The Texas wine industry ranks fifth in the United States for wine production behind California, Washington, New York, and Oregon. Though you might be surprised to discover Texas wine growing began long before the vineyards of Napa Valley were even planted. The recent multi-billion-dollar boom of the state’s wine industry indicates the best is yet to come for Texas wineries.
Yet Texas vintners have unique factors to consider to successfully grow grapes. The climate, soil, and elevation in Texas are unlike U.S. wine regions near the east and west coasts. Rather than planting famed international varieties like Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay, savvy vintners are adapting by selecting grape varieties more aligned with the growing conditions of Texas vineyards. Let’s explore the qualities of Texas wine regions and what wines you can expect to find from each.
Texas Grape Growing Regions
Texas is home to eight American Viticultural Areas. These AVAs are delimited grape-growing regions with distinguishing features and characteristics. For a wine to delineate the name of a specific AVA on its label, 85% of the wine must be made from grapes grown in the designated region. Here are four major Texas wine regions to discover for a better understanding of Texas wine.
High Plains and Panhandle
The Texas High Plains and Panhandle lie in the northwest portion of the state. Over 70% of Texas wine is produced here. Encompassing 8,000,000 acres, this is the second largest AVA in Texas. The Texas High Plains boasts the state’s highest elevation vineyards growing at 3,000 to 4,100 feet above sea level. This high elevation exhibits significant diurnal temperature swing during the growing season. In other words, there is a big change in temperature from day to night. During the day, grapes benefit from warm temperatures, which ripens fruit and develops flavors. Then, lower nighttime temperatures preserve acidity and freshness.
Many vineyards of the High Plains and Panhandle must be irrigated due to the semi-arid continental climate with low average rainfall. Though intense winds and well-draining sandy loam and limestone soils keep vineyards disease free. Red wines dominate production claiming 66% of vineyard acreage. However, the Texas High Plains offers the most diverse wine selection in Texas cultivating over 75 different varieties. Cabernet Sauvignon, Tempranillo, Mourvèdre, Chenin Blanc, and Grenache are some of the region’s most popular wines.
Texas Hill Country
Spanning across a massive 9,000,000 acres, Texas Hill Country is the largest AVA in Texas and the 3rd largest AVA in America. This Texas wine region is situated west of Austin and San Antonio near the center of the state. Vineyards grow at various elevations, as the area consists of undulating hills and steep canyons. The region’s base of limestone soil provides structure and aromatic lift to the finished wines.
However, Texas Hill Country growers have their work cut out for them with minimal diurnal temperature difference, harsher frosts, annual weather variations, and higher humidity. You’re most likely to encounter red wines in this Texas wine region. Try Tempranillo, Cabernet Sauvignon, Mourvèdre, Tannat, and Black Spanish, a grape variety particularly resistant to vineyard diseases prominent in Texas.
West Texas includes the Mesilla Valley, Escondido Valley, and Texas Davis Mountains AVAs. The Mesilla Valley is where Spanish missionaries first planted vineyards in the 1600s. As you might expect, the climate in West Texas is hot and dry, so vintners work with drought resistant varieties. But with a significant diurnal temperature difference, grapes preserve their freshness thanks to nighttime temperature drops. Soils here are rich in calcium and lend a certain mineral quality to the region’s wines. Must try West Texas wines include Zinfandel, Cabernet Sauvignon, Tempranillo, Malbec, and Gewürztraminer.
In North Texas you’ll find the emerging Texoma AVA with just 65 acres of vineyards. Though small, this AVA offers an array of soils, microclimates, and topography. Broadly speaking, Texoma soils are silty loam and clay, which lend well to big, bold red wines and crisp whites. Be sure to try Black Spanish, Blanc du Bois, Petite Sirah, Syrah, Sauvignon Blanc, and Vermentino.
Grapes Grown in Texas
Texas is a relatively younger wine region promising freedom of expression and diversity to creative vintners. When the Texas wine industry kicked off in the 1980s, producers grew popular grapes that were gaining market share. Mainly Bordeaux and Burgundian varieties like Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Chardonnay. For a while, they were able to produce warm-weather versions of these traditionally cool climate varieties. However, as the climate warmed, growers realized they could foster a distinctive reputation for Texas wine by working in alignment with the climate of the Lone Star State. They turned to grape varieties which thrived in warmer climates from around the world, such as Spanish Tempranillo, Grenache and Mourvèdre of the Southern Rhône Valley, and Sangiovese from the sun-soaked hills of Tuscany.
Tempranillo and Mourvèdre quickly became signature Texas wines. Both varieties are heat resistant with thick skins and bud late, thus resisting prominent Texas spring frosts. Other red varieties like Tannat, Cinsault, Carignan, and Sangiovese are great choices because they can withstand the heat spikes of summer in Texas. White wines mainly consist of varieties from warmer regions of France, Italy, and Spain, such as Viognier, Roussanne, Picpoul, Chenin Blanc, Trebbiano, Vermentino, and some Albariño.
What Makes Texas Wines Unique
Most of the 75+ grape varieties cultivated in Texas are grown in wine regions around the world. Yet in Texas you’ll discover expressions of these varieties which tend to be more mineral driven with savory characteristics as opposed to robust fruit flavors.
Wine Grown in Texas v. California vs Oregon vs Washington
Although the wines of California, Oregon, and Washington are renowned today, they were all once burgeoning wine regions developing their signature style. A big part of this process involves learning how to work with prevalent growing conditions.
