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A New Era in Texas Wine

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This article was originally published in Royal Oaks Living magazine and is reprinted here with permission.

It’s March in Houston and for many Houstonians that means one thing: RodeoHouston.  And with the rodeo comes an increased focus on other things that make Texas great: barbecue, cowboy boots and, of course, Texas wine.

Everything in Texas is big, including our wine industry. Texas is the fifth largest wine-producing state in the U.S. However, very little Texas wine makes it out of the state – mainly because the demand for Texas-made wine is now greater than ever.

The History of Texas Wine

Wine is actually made in all 50 U.S. states. And believe it or not, grape vines were planted in Texas nearly 100 years before they were planted in California. So, why is the Lone Star state less known for its wine? The prohibition era (1920-1933) had a big impact on all wine-producing regions in the U.S., but it was devastating for Texas. The state had approximately 50 wineries before prohibition, but only one survived the era. It took until the 1970’s for Texas’ wine industry to see a resurgence. Today, the industry is thriving once again with more than 250 wineries in the state.

A New Era in Texas Wine

Most Texans have strong opinions about the state’s wine. Many have their favorites and will eagerly defend their chosen brand as the best; others flat out refuse to drink it. But this great divide is likely to close as there are some exciting changes occurring in the Texas wine industry…changes that may give all Texans a new appreciation for local vino.

Many local winegrowers have finally realized that the future of Texas wine is not with the more traditional varietals, such as cabernet, merlot, chardonnay and pinot noir that do well in California. Anyone who lives in Texas knows that our climate is not like California’s, especially not in July and August.

So rather than emulating California, Texas wineries are trending toward grape varietals that are typically grown in Mediterranean countries, such as Italy, Spain, Portugal and the South of France. White grapes gaining popularity in Texas include Viognier and Roussanne – famed in the Rhone Valley of France –and Vermentino, which is popular in Italy. Texas reds are being made from Tempranillo grapes (think Spanish Rioja), Sangiovese of Chianti fame, Dolcetto and Aglianico – both mostly seen in Italy – and Tannat from the Southwest of France and Uruguay. These varietals are simply better suited to Texas’ hot and sunny climate.

Texas’ Wine Regions

If you live in Texas, you are probably familiar with Texas Hill Country, located just west of Austin and San Antonio, and may wineries have taken up residence in the area. In fact, Texas Hill Country was recently selected by Wine Enthusiast magazine as one of the 10 Best Wine Travel Destinations for 2014!

Popular wines and grapes are also being cultivated in another part of the state – the Texas High Plains, located west of Lubbock in the Panhandle. Texas wine has been produced in this region since the mid-1970s and its vineyards are a major grape supplier to wineries throughout the state. In fact, it’s highly likely that your favorite Texas wines are made from High Plains grapes since many Texas wineries have vineyards in, or purchase grapes from, this area. Vineyards in the plains area are planted at an elevation of 3,000 to 4,000 feet, and the climate is very dry – making it perfect for the previously mentioned grape varietals. According to the High Plains Wine Growers Association, the High Plains is home to over 4,000 acres of vineyards and produces more than half of the state’s wine grapes every year.

Texas Wine Recommendations

If you’re looking to give Texas wines a try or simply want to expand your list of favorites, these are some of my picks for the best of the bunch.

Bending Branch: Look for the Texas Hill Country Tannat. The 2011 vintage won Top Texas Wine in the 2014 Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo International Wine Competition

Pedernales Cellars: The 2012 Viognier won Top Texas Wine in the 2013 Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo International Wine Competition. The Viognier Reserve 2012 also won Grand Gold at the Lyon International Wine Competition in France — the only U.S. winery to receive top honors! This brand is also know for its Tempranillo.

Duchman Family: I highly recommend their Vermentino grown in the Texas High Plains by Bingham Family Vineyards. The 2010 Duchman Vermentino won a gold medal at the Dallas Morning News-TexSom Wine Competition and can also be found on the wine list at Tony’s. Tony himself is even quoted as saying, ”I like it as much if not more than the Vermentinos from Sardinia that I’m fond of.”

Other award-winning wineries include Inwood Estates, known for their Tempranillo and Tempranillo blends, and McPherson, which produces Rhone and Italian varietal wines from the Texas High Plains. McPherson’s patriarch Dr. Clinton “Doc” McPherson is considered one of the fathers of the modern Texas wine industry.

This month, as you settle in to watch the rodeo or March Madness, celebrate with some of our state’s wonderful wines. For those who are already Texas wine fans, give one of my recommendations a try. And for those who are still skeptical, there’s no better time to give Texas wines a try!

Double Decanted offers a collection of bottles at a variety of price points. Let us help you find the perfect bottle – or bottles – for any occasion! Please email me at Kelly@doubledecanted.com.