Texas in a bottle


Texas flag wineThe word Texas might evoke images of cowboys, longhorn steers, oil rigs, Mission Control or wacky politicians.
But wine?
So it might surprise some of the participants in our cross-country bike ride — particularly those from such wine-growing countries as Germany and Australia — that Texas produces some pretty decent wine. And our route will take us through three of the state’s wine-growing areas: El Paso, the Davis Mountains and the Hill Country.
Texas in a bottleI certainly don’t fancy myself a wine connoisseur. My tastes tend to run to what the British call “plonk” — cheap wine — in 1.5-liter bottles. So I won’t hazard a pronouncement on how Texas wines fare against competitors from California and overseas. But we should have a chance to sample some of the local product considering that about a third of our ride will be in Texas.
A bit of Texas trivia: In 1659, Franciscan friars Garcia de San Francisco y Zuniga, and Juan de Salazar, along with 10 Indian families who had converted to Christianity, established a settlement near present-day El Paso. Using cuttings brought from Spain, they cultivated grapes to make wine for the celebration of Mass at what became Mission Senora de Guadalupe.
It wasn’t until the late 1760s and early 1770s that Father Junipero Serra began cultivating grapes at missions he founded in Alta California at San Diego and Monterey. So Texas can claim a viticulture more than a century older than California’s.
Texas wine countryAn influx of immigrants into Texas in the 1800s from wine-producing countries in Europe brought a new interest in grape culture and wine-making. German immigrants to south-central Texas and the Hill Country were generally considered the most successful grape growers and wine makers.
Today, according to a Web site on Texas wine, gotexanwine.org, Texas has eight federally approved “Viticultural Areas.” A Viticultural Area,” says the Web site, is a region with defined borders in which 85 percent of the wine produced “must be made from grapes grown within the area’s boundaries.”
The state has 177 wineries, up from 40 less than a decade ago, and ranks No. 5 in U.S. wine production from 3,100 vineyard acres in the eight Viticultural Areas. California is No. 1, accounting for about 90 percent of U.S. wine production, followed by Washington, New York, Oregon and Texas.
Kerrville wine posterThe largest of Texas’ Viticultural Areas is the Hill Country, covering 15,000 square miles in 22 counties. The second-largest is in the Texas High Plains, embracing 12,000 square miles around Lubbock in West Texas.
In the Hill Country, at least two of the towns along our route — Kerrville (home of the Kerrville Folk Festival since 1972 and the Kerrville Wine & Music Festival) and Wimberley — should afford ample opportunity to taste Texas wines.
After the formidable hills between Camp Wood and Leakey along Ranch Road 337, we may be in need of some adult beverages.

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Filed under Americana, Cycling across America, Texana

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