Words by Nan McCreary

In November of 2021, the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo™ celebrated its 19th year of highlighting wine in agriculture. Since its inaugural event in 2003, the Rodeo Uncorked!® International Wine Competition has grown from 217 entries, to a total 2,862 entries in 2022, with 480 of those from Texas. Similarly, the Texas wine industry has skyrocketed. In 2003, there were 70 wineries in the state: today there are over 500, making Texas the fifth largest wine producing state in the nation.

Photo courtesy of Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo

As Texas grape growers continue to learn what varieties do well in Texas soil and climate, more and more wineries are earning distinction, not just for their wines, but for the eight Texas American Viticultural Areas (AVAs), which are required by law to make wines from 100% Texas grapes. Every year, Rodeo Uncorked! showcases wines from these AVAs, and many bring home trophy saddles, belt buckles, medals and recognition to the producers.

The largest AVA in the state is the Texas Hill Country, located north of San Antonio and west of Austin.  The area encompasses a total of nine million acres, or nearly 15,000 square miles, and includes the sub-appellations of Fredericksburg and Bell Mountain, delimited for their unique microclimate. The wines range from Bordeaux blends to Italian Varietals, as well as cool-climate wines. This is a quality wine region and has won many awards.  This year, seven Texas Hill Country wineries took home nine Gold medals, as well as Class Champion and Reserve Class Champion awards.

The Texas High Plains is the second largest AVA in the state.  This region located west of Lubbock in the panhandle, produces 80% of the wine grapes grown in Texas.  With its high altitude (3,400 feet) and long, hot, dry summers, the area is ideal for grape-growing: higher elevations provide more direct ultraviolet rays, giving grapes more color and tannins; warm days allow grapes to ripen properly; and cool nights preserve freshness and acidity.  Many wineries in Texas, while growing grapes on their own property, buy grapes from this appellation. This year, wines from the Texas High Plains earned nine Double Gold medals (where all panelists rate the wine as a Gold) and 38 Gold medals, plus Class Champion and Reserve Class Champion awards. Winner of the 2022 Top Texas Wine, Hye Meadow Winery’s 2017 Boooom, was produced from Texas High Plains grapes.

Photo courtesy of Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo

West Texas boasts three appellations: the Texas Davis Mountains, a cool and wet area at elevations ranging from 4,500 to 8,000 feet; Mesilla Valley, a high-altitude location that runs along the Rio Grande River in both New Mexico and Texas; and the Escondido Valley AVA, covering 32,000 acres of the Trans-Pecos region. The region is home to the oldest continuing running winery in the state, Val Verde Winery, which has been in operation since 1883. The west Texas wine industry is very productive because of its dry climate, fertile soil and mild winters. The wines here are known for lush robust reds and whites with zippy acidity. Rodeo Uncorked! winners from west Texas have included Kulhman Cellars Sauvignon Blanc, Escondido Valley, 2017; Kuhlman Cellars Zinfandel, Escondido Valley, 2016; Fall Creek Vineyards Vintner’s Selection Sauvignon Blanc, 2019; and Spicewood Vineyards Syrah, Escondido Valley, 2016.

The Texoma AVA is an emerging wine region located along the Red River separating Texas and Oklahoma. It is the youngest AVA in Texas.  When it was established in 2005, there were only four wineries within its boundaries. Today there are dozens. The area covers 233,600 acres, making it the third largest in Texas behind the Texas Hill Country and Texas High Plains regions. Its claim to fame is that in the 1880s its local viticulturist, Thomas Munson, created vines that were resistant to Phylloxera, an insect that was decimating European grapes. While the Texoma AVA is still establishing itself, its wines have shown well at Rodeo Uncorked! This year, Hidden Hangar Vineyards near Denison took home seven medals, including a Gold Medal for its Hidden Hangar Vineyards Malbec, Texoma, 2018.  The wine also won Reserve Class Champion and Texas Class Champion awards.

Photo courtesy of Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo

The Rodeo Uncorked! International Wine Competition, now in its 19th  year, is one of the largest and most prestigious wine competitions in the country, For more information on this year’s winners click here or join our Rodeo Uncorked! Facebook group.