Texas: The 5th Wine Producing State
Oenophiles should branch out and head south where the vineyards are thriving, deep in the heart of Central Texas. Called the “Napa Valley of the Southwest,” the Texas Hill Country has churned out over 50 wineries in the past decade, earning a credible voice in the viticulture world as the fifth largest wine-producing state in the country.
Of course, as most Texans will tell you, being the fifth largest anything is small potatoes to a state that boasts ten-gallon hats and sixty-ounce steaks. But with more wineries slated to open over the next few years, and existing vineyards yielding fat crops, the word through the grapevine is that Texas is slowly catching up to its coastal competition in California, New York, Washington, and Oregon.
Wine in Texas is nothing new. Spanish monks who lived on old Texas missions took advantage of the temperate climate and diverse topography and began making their own wine in the late seventeenth century. The first winery, Val Verde Winery, opened in 1883 in Del Rio and is still in production. To date, Texas has earned over a billion dollars in revenue from its 3700 acres of vineyards and 140 commercial wineries.
Texan vintners love to brag the Lone Star State is bigger than France. More than half of the world’s known grapes are able to grow in Texas, and the region consistently produces strong varieties like Chardonnay, Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Sauvignon Blanc. Many Texas wineries are playing with other kinds of grapes such as Sangiovese, Syrah, Riesling, Blanc du Bois and Viognier, yielding interesting selections to rival those found in more established wine regions.
However, promoting Texas as wine country - instead of the flat, barren prairie typified in old westerns – can be a hard sell to yuppie Baby Boomers who’ve been drinking Sonoma Chardonnay since the 1980s. The truth is, the Texas Hill Country has a generally sunny, dry climate and alkaline soil ideal for growing grapes. Because of this, Texas wines possess the same jamminess of California wines, while maintaining the smooth balance of fruit, acid and tannins (known as ‘structure’) present in French wines.
Whether you’re a novice who just saw Sideways, or a collector with discerning tastes, you’re bound to enjoy touring the Texas Hill Country where everything is bigger – the open spaces, the food portions, and the hearts of the people who live there. From charming Fredericksburg to artsy Wimberley, the small towns in and around Central Texas vineyards are both quaint and welcoming, Texas-style, to make sure tourists return. (‘Yall come back now, ya hear?’)
But just as a good wine needs years to reach its potential, only time will tell if Texas wine catches on, or if it will remain the brisket and Tex-Mex that keep people coming back.