Fall Creek Vineyards front drive (Tow, TX)
Texas gets mixed reviews for its grape-growing conditions. The soil is good, but humidity can be problematic. The wind blows unchecked over endless acres of flat land, but it helps cool the vineyards at night—which is good because the heat is merciless during the day. And even though Pierce’s disease regularly creeps through the vineyards, Texan winemakers march on.
They always have, actually, because Texas boasts a longer history of cultivating grapes than anywhere else in the country. Spanish missionaries brought winemaking to El Paso in the 1600s (long before California). In the late 1800s, Thomas Munson rescued the European wine industry from the ravages of phylloxera by sending thousands of resistant Texan rootstocks across the pond. Texas boasts more native grapevine species than any place on earth and, with nearly 130 wineries, it’s the country’s fifth-largest wine producer.
A look back to the pioneers of Texas’s modern wine industry finds folks like Clinton “Doc” McPherson in Lubbock, who undertook grape-growing in earnest during the late 1960s and early 70s. They planted mostly the same grapes as in California—merlot, chardonnay, cabernet—and the wine turned out okay. Today, McPherson’s son, Kim, says his father and others gave consumers what they were comfortable with, “but it ultimately set up Texas wines against California wines, and we just couldn’t compete.”
After earning a degree in food science at Texas Tech University, studying viticulture at UC Davis, and working at several California wineries, McPherson returned to Lubbock with fresh ideas. As owner and winemaker of McPherson Cellars, he says today’s Texas winemakers should grow grapes to the land. “I’ve been trying to preach this for a long time. It gets really hot here so I do stuff that’s more conducive to our climate. That means Spanish, Italian, and some Rhone varietals. They work great out on the high plains with the unrelenting heat.”
Barrels and pick-up truck, outside of Becker Vineyards winery (Stonewall, TX)
Future of Texas Wines
Fall Creek Vineyards extensive line-up at their tasting room (Tow, TX)
It’s safe to say that the best wines from Texas have not yet been made, but as Lone Star vineyards and winemakers have matured, so have their wines. South of the panhandle’s high plains, Susan Auler runs Fall Creek Vineyards with her husband, Ed, in the Hill Country town of Tow. Fall Creek has been very successful with Bordeaux varietals since 1975. “We’ve learned a lot in the past 30 years. We’re still learning how to handle other varieties in different parts of the state,” says Susan, who agrees that some Mediterranean varietals are important to the future of Texas wines.
But regardless of the grape, Texas labels are rarely seen outside of the state because there’s simply not enough to go around. Production has doubled since 1994, but weather, disease and, quite honestly not enough money translates to too few acres under production. “We cannot begin to satisfy the in-state interest in Fall Creek wine. We’re growing as fast as we can, but even though we ship to other states and overseas, at this point we can only create a rumor of our existence outside of Texas,” Auler says.
Steve Becker, of Becker Vineyards in Stonewall, echoes that sentiment. “We made 45,000 cases this year and sold nearly every bit of it in Texas.” Although he wants to ship more out of state, there’s rarely any wine leftover to export past the border. Becker says that keeps outside interest low, so it’s critical for Texas winemakers to expand their business and plant more acres in order to become bigger players on the world wine stage.
“In terms of quality, we’re getting close to many wines from California and around the world. In some cases I think Texas wines are better,” says Becker. “But to generate real interest outside of Texas, we’ll have to do a lot of things, including winning the Paris Tasting.” For the record, he’s not talking about Paris, Texas.
McPherson Cellars wines
“But to generate real interest outside of Texas, we’ll have to do a lot of things, including winning the Paris Tasting.”
Becker Vineyards bottle at their tasting room (Stonewall, TX)