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VITACEAE - Grape Family
Shrubs or vines with watery acid juice, usually climbing by tendrils opposite the leaves. The leaves are simple, dentate, mostly rounded and cordate, usually lobed and rarely palmately compound. The grape is 2 celled with 2-4 seeds (Correll and Johnston, 1979). The seeds are usually pyriform (pear-shaped) with a beaklike base and 2 grooves on the ventral side.
There are approximately 60 species of grape in the Northern Hemisphere and they are mainly in the temperate regions. In Texas there are 14 species: Vitis mustangensis - Mustange grape; Vitis acerifolia - Panhandle grape and Bush grape; Vitis cinerea - Graybark grape, Sweet grape, and Parra silvestre; Vitis lincecumii - Postoak grape ;Vitis aestivalis - Summer grape and Pigeon grape ;Vitis rotundifolia - Muscadine grape, Bullace grape, and Scuppernong ;Vitis riparia - Riverbank grape and Frost grape; Vitis palmata - Missouri grape, Red grape, and Catbird grape; Vitis arizonica - Canyon grape, Gulch grape, Parra Del Monte; Vitis rupestris - Sand grape and Sugar grape; Vitis monticola - Sweet Mountain grape; Vitis vulpina - Fox grape, Winter grape, Frost grape, and Chicken grape; Vitis berlandieri - Spanish grape, Winter grape, and Uva Cimarrona; and Vitis cordifolia - Frost grape and Chicken grape.
If you zoom over Texas from the Gulf of Mexico and travel north and west to the Panhandle, the land resembles an ascending stairway of 3 wide steps: the coastal plains, the central plains and the Great Plains. Planet building forces created this stairway in 3 distinct episodes.
Around 200 million years ago a remarkable event occurred that no one really understands. Landmasses shifted and the area we now call Texas suddenly rose while the Gulf of Mexico sank. Oceans that once covered most of Texas from the Dallas area west to El Paso and north over the Panhandle dried up leaving behind rich sediments. A new ocean covered most of today's coastal plains all the way to San Antonio, oscillating back and forth leaving the land sometimes covered by shallow seas, sometimes dry.
About 100 million years ago the limestone sediments that eventually became the Edwards Aquifer began to be laid down. Around this same time granitic mountains were being thrust up west of San Antonio creating the Llano Uplift and the plateaus of the High Plains.
Then around 65 million years ago the Rocky Mountains saw a surge of tectonic building; the mountains in far west Texas are part of this range. During this time millions of tons of sediments were being deposited across Texas by wind and water. The thickness of these sediments increased towards the coast and their tremendous weight caused the land to crack and sink along fault lines. The Balcones Escarpment visible above ground as a cliff in the San Antonio and Austin areas is the result of the Balcones Fault - the largest of a series of faults that separate the Coastal Plain from the Hill Country area. Further north the Cap Rock Escarpment defines the next step up to Great Plains.
With these geological changes in place, the stage was set for a vast array of physical microenvironments to be created within each of these landscape 'steps'. The Gulf of Mexico sought its current stable level and weather patterns molded the way vegetation evolved across the state. By the time Eurpeans "discovered" the Americas, Texas was prime country for planting vineyards.
A HISTORY OF GRAPE FERMENTATION IN TEXAS
When Spanish missionaries came to Texas in the 1600s wild grapes flourished over the landscape (over 50% of the known species of grape in the world grow in Texas). With a vast diversity in climate and soil Texas was a grape paradise. Yet, the cultivation of grapes and the production of wine over a 300-year period would seem to take three steps backward for every step forward.
Late 1600s To-Late 1700s: The Black Spanish Grape Reigns Supreme
As early as 1650 Father Garcia de San Fancisco y Zuniga, the father of Paso del Norte (El Paso) was known for his vineyards and the sacramental wine he produced. The padre brought with him the Spanish black grape (Lenior) as did most padres sent to establish outposts in the vast Texas landscape. Around 1680 Spaniards fleeing from the Pueblo Revolt in New Mexico established the Senecu, Isletta and Socorro missions in the El Paso area. These missions quickly established vineyards and produced wines, which helped defray the costs of providing the Sacrament of the Eucharist.
