The Yellow Rose Of Texas

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So you eat your steak chicken-fried, and you've never worried much about whether to have it with a full-bodied Burgundy or a clever little Cabernet. Well, you must be Texan, son. Down there in the Lone Star State, they like their food simple and their drink foamy, with the result that per capita consumption of beer averages 32 gallons annually. Wine trickles in at a measly 1 gallon.

But you can't keep a good ol' Texas tradition down, and lately one of the more obscure ones, wine-making, has come galloping hard down the comeback trail. Can Chateau Billy Bob be far behind?

Viniculture was actually a promising Texas industry back in the early part of the century, before it got dry-gulched by Prohibition. Introduced to southwest Texas by European immigrants, the finest continental grapes struggled and died in the red caliche soil and were eventually replaced by more rugged, native species.

Today's Texans may not be drinking much of the grape yet, but they sure are cultivating it. Since 1975, the amount of land devoted to viniculture has grown from 25 acres to well over 1,000, while the number of bonded wineries has increased from 1 to 13. This year, the University of Texas alone intends to have 660 acres of commercial vineyards under cultivation. The university hopes to sell quality produce to such established vintners as Fall Creek Vineyards of Llano County, in central Texas. Last year, Fall Creek produced 5,000 gallons of wine -- up from 600 gallons in 1979. It plans to be producing 30,000 gallons by 1985.

Of course, numbers alone mean little to wine lovers, and even local boosters concede that some Texans would sell saddle sweat in Chablis bottles if they thought they could cash in on a quick fad. Nevertheless, the Texas wine industry does have some things going for it -- a good climate, high acreage yields, and land prices from less than $800 to $5,000 per acre, compared with about $20,000 per acre in California's Napa Valley. But will the right kind of grapes (Chenin Blanc, Zinfandel, Verdelet) flourish on that land? If they do, even old sodbusters can learn how to turn them into decent wine -- or so the believers contend.

In the long run, however, the real trick may be to develop the market for Texas wine. It may be hard to overcome the incredulity of outsiders or to get cowboys thinking about corks at the end of their longnecks. Then, too, many of the state's larger urban areas are dry. And what does go with chicken-fried steak, anyway? The answer to that question, like the bouquet of a classic emerald Riesling, will be known only in time.

Last updated: Jun 1, 1983




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