the continuing story of texas viticulture
Texas viticulture dates back to 1662 when Franciscan missionaries at the Ysleta Missions near El Paso introduced winemaking to the territory. Over the next few centuries, European settlers brought vinifera wines to the sandy loam soil of the High Plains in West Texas where Llano Estacado resides today.
Texas is currently in the midst of a grape growing and winemaking renaissance. The demand for locally produced, Texas-made wine is greater than ever. Vineyards are being planted by Texans and out-of-state growers, while vineyard experimentation such as that conducted by Llano Estacado Executive Winemaker Greg Bruni is allowing a better understanding of what varieties grow best in Texas soils.
The Texas High Plains Appellation
Established in 1993, the Texas High Plains Appellation covers much of the West Texas Panhandle region and is the largest wine-grape appellation in the state. Located at 3,400 feet above sea level on flat terrain, the Texas High Plains experiences long, hot, dry summers. Evenings cool to 60 degrees or lower. The soil is composed mainly of San Antonio Sandy Loam. The calcareous soil drains well and is, to this point, free of the phylloxera louse that has plagued much of California and parts of France over the centuries.
An approximate annual rainfall of 18 inches satisfies the requirements for grapevines, which produced better fruit under slightly stressful conditions. The huge Ogalala Aquifer which runs under much of the High Plains provides more than enough water for irrigation. Because of the area’s low humidity, there are few mold, fungi, or mildew problems. On occasion, thunderstorms drop rain that dries quickly thanks to the dry weather and constant breezes.
Because of the area's low humidity, there are few mold, fungi or mildew problems. On occasion, thunderstorms drop rain which is quickly dried off the vines by the dry weather and the constant moving breezes. However, the appellation is not without its problems. Hail storms can occasionally lighten crops and damage vines. In addition, early and late season frosts do occur. To date, West Texas grape growers have found that a 10% yearly vine loss is normal.
Still, the quality of the grapes produced from the High Plains Appellation have been proven. The late, great Texas historian and writer Leon Adams recognized the potential of the High Plains years ago when he wrote, “There is no question the High Plains is a viticulture miracle. No one realized this area could produce world class wines. It is an amazing story.”
Other Growing Regions
As Llano’s business has grown, so has its grape sources. As a winery located on the High Plains, we continue to source out many key varieties from there, but over the years we’ve expanded our position through contracts and experimentation from respected growers in other areas of this huge state. One of the most important is the Mont Sec Vineyard. At an elevation of 4500 feet, this vineyard is located on a plains at the base of the Guadalupe Mountains in far West Texas. The vineyard produces some of the highest quality and consistent quantities of grapes per vine in the state.
The future of Texas viticulture is bright. Texas Colleges are now getting involved with personnel and new technology. Demand continues to grow, and further vineyards continue to be planted, expanding on the viticultural miracle.