Texas wines. Are they serious?

If you consider 8,000 acres of land devoted to viticulture (2012 USDA Agriculture Survey), then you will believe that Texas is very serious about its wine industry.

Texas wines. Are they serious?

If you consider 8,000 acres of land devoted to viticulture (2012 USDA Agriculture Survey), then you will believe that Texas is very serious about its wine industry.

In the Beginning

The Texas wine story begins in the mid-17th century when the Franciscan’s established the first vineyard in North America at Ysleta on the Rio Grande near El Paso with grapevines from Mexican missions. The industry continued to grow thanks to the European settlers who brought their grapevine cuttings as they moved into Texas through the 19th century. Unfortunately, these early attempts failed; however, the German immigrants in south central Texas and the Hill Country soon learned the technique of adding large amounts of sugar during fermentation and turned to making wine from the abundant wild mustang grapes. In the late 19th century, an Italian immigrant established the Vale Verde Winery in Del Rio.

Texas and Missouri Save European Vineyards

Thomas Munson, from Denison, Texas, is considered the father of Texas viticulture and noted as a grape breeder and authority on making wine. In the 1870s, Munson and a Missouri colleague helped to save the European wine industry by shipping carloads of phylloxera-resistant native rootstocks to France and other vineyard regions threated by lice. Munson developed more than 300 varieties of grapes suited to the Texas and Midwest environment.

Past to Present

During Prohibition all viticulture stopped and in 1919 the last winery closed in Texas when the state legislature voted the state legally dry. It was not until 1970 that the Texas wine industry rebooted.

Bobby Smith at Springtown and the Sandy Land Grape Growers Association (west of Lubbock) were the first to reintroduce vineyards to the area. Clint McPherson and Robert Reed (Llano Estacado Winery – 1976) led the association and Dr Roy Mitchell, a chemistry professor from Texas Tech University, actively engaged in the industry. By the middle of the decade wine production was popular in Fort Worth, Fredericksburg and Fort Stockton. By the 1970s it was found that the classic vinifera could be successfully produced in Texas and by 1985 the wines of Texas were producing national and international award winning wines. In 1986 Llano Estacado won a Double Gold Award at the San Francisco Fair Wine competition and Texas has won scores of awards at the state, national and international levels ever since.

Today Texas has eight AVA’s (America Viticulture Area) designated by the US Department of Treasury through the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau and this means that 85 percent of the volume of wine must come from grapes grown in that designated region. Seventy percent of the grapes grown in Texas are from the High Plains region and the state’s wineries are concentrated in the Texas Hill Country. As of 2013 there are 308 wineries, employing 10,000 people and Texas placed 6th in wine production (vintagetexas.com).

The Grapes

Grapes that are able to grow in the Texas terroir and climate include:

1. Cabernet Sauvignon. Leading quality red wine grape that has vigorous vines and adapts to climates and fermentation styles. Does well south of Lubbock and represents 24 percent of wine sold in the US. It is susceptible to Pierce’s disease in Texas and dies quickly from it.

2. Chenin Blanc. The grape is vigorous and easy to grow and produces high quality fruit. Used as a blender, grown best in West Texas.

3. Merlot. Red grape of choice has moderately vigorous vines with potential for high yields. Susceptible to black rot so it demands good fungicide protection, pruning and management.

4. Muscat Canelli. Old Italian variety from Italy’s Piedmont region and sold in the US as Asti, Muscat Canelli; vigorous vines that do well in West Texas. Used for blending with other varietals; produces fruity, sparkling wines.

5. Riesling. Low demand but easy to grow; considered the best variety in North Texas.

6. Ruby Cabernet. High quality tonnage; produces wine with excellent color.

7. Sangiovese. Italy’s number one wine has tremendous vigor that works well in Texas. Must be carefully made with ripe fruit and aged in small oak barrels.

8. Sauvignon Blanc. Easy growth and high tonnage.

9. Viognier. Difficult to grow and prone to disease; unpredictable in yield. Reasonably drought resistant. Distinctive aroma of peaches, apricots and violets.

10. Zinfandel. Produces a full bodied red wine and a blush. Grows well north of Lubbock and West Texas.

Good/Bad News for Texas Wine Industry

There are no statewide diseases or climatic problems that might negatively impact on industry growth. Although, in an area the size of France, there are bound to be some localized issues; for example, the High Plains (near-desert humidity) produces low disease but does experience late-spring frosts and hail storms that can destroy crops. In the south and east of the state, Pierce’s Disease susceptibility runs from the Louisiana border down the Gulf coast to Houston. The disease is manifested as a gel formed in the xylem tissue of the vine, preventing water from being drawn through the vine. The leaves turn yellow and brown and drop off the vine. The shoots die and within five years the vine dies.


