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Dare to Be Grape

These six splendid wineries are setting the standard for Texas viticulture.

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Photograph by Wynn Myers

In the late sixties, Texas Tech chemistry professor Clinton “Doc” McPherson and horticulture professor Bob Reed planted a few wine grapes outside Lubbock. The deep sandy loam had long been home to cotton, peanuts, and soybeans, but never to grapes. To their surprise, the vines flourished, producing fruit as ripe and balanced as what you might find in Southern France. The two went on to establish Llano Estacado Winery, the second bonded Texas winemaking operation since Prohibition. Today it is one of the largest wineries in the state, producing several premier, restaurant-only wines in addition to its commercial line.

Others soon followed suit. In 1975 Fall Creek Vineyards, in Tow, planted its first vines; Messina Hof Winery and Resort, in Bryan, did the same two years later. Now each produces nearly 50,000 cases annually. Through trial and error in testing soils, climate, and various grape varieties, these pioneers laid the foundation for Texas viticulture. Now a new generation of vintners is taking these lessons and advancing the industry beyond anything that could have been imagined half a century ago. The following six wineries are creating wines that aren’t just excellent, they’re authentic.They taste like Texas.

McPherson Cellars

Lubbock, High Plains
After Kim McPherson learned to press with some of the best in Napa Valley and at Llano Estacado Winery, founded by his father, he launched McPherson Cellars in 1998. Since then, he’s produced a consistent (and approachably priced) lineup made with warm-climate grapes. The light and fruity 2013 Les Copains Red ($14) is a blend of the “red friends” that originated in France’s rugged Southern Rhône region: Mourvèdre, Cinsault, Carignan, Grenache, and Syrah. Brimming with ripe strawberries and tart cherries, it holds an earthy undertone. The 2014 Albariño ($16), with a tropical fruit and lemon zest nose framed by minerality, suits grilled seafood. 1615 Texas Ave, 806-687-9463

Duchman Family Winery

Driftwood, South Hill Country
One of the state’s most consistent producers, Duchman Family Winery built its reputation on Italian grape varieties, believing that what is good for the Italian soils of Tuscany, Abruzzo, and Sardinia is also good for Texas. Today it vinifies a few other, non-Italian grapes, like Tempranillo, but its soul is still poured into wines like its rich and earthy Montepulciano ($19), with hints of black cherry, sautéed mushroom, and cocoa, and its sturdy Sangiovese ($15), accented by bright bing cherry, cola, and hints of hot red earth. The lemony Vermentino ($15) has a touch of orange blossom and tropical pineapple on the nose. 13308 FM 150, 512-858-1470

Lewis Wines

Johnson City, Hill Country
Longtime soccer buddies Doug Lewis and Duncan McNabb sidestepped corporate life after earning business and chemistry degrees, respectively, and bought one hundred acres between Johnson City and Hye, where they built a winery from the ground up. There they produce bold reds and crisp whites with grapes sourced from six acres of their estate, as well as from the High Plains and elsewhere in the Hill Country. Their quaffable 2014 Swim Spot ($14) is a Vinho Verde style of wine known for its freshness and light body, while their 2011 Round Mountain Vineyard Reserve ($50), crafted from Tempranillo, Tinta Cão, and Touriga Nacional, is robust and deeply structured. 3209 U.S. 290 West, 512-987-0660

William Chris Vineyards

Hye, Hill Country
Opened in 2008, this partnering of wine veteran William Blackmon and  recently graduated A&M entomology and horticulture major Chris Brundrett made Hye, a tiny town near Fredericksburg, a must-stop for wine lovers. Driven by a “wine is grown in the vineyard, not made” philosophy, William Chris tries not to change the expression of the fruit once it has been picked. The blending and barrel aging complement the wine rather than dominate it. The Enchanté red blend ($42) is very popular, but single varietals like the new Texas Mourvèdre ($36) and the 2011 Estate Block 500 Merlot ($45) allow the grapes that are best suited for Texas soils to speak for themselves. 10352 U.S. 290, 830-998-7654

Spicewood Vineyards

Spicewood, Hill Country
Just northwest of Austin along Texas Highway 71, Spicewood Vineyards has cornered the market for Sauvignon Blanc in Texas by successfully growing an unlikely candidate for Texas’s climate with a little luck from its well-drained sandy loam soils. The 2014 ($17) is a beautiful example, with aromas of white daisy and lemongrass and hints of grapefruit, papaya, and guava on the palate. Its 2012 Hill Country Estate Tempranillo ($46) is arguably the state’s best expression of the Spanish grape, and its newly released 2013 Syrah ($30), with its dark fruit beneath light notes of smoked meat, is reminiscent of Rhône Valley greats. 1419 County Road 409, 830-693-5328

Pedernales Cellars

Stonewall, Hill Country
Although the Kuhlken family has grown red Bordeaux and Spanish varietals for more than 25 years, they didn’t establish their own winery until 2006, when two siblings and their spouses partnered to open a production facility and tasting room. Their champion Spanish red variety Tempranillo Reserve ($50) and Southern French white variety Viognier ($17) have regularly won gold medals from the San Francisco International Wine Competition, the TexSom International Wine Awards, and the Lyon International Wine Competition. Also of note is a French Rhône “GSM” (Grenache, Syrah, and Mourvèdre, $26), with leather, cocoa, and pepper notes. 2916 Upper Albert Rd, 830-644-2037

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