in the Heart Of
Texas Wine Country
Story and photos by John Blanchette
an Antonio, TX Im in the land of the Spurs, roses, cattle,
the River Walk and the Alamo. But I dont remember the Alamo, I
was spending too much time enjoying the cuisine and wine at the 10th
Annual New World Wine and Food Festival in San Antonio.
The Alamo. If it only had a wine bar I would remember
The four-day event, next year held in May, included
special dinners at restaurants around town, barbecue cook-offs, a grand
tasting with 50 local restaurants pairing dishes with 125 different
wines from all over Texas, and a black tie dinner/dance at the Omni
Judges enjoy the finest ribs in Texas Hill Country
during the annual barbecue cook-off held at Rio Cibolo cattle ranch.
Wine in Texas? Yes, my tongue and eyes have been opened.
The state has eight appellations and is the fifth largest producer.
With the new vineyard plantings underway, it will soon be number four,
overtaking New York (California is first followed by Washington State
Texans ride herd on their wine and dont share
much; only about five percent escapes the border. And theres a
reason, its delicious.
Soils, climate and temperatures (terroir) similar to
the Rhone Valley in France allow the nearly 200 Texas vintners to make
some excellent Viogniers, Chenin Blancs, Grenache and Syrah.
Thirty-six other wine grapes are grown commercially,
from Pinot Noir, Merlot and Chardonnay to Tempranilo, Sangiovese and
Muscat, but the Rhone varietals really shine.
Millions of years ago an inland sea covered most of
Texas, layering in alluvial soils containing limestone, chalk, flint
and shale, similar to the soils in the Rhone Valley.
Between the cities of San Antonio and Austin to the
Northeast, lies the Texas Hill Country Wine Trail, an 80-mile stretch
of rolling agricultural land harboring numerous vineyards with tasting
rooms. Many from this area sampled their wines at the Festival, most
notably Becker, Alamosa, Fredericksburg, Chisholm Trail, Pedernales,
McReynolds and Sister Creek.
There is a long history of wine production in Texas,
dating back to the 1650s when Franciscan priests planted the first vineyards
to make sacramental wine, 100 years before grapes were planted in California.
Prohibition virtually eliminated wine production until
it was reintroduced in the 1970s, about the same time the wine industry
began to get serious in California.
Over 50 of the top restaurants and chefs in San Antonio
took part in the Festival. Jason Dady, owner of Bin 555, The Lodge and
Two Brothers BBQ (which won the ribs and brisket cook-off held at the
expansive Rio Cibolo cattle ranch, a half-hour outside of San Antonio)
is a James Beard Award winning chef. Also participating were 50 other
local restaurants, most notably Boudros, Citrus, Francesca (at
the Westin La Cantera), Grey Moss Inn, Kirbys, Las Ramblas, Fig
Tree, Biga on the Banks, Los Barrios and Las Canarias.
Mmmm...The barbecue was fantastic
Old buses still shuttle around
Becker Vineyards hosted a wine and food tasting event
at the winery. Dr. Richard Becker is the Robert Mondavi of the Hill
Country Wine Trail and a major organizer of the yearly New World Wine
and Food Festival. His Chenin Blanc and Grenache wines are world class.
San Antonio is the seventh largest city in the United
States, a sprawling metropolis with an important role in the states
history. It is situated in South Central Texas along the San Antonio
River, which now rivals the Alamo as the citys top attraction.
It got its name from the feast day of St. Anthony, June 13, the date
in 1691 when a Spanish expedition party established the town.
The River Walk is currently being expanded and will
eventually reach a length of 13 miles. Strolling the walkway is a pastime
enjoyed by both tourists and locals.
Highly recommended is a three-mile boat ride down the
river. Knowledgeable pilots point out interesting facts about the city
and detail its history as you enjoy the lovely flora and structures
along the banks.
Boat glides along the beautiful River Walk that
meanders through downtown
Some descendants of the
German settlers from the 1840s outside their beautiful home in
King William District
Originally a Native American settlement, San Antonio
was ruled by Spain until Mexican Independence was granted in 1821. Then
American and Mexican settlers were invited in to develop the area, but
when Mexico tried to bring the territory back under its control, the
1836 Battle of the Alamo ensued, where James Bowie, Davy Crockett and
186 others lost their lives. The event triggered a call to establish
the Republic of Texas under the slogan Remember the Alamo
and two years later they were successful.
In 1845 Texas was annexed by the U.S., which incited
the Mexican War, and ultimately caused the accession of the entire American
Southwest from Mexico.
There was a large German immigration into the area beginning
in the 1840s when free land (i.e. worthless) was offered to Germans
fleeing the war and repression in Europe, if they would develop it.
As a result, German was spoken on the streets of San Antonio as much
as Spanish and English.
Creators of the cowboy and barbecue source
German settlers built the citys most beautiful
section, the 25-block King William District, as they prospered in their
new country. Many local families can trace their history back to these
settlers and German town names are common in the Hill Country.
Cattle ranching became a major industry as the land
was settled and the American cowboy was essentially born in San Antonio.
Men on horseback were needed to drive cattle along the Chisholm Trail
from San Antonio to the Kansas railheads.
The city became a major cowboy frontier town with a
wild saloon-based lifestyle and gambling, especially poker, developed
and thrived, creating the game of Texas Holdem and card players
like Amarillo Slim and Doyle Texas Dolly Brunson became
With the coming of the railroad in 1877 the town became
more civilized and modern, but it came at a cost to some of the historic
neighborhoods, which were torn down to accommodate the rails and to
construct wider avenues and new buildings.
Today it is a major destination city attracting over
25 million visitors a year to the River Walk and Texas wine country.
Along the River Walk
Maybe if the Alamo had a wine bar I would remember it
If You Go:
Market Square is full of Tex-Mex shops with artisan
goods, restaurants and lively food stalls. Mi Tierra is a cornerstone
here. Open 24 hours, its a busy, colorful and brightly decorated
local restaurant with live mariachi bands strolling by the tables. Dont
miss the dance bar.
Mariachi bands entertain at the colorful Mi Tierra
restaurant in Market Square
Over the weekend I stayed at the Westin La Cantera Resort
in the hills above the city. It has a world-class golf course designed
by Arnold Palmer and a great spa, but what I enjoyed most was the introduction
by sommelier Steven Krueger to my favorite Texas wine, Mcphersons
Viogneir from of all places, Lubbock.
Not a region that trickles off the tongue when siting
great wine producing areas, but this was the finest Viognier I ever
tasted, including those from the mother country of France.
Because there is so little made, if you want to try
it you have to contact the winery. And depending on the laws of your
state they may be able to ship it to you. Otherwise book a trip to Lubbock,
home to the Texas Tech Red Raiders and the finest Viognier in the world.
For information visit the websites of the Texas
Hill Country Wine Trail, the San
Antonio Convention and Visitors Bureau, (800-447-3372), New
World Wine and Food Festival, and Mcpherson