Texas produces still table wine (under 14 percent alcohol), fortified wine (added alcohol, i.e., brandy), dessert wine (14+ percent alcohol, usually sweet, served as a dessert) and sparkling wine (carbon dioxide from a second fermentation through method champenoise or in large tanks).

A Texas winery is an enterprise licensed by the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission (TABC) which issues a Winery G permit giving permission to the organization to manufacture, bottle, label, and package wine containing not more than 24 percent alcohol by volume (ABV). The organization can also sell wine to wholesalers, retailers and consumers. It is interesting to note that not all enterprises with a Winery G permit are wineries. Some permit holders are “thinking of making wine” and others are just selling wine (i.e., wine.com). Therefore, it is difficult to accurately determine the number of organizations actually producing wine.

Read the Label: FSITO- For Sales in Texas Only. Grapes are not from Texas

• For wines labeled For Sale in Texas Only: Wines are not usually made from enough Texas grapes to qualify as Texas appellation. It is likely that the wine is made from grapes from California or New Mexico

• Wines with a Texas appellation: The wine is made from at least 75 percent grapes that are actually grown in Texas or one of the seven Texas regional appellations (i.e., Texas High Plans, Texas Hill Country)

• Go Texan on the label: Formerly meant that “0” percent of the grapes must be from Texas; however, from the 2014 vintage – and going forward, a minimum of 75 percent of the grapes must be from Texas

• 100 percent Texas grapes: Consult the back label and read the winery’s description of the wine

• AVA on the label: Terms such as Texas, Texas Hill Country or Texas High Plains on the label requires that 85 percent Texas grapes must be used. If a single vineyard designation is used, the requirement for Texas grapes increases to 95 percent

• Just Texas on the label: 75 percent of the grapes are from Texas (25 percent can be from somewhere else)

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• American on the label: Grapes used in the wine are from somewhere in the USA. However, it could also mean that that the wine contains 74 percent Texas fruit or there was no Texas fruit at all used

There are some wineries in Texas that use no fruit grown in the state because it is less expensive to buy elsewhere. Some wineries have no interest in the fruit and buy juice concentrate out of state, buy finished bulk wine by itself or to blend with other juice or buy “shiners” – complete bottles of wine without a label. In this case the winery provides the label and they are selling wines.

Confused? To summarize the complexity of the Texas wine label: To be a Texas wine it must have Texas on the label (at least 75 percent of the grapes are from Texas)

1. To be absolutely sure, Texas Wine Lover recommends:

a) Check the label for the word Texas or other Texas appellation

b) Check the label and/or ask for grape variety information

c) Ask what Texas vineyard where the grapes are from. Check: Texas Vineyard lists

Tastings. Wines of Texas in Grapevine

While Grapevine, Texas is not noted for growing grapes, there are many Tasting Rooms along Main Street where Texan wine can be tasted and purchased.

1. Messina Hof Grapevine Winery (Fourth winery established in Texas)

Located on Grapevine’s Main Street, this family owned enterprise is built on the concepts of family, tradition and romance. Started by Paul and Merrill Bonarrigo in 1977, the family began making wines in the 1800s in Sicily. The winery was named after the family origins of Messina, Sicily and Hof, Germany. The vineyards are managed by Paul and his wife Karen and they produce 130,000 gallons per year. Tastings are available: A $10 fee is charged for a consumer’s pick of up to 5 wines from the list

Curated Tasting:

• Texas Sparkling Rose

This sparkling brut was released in 2015 and is the first sparkling wine made from 100 percent Texas grown grapes (Blanc du Bois). The California wine producer, Rack and Riddle, processes and bottles the sparkling rose using methode chapenoise.

Very pink to the eye and a birthday cake sweetness with very fine bubbles on the palate that is tempered by hints of peaches, bananas and green apples. A sweet sour cherry candy and citrus finish makes this perfect for multi-generational special events like engagement parties and girls’ night out.

• Syrah, Private Reserve. 75 percent Syrah; 25 percent Merlot. Syrah is grown in the rich soil of Red River Valley in Denison, Texas. Aged 6 months in 100 percent French/American hybrid oak. Awarded Gold Medal and Texas Class Champion at Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo I Rodeo Uncorked!

