Texas Wine, not our first rodeo
Updated: Jun 14, 2021
Since when did Texas wine country start making best wine travel destination lists?
As a Texan, I’ve always heard about people visiting wineries in the Texas Hill Country. But the wineries always played second fiddle to people visiting Fredericksburg, which is a super cute town in the heart of Texas Hill Country.
So have times changed? Is Texas wine worth seeking out?
Well, after a much needed vacation, which included investigative wine tasting, Teakwood Tavern is ready to report back. If you prefer to watch a video, please checkout (and subscribe to!) the Teakwood Tavern YouTube channel:
When you think of Texas, wine probably doesn’t come to mind. However, the history behind Texas wine will make you think again.
Texas is considered the home of the first vineyards planted in North America. Thanks to the Franciscan priests wanting communion wine, we had plantings as early as 1662. The vines thrived through the 1800s as more cuttings were brought from Europe, up until Prohibition ruining the entire US wine industry. (There's a constant theme in our postings about how much Prohibition screwed up things we love.)
Texas saves European wine!
Thomas Volney Munson, a viticulturist living in Denison, TX, made Texas a special place in the wine world. Perhaps you’ve heard of the phylloxera outbreak in the late 1800s that decimated vineyards all across Europe. The small aphid destroyed over 80% of French vines. Munson was an expert in grape botany and grafting techniques. He had access to hearty North American rootstock, which proved to be resistant to phylloxera. Munson grafted the European varieties to them and saved European wines as we know them today. You are welcome, France!
Munson's work was so influential that Denison, TX and Cognac, France became sister cities. In fact, the French Minister of Agriculture visited Denison during the phylloxera outbreak to learn firsthand from Munson about his scientific discovery. The French dignitary sent many bushels of the vines back to France. The new Texas root stock was then grafted onto the ailing French vines, and the vineyards were saved. And the rootstocks that Munson recommended to the French were Texas native grapes found in the Texas Hill Country!
Modern Texas Wine
‘Doc’ McPherson, a chemistry professor at Texas Tech, is credited for bringing wine back to Texas after traveling around U.S. wine regions. He planted his first vineyards in 1966 with 140 different varietals to understand what grew best in Texas climate and soil. By 1976, he opened what is now the largest winery in Texas, Llano Estacado. His son, Kim, produces one of our favorite wines in Texas, McPherson Cellars. Both wineries are located in Lubbock, a city we are partial to (Wreck 'Em Tech!), and focus on grapes grown in the Texas High Plains AVA. Surprisingly, the Texas pan handle not only grows the best grapes in Texas, but 80% of Texas grapes are grown here too. Still, most of the wineries and their tasting rooms are in the much more scenic Texas Hill Country AVA. Sorry Lubbock, you're not that pretty, but you have other sources of enjoyment.
Today, there are ~400 Texas wineries (according to wineamerica.org) contributing to 60k jobs around the state. The total impact on the economy is estimated to be $13 billion. Texas is the 5th largest wine producing state with great growth potential. We ride on #4 New York’s heels and are hopeful to pass them in the near future.
Texas wines substantially contribute to tourism in the state. But we are finally attracting more experimental wine makers with our low cost of land and less regulation than most other states. The industry is young and adventurous, exploring Spanish, Southern French, and Italian varietals, instead of the classic Bordeaux (Cabernet Sauvignon, Sauvignon blanc, Merlot) and Burgundy (Pinot Noir & Chardonnay) varietals that sell well.
Since Texas is about the size of France, there are many different climates and soil types around the state. Overall, Texas has a warm continental climate similar to Spain, Italy, southern France (ahem, Rhone Valley), and Portugal. However, heat is not what keeps grape growers up at night. Spring frost, hail, and drought can cause catastrophic damage to vineyards. The varietals that grow best miss the frost by budding later and don’t require a lot of water or a long ripening season.
There are over 4,000 acres of vineyards covering 8 different AVAs (American Viticultural Areas). The two largest and most notable AVAs are: Texas High Plains and Texas Hill Country.
Texas High Plains
With the elevation between 3000 and 4100 feet, this area is a bit cooler than the rest of Texas. Covering much of the Texas panhandle, this region produces 80% of the state’s grapes. This region shows the most potential with a more temperate climate, which is similar to Napa. The cooler weather allows for the grapes to ripen longer, which balances ripe flavors and acidity, a necessity for quality wine. The soil drains well and the wind helps prevent against disease. Drought is the biggest issue, therefore requiring irrigation.
Texas Hill Country
Larger in size and hosting the vast majority of wineries, Texas Hill Country is thought to be the heart of Texas wine. Located north of San Antonio and west of Austin, there are beautiful rolling hills with an elevation maxing out at 2100 ft. There is more rain and humidity than the high plains, but with that comes more heat, forcing the grapes to be harvested as early as July.
Teakwood Tavern does Texas Hill Country
With the world opening back up again, it was Hye time Teakwood Tavern hit the Texas wine country. We reached out to a few sommelier friends and compiled a list of wonderful options. With only one day, we wanted to make the most of a few special wineries instead of the olden days when we visited as many as 7.
Our first stop in Texas Hill Country was William Chris. William Chris prides themself on being the largest 100% Texas grape winery. By law, Texas wine only has to be 75% Texas grapes to claim Texas on the label. This was required in the past because production stability and consistency could not keep up with demand. As more grapes are planted and we understand the environment better, Texas winemakers, including William and Chris, are looking update this requirement to 100%, like California and Oregon. This allows the state and its individual regions to create their own terroir.
William Chris toped our list. Their Pet-Nat is a Teakwood Tavern favorite. And their tasting room in Hye, TX, did not disappoint. We did the food pairings, which were four small bites each served with a different wine from the tasting, plus a few bonus wines.
I appreciate the focus on moulvedre, which does particularly well in Texas. You will also find hearty varietals grown in both the hill country and high plains likes tannat, malbec, grenache, tempranillo, zinfandel, picpoul, and sangiovese. Many of the wines we enjoyed were lower in alcohol, which we prefer. This allows the quality of the wine to shine through without the burn of alcohol, and hey, you can drink more wine.
Ab Astris was recommended by a friend and had a more laid back vibe. There is no reservation required at this family-owned, boutique winery also in Hye, TX. They planted their own estate vineyard in 2018 to produce tannat, souzao, clairette blanche, petite sirah, and montepulciano.
Ab Astris has a giant sparkling new patio and outdoor bar set-up. An overall a solid experience at the kind of place we want to support. Mama was pouring our wine and sent out the attorney turned winemaker son-in-law to come speak with us after we started asking lots of questions. They even had recently started making a pet-net as well!
What can we say, we love Rhone style wine? Once hearing the winemaker from Calais, a well-regarded winery in Texas Hill Country that focuses on Bordeaux style wines, opened a sister winery showcasing Rhone varietals, we had to check it out. The French Connection proudly sources 100% of its grapes from the High plains AVA and west Texas, capitalizing on the longer ripening season thanks to diurnal shifts, which means high variation in daytime and nighttime temperatures.
The balanced acidity and complexity of the wines made them the best damn Texas wines I’ve ever enjoyed. The French Connection also produces Rhone style whites from viognier and roussane. And wow, the chartcuterie board and hilly view that accompanied the tasting was amazing!
Everything about this experience was exceptional, proving that no, you don’t have to go to Napa or Bordeaux for a great wine tasting experience, once again. Please get out there and support your local(ish) wine community!