During the 1700s viticulture and wine production remained concentrated in the El Paso area. Irrigation techniques developed by the Franciscans helped the mission vineyards to flourish. Local farmers also raised grapes to make raisins, wine and the famous Pass brandy. The El Paso area supplied most of the wine and brandy for an area stretching from Chihuahua into New Mexico.
Late 1700s To Late 1800s: The Mustang Grape Finds A Niche
In the late 18th century and early 19th century the El Paso area was a major stop for traders and travelers to Mexico and people traveling west. Many recorded in their journals "the magnificent vineyards...from which are made great quantities of delicious wines." Throughout the early 1800s El Paso remained a prolific grape producing area while a smaller planting of grapes popped up around the missions in the Presidio area. This level of resources dedicated to grape production is impressive when you consider that Texas had a total population of 2,500 in the 1820s. In 1830 the Isletta Winery opened in El Paso and remained in business until Prohibition.
Amidst the praises sung for Texas wines by various travelers others began to object to the quality of the El Paso wines, saying "little of the wine is above mediocrity and it produces headaches." At this time leading citizens in Juarez, just across the Rio Grande, began experimented with growing vinifera grapes only to find, as many did before them, that the conditions in far west Texas were inhospitable for most vinifera grapes.
The time between the end of the Civil War and Prohibition is considered by many to be the golden age of Texas viticulture. In 1845 Texas was a struggling young Republic, with a total population of around 124,000, that had just agreed to join the United States. The Mexican/American war was raging and there was no industry to speak of and few pleasures. Whiskey was king. Viticulture and wine production were given a shot in the arm in the mid-1800s with the arrival of European immigrants. German immigrants settled in the Hill Country area around New Braunfels, Sister Dale, Fredericksburg and Boerne. They discovered the Mustang grape and attempted to make palatable wine from it.
In 1860, a time when Ohio led the nation in wine production at 586,000 gallons annually, Steiner's Settlement near Victoria is on record for the production of 2000 gallons of wine from the Mustang grape. In 1863, John Hatch's Winery in San Patricio County was shipping wine to Corpus Christi and other coastal towns. In 1870 the Sidney Borden Winery in Sharpsburg was shipping a white wine called Sharpburg's Best and a red called Rachel's Choice, named after his wife. In 1875 The Steinberger Winery opened in Windhorst and remained in operation until Prohibition. Suddenly wine was being produced from the Lenoir and Mustang grape in far reaching counties in Texas.
The German settlers were quickly followed by a wave of Italian immigrants who settled primarily on the eastern side of Texas, especially the Dallas area. The arrival of Italian immigrants around 1875 in the Dallas area coincided with the exciting work that T.V. Munson was doing in the field of viticulture. A native of Illinois, Munson moved to Denison in 1876 and pursued his love of grapes. Traveling across all of Texas and forty other states his work became the definitive source on grapes for horticultural authorities. Munson went on to develop numerous grape hybrids suitable for the Texas environment.
Decades earlier, the parasite oidium ravaged the European vineyards, with the French suffering losses of almost 80 percent. The European wine industry imported native Labrusca rootstock from the United States, but these cuttings brought in Phylloxera which attacked the recovering vineyards. In 1868 Phylloxera was discovered in southern France and more than 6 million acres of vineyards were destroyed in Europe. The French wine industry requested Munson to send rootstock developed during his studies where it was grafted with the European vinifera. Munson's work along with another horticulturist Hermann Jaeger helped save the European wine industry.
In 1887, not quite a decade since Edison invented the light bulb, the Carminati family opened the Carminati Winery followed three years later by the Fengolio Winery. The families in this area, particularly the Fengolios were influenced by the work of T.V. Munson. The Fengolios raise the Concord grape, Munson developed hybrids, and the Champion, Niagara and Herbemont grapes.
Meanwhile in the border town of Del Rio another Italian family, the Qualia's, quietly established the Val Verde Winery in 1883 with vineyards of the Spanish black grape. The winery was finally permitted in 1885. Sadly, as the 19th century was coming to close, the great vineyards of the El Paso area had all but disappeared. Nature played a part with numerous extended wet and dry periods. Economics also had a part. It became more profitable to raise truck crop produce than viticulture. Finally, the great flood of 1897 washed away a majority of the vineyards in the El Paso area forcing many to give up the struggle. Though grapes would continue as a crop into the 20th century, this area would never regain its viticulture prominence.
