The High Plains wine country offers wine lovers a nice selection of quality wineries to tour and enjoy a sampling of their wares
The High Plains wine country makes up in quality for what it lacks in quantity. The distinctive grape-growing region around Lubbock may not have the beautiful hills of some appellations, but it does have the climatic conditions to grow world-class fruit. The rest is up to the winemakers.
It wasn't until 1971 that two Texas Tech University professors began experimenting with growing commercial varieties of grapes in the Texas Panhandle. From a 10-acre plot south of Lubbock sprang an industry that now boasts more than 3,500 acres of vineyards under cultivation. Not only does the region supply grapes to almost all of the 54 wineries around Texas, but four wineries in the Lubbock area take advantage of the fresh fruit to make wines that are maturing with each late summer harvest.
"The biggest reason that the High Plains is a great grape-growing region," says Kim McPherson, winemaker at the Cap*Rock Winery, "is because of the low humidity."
Grapevines don't mind the scorching heat as long as they are dry and have cool nights. "People don't realize that the heat doesn't stick around up here," McPherson says. "It can drop to around 60 degrees at night." Lubbock is closer to Santa Fe, N.M., than it is to Austin. "It's a whole different climate up here," he says.
The products of the area's three largest wineries are available from wine merchants around the state, but it is much more fun to visit the tasting rooms at the winery. McPherson recommends looking for wines that deviate from the norm. Hot-weather grapes are doing very well in the region and are convincing growers to stray from chardonnay, merlot, and cabernet. Wine drinkers should experiment with sangiovese, syrah, and grenache. Texas wineries are having excellent success with the viognier grape which produces a more complex wine than the popular chardonnay. "Look for the wines that are sold only in the tasting room," McPherson recommends.
The tasting room at the Cap*Rock Winery looks like a Spanish mission on the outside and a French mansion on the inside. Tours of the state-of-the-art winemaking facilities are usually short with the focus on tasting the winery's offerings.
The winery is about 10 miles south of Lubbock at 408 E. Woodrow Rd. off of U.S. 87. Visitors are welcome Monday-Saturday, 10am-5pm; and Sunday, noon-5pm. For information, call 806/863-2704 or go to www.caprockwinery.com. The winery also has a tasting room in Grapevine at 409 S. Main St., 817/329-9463.
Also south of Lubbock off of U.S. 87, Llano Estacado Winery was the first commercial winery in the region. Kim McPherson's father, Dr. Clinton McPherson, and his partners opened the tasting room in 1976. Sold around the world, Llano Estacado is the second largest wine producer in the state.
The winery's tour takes visitors through the making of wine including how corks and oak barrels are made. You are very likely to find some unusual wines here that never make it to store shelves. The tasting room opens Monday-Saturday, 10am-4pm; and Sunday, noon-4pm. For more information, call 806/745-2258 or go to www.llanowine.com.
Opened in 1979, Pheasant Ridge Winery was another one of the pioneers of commercial winemaking in Texas. It is not uncommon to have one of the owners pouring the samples in the tasting room. Look for the Proprietor's Reserve or other wines made in the French blended style.
The winery is north of Lubbock, three miles off of I-27 east of New Deal. The tasting room opens Friday-Saturday, 10am-5pm; Sunday, noon-5pm; and other times by appointment. The winery can be reached at 806/746-6033 or www.pheasantridgewinery.com.
The La Diosa Cellars is Lubbock's newest label and the only one in the city limits. Although the 2-year-old winery has only a few offerings now, with Kim McPherson as a technical adviser, they should come up with some interesting vintages.
Part winery and part tapas bar, La Diosa is in the Depot District at 901 17th St. near the Buddy Holly Center. The restaurant and tasting room opens Tuesday-Wednesday, 7am-9pm; Thursday-Friday, 7am-12mid; Saturday, noon-12mid; closed on Sunday and Monday. The winery can be reached at 806/744-3600 or at www.ladiosacellars.com.
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