When did Wine Making begin in Texas?
Texas surprisingly has a long history of wine production. The sunny and dry climate of the major wine making regions in the state of Texas has drawn comparison to Portuguese wines. Texas is one of the oldest wine growing states in the United States, with vines planted here more than a hundred years before they were planted in California or Virginia. Some of the earliest recorded Texas wines were produced by Spaniards in the 1650s near El Paso.
When Spanish missionaries came to Texas in the 1600s, wild grapes flourished over the landscape (over 50% of the known species of grape in the world grow in Texas). With a vast diversity in climate and soil, Texas was a grape paradise. Yet, the cultivation of grapes and the production of wine over a 300-year period would seem to take three steps backward for every step forward.
As early as 1650 Father Garcia de San Fancisco y Zuniga, the father of Paso del Norte (today’s El Paso) was known for his vineyards and the sacramental wine he produced. The padre brought with him the Spanish black grape (Lenoir) as did most padres sent to establish outposts in the vast Texas landscape. These missions quickly established vineyards, producing wines, which helped defray the costs of providing the Sacrament of the Eucharist. During the 1700’s, viticulture and wine production remained concentrated in the El Paso area. Local farmers also raised grapes to make raisins, wine and the famous Pass brandy. The El Paso area supplied most of the wine and brandy for an area stretching from Chihuahua into New Mexico.
Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay have the highest number of plantings in the state, followed by Chenin Blanc and Sauvignon Blanc. The Texas Department of Agriculture lists twenty-one wine varietals grown in Texas. The Texas wine industry is continuing its steady pace of expansion and has gained a reputation as an established wine growing region in the United States.
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