Efforts to create Additional AVAs in Texas
Efforts to create Additional AVAs in Texas
(#10 of 10 in a Series: “Texas AVAs – What and Why?”, posted 28-Sept-2022)
Some members of the Texas Wine Industry are working on petitions with the required documentation for submission to the TTB requesting the establishment of more AVAs in Texas. The two key goals appear to be 1) better definition of the primary grape growing areas within the very large Texas Hill Country (THC) and Texas High Plains (THP) AVAs and 2) develop AVAs for those large areas of the Lone Star State not already included in an AVA. This author is aware of at least one effort underway to create a sub-AVA in the Texas Hill Country and suspects that similar efforts are being considered in other parts of the state.
A key feature of an AVA, as required by the TTB, is that it be a delimited grape-growing region with specific geologic and/or climatic features that affect the characteristics of grapes grown within the defined boundaries. In addition, the petition for an AVA should provide documentation to distinguish why that area is different from surrounding regions. When considering how large the Texas Hill Country and Texas High Plains AVAs are, with many differences in microclimates, soil, water availability, elevation, etc., within the AVA boundaries, it is almost surprising that the TTB approved AVA petitions for such vast areas. So, it seems the stage is now set to develop petitions for sub-AVAs within the larger AVAs to better define smaller, more similar growing areas. See the discussion below.
A Llano Uplift sub-AVA is being developed by Dr. Justin Scheiner and his team at TAMU, the folks at William Chris Wines, and members of Texas Wine Growers. This new AVA will occupy the majority of Llano and Mason Counties, and small portions of Burnet, Blanco, Gillespie, McCulloch, and San Saba Counties. The area under consideration contains 294 acres of wine-grape vineyards and 14 bonded wineries within its borders. This will be a relatively large AVA but would better define a similar grape-growing region that sits on the northeastern edge of the Edwards Plateau, and further distinguish it from other parts of the THC AVA. The tiny Bell Mountain AVA, already included within the THC, will also be included within the boundaries of Llano Uplift.
The elevation of the proposed AVA ranges from 800 feet in the east along the Colorado River to a maximum elevation of 2,004 feet in the Mason Mountains in the northwest with soils mostly comprised of limestone and caliche-laced sandy loam. The total acreage of the proposed AVA is 1,341,486 acres (2,096 sq. mi.). The “Uplift” part of the name particularly refers to the reddish granite rock formations that rise above the surrounding landscape, creating notable landmarks like Enchanted Rock and with patches of relatively unique shattered granite soils below these rocky features.
A Pedernales River Basin sub-AVA may also be considered that would include much of the Pedernales River corridor along U.S. 290 (Wine Road 290) where so many Hill Country wineries are located. This area is a key part of the wine tourist and visitation trade that brings folks to the Texas Hill Country. Located east of the current Fredericksburg in the Texas Hill Country AVA, a Pedernales River Basin AVA would help to highlight most of the vineyards and wineries in this popular destination for Texas Hill Country visitors.
Hickory Sands sub-AVA could potentially define another area having different viticulture characteristics within THC. This area is located in and around Mason County, west of and at a higher elevation than Fredericksburg. The Hickory Aquifer, with extensive sandstone deposits, is well-known and a key source of water for this region. Several vineyards and wineries are now established near Mason and more growth in this area can be expected.
Another sub-AVA could be considered for a portion of the Colorado River basin located west of Burnet in the Inks Lake area. This area, historically called Hoover Valley, has an unusual soil type, called shattered granite, that is prevalent and seems to be a good base for growing grapes. This area has been included in the previously discussed Llano Uplift AVA petition, but could, in the future, become a more tightly defined sub-AVA on its own, perhaps called Hoover Valley.
The Texas High Plains AVA, covering 8 million acres, is certainly large enough that sub-AVA development should be considered. Although grape growing conditions on the High Plains are generally more similar across the AVA than those across the Texas Hill Country, there are still differences that could (should?) be highlighted. For example, just consider the approximately 150-mile distance from the south end to the north end of the THP. Not only can the weather be quite different across this range, but soil types and elevation changes can also have an impact on vineyards. Further, consider the elevation difference between the eastern boundary of the THP AVA, the 3,000 ft contour line of the Caprock Escarpment, and the western boundary, the TX-NM borderline at nearly 4,000 ft elevation. Again, that can have a significant impact on vineyards and the grapes they produce. The development of sub-AVAs for the THP is worthy of consideration. Already some vineyards and wineries are beginning to note county designations to better define grape origin within this large area encompassing all or parts of 24 counties. For example, significant vineyard plantings have been established in the following counties - Hockley (Levelland), Terry (Brownfield), Yoakum (Plains), and Gaines (Seminole and Seagraves).
