The Texas Wine Scene is Booming


As the former National Wine Director for Smith & Wollensky Restaurant Group, I love the line, “A slab and a Cab, please.” As a native Texan, I never would have thought Texan Cabernet would join cattle as one of the state’s most prosperous crops. But it has, and I am thrilled to see Texan wine thrive. Surprised to hear that the Lone Star State makes wine? I bet you’ll be even more surprised to learn that Texas began making wine 100 years before California.
A state with such a long wine-growing history has seen its ups and downs. Like today, frost and water shortages have always posed threats to the wines. Humans wreaked havoc on vineyards, too. The Comanche and Apache Indians, Santa Anna (the “Napoleon of the West” and the President of Mexico when Texas declared independence in 1836) and the troops of the American Civil War inflicted both damage and neglect. Then came the Volstead Act. Prohibition was so devastating to Texas that it wasn’t until 1976 that the state’s first winery was created. It wasn’t until the 1990s that the number of Texas wineries at last exceeded its pre-Prohibition number.
It turns out that Austin, the state’s capital, most likely touted Texas as a good place to grow grapes in order to entice European settlers. The state’s founding fathers, Stephen F. Austin and Sam Houston were wine lovers. (Ship manifests say they strongly preferred French wines.) And it looks like that early propaganda may have been right. Today, Texas Hill Country, to the west of Austin, is one of the state’s two major wine regions. In fact, Texas Hill Country is the second largest AVA in the USA! Though it covers 15,000 square miles, less than 4,000 acres are planted. It’s hot, humid and parched there, and grape growing is tough. The terroir is often compared to that of Bandol.
Grape vines generally prefer the industry’s other key region: the Texas High Plains in the Panhandle. Less than 1,000 acres are planted there, but they are arguably the state’s best vineyards, thanks in part to elevation. The town of Lubbock sits at 3,265 feet. Mendoza, Argentina sits at only 2,448. The soils resemble Coonawarra’s (Australia) iron oxide-rich terra rossa clays. There’s also wine being made in Texoma (near the Oklahoma border in the east), Escondido Valley (south of the High Plains and west of Hill Country) and the Texas Davis Mountains (southwest of Escondido). Technically, the Mesilla Valley includes Texan dirt, but it is generally considered a New Mexico AVA.
While Texas is the fifth largest wine-producer in the Union, it can’t yet keep up with demand. As such, some wineries (to the marked irritation of others) bring in grapes and juice from other places. These wines are labeled “For Sale in Texas Only”. If you see such bottles, know that you won’t have a pure expression of Texas terroir. Make sure your bottle is marked simply “Texas” for the real deal. While there’s Cabernet aplenty, along with your typical Merlot, Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc, the state’s most dynamic and delicious wines are often made from lesser-known varieties. Tempranillo, Rhône varieties, Tannat, Touriga Nacional, Vermentino, Roussanne, Marsanne and Viognier are all excellent bets. And, it’s worth going out of your way to find the hybrid Blanc du Bois, which is made in styles varying as widely as crisp and fresh to oxidative and orange to sweet or fortified. Try any of these Texas beauties and you’ll see the determination of these dedicated growers and winemakers to make great wine. The tagline “Don’t Mess with Texas” holds strong!

Addendum: Our thoughts are with the people of Texas during this period of extreme weather. Cheers to a swift and easy recovery.

Mentioned in this article


  • Christy: Thank you for giving us some media on Snooth. Dan Gatlin, Inwood Estates

    May 28, 2015 at 10:19 AM

  • Snooth User: shaama
    1851946 18

    I've visited. Number of Ptexas wineries and the wines are good!

    May 28, 2015 at 11:19 AM

  • Snooth User: Phyllis49
    353542 43

    I wish they shipped out of state. The tennant wine from Bending Branch is very good.

    May 28, 2015 at 11:46 AM

  • Hilmy makes an excellent tempranillo.

    May 28, 2015 at 1:40 PM

  • Snooth User: richabuck
    790775 19

    The wine is good, but the wineries are hard to find. Texas treats it's vintners like a red headed stepchild. I just returned from a trip East of Austin and I can tell you that finding some of the wineries is VERY difficult. Signage is very poor. I was told by a couple of wineries that it costs them $1000 a year to put a sign on the street outside their door. Pity.

    May 28, 2015 at 3:12 PM

  • Snooth User: snoman
    229582 210

    Greg, let's see a "Judgment of Napa" in Austin one of these days. My money's on California. Or Washington state.

