by Ann Marie Kennon and Doug Lytton
Thoughts of Texas may bring to mind images of tumbleweeds and armadillos, and landscapes only suitable for cattle drives. Sure, the Lone Star State is still the place for cowboys and brisket but it is worth noting that there is so much more. Texas also has 5,000 acres of vineyards and eight American Viticultural Areas.
Texans have been growing grapes and making wine for hundreds of years; long before Californians and Virginians. According to The Wine Bible by Karen MacNeil, the first wine grapes in the Americas arrived with Spanish conquistadors in the 16th century. Those ‘parent’ grapes made it to Mexico by 1660 and were planted in west Texas vineyards by Franciscan priests who needed a good supply of wine to celebrate Mass. Later, early Texas settlers considered wine to be a staple and planted many European vines among their crops, in an effort to stay connected to their cultural roots.
Over time, three wine regions evolved in Texas—High Plains, Hill Country, and Trans-Pecos—and the state is now fifth in terms of wine production. About 73 percent of Texas wine grapes are grown on the Texas High Plains, a flat, arid, high-elevation area. Long, hot summers with cool nights balance grape acidity, and low rainfall decreases the chance of disease. Plus, there is much mineral-rich soil that consists mostly of sandy loam over limestone. In the Hill Country, the area around Route 290 in Fredericksburg is the second largest wine destination in America.
With high heat and also plenty of limestone, the Hill Country is an optimum micro-climate for many varieties of grapes. The flavors here are more akin to those that grow in Italy and Spain than the chilly slopes of Northern California.
All Texas wines express the minerality of the region and the state’s warm climate allows the fruit to stay on vine for less time and be harvested earlier than those of California. With long, hot summers, infrequent freezes, and unpredictable storms, Texas winemakers intentionally choose hardy grape varieties well suited for each region.
Viticulture is the broad term encompassing the cultivation, protection, and harvest of grapes where the operations are outdoors.
A LOCAL TASTE OF TEXAS
Legato Winery in Lampasas produces a fruit forward, handcrafted Texas wine that is aged in a combination of French and American Oak barrels, giving the wines the best of both hints of vanilla and cherry from the American Oak and the smoothness from the French Oak barrels. Legato wines include varietals: Malbec, Petite Sirah, Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay, Blanc Du Bois, and a very smooth blend of reds that the vintner calls Family Reunion.
Wedding Oak Winery, named for the beautiful and centuries-old Wedding Oak Tree in San Saba, is the town favorite. Mike McHenery, Managing Partner of the Winery, is President of the Texas Wine Growers Association and sits on the board of the Texas Hill Country Wineries Association. The tasting room showcases a restored 1926 building and courtyard and the wines feature warm weather varietals such as Tempranillo, Viognier, Trebbiano, Sangiovese. This intimate small town setting offers exceptional wines and great service.
Torr Na Lochs in Burnet has a view to remember and five wineries. All are well worth the drive and spending time in authentic Texas ranch towns that welcome visitors with great hospitality, food, shopping, and wine.