Jan 242014
 

TexasHillCountryWinery

Why Did the Texas Hill Country Make Wine Enthusiast’s Top 10 Wine Destinations List? A Wine Conversation on KUHF

As you may know by now, Texas is the 5th largest wine producing state and 7th in production in wine grapes. But, what made the Texas Hill Country worthy of being named to the Wine Enthusiast (WE) Magazine’s list of its 2014 Ten Best Wine Travel Destinations?

Well, WE in their own words was out looking for both “traditional wine regions”, but also this year “added several modern classics and a sprinkling of up-and-comers” to make a compelling list of destinations.

During my conversation with host Craig Cohen on Houston PBS-affiliate KUHF’s noon-time talk show, Houston Matters, he asked me the same question. My response went something like this…

The Texas Hill Country provides the wine country experience that savvy international wine travelers expect. Some of the Texas Hill Country Wineries are up-and-comers alright with most less than 15 years old with the hill country’s oldest just turning 30 this year (the oldest in Texas is Val Verde Winery in Del Rio that was started in 1883). However, the hill country wineries are at work with other local factors that provide the combination of quality (international medal winning) local wines and first rate local cuisine, arid climate, scenic views and great nights in the area’s B&Bs (not to mention great wildflowers, fishing, hiking and bike or motorcycle riding). [Click here to hear the complete interview starting at the 16:30 minute mark in the show.]

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All Texas wine list and fine dinning at Cabernet Grill

Craig also asked me how I discovered that Texas actually had its own wine country. Well, my story on this started around 1995 when I wife (who was both my life partner and business partner in my Houston-based technology company) told me that we were working too much and needed a hobby.

At the time, my wife and I were both foodies and into wine, with many excursions under our belt to wine destinations, mostly in Napa, Sonoma and Russian River wine regions in California and, since then, many destinations in Europe. It wasn’t until a cold December weekend in Old Town Spring, Texas, that I found a brochure that that mentioned that Texas had a wine industry. However, back then Texas only had a handful of wineries, maybe 30-35 statewide at the most versus the 260 or more there are today.

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View and a sip of wine at Driftwood Vineyards

We joined a wine consumer and education group called The Wine Society of Texas and started visiting wineries. At first, they were the wineries nearest to Houston at Messina Hof Winery in Bryan and Haak Vineyards in Galveston County. Then, we attended wine dinners where fine cuisine was paired with Texas wines from wineries like the hill country’s Becker Vineyards and Llano Estacado Winery from Lubbock. Then, we got the wine country bug and visited the hill country and were surprised to find the wine country experience that we had previously found in California. In fact, we found it so pleasurable, we eventually acquired a second home near Fredericksburg.

I also commented to Craig and his listeners that I believe several things have come together that now culminate in the world-class Texas wine country experience. It’s reached a critical mass that statewide now contributes over $1.8 billion dollars annually to the state economy and attracts about 1.5 million wine tourists a year (See Texas wine economic impact study summary and if you are interested the detailed report).

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Henri’s high pour at Becker Vineyards

The situation in the Texas hill country is that it has the highest concentration of Texas wineries (somewhere in the neighborhood of 40 to 50 wineries). This trend has combined with the changing state demographics leading to more (and younger) wine drinkers, in turn, leading to Texas rising to the number 4 wine consuming state. But wait there’s more….

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Lavender Field at Becker Vineyards

There’s been the added synergy of more wineries and grape growers embracing the fact that Texas’s hot sunny climate have led them to plant more grape varieties that originate from warmer Mediterranean counties of Europe like Spain, Portugal, Italy and areas in southern France. Texas is now producing international award winning wines made from here-to-for lesser known wine grapes: white grapes like Viognier, Roussanne, Vermentino and Muscat, and red grapes like Sangiovese and Tempranillo and with its blends and Rosés made with Mourvedre, Syrah and Grenache.

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Winery and vineyard of Lenoir grapes at Dry Comal Creek

I’m sticking to what I said on the radio show, “The Texas hill country offers the complete wine country experience” including  the genuine look and feel of what serious wine travelers have come to expect: quality wine yet something more…a beautiful setting that conveys ambiance and the region’s “sense of place”.

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Springtime in the Texas Hill Country is for Wildflowers & Wine!

Download this Texas hill country winery map and get out into the Texas hill country and on the wine trail. You’ll be just in time for the Wine Lovers Trail that runs from February 7-23 and Wine and Wildflower Trail April 4-20.

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John Rivenburgh and Bob Young Co-Owners at Bending Branch Vineyards

If you want to follow my experiences in Texas wine country read my book – The Wineslinger Chronicles: Texas on the Vine – where I tell 26 stories set on the Texas wine trails, with best Texas winemakers and growers, and from the genesis of the Texas wine experience (also available in hardback on Amazon, Barnes & Noble and in Kindle and eBook formats.

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