Book review: The Wine Roads of Texas

Wine Cowboy HatI am not a Texas native. My husband is a 5th-generation Texan, and loves his state as only a Texan can. When we drive through the countryside, he’ll comment on how a certain famous battle happened in this town, or how that area was colonized by the Old Three Hundred. You have to drive a lot in Texas; I think it’s in the state constitution somewhere.

If you don’t live here, you probably haven’t tasted a Texas wine. I know I hadn’t, until I moved to Austin. And there’s a good deal of wine to taste, really: Texas is fifth in U.S. wine production, after California, Washington, New York and Oregon. All in all, Texas makes about 1.5 million gallons of wine every year, and about 95% of it is consumed in Texas. Are we bad sharers? Well, it’s not like you’ve been asking for any.

TX wine flairI actually live very close to one of the most winery-rich areas in Texas, the Hill Country. In 2006, there were 127 wineries in Texas, and over 80% of them were small ones, with production of less than 10,000 gallons (that’s about 4000 cases) a year. I did the rounds of my nearby wineries when I moved here a couple of years ago, but haven’t had much time to revisit them with a wine blogger’s eye in the past 6 months. (Can you believe it’s been 6 months? Gee-whiz!) I’ll be trying to get out into wine country more often this year, starting with a little trip my sweetie and I are making, pre-Valentines, to a B&B near Kerrville called Trail’s End Guest House.

This is where Wes Marshall’s excellent book, The Wine Roads of Texas: An Essential Guide to Texas Wines and Wineries comes in. With more than 40 winery profiles organized into regions, it’s the perfect companion to any Texas road trip. (Really, a two-hour drive in Texas is less of a road trip and more of a commute, at least if you live in Houston or Dallas.)

Texas wine & stoneThis really is a book written for travelers: every chapter is divided up into trips, with 3 or 4 profiles on wineries that are close to each other (from a Texas perspective), followed by a breakdown of “Food, Shelter & Fun” to be found in the area. Shelter includes some camping options at nearby parks, and the restaurant recommendations are for those tiny little places that only locals recommend. You get the whole package with these trips: out-of-the way wineries with real stories behind them, local restaurants and fun things to do — like having your picture taken with the World’s Largest Strawberry (or a model thereof) in Poteet!

Wes Marshall is Appellation America’s regional correspondent for Texas; he writes for my local weekly, the Austin Chronicle, and a host of other papers. I really enjoy his work at the Chronicle — you might remember him as the guy who organized that huge blind tasting of “box” wines last summer. Recently he organized another of these big blind tastings for Texas-made spirits, which included setting Tito’s Handmade Vodka against Skyy 90 and Grey Goose with very Texas-pride-inspiring results. (Sidebar: I think Tito’s is one of the best vodkas in the universe. Buy some.) Anyhow, Wes Marshall is a fantastic cheerleader for Texas beverage, and his book’s a pleasure to read.

Texas grapevinesOne of the things that resonates for me about The Wine Roads of Texas is that it’s really about the people who take the leap of faith and decide to try to earn a living from making wine. Texas does love its iconoclasts — hell, Kinky Friedman ran for governor a couple of years ago — but it takes a special kind of Texas grit to coax drinkable juice from the soils here. Every winery profile in this book is essentially the story of some brave soul who decided to throw caution to the winds, to risk it all. Somehow it makes a less-than-outstanding wine more palatable to know who put their blood, sweat and tears into the making of it. Sometimes literally; Cathie Winmill of Comfort Cellars (located in Comfort, TX) tells Wes that terracing her 2 acres of steep, limestone hillside vineyard was “grief therapy” for her after her husband died. That’s a Texas woman for you, I don’t care if she was born in Illinois.

The wine industry in Texas is not what you’d call young (we started growing grapes for wine around 1650, and it was a Texan who discovered the solution to France’s little bout with phylloxera in the 1880s), but it’s still finding its feet when it comes to what grapes do the best where, and what the consumer will buy. Remember, most Texas wine is drunk by Texans, and Texans seem to like their wine sweet, more than anything. An off-dry Cabernet Sauvignon? Not something that’s likely to endear you to Robert Parker, exactly. But that’s what the consumers in Texas want to buy, so that’s what Fredericksburg Winery has available.

Many of the wineries profiled in Marshall’s book sell their wine exclusively through the winery, though he does write about the state’s largest winery, Ste Genevieve, as well. From Big Bend to Tyler, from Lubbock to Del Rio, Wes covers wineries from all corners of Texas. Originally published in 2002, a second edition was released in 2007.

If you are a Texan who loves wine or a Texas wine lover, Wes Marshall’s book is really required reading. It’s also fun and engaging, full of true stories about the kind of people that continue to make Texas great.


2 comments

  1. As you say “less-than-outstanding”.

    I’d like to know if there are any solid wines in Texas. All those I’ve tasted are dumbed down or unremarkable. Yet bottles command the same price as California wines. Is it Texas pride that keeps these places afloat, or just ignorance of what wine can be?

    Hoping to be impressed, someday…

  2. Dee, I can wholeheartedly and without reservation recommend wines from McPherson Cellars. Kim McPherson is the winemaker, and he’s doing some great things with Rhone grapes near Lubbock. My favorite from them is their Tre Colore, a Rhone blend, but I’ve never had a bad bottle of McPherson wine.

    I’ll be making more forays into the Wild West of Texas Wine and reporting back to you on exciting finds. And I have no Texas pride, so don’t worry that you’ll be hearing any tall tales from the Scamp!

Leave a Reply