A Look Back in Time
In previous posts I have highlighted the high quality potential of the Texas Hill Country as a wine growing region. The more I taste local wines the more I realize that fundamentals for high quality grape production, that is, weather, varieties, soil and knowledge, are finally getting in symphony.
So, the question arises: why has this tremendous quality potential gone unrecognized by the world’s agri-business sector for the most part of the last century with only this best kept secret just beginning to make noise in recent years? We all know about the devastating effects that prohibition had over the entire United States wine business and, all things considered, that might be THE reason why.
So, what about before prohibition? The Bob Bullock Texas History Museum at Austin shows the Spanish flag at the front gate to remind us all that those people were the first Europeans to ever claim possession of what we now call Texas. Some were conquerors that came to stay for good so they brought their knowledge and culture, which included religion and the need of wine for the Catholic mass, which is a good excuse to plant vines, indeed. I recently got the chance to read more about wine production in Texas in those early days.
Sarah Jane English wrote The Wines of Texas,
and on the first chapter she covers those founding times. Thanks to her great historical work, it is fascinating to realize that the vines they planted some 350 years ago not only did thrive in El Paso but also made outstanding wines for centuries to come. As Lt. Zebulon M. Pike wrote in 1806, “numerous vineyards from which were produced the finest wine ever drank”. A few years later Stephen F. Austin himself wrote “nature seems to have intended Texas for a vineyard to supply America with wines”, a quote also highlighted by Russ Kane in his book The Wineslinger Chronicles of 2012 (vintagetexas.com). More officially, in 1837 on a message to Congress, the President of the Republic of Texas, San Houston stated: “Her cotton, sugar, indigo, wines, peltries, live stock and the precious minerals will become objects of mercantile activity”, regarding the trade of the young Republic.
The book keeps on mentioning a number of scripts where we can learn about comments and references regarding producing wines in Texas. One of those is from J.D.B. De Bow who edited a monthly publication in which he reports “…We are confident that the vine can be cultivated to a far greater advantage in the undulating region of Texas [the Hill Country?] than in any other part of the Union. The climate and soil resemble those of the best wine growing sections of Europe and Asia.”
It’s also interesting to read about the eagerness of the French chargé d`affaires, a sort of delegate from the French government, to abolish any taxation to the French wines imported to Texas in February 1840, so they would compete side by side with the locals.
By the end of the XIX century there already were prohibitionists that eventually prevailed until 1918 when the State finally adopted the federal government’s amendment which lasted for seventeen years. As the author puts it: “prohibition caused an immense gap”. An aftertaste of this can be seen today in some localities that are still “dry”.
So there we have it. Very early in Texas’ formative years they found this land as more than suitable for producing fine wines. I guess right after 1935 there was a race for filling the gap, and California with its easier weather (basically lack of hail, strong winds, and freezes) made the first and fastest move soon after prohibition was lifted. Whatever the reason, we are following the first settlers’ paths today, and we are getting to the same conclusions, maybe this land was intended to supply America with wines after all!
Sergio Cuadra, Director of Winemaking