In Texas, vintners turn to late-budding varieties to combat spring frosts. They rely on hardy, often thick-skinned grapes capable of withstanding the intense heat of long summers. Grapes like Mourvèdre, Tempranillo, Grenache, Sangiovese, and Syrah fit the bill. Since grapes ripen quicker in these warm conditions, harvest is usually completed earlier than in wine regions on the west coast. Grapes in Texas generally spend less time ripening on the vine. As a result, Texas wine showcases mineral characteristics, higher acidity, moderate fruit flavors, and round, grippy tannins.
Near the west coast, the Pacific Ocean influences wine regions in California, Oregon, and Washington. In warm, sunny California, cooling ocean breezes moderate warm temperatures of inland regions and keep vineyards near the coast cool. This effect lengthens the growing season, giving grapes more time to mature fully, developing concentrated fruit flavors, sophisticated tannins, and complexity. Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay, Zinfandel, and Pinot Noir are California’s signature grapes. However, the state cultivates a plethora of grape varieties thanks to countless microclimates.
Heading north into Oregon, vineyards grow in diverse, nutrient rich soils in a cooler climate with less sunny days and heavier rains. Burgundian grapes like Pinot Noir and Chardonnay thrive in this type of climate. The cooler climate lends itself to a longer growing season, yielding grapes with layered savory, earthy flavors, and vibrant acidity.
In Washington, the Olympic and Cascade mountains largely influence wine regions. These mountains create a rain shadow effect, shielding vineyards from otherwise heavy Washington rains. Wine regions also have a large 30-40°F diurnal temperature difference. These growing conditions allow Washington to produce Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Syrah, and more that rivals the best of European wine regions like Bordeaux and the Rhône.
History of Texas Wine
The history of Texas wine dates further back than that of its more famous counterparts in California, Oregon, and Washington.
In 1662, Spanish missionaries planted the first vineyards in the United States in Texas. Grapevines remained for centuries, leading to the introduction of Val Verde, the first Texas winery established in 1883. Val Verde was the only Texas winery to withstand the dry years of Prohibition from 1920 – 1933.
Later in the 1960s, Clinton “Doc” McPherson, a University of Texas chemistry professor, traveled across the United States to collect vitis vinifera and hybrid grape varieties. He planted an experimental vineyard of 140 different varieties in the Texas High Plains in 1966 with his partner Bob Reed. As opposed to widely known international varieties, Doc found obscure grape varieties like Tempranillo, Grenache, Chenin Blanc, and more flourished in the soil and climate of Texas.
The Future of Wine in Texas
In recent years, Texas vintners began embracing grape varieties suitable to the characteristics of their region in pursuit of a distinguished style for Texas wine. The ever-growing Texas wine industry is still finding its identity, so there are opportunities for creative winemakers to make their mark. Many Texas wineries currently sell most of their wines direct-to-consumer through the tasting room. Accordingly, the Texas wine industry has mastered tourism. Yet the key to further growth lies in expanding into retail and restaurants across America.
Moreover, the agricultural side of the industry needs to meet the extensive growth of Texas wine production. Only a fraction of 400 Texas wineries grow their own grapes to make wine. The vast majority rely on growers to cultivate their grapes. The future of wine in Texas will likely see a rise in terroir-driven wines with more emphasis on vineyard sites and a boom in planting.
Barons Creek Vineyards Wines
At Barons Creek Vineyards, we take a unique approach to winemaking, because for us, it all starts with good grapes. We source our grapes from the best growers, selecting the rows of grapes that our winemaker, Russell Smith, identifies as optimal for winemaking.
After grapes have been harvested, we press them as close to the harvest site as possible, preserving the grapes integrity and allowing us to make wine that presents the grapes’ best expression. Once the grapes are “crushed”, fermentation proceeds per Russell’s direction, including yeast selection, punch down intervals, and so on.
Once fermentation is complete, the wines are then moved to our winery in Fredericksburg for barrel aging, fining, filtering, blending, and bottling. Even our two Spanish red wines, Campeón & Hippo, which Russell produces at his vineyards in Spain, are finished and bottled in Fredericksburg. Of course, the two sparkling wines that BCV produces are bottled in Spain due to the legal requirements to produce Cava.
Discover the Texas wine movement with some of our best wines made from Texas-grown grapes: Texas Tempranillo, Texas Cabernet Boots, Texas Merlot, Texas Viognier, Estate Rose, Texas Blend Opulent, and Texas Port Sweet Dreams.
Our 2021 Texas Tempranillo is brimming with aromas of cherry, red currant, saffron, and hints of smoke. A plush mouthfeel follows with flavors of black cherry, ripe plums, clove, and round tannins.
Cabernet Sauvignon lovers can reach for our 2021 Boots to experience a true Texan Cabernet. This is a wine to savor with aromas of blackberry, black currants, and dried rose petals with dark fruit flavors and grippy tannins.
If you’re in the mood for something sweet, try our 2021 Sweet Dreams. This 100% Texas port style wine delivers a smooth palate with flavors of dark cherries and chocolate with a sweet finish.
Curious to learn more about Texas wine? Join our wine club to uncover an authentic Texas wine experience delivered to your doorstep. We offer various wine club packages to quench your thirst. Otherwise, schedule an educational wine tasting at one of our BCV locations.
The Future is Bright for Texas Wine
While the up-and-coming Texas wine industry has made great strides over the last decade, we still have exciting opportunities for growth ahead. By continuing to align our viticulture methods with Texas growing conditions, working with varieties in support of a signature Texas wine style, and expanding into new markets, the Texas wine movement is sure to entice wine lovers across America. Don’t miss out on the Texas wine experience! Barons Creek Vineyards now ships to 35 states. Check out our online wine shop for more.