Carl's Corner - Texas Hill Country AVA
The Texas Hill Country is the central Texas region containing the largest concentration of wineries in the Lone Star State and where most of the wine tourist trade happens. This huge AVA was approved by TTB in 1991 as U.S. AVA number 136 of the current 261 (as of 09-Mar-2022). The records exist in the Code of Federal Regulations - CFR 27 9.136.
There are eight U.S. American Viticultural Areas (AVAs) in the state of Texas as shown in Figure 1: Texas Hill Country AVA #136; Bell Mountain AVA #55; Fredericksburg in the THC AVA #125; Texas High Plains AVA #144; Texoma AVA #185; Mesilla Vly AVA #100; Davis Mountains AVA #155; and Escondido Vly AVA #141.
The Texas Hill Country AVA is the 2nd largest and southernmost AVA in the U.S. stretching about 150 miles west of the IH-35 corridor (see map in Figure 2.) including northern portions of San Antonio up to San Saba and west of Austin (IH-35) to Rocksprings. The AVA contains near 200 wineries and approximately 1,200 planted acres of vineyards. The AVA was established under the leadership of Ed and Susan Auler, founders of Fall Creek Vineyards located north of Fredericksburg along the banks of the Colorado River.
There are many types of soils and mini-climates in the Texas Hill Country AVA, including almost desert-like flatlands, steep rocky hillsides, gently rolling plains, and twisting valleys, especially along Pedernales River, San Saba River, and the Colorado River’s chain of Highland Lakes. The climate is primarily sub-tropical, hot and dry with lots of sun and moderate diurnal temperature variation of about 15-25oF. With the significant number of wineries and tasting rooms located within the AVA, this is the place most people think about when planning to visit Texas wine country. It is estimated that over 5 million visitors taste wine in the THC each year.
The 30+ mile stretch of U.S. Hwy 290, along the Pedernales River between Johnson City and Fredericksburg, has been called “The Texas Wine Route” (Wine Road 290) and is traveled by about 1.5 million vehicles every year. There are currently about 80 wineries or tasting rooms (of some type) located on or near this major road. With the popular tourist destination of Fredericksburg anchoring the western end of Wine Road 290, this area has become the second most visited wine destination in America, second only to Napa Valley in California. Texans love the Hill Country, and apparently, they love Texas wine, too.
Two sub-AVAs are located within the Texas Hill Country area, tiny Bell Mountain, northeast of Fredericksburg, and Fredericksburg in the THC, both fully contained within the boundaries of the Texas Hill Country AVA and Gillespie County. It is interesting to note both of them were established before the THC AVA, but were included in that larger region.
Elevation ranges from about 1,400 to nearly 2,000 feet. A wide range of soil types includes limestone, granite, clay, and sandstone. Typical rainfall of only about 30 inches per year forces most vineyards to be irrigated. Key features include the Edwards Plateau, Enchanted Rock, the Pedernales River basin, and the Colorado River and its chain of Highland Lakes.
The boundary of THC AVA was established using seven U.S.G.S. topographical maps and includes all or portions of 23 counties. The following is a summary of the boundary description provided in the AVA petition to the TTB. Starting at the intersection of IH-35 and TX-29, near Georgetown north of Austin, follow TX-29 to intersect US-183 and continue northwesterly on US-183 through Lampasas to intersect TX-190 near Lometa. Follow US-190 westerly through San Saba and Brady to intersect US-83 in Menard. Follow US-83 southward to intersect US-377 near Junction and continue on US-377 to intersect TX-55 in Rocksprings. Follow TX-55 southeasterly to intersect US-83 near Uvalde. From the US-83 and US-90 intersection south of Uvalde, follow US-90 to intersect Loop 410 in San Antonio. Follow Loop 410 eastward across the city to intersect IH-35, then northeasterly on IH-35 through New Braunfels, San Marcos, and Austin to the starting point intersection of IH-35 and TX-29 near Georgetown.
Fredericksburg in the Texas Hill Country is a mid-sized AVA covering 70,400 acres (110 sq miles) centered around the historic town of Fredericksburg in Gillespie County. Both Fredericksburg (located 80 miles west of the Texas capital, Austin) and the wider Hill Country lie on the eastern third of the Edwards Plateau – a limestone-rich savanna which covers a significant portion of western-central Texas. Although Fredericksburg has its own AVA, most wineries use Texas Hill Country on their wine labels since producers maintain the THC appellation is more recognizable and appreciated by consumers.
Fredericksburg's soils are mostly clay-based loams, with limestone and granite dotted here and there where the undulating hills visibly expose the rock. The free-draining qualities of the better soils are most beneficial during the late summer months when the region's highest rainfall is recorded. Given the low latitude (30°N) and the subtropical climate here, grapevines are surprisingly exposed to pronounced frost problems in the spring. It becomes an even greater risk in higher elevation areas, particularly when Easter-time freezes expose early budding varieties to significant frost damage.
Bell Mountain AVA was established in 1986, largely due to the efforts of Bob Oberhelman, then president and winemaker at Bell Mountain Vineyards, the sole winery in the AVA. The area covers 3,200 acres and was established as the 55th AVA in the U.S. well before the surrounding Texas Hill Country AVA was designated as the 136th in 1991. It was the first designated wine area entirely within the state of Texas and is located about 15 miles north of Fredericksburg near Enchanted Rock and the scenic Willow City Loop within the boundaries of both the Texas Hill Country AVA and Gillespie Country. The key feature is the peak of Bell Mountain at 1,956 ft.
The climate, soils, and overall characteristics for the Texas Hill Country AVA tend to favor grape varieties that prefer hot, arid growing conditions such as those found in the Mediterranean regions of Spain, France, and Italy. Even though valiant efforts are made to produce Bordeaux varieties, like Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot, most growers and vintners have found that hardy red varieties like Grenache, Carignan, Syrah, and Mourvèdre, widely grown in southern France, tend to thrive in the region. Other reds like Italian Sangiovese and Montepulciano and Spanish Tempranillo, along with white grapes like Viognier, Vermentino (or Rolle in Southern France), some Muscat varieties, and the muscat hybrid Blanc du Bois also grow well in Central Texas.
Alcohol and Tobacco, Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB), Code of Federal Regulations –
27 CFR part 9. https://www.ttb.gov/wine/ava-map-explorer is loaded with fun info, including the boundary descriptions of all 261 approved U.S. AVAs (as of 09-Mar-2022)
The Wine Searcher website has info on most U.S. wine regions, including the Texas AVAs
https://VintageTexas.com/blog/archives/3100 Vintage Texas Sunday ‘Cyclopedia of Wine: Appellation of Origin/American Viticultural Area, 23-Jan-2011
Appellation America - An Introduction to the Texas AVAs, by Eleanor & Ray Heald, December 1, 2009
Other useful sources that contributed to this post include: Go Texan website, Texas Fine Wine, Texas Hill Country Wineries, and the Texas Wine and Grape Growers Association.
Previous Carl’s Corner Posts in this “Texas AVAs – What and Why?” Series include the following: all posted on www.texaswinecollective.com website
#1 What’s An AVA, Mama? 05-Jan-2022
#2 What Does an AVA on a Wine Label Mean? 22-Jan-2022
#3 How is an AVA Established? 28-Feb-2022
#4 What is the Value of an AVA? 14-Mar-2022
Just FYI - The largest AVA in the U.S. is the Upper Mississippi River Valley which encompasses portions of several states north of where the Ohio River meets the Mississippi River, spreading over 29 million acres, over three times larger than either the Texas Hill Country or the Texas High Plains AVAs.