I knew Texas wine was a thing. I just didn’t know how big it had become until a recent visit.
As surprising as it sounds the Lone Star State is actually the country’s fifth-largest producer of wine behind California, Washington, New York and Oregon. The problem has been and continues to be that most of the wine isn’t exported.
Some of the state’s best wine is found in and around Lubbock, the hometown of singer Buddy Holly and where college basketball coach Bobby Knight had his last hurrah at Texas Tech University. It’s hard to believe this area was legally dry from Prohibition until 2009.
The winemakers — many are former cotton farmers — use vitis vinifera grapes. Outside of chardonnay, many of the varietals are somewhat lesser known grapes from Spain or elsewhere in the Mediterranean. Think albariño and tempranillo. These grapes are suited for the High Plains terroir and climate, local oenophiles said.
The major wineries are Llano Estacado Winery (Llano is pronounced “yanno”) and Caprock Winery, the latter of which has some sort of shared winemaking and retail operation with English Newsom Cellars. It was kind of confusing as I couldn’t tell if it is called Caprock, English Newsom, the double-barreled Caprock-English Newsom or, more accurately, Caprock-English-Newsom, but I digress. Another option is McPherson Cellars, which is housed in an old Coca-Cola bottling plant in one of those archetypal post-industrial hipster neighborhoods. My favorite? Pheasant Ridge Winery with its French-inspired wines and the oldest pinot noir vines in all of Texas.
The winery, located about 20 minutes by car from downtown, is surrounded by cotton farms for as far as the eye can see and partly reached through what seemed like a path for farm tractors, not cars. I’m told there is a better way to get there, but the navigation and mapping applications on popular cell phones take drivers the worst possible way.
Pheasant Ridge’s tasting room is unpretentious. You could even call it a glorified pole barn. But, as they say, don’t judge a book by its cover. The quality of wine is superb. So much so that a bottle of the 1987 vintage cabernet sauvignon sells for $250. Another notable is the 2015 blanc de noirs ($29), which is made using the same traditional method as real champagne.
After visiting I can see why Lubbock is an underrated destination. The wineries of the High Plains are surely the best-kept secret in Texas.
If you go
Tastings cost between $10 and $12 per person at most wineries. If you don’t have a designated driver consider booking West Texas Wine Tours.
American, Southwest and United all service Lubbock’s airport.