October is Texas wine month, and though wine is being produced in every state in America (yes…we even have the Volcano Winery making sweet pineapple wine here in Hawaii), the Texas wine industry is dynamic because of the economic impact it has on the state. Over $13 billion is contributed to the Texas economy annually from the local wine industry, though both production and tourism. Wineries across the state are making stellar wines from grapes grown in dusty Texas soils, particularly in the Texas High Plains (in far west Texas) and Hill Country (around Austin). This week I’ll toast a few of these wines on KXAS-TV/NBD DFW in Dallas, linked here. More on our discussion below. Cheers!
Wines have been made in Texas for over three hundred years, as some of the earliest records show that Spanish missionaries planted grapes in El Paso in the 1650s. Today the key areas for wine growing are distributed throughout the state, with two of the most prominent being the Texas High Plains, where one of the state’s first prominent winery, Llano Estacado, began, and the Texas Hill Country, home to several of the state’s oldest operating wineries, like Fall Creek Vineyards celebrating over forty years of producing wine in Texas.
The key that many Texas producers have realized to ensure modern-day success in a highly competitive environment comes down to the grapes that are grown and made into wine in Texas, and producing premium quality wine from that fruit, along with focused attention on the impact of tourism on their business.
On the grape front, understanding what would grow well in arid Texas soils was a challenge in the early years, as planting conventional international varieties that would sell to consumers was the goal. However, as vintners throughout the state began to understand the terroir of the state, with its blistering hot Texas summers, they found that varieties like cool-climate Pinot Noir, would not work. Instead, they looked to other regions with a similar climate, like Italy, Spain, and southern France, planting varieties like Sangiovese, Tempranillo, Mourvedre, and the field blend of Portuguese grapes that have traditionally made Port, but also deliver tasty, robust still wines.
Vintner and professor, Dr. Clinton “Doc” McPherson was the first to plant Sangiovese fruit in his West Texas, Sagmor Vineyard. A professor at Texas Tech University, he co-founded Llano Estacado with Bob Reed in the mid-1970s. His son, Winemaker Kim McPherson, began his McPherson Cellars in Lubbock to honor his father, following in his pioneering footsteps, working with an unusual mix of fruit to craft exceptional wines. My favorites are his Rhone red and white blends, featured in his Les Copains wines, particularly his stone-fruit, white flower, and citrus filled mix Les Copains White. Loving crisp white wines, Kim also crafts a gorgeous mix of single variety selections, like Albarino, Picepoul Blanc, Grenache Blanc, and Roussanne, each ideal for sipping on a hot Texas afternoon or pairing with shellfish, seafood, and light pasta dishes.
Started by two Houston based doctors, Duchman Family Winery, celebrates great Italian varieties, making 100% Texas wine from Texas fruit for Texans. I adore these wines both for their balance and approachability, and overall great taste. Their sunshine-filled Vermentino is fresh, balanced and inviting with lots of citrus and orchard fruit. RIch, and robust, their Montepulciano is filled with ripe and dried black and red fruit with inviting tobacco and spice, perfect for pairing with a wild boar ragu, lamb, venison, or any game meat.
Rhone varieties thrive in Texas. Hearty Mourvedre needs hot, sunny days to create its meaty, woody herbal aromas and robust flavors. Texas summers deliver this with gusto. William Chris Vineyards has placed Mourvedre in a highly favored status since their start, believing the intense variety highlights the Texas terroir perfectly. They highlight the bold fruit in their High Plains Mourvedre, from vineyards throughout West Texas, revealing a balanced wine with wild herb, violet, bacon fat, leather, and tobacco. This is your wine to pair with steaks on a wood-fire grill.
For years I looked to Pedernales Cellars for their elegant Tempranillo wines, as they are one of the best producers of the variety in the state. However, then I tried their Viognier. Now, they have a red and a white I adore. Fresh, not flabby (as some versions of the variety can be,) with white peach, yellow nectarine, lemon balm, and wisteria. A lovely white wine to pair with your Thanksgiving dinner. Similarly, Brennan Vineyards reveals elevated notes of wild-flower, stone fruit, and citrus in their elevated Roussanne and Marsanne white wines. Their Super Nero showcases the heat-loving, robust, Sicilian variety, Nero d’Avola.