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Remembering a Texas Wine Pioneer

The state's wine industry bids farewell to one of its great ambassadors, Clinton “Doc” McPherson, who passed away early Saturday morning.

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Clinton “Doc” McPherson, a great ambassador and pioneer of the Texas wine industry, passed away early Saturday morning. McPherson was one of the first to grow wine grapes in what was otherwise considered cotton-farming land, and he leaves behind a significant legacy for the next generation of Texas winemakers and grape growers to carry on. 

Considered a true pioneer of the Texas wine industry, McPherson and his colleague and business partner, Bob Reed, began planting experimental grapes in Lubbock during the late sixties, just to see if wine grapes could thrive in Texas. In 1968 he was the first to plant Sangiovese in his “Sagmor Vineyard,” a plot of land which still produces some of the most prized Sangiovese in Texas today. He and Reed established the Llano Estacado Winery in 1976, one of the first post-Prohibition wineries in Texas. Today “Doc” is revered as one of the fathers of the Texas wine industry. 

McPherson, who grew up in a cotton farming family, served in the Army Air Corps in World War II. He returned to Texas to teach chemistry at the University of Texas Tech. He is survived by his wife and his three sons, two of whom followed in their father’s footsteps to become winemakers. Jon McPherson makes wine in the Temecula Valley region of Southern California, and Kim McPherson has risen in local fame as one of the top Texas winemakers in the state under his own label, McPherson Cellars. Doc’s third son, Mark, is a teacher in Keene.

Below are a sentiments expressed by the many friends and admirers of Doc McPherson’s work: 

“My fondest memory of Doc was back in 2006, when [the Llano Estacado Winery] celebrated thirty years. The two keynote speakers that evening were Doc McPherson and Bob Reed. They took the stage together, and suddenly, it was as if they had stepped back in time and were young, jovial men again, telling stories of their hopes and dreams while sharing their vision. It was a night to behold, and such a joy to see how excited and proud they were of how far the industry has come, while humorously reminiscing about the incredible hurdles they faced initially. We owe these gentlemen a huge debt of gratitude for their passion and vision.” 

– Mark Hyman, Llano Estacado Winery

“Doc was a father of the modern Texas wine industry, a true visionary. He was a modest man and a mentor to those who would listen. I will benefit from his wisdom for the rest of my life.” 

– Greg Bruni, Llano Estacado Winery

“The saying that ‘they threw away the mold when they made him’ would most certainly apply to Doc McPherson. Doc was one of a kind. He had an infectious curiosity, a willingness to share what he knew and what he didn’t know with those he regarded as friends. And he had an irreplaceable sense of humor. No matter what the occasion or circumstance, Doc made things more fun. He was a true pioneer in the rebirth of the Texas wine industry. In his passing, we have lost a real friend and Texas has lost a good, good man.” 

– Ed and Susan Auler, Fall Creek Vineyards

“Today, we have over 250 wineries in Texas. In the seventies, we had one. Doc McPherson and Bob Reed were the George Washington and John Adams of the modern Texas grape and wine industry. The death of Doc McPherson is truly a very sad event for Texas. His contributions, along with those of his sons, Kim and Jon, have provided the foundation for Texas wine as we know it today. God rest his soul.” 

– Pat Brennan, Brennan Vineyards 

“The first time we met Doc he said, ‘You know you’re crazy to do this but it sure will be interesting.’ That sparkle in his eye and the enthusiasm that he expressed drew you in. In the last few years every time I was around him there was a crowd like one was listening to a prophet. He has left a legacy that passes to Kim and I know how proud he was of him.” 

– Paul and Merrill Bonarrigo, Messina Hof Winery

“The current leaders of the Texas wine industry stand on the shoulders of giants. Clint was one of those. His infectious enthusiasm for this magnificent terroir propelled younger generations into a life in winegrowing. His influence with us will endure even after he has gone on to greener vineyards.” 

– Bobby Cox, High Plains winegrower

“I was sorry to hear about Doc’s passing. I didn’t know him personally, but I do know that it’s because of people like him that we are where we we are today in the Texas wine industry.” 

– Dave Reilly, Duchman Family Winery

“Doc McPherson was a great pioneer winemaker in Texas. He will be missed, but his vision lives on. Our thoughts are with the McPherson family.” 

– Fredrik Osterberg, Pedernales Cellars 

“Doc McPherson was a trailblazer for the Texas Wine Industry and instrumental in the start-up of a tiny winery venture, Llano Estacado, now the second largest winery in Texas. He was also a crusty fellow who knew how to tell a risqué joke. We are all going to miss him; the legacy of his Texas Wine Industry continues.” 

– Don Pullum, Akashic Vineyards and Sandstone Cellars

“‘Doc’ was a life long mentor for me and many more. He, Dr. Mitchell and Dr. Reed were all at Texas Tech in the early seventies as I was. A part of “Doc” will always be with the Newsom Family in spirit and here on earth for my Sangiovese vines were cloned from Doc’s Sagmor Vineyard. Godspeed to him and all the McPherson family.” 

– Neal Newsom, Newsom Family Vineyards

“I didn’t know him personally, but I have tremendous respect for him, his family, and what they helped start here in Texas. The industry as a whole owes him for believing grapes could be grown and wines could be made on the High Plains.” 

– Doug Lewis, Lewis Wines

“Dr. McPherson, in my opinion, didn’t just pave the way, path, or road to the modern day wine industry; he had the foresight to lay the foundation for an industry to be built. I never had the opportunity to meet Dr. McPherson, but I have no doubt that without Doc and his family’s unwavering contributions to Texas wine, I wouldn’t have an industry to call home. My condolences to the McPherson family.” 

– John Rivenburgh, Bending Branch Winery   

“The contribution that Doc Mcpherson leaves behind in Texas, is unmeasurable. He was one of the guys to help start it all in the basement of the chemistry building at Tech. I don’t think at the time he knew he was helping birth an industry that would be to the scale it is now. As a younger person in this industry I feel like he had to have been very pleased with his legacy. The few conversations I was able to share with him were filled with a sharp wit and me doing most of the listening.”

– Chris Brundrett, William Chris Vineyards

“Doc’s pioneering in Texas wine and winemaking set the stage for those of us to be able to do what we do now. He showed everyone that not only can we grow grapes and make wine in Texas, we can grow world class grapes and make world class wines right here in our great state. The Texas wine industry is now missing a legend.” 

– Ron Yates, Spicewood Vineyards

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