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 (13 km²) 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 the oldest wine growing states in the US, with vines planted here more then a hundred years before they were planted in California. 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. The advent of Prohibition in the United States virtually eliminated Texas' wine industry which didn't experience a revival till the 1970s, beginning with the founding of Llano Estacado and Pheasant Ridge wineries in the High Plains region near Lubbock. 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 around Austin, San Antonio and 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. To the south and center of the area is the Texas Hill Country AVA where vinifera is grown. At the far south end of this region, along the Mexican 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 very fertile with the vines exposed to long days of sunshine and cool nights. 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.
Texas is home to seven American Viticultural Areas with the application for the Lake Texoma area that will include parts of Oklahoma still pending.
- Mesilla Valley (1985) - West Texas. Texas' first AVA though primarily located in New Mexico with only small parts extending into Texas.
- Bell Mountain (1986)- Central Texas. First AVA completely within the state of Texas. Known its distinctive Cabernet Sauvignon grown in northern Gillespie County.
- Fredericksburg (1989) - Central Texas. Known for its Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay.
- Texas Hill Country (1991)- Central Texas. Located just west of Austin. With 15,000 square miles it is the largest AVA in the United States though less than 800 acres (3.2 km²) are planted.
- Escondido Valley (1992)- West Texas. About 50 square miles along the Pecos River in Pecos County.
- Texas High Plains (1993) - North Texas. The Texas Hill country is considered the most promising up and coming AVA, specializing in the production of Cabernet Sauvignon. With over a million acres (4,000 km²) possible in the area, only 500 acres (2 km²) is planted with 20 wineries currently producing wine.
- Davis Mountains (1998) - West Texas. Only one winery in existence when granted AVA status in 1998. Specializes in Cabernet Sauvignon and Sauvignon blanc.
Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay have the highest number of plantings in the state, followed by Chenin blanc and Sauvignon blanc as leading variety in tonnage produced. Texas is also home to Syrah, Tempranillo, Sangiovese, Viognier and Pinot Gris plantings.
There are more than 110 wineries in Texas, producing 1.9 million gallons in 2005, making it the fifth-largest wine producing state in the nation. The University of Texas System is the largest wine producer in the state with over a thousand acres (4 km²) 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.