June 25, 2020

Texas Wine In 10 Minutes

Texas Wine In 10 Minutes

Give me 10 minutes, and I'll give you a thorough overview of Texas wine. Then you'll want to go drink some. Verasion is happening in the Hill Country. In the education segment, we'll learn what that is. But first, we'll hit the highlights in Texas wine news. To wrap up, I'm drinking a red blend from Perissos Vineyard and Winery in Burnet, Texas.

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Texas Wine In the News

  1. “Fort Worth Food and Wine Festival Canceled but Foundation Supports Culinary Community”
  2. “Texas Tech Wine Marketing Research Institute study explores motivations and behaviors of US wine consumers before and during COVID–19 lockdown”
  3. “Shopper suspicions confirmed: DFW grocery prices shot up during the pandemic”
  4. American Association of Wine Economists’ Graphic about Wine Preferences in 20 Large Cities

Texas Wine in 10 Minutes  

The first vineyard in Texas was planted in 1668 by Spanish missionaries in what is now El Paso.

There were a few dozen Texas wineries by 1920, then the industry’s progress was halted by Prohibition. Only one Val Verde Winery, founded in 1883, survived. It had a pass to make sacramental wine during prohibition and is still operating today in Del Rio.

After Prohibition (1920–1933), it took a long time for the Texas wine industry to get going again. Llano Estacado was founded in 1976. And then finally, the modern Texas wine industry took off.

Texas is now the 5th largest wine producing state and has around 400 wineries.

There are 8 AVAs, or American viticultural areas, in Texas.

The Texas High Plains AVA is where about 80% of the grapes in Texas wines are grown. It’s in the northwest part of the state near the city of Lubbock. The Plains are flat, but they are indeed high. this could be considered high altitude grape growing. The vineyards sit at about 3300–4000 feet on well drained, clay loam and sandy loam soil. There is a big diurnal shift here. That means there’s a big temperature change from day to night. the cool nights help preserve the grape’s acidity. Many of the grape growers in this area are generational farmers of other crops and have diversified into planting grapes. The biggest challenges here are freezing temperatures – usually in the late spring after budbreak, but possible in the fall too – and hail. Irrigation is a must.

The Texas Hill Country AVA is located in the center of the state is north of San Antonio and west of Austin. It’s the largest AVA in Texas and the THIRD largest AVA in the country\*, covering 9 million acres. The vineyards here are generally smaller in acreage than those in the Texas High Plains. They sit on a variety of soil types including limestone, granite and clay. Pierce’s disease is a bigger problem here than in the High Plains. It’s a bit less likely to see the freezes and hail that the High Plains gets. It’s also at a much lower elevation, and the warmer temperatures put its growing season ahead by a few weeks compared to the High Plains. Within the Hill Country AVA you’ll find two sub-AVAs that are nested inside the larger AVA. These are the Bell Mountain AVA (the oldest in the state) and Fredericksburg AVA.

There are about 80 wineries in the Texas Hill Country, and the center of this area is the town of Fredericksburg. It’s the second most visited wine region in the nation after Napa Valley.

The Texas Davis Mountains AVA is one to watch. It’s FAR out in the desert of west Texas near Marfa. It’s the highest elevation AVA in the state with vineyards over 5500’ elevation and it’s also the coolest. It’s also got the only volcanic soil in the state.

The other AVAs are Escondido Valley. It’s located far west Texas near Fort Stockton.

Texoma AVA is along the Texas-Oklahoma border.

Finally, the Mesilla Valley AVA is on the far western tip of Texas near El Paso. This AVA is shared with New Mexico.

There are also many fine wineries that are outside of these AVAs, and their wines are simply labeled TEXAS. (To clarify, their estate vineyards are not located within an AVA.)

