Wine making in Texas dates back to the mid-17th century when Spanish missionaries brought cuttings from Spain to produce grapes for sacramental wine. Many of the early commercial wine makers preferred the wild grapes that have always grown in abundance here. By 1900 there were 26 Texas wineries, and, though not widely known, their products were reported to be quite decent by those who tried them and had occasion to write about them. What could have been the beginning of a thriving industry was virtually wiped out, along with the rest of the American wine industry, when Prohibition became the law of the land in 1919. When repeal came, only one winery remained in Texas – Val Verde Winery of Del Rio, established in 1883, which had survived by selling grapes for home winemaking.
It was not until the early 1970s that interest in viticulture began to re-emerge in Texas. The popularity of wine was growing rapidly in America. Texas itself was becoming more urban, as well as urbane, and offered a ready and growing market for good wines. And it was about that time that drip irrigation, the technology which had been tested principally in Israel, was discovered to be an excellent tool for grape production in the generally thirsty growing areas in Texas.
It was also discovered – or rediscovered – that those areas provide ideal conditions for growing grapes, similar to the wine regions of France, with sandy, well-drained soil, warm sunny days, cool nights, low humidity, and constant air movement. Drip irrigation was the ingredient that finally completed the formula for an exciting new agricultural enterprise.
Research at the University of Texas, Texas Tech, and Texas A&M universities gave impetus to the fledgling industry, which was especially encouraged by experimental plantings on U.T land near Fort Stockton in far West Texas. The Texas Grape Growers Association was formed in 1976, giving the industry an additional boost. The Texas Department of Agriculture got involved around 1983, working with the industry to develop marketing strategy and helping promote Texas wines through tastings, competitions, food and beverage shows, and other high-profile events.
The industry’s growth has been phenomenal, from 50,000 gallons bottled in 1982 to more than 1 million gallons in 1991. Today there are over 25 wineries operating in the Lone Star State. And even though the industry is relatively young, it has become commonplace for Texas wines to win medals at national and international competitions.
For more information, contact Texas Department of Agriculture, P.O. Box 12847, Austin, Texas 78711, (512) 463-7624 or, Texas Wine & Grape Growers Association, 1033 La Posada, Ste 220, Austin, Texas 78752-3880, (512) 454-8626, Fax (512) 454-3036.