Deep ruby red to the eye, with ripe red cherries, blue and blackberries asserting themselves to the nose; sour cherries combined with hints of nutmeg and pepper tease the palate and lead to an earthy cherry finish. Serve at bar-b-ques and country fairs.

2. Homestead Winery (Grapevine Historic Center, Worth Street)

Barb and Gabe Parker are currently managing the winery started by Gabe’s grandfather more than 100 years ago. It has been continuously operational in Red River Valley (North Texas). Originally a farm for wheat and corn, it was replanted with Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah grapes. The vineyard currently includes 20 acres of Cabernet Sauvignon, Muscat and Ruby Cabernet. Grapes are also acquired from other growers. The winemaker is Dr Roy Mitchel. The Tasting Room in Grapevine is located in a 1890s Texas Victorian home.

Curated Tasting:

• Rose of Ivanhoe. (Responsible for approximately 52 percent of Homestead Winery sales). Made with Chardonnay grapes

Deep claret red to the eye with the fragrance of ripe cherries, plums, prunes, dried figs, tobacco, leather and chocolate to the nose. On the palate – lots of cherries that lead to a sweetly sour finish. Perfectly paired with camembert and fresh green pears.

3. Cross Timbers Winery

History buffs will find the winery of interest as the house dates back to the 19th century built by Dr. Dorris who started his journey to Grapevine from Starkville, Mississippi. Now it is considered to be one of the 5 oldest buildings in the area. The renovation was based on the original design from the collective memories of Clinton Brock and Freida. Four 1-ounce wine tastings are available at $7.00.

Curated Tastings:

• Grapevine White – Non Vintage. Roussanne, Viognier, Chenin Blanc and Muscat grapes

Light green to straw yellow to the eye; offers hints of sour grapefruit and lemon rind to the palate leading to a citrus sour finish. Pair with poached salmon

• Cross Timbers Viv Mi Amor Blush. Chenin Blanc, Muscat, Viognier, Ruby Cab

To the eye a light cherry color; to the palate hints of bananas and kiwi, green apples and citrus. There is a sweet floral finish reminiscent of red candy Life Savers.

4. Sloan & Williams Winery

Wines purchased at Sloan & Williams are a delicious way to support military veterans. Both owners, Alan W. Kunst, Jr. & Ralph W. Mattison, Jr. were in the armed forces and bring their military philosophy and “Code of Conduct” to every bottle produced. The grapes used are from Texas and California based on soil, climate, topography and geography.


At the 2015 TEXSOM International Awards competition, Sloan & Williams won awards for their Symphony Lodi (Gold), Zinfandel Lodi (Silver), Sangiovese Texas High Plains(Silver), and bronze for Malbec, Sangiovese Lodi, Symphony Lodi, Cabernet Sauvignon, Serendipity Texas, Roussane, Serenity, and Chardonnay.

Sloan & Williams also walked off with 14 medals at the 32nd Annual Lone Star International Wine Competition. The 2014 Texas High Plains Roussane received a Gold Grand Star while Silver was awarded to NV Crimson, 2014 Triplicity, 2014 Roussanne, 2013 Cabernet Sauvignon, 2014 Texas Rose, 2013 Symphony, 2013 Sangiovese, Sangiovese Texas, 2014 Texas Rose and Bronze for 2013 Spectrum Blush, 2012 Zinfandel and 2013 Serenity.

Curated Tastings:

• Texas Rose. 2015. Chenin Blanc – 28 percent, Muscat- 27 percent; Vementino – 14 percent, Albarino – 11 percent, Roussanne – 10 percent and Viognier – 10 percent.

Clear light straw to the eye and slightly sour on the palate – delivering hints of honeysuckle, peach, apricots, oranges and tangerines. The slight sour finish is refreshing and lingers

• Sangiovese. 2014. 100 percent Texas High Plains grapes. Aged in French Oak

To the eye deep purple trending to pink. To the palate young slightly sour cherries, strawberries, licorice and wood (earthy). A wild cherry finish includes firm tannins and high acidity.

Get to Grapevine

Whether you are a corporate meeting planner looking to add interest to your program in the Dallas/Ft. Worth area, or have a few hours to spend exploring nearby locales before your flight departs, Grapevine, is an attractive destination for a few hours of wine tasting and shopping in small Main Street shops that feature locally made chocolates (Dr. Sue’s) and local produce (Farmers Market). For additional information, click here.

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