Texas is the largest state in the contiguous United States of America, and is also one of the most viticulturally productive. Covering 268,000 square miles (696,000 sq km) between latitudes 25-36°N, the hot, dry state is home to a range of mesoclimates suitable for viticulture within the Texan deserts, mountains, lakes and plains. The key grape varieties grown in Texas are Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay, Chenin Blanc and (despite the warm conditions) Sauvignon Blanc.
Texan viticulture is divided into three core regions: North-Central, South-Eastern and Trans-Pecos. The latter refers to everything west of the Pecos River, which rises in southern New Mexico and flows south towards the Gulf of Mexico. The southern areas of Texas are too hot – and the eastern corner too humid – for quality viticulture, although wine production continues there in spite of these climatic disadvantages. The state's oldest winery, Val Verde, founded in 1883, is in fact located in the southwest of Texas, close to the border with Mexico, and produces wines from classic varieties such as Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Noir and notably Muscat Canelli. (© Proprietary Content, Wine-Searcher.)
The finest vineyards of Texas are generally found within the North-Central region, specifically within the confines of the Texas High Plains AVA (American Viticultural Area). This area produces wines of both quality and quantity and has the highest density of wine-bearing vines in the state. There are eight AVAs in Texas altogether, including the vast Texas Hill Country and its two sub-regions, Bell Mountain and Fredericksburg in the Texas Hill County. In the north, along the border with Oklahoma, is Texoma, while the smaller Escondido Valley and Texas Davis Mountains appellations are nestled away in the hills that cover the Trans-Pecos. A small portion of the Mesilla Valley, a key AVA of neighboring New Mexico, is also situated within the borders of Texas.
Along with the classic Bordeaux and Burgundy varieties grown in Texas, there is also some experimentation with varieties better suited to the warm, dry Texan climate, notably those grown in France's Rhone Valley. Viognier and Syrah have proved successful in several districts and are grown alongside other European varieties, including Tempranillo and Sangiovese.
Wine has been produced in Texas since the mid-17th Century, when Spanish missionaries planted vines in the area around the modern-day border between Texas, Mexico and New Mexico. Prohibition in 1920 dealt a devastating blow to the Texan wine industry, and it did not recover until the late 20th Century. Today, the state ranks fifth in terms of production, just behind the more famous U.S. wine states of Washington, Oregon, New York and, of course, California.
A debt of honor is owed to Texas by wine producers all over the world – or rather, to a particular Texan grapevine breeder. During the late 1800s, Thomas Volney Munson established a vineyard, which he ran both for his own studies and also as a commercial nursery. It was here that he grafted European Vitis vinifera vine scions onto native American rootstocks, creating the first truly workable solution to the phylloxera crisis. At that time, the sap-sucking pest was laying waste to vineyards in Europe and across the world, and no solution had been found. In recognition of Munson's achievements, the French government made him a Chevalier (knight) of the Ordre du Mérite Agricole (Order of Agricultural Merit).