Discovering the Terroir of the Texas High Plains

Brownfield, TX – “Can you even grow grapes in Texas?” “Texas wine – is it any good?” These are questions I am asked daily when speaking with friends and customers about my work at Reddy Vineyards.  Honestly, they were questions that I had myself when first asked to join the Reddy family’s endeavors to launch their own estate wines. Even as a Certified Sommelier I had very little prior knowledge of Texas wines.  In fact, you’ll be hard pressed to find any reference to Texas wines in any of the leading primers prepared for those studying for the leading industry certifications.  But let me tell you, the answer to these questions is a resounding “YES”!

Unbeknownst to most, Texas is the fifth largest producer of wines in the United States with over 400 wineries generating more than $13 billion annually.  The Texas wine industry has experienced an incredible boom in the past thirty years, driven by the craft alcohol renaissance and demand for more locally sourced products.  Experimentation by producers still looking to test the qualities of different grape varietals in the state’s various microclimates makes this period of growth fun and exciting.  Like most things “Texan”, producers here have adopted certain proven methods of viticulture and winemaking but chart their own path, unconcerned with the dictates of tradition and what people are doing in Napa or Sonoma, to makes wines that reflect the unique character of Texas. 

Ask any winemaker anywhere what makes his or her wines special and they will generally provide the same answer: the terroir.  A French term referring to the qualities of the place in which the grapes are grown, this concept is equal parts scientific and mystical.  I’ve had the fortune of traveling to numerous winemaking regions throughout the United States, France and Spain. Walking through the vineyards, seeing the geography, witnessing the weather and tasting the wines, you begin to appreciate how grapes are expressions of where they are grown.  My visit to the vineyards of  Dr. Vijay and Subada Reddy in the Texas High Plains AVA (American Viticultural Area), one of the most celebrated vineyards in the state, was particularly eye opening and inspiring.  

Plains indeed! Flat land as far as the eye can see.  Driving down US-380 it be easy to write off West Texas as boring and uninteresting.  The reality, however, is that this region has a unique set of favorable geographic, geologic and climatic factors that makes it well suited for growing premium grapes.  In fact, the Texas High Plains AVA accounts for 85% of the grapes produced for winemaking in Texas.

The sandy soils, burnt orange in color resulting from the drier climate, low rainfall and rich concentrations of oxidized iron, provide excellent drainage in the vineyard.  Walking through the vineyards is quite reminiscent of walking on a sandy beach.  Nutrient poor, the vines are forced to struggle and dig its roots deep into the earth for nourishment.  Sandy soils are also a natural protection from vineyard pests, including the infamous phylloxera. 

Sitting at an elevation of 3000-4000ft, the region possesses a high dinural temperature range.  The warm days and cool nights of the Texas High Plains extends the growing season and encourages the development of fruit ripeness while preserving acidic balance in the grapes.  With an average rainfall of less than 20 inches per year, this region sees less annual rainfall than Napa and Bordeaux.  Although precipitation is more common throughout the season, the moderate rainfall helps to nurture the grapes through the hot Texas summers.  Consistent wind provides a cooling influence and alleviates fungal pressure by keeping the vineyard dry.  

Each of these factors could be analogized to those found in the most heralded wine regions.  This unique confluence of conditions makes the terroir of the Texas High Plains special and capable of producing fruit of incredible concentration, depth and quality.  Even in its infancy, the Texas wine industry is producing many exciting premium wines which rival those made in better-known areas and is poised to reshape the wine industry in the United States at large.  Stop by our vineyards or grab a bottle for dinner and experience for yourself what makes our authentically Texas wines so special!   

* Eric C. Sigmund is the Chief Operating Officer at Reddy Vineyards. Mr. Sigmund holds a Juris Doctor from Syracuse University College of Law and practiced international law in Washington, D.C. before entering the world of wine.  He also holds the Court of Master Sommeliers’ Certified Sommelier credential, the Society of Wine Educators’ Certified Specialist of Wine certification and holds the Wine and Spirits Education Trust III (Advanced) Award in Wine and Spirits.

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