by Catherine Parker
Pull over the vehicle, the tasting room is open and ready to pour up some Texas sips. Though for aspiring winemakers with vineyard dreams, joining the harvest ritual might be the next step. Just like the legendary redhead from I Love Lucy, you too can pull up your skirts and stomp through the harvest. In Texas, remember to pack a hat, harvest starts in the heat of the summer. As always, hard work is rewarded with a tasting.
Texas Wine History
The Spanish brought wine making to the region back in the 1600s when a Franciscan priest planted vines from the old country to make wine for mass. Notably, this was before California’s vines went in.
Not only did Texas help jumpstart the North American wine industry, it’s saved the Old World from ruin. Back in 1800s, Thomas V. Munson, a horticulturalist, used the root stock from native Texas grape vines to save the French vines plagued Phylloxera. So appreciative of the American horticulturalist, the French government went on to award Munson the Chevalier du Merité Agricole, a merit award second only to the Legion of Honor.
The Prohibition in the United States shut down much of the wine making in Texas. The exception was the Val Verde Winery near Del Rio that started in 1883 by an Italian immigrant, Frank Qualia.
It wasn’t until the 1960s that Texas wine pioneers planted vineyards again. Texas Tech University professor Clifton McPherson planted 140 different grape varieties in the high plains of the panhandle. He and his business partners and fellow professors, Robert Reed and Roy Mitchell, formed Llano Estacado Winery.
Soon after, a handful vineyards were planted across Texas, like Fall Creek Vineyards, near Tow, and Becker Vineyards in the Texas Hill Country. Messina Hof Winery got its start in the late 1970s as well, in the Brazos Valley, outside of Bryan.
Texas Wine by the Numbers
According the the Texas Wine and Grape Growers Association, Texas features 36 members of Vitus grapevine family. Of those 36, 15 are native varieties, that’s more unique grapevines than anywhere else in the world.
In 2017, the Texas Wine and Grape Growers Association conducted their most recent study on the Texas wine industry. Texas boasts about 500 individual wineries and each help to contribute $15.1 billion of economic value to the state.
The Texas Hill Country is well known as one the largest wine producing areas in the U.S. Though it is the Panhandle that grows the most grapes. Wineries use grapes from across the state and not dependent on what they grow in their own vineyard.
Established by the Tax and Trade Bureau of the United States Department of Treasury, Texas features eight AVAs, or American Viticultural Areas. Each is a geographic appellation with a similar climate and soil composition.
The Texas Hill Country AVA is one of the largest AVAs in the U.S. and starts just west of Austin. This AVA also incorporates two separate AVAs within its boundaries. The Bell Mountain AVA is known for its Cabernet Sauvignon and only five squares miles in size. The Fredericksburg in the Texas Hill Country AVA is centered around Fredericksburg.
The Escondido Valley AVA is in West Texas along the Pecos River. The Texas High Plains AVA in the Panhandle grows about 85-percent of the grapes in Texas. Next to the New Mexico border, is the Mesilla Valley AVA. The Texas Davis Mountains AVA is centered around Fort Davis. The Texoma AVA is along the Oklahoma border and where T.V. Munson conducted his research in the 1800s.
Grape Varieties of Texas
Texas grows many of the top European varietals used in wine making. Top Texas wine making grapes include Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay, Merlot, Riesling, Sangiovese, Sauvignon Blanc, Syrah, or Shiraz, and Tempranillo.
Texas produces 70-percent red grapes with 30-percent white grapes, according to the Texas Wine and Grape Growers Association.
Harvest Time in Texas
The hot and dry weather in Texas helps ripen the grapes. Grape harvest in Texas is earlier than other regions, including California and Europe. Some varieties need to be harvested as early as July though most are harvested in August and continue into September.
Harvest Wine Festivals by Region
Want to join in the fun, then visit a harvest festival. Most festivals start the day in the fields with a traditional grape cutting knife. After harvesting grapes, grape stompers jump into a vat for the traditional grape stomping. It is an ancient method used before mechanical wine presses. Afterwards, most wineries explain the wine making process followed by a tasting.
