, was named to Wine Enthusiast’s “40 Under 40 Tastemakers of 2020” list. According to the magazine, “He produces serious wines from grapes like Mourvèdre and Petit Verdot, which thrive in Texas soils, as well as wines that are seriously fun, from pet-nats to cans of Yes We Can Sway Rosé.
As Texas wineries look to the future, many are focusing on finding the “niche” wines that do best in our soil and climate, including growing more late-budding grape varieties that are not vulnerable to late-spring frosts that often plague Texas.
One thing is certain, though: Texas wines are improving and, as the vines mature, the wines will continue to improve by acquiring more depth and complexity.
Yes, Texans can be proud of our quality wines, and we’re showing them off during Texas Wine Month.
One of the best ways to celebrate wines from the Lone Star state is to purchase a Texas Wine Month Passport ticket (good from October 1 to October 31) for visits to over 35 participating wineries in the Texas Hill Country. The ticket includes a full complimentary tasting (as determined by the winery) with a limit of four wineries a day and a 15 percent discount on a three-bottle purchase at each winery.
For more information on opportunities available during Texas Wine Month, visit texaswinetrail.com/texas-wine-month and join the Rodeo Uncorked! Facebook group.