Taking a wine-tasting journey through Texas wineries
Texas wines have come a long way since commercial grapes were planted outside of Lubbock in 1974. For the first couple of decades, the Texas wine industry thought it had to compete with the Merlots, Cabernet Sauvignons, and Chardonnays of the world. As wine drinkers become more knowledgeable and adventuresome, many of the wineries began breaking out of the established lines.
Texas has its own set of obstacles to overcome to grow grapes commercially. Weather, bacteria, and fungus have wiped out several large vineyards. Winemakers have been forced to experiment with different varieties of grapes, resulting in some interesting choices for the consumer.
There are at least 96 wineries in Texas, most of them owner-operated. The industry contributed more than $1 billion to the state's economy in 2007, up from $170 million in 2003. With almost 4,000 acres of commercial grapes, Texas is fifth among wine-producing states.
Kim McPherson, owner and winemaker at McPherson Cellars in Lubbock, said in a recent lecture to wine aficionados, "[Texas vineyards] have to plant grapes suited to the land, not market conditions." McPherson's wines favor the Rhone and Italian varietals such as Sangiovese, Viognier, Mourvèdre, and Syrah. The winery is in a converted soda-bottling plant at 3215 28th St. (806/543-5313), a few blocks from the Buddy Holly Center.
When visiting a winery, it is nice to remember your manners and that the person pouring your free or inexpensive samples is often a passionate vintner. Don't be afraid to try new, unfamiliar wines. Part of the fun of gaining an appreciation for wine is experiencing the unknown. And don't hesitate to ask questions. It shows an interest in the very personal product and can only broaden your viticulture knowledge.
There is no way I could list here all of the interesting products that Texas wineries are bottling. If I tried, then I would surely leave some out. I will instead try to give you a starting point for your wine-tasting journey.
Delaney Vineyards & Winery has been making wines for more than 20 years in their modern facilities in Grapevine off of U.S. 121 (817/481-5668). The winery produces the usual lineup of wines from grapes grown at its vineyards in Lamesa, south of Lubbock. Although they offer wonderful vintages, some of their most interesting work has been with the Norton or Cynthiana grapes, a native North American varietal. The grape is capable of making a rich red wine with lots of character.
To do a taste comparison, try the wines made from the Norton grape from Stone House Vineyard at 24350 Haynie Flat Rd., in Spicewood, west of Austin (512/264-3630). A relative newcomer to the wine game, Tehuacana Creek Vineyards & Winery at 6826 Hwy. 6 E., east of Waco (254/875-2375), also has had good success with a Norton blend.
Like many others, Raymond Haak thinks that the future of Texas wine lies with "hot-weather varietals." Haak Vineyard & Winery, at 6310 Ave. T in Santa Fe, Texas, near Galveston (409/925-1401), has been doing great things with Italian Sangiovese grapes and Spanish Tempranillo grapes.
You can also find Tempranillo wines at Alamosa Wine Cellars, 677 CR 430 in Bend (325/628-3313). Besides having success with the fruity Viognier grape, Jim Johnson, the winemaker at Alamosa, also has experimented with Mourvèdre grapes. The Mourvèdre is an intense red grape often tamed with Grenache and Syrah or used to make a dry Rosé.
The Tempranillo and Mourvèdre grapes are also being used at Kiepersol Estates Vineyards and Winery, 3933 FM 344 E., outside of Tyler (903/894-8995). The East Texas winery also makes a wine with white Semillon grapes, a traditional blending partner with Sauvignon Blanc.
Rising Star Vineyards, 1001 CR 290, south of Cisco (254/643-1776), had a limited release of a wine made with the Barbera grape. A native of Italy, Barbera tends to have a robust flavor with higher acid levels and lower tannins than some other red wines.
No matter which Texas wine you try, the fun is in the journey. After all, someone went to a lot of trouble to make that bottle just for you. For a complete list of Texas wineries, go to www.gotexanwine.org.
860th in a series. Day Trips, Vol. 2, a book of "Day Trips" 101-200, is available for $8.95, plus $3.05 for shipping, handling, and tax. Mail to: Day Trips, PO Box 33284, South Austin, TX 78704.