There is something to be said about regionality, and a true sense of place. The earth is a majestic creature capable of hosting so much life, and when it comes to grape growing, a few feet or even inches in some circumstances can be the difference between a $9.00 and a $100.00 bottle of wine. Chablis and Burgundy, France, are great examples of this philosophy. I have heard it said by many different people that Texas needs to be more consistent in its styling of wine and plantings of grapes, but I say why in the world would we do something like that? We live in a state that is larger than many countries, and a state that has such an enormous amount of diversity in elevation, soil types, and unique weather patterns. Looking at it from that perspective, why should we become more uniform throughout? Should we not embrace the diversity of the specific regions of Texas?
Let us take a look at the two major growing regions of Texas, to compare and contrast the Texas terroir. Obviously there are several other fantastic growing regions throughout the state, but the focus for this story will be on the High Plains and Hill Country AVAs.
Texas High Plains AVA: The Texas High Plains cultivates the bulk of the fruit grown in Texas. It isn’t only about pump jacks and cotton fields anymore folks, the wine grape industry is in full swing and things are exploding up there!
Brownfield, Meadow, and Plains, Texas, southwest of Lubbock proper are ground zero for wine growing in this state. Elevations as high as 3,500-4,000 feet MSL (mean sea level), low humidity, fast draining sandy soils, and ample sunshine all make this the premier wine growing region of the Lone Star State.
Ample sunshine and hot summers help to bring grapes to their full ripeness. The wide diurnal shift (temperature swing) between day and night allow the berries to cool down at night and rest. This helps to achieve better retained acidity. Low humidity helps alleviate disease pressure.
The High Plains AVA is famous for red sandy soils. This makes for fast water drainage, which is optimal for growing wine grapes.
I find red wines made from Texas High Plains fruit to be more subtle, offering soft tannins, and a well rounded mouthfeel. Higher retained acidity vs. Hill Country fruit can also be achieved. The white wines tend to be extremely aromatic, and quite delicate, especially if they are fermented and aged in stainless steel tanks.
Texas Hill Country AVA: This region comes in second place for grape production numbers, but it is undoubtedly the wine producing epicenter of Texas. The Hill Country is a top ten destination of the world of wine and the tourism numbers are staggering, and still growing by the month it seems! The terroir is quite different from the Texas High Plains, making the wines quite unique.
The Texas Hill Country covers a vast amount of space, just west of Austin and San Antonio, Texas. You can find wineries all the way from New Braunfels up to Lake Buchanan and beyond.
Ample sunshine and hot summers are hallmark, just like west Texas, but the diurnal shift in temperature is typically narrower, leaving the grapes to sit in warmer weather at night which can make it tough to retain acidity throughout the growing season. However, the intense heat produces wine grapes capable of tossing around big tannins and huge presence.
Although varied, the Texas Hill Country is littered with rocky soils. Clay, sand, granite, gravel, and alluvial soils are prominent as well. The limestone really offers a mineral approach to wine.
I find red wines made from Texas Hill Country fruit to be more powerful and tannic than the High Plains reds. The chalky soils are very distinct and some wines can mimic Old World style a lot of the time. The whites can be just as aromatic as High Plains fruit, but they also seem to have more of a mineral profile to their personality.
As you can see, the differences are not minuscule between the two regions. Just as we would never expect Napa Valley and Temecula, CA to make the exact same style of wine, seeing they are such different regions, we should not expect Texas to do it either. Of course, we all have our opinions on how things should be done, but I think we should let Mother Earth keep doing the Texas Wine Dance for us. So far, indeed she has!