The 35th Annual GrapeFest in Grapevine, Texas, is a signature event for the suburb of Fort Worth. This year’s event is Thursday, September 16, through Sunday, September 19.
As the largest wine festival in the southwest U.S. GrapeFest features four stages of live music, a midway with carnival rides along with tastings from Texas winemakers. A popular event at GrapeFest is GrapeStomp, a friendly grape stomping competition where two-member teams vie for the most juice from 18-pounds of grapes in two minutes.
Located in downtown Grapevine.
Grape Capital of Texas Vineyard Festival
Head to the 9th Annual Grape Capital of Texas Vineyard Festival in Brownfield on Friday, July 30, and Saturday, July 31. This year’s event includes a food and wine festival along with vineyard tours.
Located at Reddy Vineyards at 2149 Tahoka Rd., in Brownfield, southwest of Lubbock. Admission is $45 per person.
Hill Country Messina Hof in Fredericksburg
At the Hill Country location, the Messina Hof Harvest Festival celebrates its 9th year. This year’s event starts on Friday, September 3, with a harvest and stomp, followed by a dinner featuring the bounty of the late summer. The following Saturday, September 4, enjoy a morning of picking and stomping followed by a wine tasting.
Located at 9996 U.S. Highway 290 East in Fredericksburg. Admission and reservations recommended.
Texas Heritage Vineyard
Stomp some grapes Lucy style. Held Saturday, July 24, Saturday, July 31, and Saturday, August 1 and includes live music and a food truck.
Located at the winery at 3750 Grapetown Rd. in Fredericksburg. Admission is $32 per person and reservations recommended.
Learn about the entire wine making production from the wine makers at Pedernales Cellars. Then top off the day with a romp and a stomp. This year’s event is Saturday, September 4, and Sunday, September 5.
Located at 2916 Upper Albert Rd. in Fredericksburg. Admission and reservations recommended.
Southeast Messina Hof in Bryan
Now in its 44th year, Messina Hof hosts is annual harvest festival for three weekends starting Friday, August 6, Saturday, August 7, and Sunday, August 8. Each day features a different harvest-themed event, like moon-lit harvesting or wine pairing classes. The weekend of August 13, 14 and 15 features a murder mystery dinner. The weekend of August 20, 21 and 22 is the harvest-themed brunch.
Located at 4545 Old Reliance Rd. in Bryan. Admission and reservations recommended.
Pleasant Hill Winery
The 20th annual Crush for Fun Grape Stomp starts on Saturday, July 24, and Sunday, July 25, and continues for four weekends. Harvest some grapes then stomp them until juicy each Saturday or Sunday, including July 31 and August 1, August 7 and 8 and August 14 and 15.
Located at 1411 Salem Road in Brenham. Adults are $40 reservations recommended. Kids are welcome.
With a harvest festival every Saturday and Sunday in July and August, get more chances to change your feet purple.
Located at 4232 Clover Road in Brenham. Adults are $30 reservations recommended. Kids are welcome.
Enjoy a harvest dinner in honor of St. Martin’s Day, a day dedicated to good food and good wine in the Czech Republic. Each year, Majek Winery hosts a St. Martin’s Day Feast with a wild game meal. This year’s event is Saturday, November 13.
Located at 12508 FM 957 in Schulenburg. Reservations recommended.
Texas Wine Trails
Go Texan, the Texas Department of Agriculture’s program to showcase made in Texas products, designated wine trails in Texas. Each offers a handful of wineries or tasting rooms that can be visited in a day, or weekend.
Texas Hill Country Wine Trail—With over 50 wineries in the area, this wine trail is the most comprehensive. Also find several different wine trails in the area.
Grapevine Wine Trail—Attend a regular event showcasing five wineries within walking distance in downtown Grapevine.
Texas Bluebonnet Wine Trail—Find eight wineries northwest of Houston between U.S. Highway 290 and Interstate 45.
Texas Independence Wine Trail—Fine eight wineries west of Houston between U.S. Highway 290 and Interstate 10.
Piney Woods Wine Trail—With nearly 20 wineries, find lots to sample in East Texas.
Way Out Wineries Trail—Find eight wineries north of Austin and south of the metroplex.