Discovering The Best of Texas Wine

Texas Wine - Bending Branch Winery Tallent Vineyards

Wine lovers who love exploring wines throughout the United States must not miss out on discovering the wines of Texas. You will be pleasantly surprised by the quality, expression, and diversity. At the same time, you will discover the maverick winery owners and passionate winemakers, who embrace the Texas wine scene.

Texas is the fifth-largest producer of wine in the United States and, like its neighbor New Mexico, one of the oldest wine-growing states in our country. Today Texas is home to more than 400 wineries and the Lone Star State has more than 5,000 acres under vines.

History of Texas Wine

History tells us that New Mexico was the first to plant Vitis Vinifera in 1629. Some think that Texas was the second place because both areas were under the same rule and the monks who came and established the missions traveled in both regions. It was not until 1744 that a Franciscan Monk wrote about vineyards in Texas. Soon after, wine was produced in El Paso. It was called Pass Wine and planted in an area east of El Paso where the native Mustang grape was being propagated.

Around this time, there were two areas where Italian immigrants planted grapes; one was in Loredo, close to the Mexican border. The other was located in south Texas near Del Rio.

The first known winery, Val Verde Winery, was established in 1883. Now in its 4th generation, the winery is known for producing hybrids, including the Black Spanish grape, which produces portlike wines.

In the late 1880s Texas horticulturist, Thomas Volney Munson was the foremost expert on American native grapes. His fame came during the Phylloxera outbreak in Europe, where he provided the rootstocks that were resilient to phylloxera. His rootstocks are still used today.

Texas Wine 1950s and Beyond

In the 1950s, J. H. Dunn experimented by planting a vineyard in the high plains near Lubbock, Texas. The modern history of Texas wine began in the 1960s and 1970s. Two projects from Texas A & M University played an impact on Texas grape growing. The first was in 1973 when George Ray McEachern received a grant to plant trial vineyards throughout Texas utilizing 12 grape varieties. He selected 30 test plots and planted each with three American, three hybrids, three Vitis Vinifera, and three varieties of the grower’s choice. Around the same time, another researcher from the university, Ron Perry, performed soils and climate studies. Also, during this time, Roy Mitchell, a Texas Tech Chemistry professor, started a winemaking program. These studies represent the beginning of the Texas wine industry in the High Plains near Lubbock.

Two other researchers from Texas Tech influenced the beginning of the Texas wine industry. It was Ron Reed and Clinton “Doc” McPherson. McPherson was the first to plant Sangiovese. McPherson established the Llano Estacado Winery in Lubbock, which is today considered one of the oldest and largest wineries in the state.

Another early pioneer was Ed and Susan Auler, planting their Fall Creek Vineyards in the Texas Hill Country with Bordeaux varieties based on their mentor Andre Tchelistcheff. Soon after, Paul and Merrill Bonarrigo tested the waters in Bryan.

Newsom Vineyards, Texas High Plains Caliche soil © Rebecca Conley
Newsom Vineyards, Texas High Plains Caliche soil © Rebecca Conley

Caliche Soil

A common thread throughout the Southwest is the Caliche soil, a whitish-gray soil consisting of cement-like material known as Calcium carbonate. The soil is composed of sedimentary rock, which binds with other materials such as clay, gravel, sand, and silt. Caliche thrives in arid and semiarid regions like the Southwest. The Chihuahuan, Mojave, and Sonoran Deserts are known for this type of soil. The term caliche is Spanish and comes from the Latin word calx, which means lime.

Caliche layers are found in calcareous soils with high pH. These types of soils often are limited in phosphorus, iron, boron, zinc, and manganese. Knowing this, viticulturists in Texas take extra precautions to add nutrients during the growing season.

This post is an excerpt from an article I wrote for Wander With Wonder on Texas Wine.

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