Texas has a long history of wine production. The sunny and dry climate of the major wine making regions in the state have drawn comparison to Portuguese wines. Some of the earliest recorded Texas wines were produced by Spanish missionaries in the 1650s near El Paso. The state is home to over 36 members of the Vitis grape vine family with fifteen being native to the state, more than any other region on earth. As of 2006, the state had over 3,200 acres (1,300 ha) planted with Vitis vinifera. Despite being the largest of conterminous states, this relatively small amount of planted land is dwarfed by the production of even the smallest French AOCs like Sancerre. The Texan wine industry is continuing its steady pace of expansion and has gained a reputation as an established wine growing region in the United States.
Texas is one of the oldest wine growing states in the US, with vines planted here more than a hundred years before they were planted in California or Virginia. In the 1650s, Franciscan priests planted Mission vines in West Texas, near modern day El Paso. The vines were a necessity in the production of sacramental wine used in the Eucharist. The horticulturist Thomas Munson used Texas vines to create hundreds of hybrid grapes and conducted significant research in finding root stock immune to the Phylloxera epidemic, which saved the French wine industry from total ruin. The advent of Prohibition in the United States virtually eliminated Texas' wine industry, which didn't experience a revival until the 1970s, beginning with the founding of Llano Estacado and Pheasant Ridge wineries in the Texas High Plains appellation near Lubbock and the La Buena Vida winery in Springtown. The Texas wine industry still feels the effects of Prohibition today with a quarter of Texas' 254 counties still having dry laws on the books.
Geography and climate
Texas is divided into three main wine growing regions with a vast range of diversity and microclimates that allows many different types of grapevines to grow in the state. The North-Central Region spans the northern third of the state from the border of New Mexico across the Texas Panhandle and towards Dallas. This includes the Texas High Plains AVA which has the highest concentration of grape growers in the state. The eastern third of the state makes up the South-Eastern Region which encompasses the area southeast of Austin & San Antonio, and including Houston. In recent years this area's wine industry has been hard hit by Pierce's Disease. The high humidity around the northern end of this area makes it difficult to grow vinifera grapes, while vines in the Muscadine family flourish. Roughly in the center is the Texas Hill Country AVA where vinifera is grown. At the far southwest end of this region, along the Mexico–United States border is the state's oldest winery, Val Verde, which has been in operation for over a century, making sweet fortified wines. The central-western third of the state is known as the Trans-Pecos Regions which produces about 40 percent of the state's grape in the highest altitude vineyards of the area. More than two thirds of all the wine produced in Texas comes from this area.
The calcareous soil in the Texas High Plains is characterized as red sandy loam (tiera roja) over caliche (limestone) with moderate low fertility, a terroir similar to that found in Coonawarra in Australia. The vines are exposed to long days of sunshine and cool nights due to an elevation of over 3500 feet. Cold temperatures during the winter gives the vines opportunity to shut down and go dormant before the growing season. The Ogallala Aquifer provides water resources for irrigation and serves as a tempering effects on the high summer temperatures and extreme winter hazards such as freezing temperatures and hail. The effects of constant wind over the flat terrain serves as a buffer against viticultural diseases such as oidium and powdery mildew.
Harvest time in Texas is normally around the end of July, two months earlier than in California and three months earlier than most of the wine regions in France.
- Mesilla Valley AVA (1985) - West Texas. Texas' first AVA though primarily located in New Mexico with only small parts extending into Texas.
- Bell Mountain AVA (1986)- Central Texas. First AVA completely within the state of Texas. Known for its distinctive Cabernet Sauvignon grown in northern Gillespie County.
- Fredericksburg in the Texas Hill Country AVA (1989) - Central Texas. Known for its Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay.
- Texas Hill Country AVA (1991)- Central Texas. Located just west of Austin. With over 9,000,000 acres (3,600,000 ha), it is the second-largest AVA in the United States though less than 800 acres (320 ha) are planted in grape vines.
- Escondido Valley AVA (1992)- West Texas. About 32,000 acres (13,000 ha) along the Pecos River in Pecos County.
- Texas High Plains AVA (1993) - North Texas. The Texas Hill country is considered the most promising up and coming AVA, specializing in the production of Cabernet Sauvignon. Covering an area of over 8,000,000 acres (3,200,000 ha), 3,500 acres (1,400 ha) are planted with 20 wineries currently producing wine.
- Texas Davis Mountains AVA (1998) - West Texas. Only one winery in existence when granted AVA status in 1998. Specializes in Cabernet Sauvignon and Sauvignon blanc.
- Texoma AVA (2005) - North Texas. The Texoma region is where 19th century viticulturist Thomas Volney Munson discovered the cure for France's phylloxera epidemic.
Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay have the highest number of plantings in the state, followed by Merlot, Syrah, and Muscat Canelli as leading variety in acreage planted. Texas is also home to Zinfandel, Tempranillo, Sangiovese, and Viognier plantings. The Texas Department of Agriculture lists twenty-one wine varieties grown in Texas. From 2005 to 2010, large increases in plantings have been seen for varietals like Syrah and Muscat Canelli, while others like Sauvignon blanc and Chardonnay have declined.
There are more than 200 wineries in Texas, producing around 4,100 tons of wine, making it the fourth-largest wine producing state in the nation. That puts Texas behind California, New York, and Washington respectively. The University of Texas System is the largest wine producer in the state with over 1,000 acres (400 ha) planted near Fort Stockton in West Texas. First established as an experimental vineyard in 1987, the university leases the land to a group of Bordeaux wine makers who produce two labels-Ste. Genevieve and Escondido Valley. The second largest winery is Llano Estacado Winery.
- Appellation America (2007). "Texas Hill Country (AVA): Appellation Description". Retrieved Nov. 14, 2007.
- K. MacNeil The Wine Bible pg 623 Workman Publishing 2001 ISBN 1-56305-434-5
- H. Johnson & J. Robinson The World Atlas of Wine pg 286 Mitchell Beazley Publishing 2005 ISBN 1-84000-332-4
- J. Robinson "The Oxford Companion to Wine" Third Edition pg 695 Oxford University Press 2006 ISBN 0-19-860990-6
- K. MacNeil The Wine Bible pg 750 Workman Publishing 2001 ISBN 1-56305-434-5
- K. MacNeil The Wine Bible pg 751 Workman Publishing 2001 ISBN 1-56305-434-5
- J. Robinson "The Oxford Companion to Wine" Third Edition pg 696 Oxford University Press 2006 ISBN 0-19-860990-6
- K. MacNeil The Wine Bible pg 754 Workman Publishing 2001 ISBN 1-56305-434-5
- "The Wine Growing Regions of Texas". Texas Wine / Texas Dept. of Agriculture. 2006. Retrieved 2007-12-16.
- "Texas Wine Varietals". Texas Wine / Texas Dept. of Agriculture. 2006. Retrieved 2007-12-16.
- "Texas Wines Heading South? What Texans Can Learn From The Texas Grape Production and Variety Survey".
- "The Economic Impact of Wine and Grapes on the State of Texas 2007". Texas Wine and Grape Growers Association.
- Texas Department of Agriculture press release