The Wines of Texas are Upon You

Its Spring and Summer is rapidly approaching. Soon the kids will be out of school and we’ll be looking for things to do on the weekends. Why not visit some Texas wineries? There are a surprising number of wineries within an hour’s drive of Houston, more within two hours, and many more within three hours of the city.

Viticulture, growing grapes, is big business in Texas. In fact, Texas is the number five grape producing state. Wine production in Texas goes back more than 300 years to the Spanish Franciscans’ who founded missions here. It must have taken a lot of imagination to see a future for wine in Texas, but the first vestiges of a modern wine industry began in the 1970’s. Most, though not all, of the state’s growing areas are well west of Austin, one as far west as El Paso. So, even though all of the wineries aren’t in west Texas, most of the grapes they make their wines from are grown there.

As late as the 1990’s wine produced in Texas was, to be generous, of very poor quality. Ten years later the quality of Texas wines has improved greatly, but you will still encounter some so bad you have to wonder why they bother to bottle them. On the other hand there are a few, and the number is growing, bright spots in Texas winemaking. For example Becker Vineyards, Kiepersol Estates, Llano Estacado Winery and Messina Hof are producing consistently good, some award winning, wines. Better Texas wines have traditionally been white, however more drinkable red wines are beginning to be produced. In fact, all of the wineries above have produced award winning reds. That doesn’t mean you should run down to the store and buy the first bottle of Texas wine you see. Really good Texas wines are still a tiny minority of what’s being produced, but they are there and they are gaining ground.

There are a number of nearby wineries in the central and eastern part of Texas, some only a few minutes south of Houston. A few others are just to the northwest, in the area around Brenham and Bryan. Most of these wineries produce wine on the premises but have their grapes trucked in from one of the state’s grape growing regions further to the west.

If you haven’t visited a winery before, you will enjoy the experience. Most will have tours so you can see where the wine is made. The production area will be very unglamorous, but its worth seeing if you haven’t visited before. The main thing is that the winery will have a tasting room. Usually costing $5 or $10 per person, you will have the opportunity to taste four or five wines. Once in a while you will have a chance to sample a wine that is produced in such small quantities that it is not available anywhere other than at the winery.

You’ll find an interactive map at­texaswineries (all lower case) with links to Texas wineries. Most winery’s web sites will have their hours of operation, when tours and tastings are available, maps to help you locate them and information about their wines. A few wineries are not open to the public and some have tasting room located at a different location than their winery, so check before you go.

A word of caution. Be careful when you go winery hoping. Even though you may only taste an ounce or so of each wine, multiply that by three or four wines and that by two or three wineries and, before you know it, you will have had the equivalent of three or four full glasses of wine. A designated driver is always a good idea.

Cellar Notes

Considering the topic of the column, you might reasonably expect that I’d be suggesting some Texas wines in Cellar Notes. While there are some good Texas wines out there, they are so few and far between that I’m hesitant to recommend you buy any of them. What I do recommend is that you try Texas wines by the glass when you get the opportunity and form your own opinions. Visiting Texas wineries will allow you to do that and some Texas wines are available by the glass at area restaurants.

What I will recommend are two wines I tried for the first time in the last several weeks. I was fortunate to be able to attend the wine dinner at the Veranda restaurant last week, hosted by Robert Gilroy of Majestic Family Wines. The Sauvignon Blanc is brand new and is just now becoming available. The late harvest Chardonnay is a great value for a quality, late-harvest style desert wine. We liked both of these wines very much. Both are available from Specs (you can order them brought to the sub-urban stores) and are going to be on the Veranda’s wine list in the near future.

Grand Reserve Sauvignon Blanc
Spec’s $15 – $20

Late Harvest Chardonnay – Vintner’s Reserve
Monterey California
Spec’s $15 – $25