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Tour the wineries of Texas to get a taste of the state

Seeing the solar eclipse that crossed much of the United States in April was an adventure I didn’t want to miss. Like a billion other people, I planned a road trip to Texas, figuring it would be clear and sunny for the solar show, and also to meet some high school friends.

I drove through a snowstorm in Idaho, around Salt Lake City, where crazy Parnelli Jones wannabes slalomed across six lanes, under the pink overpasses in New Mexico and into Texas, where every mile should be a historical marker.

I made a few wrong turns, corrected course and enjoyed the scenery, especially the Arches in Utah, the Oljato Monument Valley in Arizona and the wildflowers along the highways in Texas.

In many places there are famous wine country roads. At the top of the list is Highway 29 in the Napa Valley AVA; on the D2 you wind through the beloved Bordeaux municipalities of Margaux, Pauillac, Saint-Julien and Saint-Estèphe and in our own backyard the Wine Country Road from Selah to Prosser in the Yakima Valley AVA. The newest addition to roads dotted with wineries and vineyards is the Texas Hill Country AVA’s Highway 290. There are 273 American Viticultural Areas (AVAs), spread across 34 states. California has 152, Oregon 23, Washington 20 and New York 11.

Texas has eight AVAs, two of which are the largest. The Texas High Plains AVA (around the panhandle), where more than 85% of the state’s wine grapes are grown, covers 8 million acres. And the Texas Hill Country AVA, established in 1991, covers 9 million acres.

The selected grapes from Texas are largely native to sunny Spain, Portugal, southern France and Italy. The Texas High Plains offers the most diverse grape selection with more than 75 different varieties.

Red wine grapes dominate. Cabernet and Tempranillo have the highest number of plantings. Other red grapes include Alicante Bouschet, Merlot, Mourvèdre, Sangiovese, Petite Sirah, Tannat, Malbec, Cinsault, Aglianico, Touriga National, Tinto Cao, Syrah, Carignan and Grenache.

Viognier, Marsanne, Roussanne, Verdelho, Chardonnay, Muscat Canelli and Chenin Blanc are the white grapes. Rhône varieties Marsanne, Roussanne and Viognier make up the top three wines grown. Texas has approximately 400 wineries with the largest concentration in the Texas Hill AVA. Driving towards Austin I made a wrong turn and got lost and found Perrisos Vineyards and Winery. They had a wine tasting on eclipse night!

Before Seth and Laura Martin opened Perrisos Vineyards and Winery, they focused on the vineyards. The first test vineyard consisted of six grape vines planted along their driveway in Austin. Then more test vineyards were planted at a neighbor’s or a sister’s house, until they found a forgotten vineyard and revived it.

Then they found a perfect spot with acreage and planted more vineyards. The first real harvest was crushed in 2006. As a result of all the knowledge gained from these early test vineyards, 70% of Perissos wines are grown on the estate.

As I strolled the grounds with a wine glass in hand, I tasted some remarkable wines. Their Texas High Plains Serendipity is a fruity 50-50 blend of Roussanne and Malvasia Bianca grapes. An unusual Rosé made from Mourvèdre followed. Due to limited skin contact, this normally densely colored grape took on a light pink hue. Then the Bellissima, a lighter red wine in the Beaujolais Nouveau style but without the Gamay grape. Instead, the blend is predominantly Sangiovese with Aglianico, Malbec and Viognier. Either or both would be great for the BBQ. At the next table was the Mourvèdre, a full-bodied wine from a grape native to the Rhône region. When I tasted this, I decided that Mourvèdre had found another great place to grow. Malbec grown on their estate was rich, quite full and balanced.

At the final table, the Racker’s Blend is a third Petite Sirah with the rest – Aglianico, Malbec, Tempranillo and Syrah. The wine has matured in oak for two years. I had a few flavors and bought a few.Kuhlman Cellars is located in the heart of the Highway 290 wine route. The estate’s 7 hectare vineyard is planted with Mourvèdre, Marsanne, Roussanne, Carignan and Aglianico. The vines are planted on rootstocks that are drought tolerant.

There were a few flight options available and I opted for the red, which included a wine called Hensell, a blend of half Cinsault and half Sangiovese and Grenache. These wine grapes come from the Cobb Family Vineyard in the Gillespie County and High Plains AVA vineyards.

I really liked their Barranca, a beautiful blend of Texas Hill Country fruits including Petite Sirah, Mourvèdre, Aglianico and Malbec. I bought one! Good thing I drove!Lewis Wines was founded in 2010 by Doug Lewis and Duncan McNabb. The small tasting room has a huge covered terrace and is surrounded by large oak trees and vineyards.

In the spring of 2014, the estate’s vineyard was planted with Touriga Nacional, Tinto Cão, Alicanté Bouschet, Tannat and Arinto. The Arinto was not liked and was replanted in Mourvèdre. In April 2023, Verdelho, a white Portuguese grape, was planted. The Tannat grape is a Basque grape variety that is also grown in southwestern France and Uruguay. Tannat has a thick skin, lots of tannin and high acidity. She is perfect for the warm, dry growing conditions of Texas.

Alicanté Bouschet is a cross between Petit Bouschet and Grenache, created in France in the 19th century. It is an important grape for southern Portugal with its thick skin and unusual red flesh. The result is very dark colored wines, which are usually used for blending. Verdelho is another Portuguese grape variety, native to Madeira, where the wine is fortified. One of the few white grapes that like heat, Verdelho is well adapted to Texas and produces a wine that is floral and fruity with good acidity.

Parr Vineyard Mourvèdre Rosé 2022 was a very light pink, from 16 year old vines. The fruit was harvested by hand early in the morning, pressed whole bunch, fermented in stainless steel and aged on the lees for 5 months.

This 2023 Klein Vineyard Tempranillo comes from several young vines. Due to the long, hot summer, the grapes were harvested by hand at night and placed in tanks full of CO2. After a week of carbonic maceration, the fruit was pounded and fermented on the skins. Carbonated wines tend to have softer tannins, less alcohol and a fresh, fruity taste. A perfect red wine to drink chilled at the BBQ.

The Parr Vineyard Tempranillo 2018 comes from a vineyard with sandstone soils covered with granite. The grapes were harvested by hand, pressed during fermentation and aged in neutral oak.

Morgan, a very knowledgeable and very friendly hostess, manned the tasting room. When I walked in, she was reading a book by Kevin Zraly, “Windows on the World Complete Wine Course.” It’s the same book I studied when I started. We had such a nice time talking about wine.

I also tasted an off-dry High Plains Phillips Vineyard Chenin Blanc, which I thought was more of a cool-climate grape, but Morgan confirmed that the vineyard’s elevation at 3,350 feet was quite cool. The grapes were harvested by hand and then fermented in stainless steel.

The finale was the Hill Country Rainwater, a dessert-style wine made with white grapes and then fortified, like port, and then aged outside the winery in oak for a minimum of three years. This delicious wine is slightly sweet with refreshing acidity.

It was a fantastic adventure and I would do it again with time to visit another 393 wineries in Texas. Cheers!

Mary Earl has been educating Kitsap wine enthusiasts for decades, is a longtime member of the West Sound Brew Club, and can pair a beer or wine dinner together in no time. She volunteers for the Clear Creek Trail and has been a longtime supporter of Silverdale. Contact her at [email protected].

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