By Leslie Gevirtz
NEW YORK (Reuters) - Texas is known for many things: cowboys and cattle, oil and gas wells, the Alamo and a passion for college football. But wine?
Although Spanish missionaries planted vines in what is now Texas in the 1600s, the state dates its modern wine production only as far back as the 1970s.
Prohibition in the 1920s wiped out the U.S. industry and even today most of the Lone Star state’s 254 counties have so-called “dry” laws, that restrict the consumption and sale of alcohol.
“Texas is still a wine region in its infancy and it is still a region that is determining what its best foot forward might be,” said Devon Broglie, a master sommelier who helps select wines for Whole Foods Market Inc, the largest natural and organic grocery chain in the United States.
Texas has about 273 wineries and Austin-based Broglie said Whole Foods sells wine from about 33 of them in their stores in Texas. Although the industry is still young, it is likely to flourish as its wines become better known outside the state.
Like most other wine regions, Texas began by offering Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon, the world’s best-selling white and red varietals. But its vintners have discovered that other varietals, such as those from France’s Rhone region, do much better in the climate.
Pedernales Cellars’ David Kuhlken said the rugged Texas Hill Country, which sprawls over central and south Texas,“is more Mediterranean than one might think.” Its creeks and rivers have carved into the deep layers of limestone and created a wide variation in soil types where grapes are grown.
Ed Hellman, a professor at Texas Tech University, said the ability to have Rhone varietals thrive comes just as wine consumers are willing to try something other than the usual Cabernet, Merlot and Chardonnay.
Kuhlken said Texans are not trying to find a region to emulate because the region is so unlike other wine-growing areas.
"Ultimately, we’re trying to find what is a good Texas wine and which varietals will do this,” he added.
Pedernales produces about 10,000 cases of wine annually and offers various Rhone blends, including the classic, Grenache, Syrah and Mourvedre, or GSM as it is called in the trade.
Rhone wine maker Frédéric Lavau, who was in New York last week and tasted the Pedernales GSM, said he found Texas wine quite interesting.
“Because when I smell it, for me, it’s very Syrah-driven, so you have that kind of minty character that you can find in the northern Rhone," said Lavau, whose family has been making wines since the 19th century.
"But with Rhone, it’s always a question of blends. If I were blending the GSM from Texas with my Rhone knowledge, I would not have been doing it the same way. The mouth and the nose are unconnected.”
But Broglie was undeterred by the comments.
“The total production of Texas wine is really consumed in Texas,” he said.
(Editing by Jonathan Oatis)