Early on, Texas consumers wanted the international varieties that they were drinking from California like Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Merlot so that’s what Texas grape growers planted. Now, many of these early plantings are being changed over to more of the grape varieties that thrive in the warmer climates of the Mediterranean. Texas grows a very wide variety of grapes and has over 5000 acres of bearable grapevines. Its most planted red grapes are Cabernet Sauvignon, Tempranillo and Merlot and the most planted white grapes are Blanc du Bois, Viognier, and Muscat Canelli. Production is about 70% red wine and 30% white wine.

Hybrid grape varieties like Blanc du bois and black Spanish are popular in the southeast part of the state where humidity makes Pierce’s disease a persistent problem.

Texas Tempranillo has a great reputation, as does Texas Viognier. Mourvedré is coming on strong. Rosé is very popular. Off-dry and sweet wine is popular with some Texas wine drinkers, but the majority of what is produced is dry. Texas also makes some great Port-style wine, and a bit of sparkling wine.

In 2013, the Texas High Plains experienced a devastating late spring freeze, so there the volume of Texas wine produced suffered. 2014 was much better, but not ideal. Since 2015, Mother Nature has mostly cooperated. 2015 and 2017 were especially great vintages. The Texas High Plains had a Halloween freeze in 2019, so the 2020 vintage is looking sparse for some growers.

Now that Texas growers have focused in on the right grapes for the right vineyards for our Texas climate, Texas wine has gotten much better. There’s increasing level of winemaking talent in the state, some homegrown, and some transplanted from other parts of the world. Some winemakers in Texas utilize the latest cutting-edge technology to maximize extraction. Others adopt a zero-zero non-interventional approach. There’s not just one right way to do things around here.

One issue that is sure to come up again in 2021 when the state legislature reconvenes is how Texas wine is labeled. Like 46 other states, Texas wine is only required to have 75% Texas fruit in it. The states with the more developed wine industries have all passed more stringent legislation, and this issue has come before the state legislature before in 2017 and 2019.

The largest winery in Texas is St Genevieve winery located in Fort Stockton. They make extremely affordable wine, often in large format bottles. The second largest winery is Llano Estacado located in Lubbock.

Most of the wine produced in Texas stays in the state. Although there are some wines that are available in wider distribution, many are not. Most wineries do ship outside the state.

Texans drank just over 60 million gallons of wine in 2018 and produced 4.28 million gallons of Texas wine. So we are well short of producing the amount of wine we need to produce to meet the demand of our own state. For now, we will have to keep drinking non-Texas wine.

Texas wineries have always been serious about showing guests a great time. But at some wineries, the wine was a bit of an afterthought. In the past 15 years or so, many Texas wineries have also gotten as serious about premium wine as they are about hospitality.

Wineries are entering well regarded wine competitions, and Texas wines are winning. Sommeliers are taking an interest in Texas wines, and more wines are entering distribution outside the state. Texas restaurants are coming around, finally adding Texas options to wine lists.

Wine is a big business in Texas, responsible for over 100,000 jobs and a $13.1 billion dollar economic impact.

Texas is an exciting wine region with a pioneering spirit. The wines just keep getting better. I hope you’re drinking Texas wine along with me.

\*Note: It is often reported that the Texas Hill Coutry is the second largest AVA, but I said it was the third. I confirmed this with January Weise at the Texas Hill Country Wineries. She reports that both the Upper Mississippi River Valley AVA (over 19 million acres) and the Ohio River Valley AVA (at over 16 million acres) are larger than the Texas Hill Country AVA.


Texas Wine Grape Varieties Report  

Texas Wine & Grape Growers Association  

Texas Hill Country Wineries  

Texas High Plains Growers  

Texas Wine Lover article “Texas Grapevines by the Numbers: What’s Trending Up, What’s Trending Down, and What It Means for Texas Wine”  

Vintage Texas  

Wine consumption by state  

Wine produced by state


Doug Lewis’s photo of verasion. See Lewis Wine’s June 10 post for more photos and description.

What I’m Drinking:

Perissos 2017 Racker’s Blend