This Monthly Wine Writing Challenge (#12) theme is LOCAL. And I’m so thankful to The Drunken Cyclist for issuing a reminder, or rather letting everyone know that it’s not too late….because honestly, I thought it was too late!
As I might have mentioned a time or thirty, I used to work at a wine shop and tasting room specializing in Texas wines.
When I started, it was a summer job and there 33 Texas wineries. Now a few (and by a few I mean 20) years later there over 275 Texas wineries. So here are some fun facts about Texas wines (thanks to Texas Wine & Grape Growers Association):
The first vineyard was was planted near El Paso in 1662 by Franciscan Monks–making it one of the oldest in the United States.
Texas ranks fifth in wine production in the United States and has 4,400 acres of family owned vineyards.
Texas has eight recognized American Viticultural Areas (AVA).
- Texas High Plains: Located west of Lubbock in the Panhandle at an elevation of 3000-4000 feet, the climate of this appellation is very dry. While the AVA encompasses over 8 million acres, there were approximately 3500 acres dedicated to grape growing in 2005.
- Escondido Valley: This appellation established in 1992 covers 50 square miles in Pecos County in far West Texas, located near Fort Stockton
- Texas Hill Country: Located west of Austin and San Antonio, this appellation, like Texas, is large. It is the second largest AVA in the USA, containing more than 9 million acres. Two smaller appellations, listed below, have been designated within the Texas Hill Country due to the unique microclimates they embody. Many wineries are located in this scenic area.
- Bell Mountain (within Texas Hill Country): Designated in 1986, it is the first established AVA in Texas, covering five square acres about 15 miles north of Fredericksburg.
- Fredericksburg (within Texas Hill Country): This viticultural area covers about 110 acres with approximately 60 under vine.
- Mesilla Valley: Located at the far western tip of the Texas border north and west of El Paso, this area is hot and dry with a long growing season and approximately 40 acres of cultivated grapes.
- Texas Davis Mountains: With about 50 acres planted with vines, this west Texas appellation is cool and wet at an elevation ranging from 4,500 to 8,300 feet.
- Texoma: Located in north-central Texas, this area contains approximately 3,650 square miles along the Texas-Oklahoma line.
Texas produces about 3.0 million gallons of wine yearly.
The Texas Wine industry has an economic impact of nearly $2 billion annually (yeah, that billion with a B!).
The oldest continuously running winery is Val Verde, which was started in 1883 by Frank Qualia–and is still owned by the Qualia family today. Btw, their Don Luis Tawny Port is amazing (I mean, you could disagree with me, but you’d be wrong!).
How does this relate to me? Well, see AVAs #2, 3, and 4? That’s my home and I will happily tout the wineries therein. Every time I am home, I will go back to my wine shop and see what’s new in the area and, of course, try some of my favorites that I have been drinking over the last 20 years, such as Becker, Grape Creek, Texas Hills, Sister Creek, Dry Comal Creek, and Fall Creek.
Of course, there are many more. But these guys were around when I started working at the wine shop and they will always be my go-to wineries when recommending wineries where one can get a great tour and the opportunity to taste some of the best wine that Texas has to offer.
There are two others that I would be terribly remiss in not mentioning: Bell Mountain and Chisholm Trail–to me, they are more than just wineries, they truly are home. You see, right next door to the ranch sits Bob & Evelyn’s beloved Bell Mountain Winery. In fact, the hill where our house sat? It’s on their poster. I mean, you can’t get more local than that. Unless, of course, you’re talking about Paula at Chisholm Trail, who purchased the land for her vineyard from my great, great uncle Hugo. It was her 1994 Merlot that actually made me give non-blended merlots a chance. While, they are still not my favorite grape by any stretch of the imagination, I will drink, and even (gasp!) purchase them from time to time–and that’s all thanks to Paula!
When I moved to NYC, I moved with the bare necessities: the pupcicle, my books, 3 cases of Shiner Bock, 5 cases of Texas wine, and a bit of furniture and clothing. After my brother closed the door of the U-Haul, he hugged me and whispered “drive carefully because if you get pulled over, you’ll be arrested for bootlegging.”
Thanks Bubba, but I have NO INTENTIONS WHAT-SO-EVER of selling any (or even sharing!) anything in those 8 cases!! I don’t think I have ever driven more carefully in my life! Because, of course, I had Momma and the pupcicle with me, but also because I had no intentions of having my precious cargo confiscated!