    May 28, 2015 at 3:21 PM

  • Snooth User: winenana
    685466 39

    The area around Fredericksburg is a good place to look. We found Kuhlman Cellars and loved their wines and their unique wine and food pairing menu.

    May 28, 2015 at 4:13 PM

  • Snooth User: Longhorn14
    1546200 25

    We visited the Austin area in April and did some wine tours there. The wines over all were quite good. The major complaint we had was the cost of the tastings. Only two places we visited waved the cost if you purchased a bottle of wine. Some would wave it if you purchased 3 bottles. At a cost of $20+ per bottle, that s is pretty steep to recover the $10. fee. Some of the wineries had a waiting list to get in too.

    May 28, 2015 at 8:37 PM

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    May 29, 2015 at 7:03 AM

  • Christy - well written piece that will hopefully help enlighten others as to what's going on here in Texas. I used to dine at the Smith & Wollensky on the north Dallas Tollway - that was when I had an expense account in another life LOL. Today I spent any discretionary $ on grapes, tanks and labels. Cheers! Patrick Whitehead BLUE OSTRICH WINERY & VINEYARD Saint Jo, TX

    May 29, 2015 at 9:16 AM

  • Snooth User: larktexas
    1876151 6

    Thanks Christy, for the shout-out about Texas wines. We have been native Texas wine drinkers and advocates for many years and the offerings have only gotten better over time. The Austin/Fredericksburg area provides a variety of wine trails, as well as great music and (in some seasons) incredible scenery.

    Years ago we were attending a Grand Opening celebration for a new restaurant in North Dallas (yes, another one) and had the wine rep sitting next us actually laugh and look at us like we were country bumpkins when we asked whether they would be serving any Texas wines. She referred to them as "Chateau Bubba." The restaurant is now closed; we can only hope the Texas Wine nickname one day disappears as well.

    May 29, 2015 at 1:39 PM

  • i believe you may be incorrect on Texas' First winery , instead of 1976 I am told it is 1883 Val Verde winery in Del Rio. It was started by Frank Qualia (Italian) and is still run today by his great grand son. Not sure what they did during the Prohibition years ? I am curious to know what/who the Second oldest winery is ?

    May 30, 2015 at 11:25 AM

  • Sacramental wine was made at Val Verde during Prohibition. Glad they mentioned Blanc du Bois in the article. BdB lends it self to a very nice sparkler, too. Tempranillo could be one of the best for us to grow, when it comes to European Vinifera. I'm going to plant some in my vineyard to see if it can do well in our black-gumbo soil.

    May 30, 2015 at 8:45 PM

  • Thanks for acknowledging the growing Texas wine regions, particularly the Hill Country which has been labeled as the best US wine destination behind Napa Valley. Texas wines are winning in some of the most prestigious National and International competitions, so we've definitely come a long way and broken through some pretty worn out clichés about the industry. Texas Tempranillo, Viognier, Blanc du Bois and Tannat are stacking up large and I suggest everyone interested in exploring the wines of Texas get out and do so or find them online. Leanne Holley, Editor Texas Wine and Trail

    Jun 01, 2015 at 2:44 PM

  • And to complement, the main asset of Texas, in my opinion, are the soils. They're mainly sedimentary of origin, usually shallow and low in nutrients, but rich in minerals. Limestone is abundant and plants seem to respond greatly to that.
    Since Vitis vinifera is originally from the Middle East, grape vines are more than adapted to the summer heat.
    Lastly, Texas is bigger in surface than France, so you can get the potential.

    Jun 01, 2015 at 5:44 PM

  • Had some Belgian French (Walloon) visiting Big Bend and they came back through Fredericksburg. They had a Hill Country wine and spoke highly of it. They wouldn't lie just to make me feel good...they're French. My market has wines from all over the world and i suggested that if they made a Texas Wine display that i would go there, often. They never did. It seems their favorite distributor does not carry Texas wines so they don't know how to facilitate the change.

    Jun 02, 2015 at 8:24 PM

  • Snooth User: jdgrog
    110501 7

    I would like to see more detail on specifics such as winery, grapes, vintages, ratings, prices, etc.

    Jun 05, 2015 at 2:02 PM

  • Try the wines from Calais in Hye. Ben Calais is a transplanted French vigneron and is producing, the finest Texas wines I've tasted - from high altitude vineyards in west Texas. His Tempranillo, Le Canton Syrah, Bordeaux blend and Roussanne stand out!

    May 20, 2016 at 1:06 PM

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