The inspiration for this article started last Thanksgiving with a bottle of Llano Signature Red wine from Lubbock, Texas. As a lifelong Husker fan, I had no intention of liking this wine whatsoever. In fact, I ridiculed the choice when it was handed to me. “What is this, chili? BBQ Sauce?” With thoughts to the fine people of Texas dealing with Hurricane Harvey, I decided to dig deeper into their wine industry.
Texas, it turns out, is the fifth-largest wine-producing state and the first to plant grapes when the Spanish missionaries began making wine in the 17th century near El Paso. Val Verde winery was established in 1883 in Del Rio and is still in operation today.
A pioneer of the industry and a hero to the world of wine was Thomas Munson. In the late 1800s, he surveyed the state to classify and test hundreds of grape varieties. These extensive findings were so impressive that he was recognized at the 1893 World’s Fair in Chicago for his achievements.
Munson also created breeding programs to find the most disease-resistant and climatically appropriate cultivars for Texas. These became creatively named the Munson varieties. Heroically, he also discovered that grafting American rootstock to European vinifera would stop phylloxera – the pests that ruined 75 percent of the European vineyards in the late 1800s. Many of the European vines today are related to the original Texas rootstock. He was awarded the Legion of Honor from France for his contribution.
There are eight American Viticultural Areas (AVAs) in Texas. Most vineyards are in the North-Central and South-Central/Eastern areas of the state. The Texas High Plains area near Lubbock is considered the best. Cabernet Sauvignon is the most popular varietal, but dozens of others are prevalent, including Zinfandel, Chardonnay and Grenache.
The Hill Country AVA includes the cities of Austin and San Antonio. It gets much hotter in this area, so the Bordeaux varietals of the High Plains will not work. The best-suited grapes are those from warmer areas such as Spain and Southern Italy. Varietals include Tempranillo, Grenache and Syrah.
And the Llano Signature Red? A blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Malbec, Merlot and Petit Verdot. It was very good – not enough for me to like the Longhorns, but it was quite delicious, indeed.
I hope you will give Texas a chance!