SAN ANTONIO – Cheers! It’s mid-August, which seems impossible to me. Maybe it’s because the pandemic feels like a super long singular month.
This mid-month edition of the KSAT Things To Do newsletter is wine-themed.🍷 Personally, I love a good chardonnay — preferably from the Sonoma Coast region of California, but to each their own.
Let’s ignore my penchant for a good California grape though and talk about our lovely Lone Star State. Texas is actually the second-most-visited wine region in the U.S. despite being the fifth-largest wine-producing state, according to Rodeo Houston. Did you know that? I didn’t.
This led me down a winery and vineyard rabbit hole searching for some good spots you might want to check out. I did some digging and found 34 vineyards and wineries within a reasonable driving distance of San Antonio that all have great reviews. There are considerably more than the ones I’ve listed but this should help you get a good grasp of what’s out there if you’re into vino. And even if you’re not an oenophile, wine tasting could be a cool new thing to try.
More than 1.5 million people visit the Hill Country every year to check out the wineries. That many people can’t be wrong - right?
And because I’m handy-dandy I linked to all of the ones I found and made you a map. You’re welcome!
How’s the crop?
Winter Storm Uri came through in February and then in the months following, Texas has seen a ton of rain.
I reached out to some of the vineyards to see if that’s made a difference in this year’s crops and Fall Creek Vineyards Director of Winemaking Sergio Cuadra told me this year has been anything but typical.
“The deep freeze that we experienced across the state in February certainly affected many vineyards, reducing the crop size in 2021. We also had more frequent rainfall, which has introduced opportunities for mildew in some vineyards,” Cuadra said.
He told me that while the Hill Country region will see greatly reduced grape quantities for the 2021 harvest, the quality of the fruit will be high.
Just be wary if you’re looking for certain varieties or products this year. Texas A&M AgriLife Extension viticulturist Brianna Crowley said growers with decent crops are going to get a premium for their grapes.
“I would expect a lot of negotiation on grapes, especially popular varieties that are in short supply, and it could mean bottle prices go up for this year,” Crowley said. My advice (which you don’t have to take) would be to buy in bulk if you can. It’s usually cheaper.
Augusta Vin Estate Winery owner Scott Felder also told me that some of the varietals at his vineyard produced much less fruit than normal but the fruit the vineyard did produce “getting is of excellent quality and should produce high-quality wines.”
I honestly thought more rain was going to lead to a way better yield for Texas vineyards this year. Learn something new every day, right? Felder said heavy rains “are very detrimental to fruit being harvested as it can break down the skin of the grape, allowing for cracking and seepage of juice and incursion of oxygen that can start premature fermentation.” Sounds like too much of a good thing.
The lack of intense heat (but let’s be real it’s still hot outside) also played a factor. Signor Vineyards’ sommelier Andre Boada told me that “the cooler-than-usual summer resulted in an extended growing season which is normally short and compact. Extra hangtime creates more concentrated flavor and intensity, representing a promising vintage.” Sounds good to me.
By the way, Signor Vineyards is the beautiful location you see in the video player at the top of the article. If you’re viewing this in the newsletter form instead of the article form you can see the video here.
Texas wine history
Vineyards have been in Texas since the 1650s when the Spanish missionaries planted mission grapes along the Rio Grande River near present-day El Paso, according to Rodeo Houston.
Fast forward a few hundred years and now the United States Department of Agriculture is reporting that 7,100 tons of grapes were produced in Texas in 2020.
And the Hill County, which is where people typically think of when they hear Texas wine, is not even the biggest producing area. The Texas High Planes and Panhandle is the top dog in the Texas wine game.
Technically Texas Wine Month isn’t until October, (you can thank former Texas Agricultural Commissioner and former Gov. George W. Bush for that one), but you can get an early start with our curated list. Hey, maybe make it a goal to visit all of them - on different days of course.
Alcohol laws are changing in Texas
Ok, if you’ve made it this far down then the likelihood that you’re a wine drinker, I’m guessing, is decently high. That also means you’ve likely made the classic Texas faux pas of trying to buy wine (or beer) before noon on a Sunday from a grocery retailer.
Gov. Greg Abbott signed HB 1518 in May and without getting into the logistics of it - you’re basically going to be able to start buying beer and wine on Sundays starting at 10 a.m. as of Sept. 1. at your friendly, neighborhood H-E-B (or wherever you get your groceries.)
Hit me up if you have suggestions on improvements to the newsletter or upcoming events you think people want to know about - email@example.com.
Mary Claire Patton, KSAT Digital Journalist