Late 1800s To Late 1900s: The wine stops...the wine flows
The El Paso area was losing its vineyards but experimental vineyards were cropping up all around the state. The opening of the Fengolio's Winery in 1900 was a harbinger of the activity to come in the Texas wine industry during the early 1900s. Small wineries opened in the Montague, Fredericksburg and Brenham areas as interest in grape culture spread throughout the state.
In 1907, as a severe depression gripped the financial markets, T.V. Munson released his book Foundations Of American Grape Culture which became a standard reference for grape culture in the U.S. During this time agricultural bulletins prophetically proclaimed the advantages of the High Plains and the Trans Pecos areas for vinifera wine grapes.
Unfortunately, during the second decade of the 20th century forces were set in motion that would toll the death bell for the Texas wine industry. In 1917 Congress declared war on Germany and a major drought plagued the state. The temperance movement that started in the late 19th century reached a critical mass with the passage of the 18th Amendment in 1919, which prohibited alcoholic beverages in the United States. Though prohibition was ratified as the law of the land in Texas one year later the last wineries closed down in 1919. Only one winery – Val Verde in Del Rio – would survive through the depression by growing table grapes.
In 1935, Adolf Hitler was Chancellor of Germany when voters in Texas repealed Prohibition. That fall Val Verde Winery was relicensed and remained the only winery in Texas for many years. To diversify the vineyard Louis Qualia introduced the Herbemont grape which held the same basic qualities as the Spanish black grape. He also experimented with vinifera, but found they could only survive for a few years in the Del Rio area. Probably falling victim to Cotton Root Rot.
At the end of prohibition and throughout the years of the depression the state issued press releases calling for an increase in grape and wine production. In short order, wineries opened in such diverse areas such as Houston, San Antonio, Poteet, Fredericksburg, Brenham, Hondo and Isleta. The wines they produced included Malaga, Port, Burgundy, Sauterne, Sherry, Rhinewine and Claret. Yet grape production remained small. From 1922 to 1946 annual production averaged about 1,800 tons. Despite growing enthusiasm all but one winery had ceased to exist by the late 1950s. Once again Val Verde Winery was the lone surviver of the Texas wine industry and remained that way until the mid-1970s.
In the late 1960s there was a resurgence of interest in wine across the country, especially in California. Texas was slower to jump on the wine bandwagon even though research efforts had continued since the 1930s through institutes such as Texas A&M University. In the late 1970s vineyards at A&M's Experimental Station in Lubbock began showing promising results for growing vinifera in Texas, something thought to be crucial to creating world-class wines.
The first of the new generation of wineries was bonded in 1975 when Guadalupe Valley Winery opened in the historic village of Gruene, near New Braunfels. Four years later Ed and Susan Auler opened Fall Creek Vineyards on the shores of Lake Buchanan. In the 1980s wineries were popping up around Texas like bluebonnets in the spring, thanks to changes in legislation controlling the establishment of small wineries, and important research being done on vinifera cultivars. These were exciting times as the infamous Texas pioneer spirit pushed grape culture and wine production to new heights.
In 1982 Texas produced around 50,000 gallons of wine. Four years later wine production had reached around 700,000 gallons. Of course as with any new dynamic industry change is inevitable and the Texas wine industry was no exception. Of the approximately 29 wineries bonded from 1975 through 1989 60 percent of them no longer exist. Despite that turnover rate Texas has 33 bonded wineries (if you don't count multiple permits or retail entities with winery permits). With a number of wineries either awaiting permits or in the early planning stages, its not unreasonable to predict a total of 40 wineries within the next two years.
According to Tim Dodd, director of the Texas Wine Research and Marketing Institiute, Texas ranks fifth in wine production behind California, New York, Washington and Oregon. Annual production is consistently over a million gallons with the majority of that being consumed within Texas. The varietal grapes dominate Texas viticulture though some exciting experiments are being carried out with new grape varieties. Becker Vineyards in Stonewall has produced a nice Viognier and Alamosa Wine Cellars released their Sangiovese in August of this year. This is the first bottling of this grape as a varietal in Texas. Near New Braunfels, Dry Commal Creek Vineyards has produced a French Columbard, a first for Texas.