The Cross Timbers Region of Texas encompasses approximately 26,000 square miles in north and central Texas. Early travelers through north Texas coined the name "CrossTimbers" because of the dense, old oak trees and thick, almost impenetrable undergrowth of briars and other thorny bushes. Creekbeds were lined with native grapes, many of which survive today. It forms part of the boundary between the more eastern Grand Prarie of Texas and the almost treeless Great Plains.This area was so dense with trees and briars that it divided the state.
The Comanches and Apaches lived to the west of the Cross Timbers and the Caddos and others to the east. Many small family bands lived in the Cross Timbers. Washington Irving visited the Cross Timbers and complained about how hard it was to travel through. One could not ride a horse because of the density of the timbers.
Italians from northern Italy found the Cross Timbers in the 1800s, and their leader said, “This soil will grow grapes.” So they settled here and had two commercial wineries in operation before prohibition shut them down (you do really believe they stopped making wine don’t you!). They made their wine from native grapes and hybrids developed by T.V. Munson, who is credited with saving the European wine industry in the late 1800s. He grafted European vines on Texas root stock from our Cross Timbers area. So how well do grapes grow in Cross Timbers soil?
Brushy Creek Vineyards was the first winery since prohibition in this area. We sell nearly all the wine we make from our tasting room on the winery property.
I was stunned at the taste and aroma of the wine I had made for the first time from Texas Grapes. Everyone knows, or so I thought, that it is not possible to grow good grapes or make good wine in Texas. The climate it is too hot here. But when Cabernet Sauvignon vines had been planted near Sunset, Texas, in Wise County in 1985 and 1991, I was given a five-gallon bucket of grapes.
What I have learned is that a lot we know about wine is more myth and marketing than science. It is true that good wines of the world historically come from cooler climates. They picked their grapes in the fall and made their wines in their cool cellars.
In Texas we harvest in August, and it is often over 100 degrees outside. But because someone invented air conditioning and refrigeration, it is now possible for me to make floral white wines by fermenting them at 50 degrees. The reds really do need higher temperatures to extract color and flavor from the grapes, and 85 degrees is good enough. Refrigeration helps keep the exothermic (heat generating) mix of grape skins, seeds, juices, and emerging wine cool enough that flavors and aromas are captured and retained in the wine.
I have loved good wines all of my life and have been lucky to have tasted some of the best wines in the world. At 18 years of age, I joined the Navy’s Nuclear Submarine force and fell in with some folks who shared my passion for wine. In 1963 I drove up NAPA valley on the rough two-lane road before their industry had really gotten started. I have watched the California wine industry evolve into a world-class operation. Now I am seeing Texas emerging out of the dark ages, and really good wines are being made here. Folks can snicker all they want. I remember California wines when they could not measure up to the fine European wines I had come to love.
I was near retirement after 30 years in the nuclear industry when my wife said, "Why don’t we buy some land in the country, plant a few vines, and see what happens?" I now have a degree in enology and viticulture with 10 planted acres, and we made over 10,000 gallons of wine last year. We have been making wine exclusively from grapes grown in Texas for 25 years now.
The Cross Timbers area of Texas has great soil for growing grapes. The Italians settled this area and had two commercial wineries before prohibition shut them down. After prohibition, Texas A&M University ran a 100-acre grape experiment station near the town of Montague. Some of the vines are still there, alive and producing grapes. They are huge vines.
Texas is generally known as having a hot climate in summer, but it can get very cold in winter. It appears that the best grapes for us need to be able to survive the cold winters and still produce quality grapes in the heat of summer. I have been experimenting with over 36 different grape varieties. As expected, the cool-climate grapes do not do as well as the grapes whose homeland is warmer. Many of the grapes of Spain and Southern France seem to do especially well.
It can be a challenge selling wines in a grocery store without customers having the opportunity to sample the wines. However, when people do side-by-side tasings, they buy Roussanne two to one over Chardonnay. Tempranillo, Mourvedre, Tannat are now well known, but they also sell 2 to 1 better than Cabernet Sauvignon or Merlot when one is able to sample the wines. Sarah/Shiraz also makes very promising wines.