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tomorrow's texas tea Print
Written by Nikitas Magel   

Texan RancherRK: (con'd) A lot of this came by the fortitude of our previous commissioner of the Texas Department of Agriculture, Susan Coombs, who's a rancher at heart and whose roots are very much in rural Texas.  She saw grapes as being an answer to two main problems that Texas has as an agricultural state.  The first problem concerns jobs in rural areas; anything that can support jobs in those regions is good for Texas.  The second thing is that, based on a cash crop, grapes are better than many things that farmers are spending a lot of effort on — cotton, corn, soybeans — and can fortify farmers' incomes.  The most recent thing I've heard in support of this view is that grapes are one of the few crops that, once they're established, they can subsist on the 12-14 inches of rain that west Texas gets; they're water neutral.  So, just from an agri-business standpoint, the wine industry offers tremendous benefits to the future of Texas.

[What's more,] the state of Texas has dedicated more than $4.5 million to support the wine industry through university-based viticultural research and education programs, in order to show people how to grow grapes of better quality and which varietals to use for their particular climate and soil type.  And then also it put efforts into fortifying degree programs in enology, and having a state enologist.  They just started a pilot grant program now, where they will underwrite a portion of the conversion of fields from some other kind of crop to grapes.  The idea is that this will probably be a model for the future.  We've got a tremendous wealth of agricultural people who have many generations of history in rural Texas and who are good farmers.  If we can just educate them on wine grapes — along with another crop (Texas will always have cotton, corn, and soybeans) — so as to add something to the mix… what a difference that will make!

NM: This sounds truly significant: the Texas government is not only validating the wine industry, but supporting and financing it as well.  I think that's going to make all the difference for the industry's success, in addition to the fact that you have an entire population of agrarian Texans who already have the background and knowledge in farming that can be honed into viticultural training.  Now, from what you've been able to gather, is the industry far enough at this point to have already begun differentiating features of the wine growing regions within the state, and if so, can you speak to some of the differences?

RK: Sure.  We have five regions that have been identified in Texas.  Now, whether that was done based on unique terroir, I don't think it's quite that well thought-out yet.  But we do have a few things that they've been looking at, to set up these viticultural regions.  First off, as you go from east to west, the first thing you notice is a decrease in rainfall.  If you go from Beaumont (on the Gulf Coast) to San Antonio, rainfall decreases by about half: from 50 to about 25 inches per year.  And if you go from San Antonio to Lubbock (in the northwest), it decreases even further, down to about 12 inches per year.  Secondly, as the land decreases in rainfall, it increases in elevation, from sea level to about 3500 feet.  All that has a great effect on what type of grapes can grow in those areas.  Lastly, there's the issue of Pierce's Disease: there's an imaginary line through Houston, El Paso, and San Antonio [bisecting the state, essentially along Interstate 10], below which this virus becomes a problem, like in the warmer regions of California.  So, these three factors determine what kind of grapes people plant, and where.

"Texas has dedicated more than $4.5 million to support the wine industry through university-based viticultural research and education programs."

Below this line I just mentioned [on and near the Gulf Coast], the only thing you can possibly grow for any length of time is French-American hybrids.  Above that line, farther north and west, people are now starting to acknowledge our premium wine-growing area.  I'll call it our Western region; some people call it the High Plains.  Around Lubbock it's a big, flat plateau that's dry and has very few critters to eat things.  And there's a lot of farmers.  What we're finding is that you can grow almost anything there.  It even puts out some good Cabernet and some decent Chardonnay.  Now, in and around the San Antonio and Austin area, in Central Texas, you have what's called the Hill Country, where there's the tourist-oriented-winery, Napa-Sonoma kind of experience.  Although, it is a harder place for growing grapes, there's a great, burgeoning wine tourism business going on there, the second fastest-growing in the U.S.  One other notable region is in the northeast, going towards Oklahoma, with a brand new AVA called Texoma.  With its red dirt, it's wonderful for growing things, but it's a little more challenging because there's more critters and higher humidity. So, that's the lay of the land in Texas.  To me, though, the one region that has the best chance of establishing a true Texas terroir, on a large scale, is the High Plains.  It has hot, dry days and cool, sometimes cold nights, even in the summer time.  It's dry as a bone.  Some of our best, award-winning wines have come from that region.



 

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