As for the viticulture regions of Texas not in an AVA, it just makes sense to consider new AVA development. Three examples come to mind. First, the huge area of West Central and North Texas (WCNT) covers a wide range of climate, soil type, and water availability. Vineyard terroir near Ft. Stockton would be quite different from the hilly areas west of Waco and different still from sections of the Red River Valley west of the current Texoma AVA boundary. Vineyards and wineries in the WCNT should surely benefit from being included in new Texas AVAs.
A more specific example of the need to create a new AVA is the area of the Red River Valley west of the Texoma AVA boundary. Several vineyards and wineries have established quality reputations in the river basin, north of Interstate 20 reaching westward almost to the Panhandle.
The Northeastern Texas (NET) area, wrapped around Tyler, extending north to the Oklahoma border and south for over 100 miles now has a number of established vineyards and wineries. The climate, hot and humid, can make it more challenging to grow vitis vinifera grapes in the NET region, but adventurous Texas growers have risen to the challenge, and more will follow.
Perhaps the Texas Gulf Coast area should also be mentioned. This area is really anchored by Haak Winery in Santa Fe located near Galveston and only 20 miles or so from the Gulf of Mexico. Many may be surprised that vineyard and winery operations can survive in such a hot, humid region, but somehow folks have made it work. Many vineyards are located just north of Interstate 10 and west of the Houston metropolitan area. If for no other reason than to recognize their courageous efforts not only to attempt to grow grapes, but to actually succeed in such a climate, these folks should be recognized with an AVA designation.
New legislation has provided growers and wineries with label designations that can better define grape origin and clearly denote 100% Texas wine (see Carl’s Corner post #9 of this series for more details). For vineyards in an AVA, or wineries that purchase grapes from an AVA designated vineyard, more precise definition of the grape source should be possible using a county name within that AVA. And for vineyards and wineries NOT in an AVA, a county name on the label will certainly help to designate grape origin as well as identify 100% Texas sourced wine. The bottom line here is that more Texas AVAs are needed, and the expectation is that more will certainly be created. So, until new Texas AVAs can help us more specifically define the locations of origin for Texas grapes, here is a simple graphic that should help.
Can You Recognize a
100% Texas Wine?
Label Designations are Important –
They Define Grape Origin
75% Grapes from that TX County
+ Other 25% also from Texas
American Viticultural Area
85% from that TX AVA
+ Other 15% also from Texas
95% Grapes from that TX Vineyard
+ Other 5 % also from Texas
- - Other Designations - -
Requires Only 75% Grapes from Texas
Most or All Grapes NOT from Texas
Thank you for your interest in the ongoing efforts to better define Texas grape growing regions and for supporting the Texas Wine Industry. Now get out there, explore the many winegrowing regions of Texas, and enjoy the fine wines from the Lone Star State.
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
#5 Texas Hill Country AVA 25-Apr-2022
#6 Texas High Plains AVA 09-May-2022
#7 Other Texas AVAs 06-Jul-2022
#8 Important Areas NOT in a Texas AVA 04-Aug-2022
#9 Efforts to Tighten Texas Label Designations 14-Sep-2022
The Texas Wine Lover website, created and maintained by Jeff Cope, is a great source listing most of the vineyards and wineries located in the Lone Star State.
Alcohol and Tobacco, Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB), Code of Federal Regulations –
27 CFR part 9.
The Wine Searcher website has info on most U.S. wine regions, including the Texas AVAs (for example Escondido Valley, Texas - USA Wine Region | Wine-Searcher)
Wikipedia,com offers a significant amount of info for Texas wines in general and for the individual AVAs
Appellation America - An Introduction to the Texas AVAs, by Eleanor & Ray Heald, December 1, 2009
Other useful sources that contributed to these posts include: Go Texan website, Texas Fine Wine, Texas Hill Country Wineries, and the Texas Wine and Grape Growers Association
Thanks to the following folks to whom I reached out and have commented on the development of new Texas AVAs. Chris Brundrett, William Chris Wines; Dr. Justin Scheiner, TX A&M; Valerie Elkins, William Chris Wines; Jim Johnson, Wimberley (former proprietor and winemaker, Alamosa Cellars); Neal Newsom, Newsom Vineyards, Plains, TX; Glena Yates, Ron Yates Wine, Spicewood Vineyards, President of Texas Wine and Grape Growers Association; Jim Evans, Lost Oak Winery, Burleson, TX; Roxanne Myers, Lost Oak Winery, Past President of TWGGA; Todd Webster, Brennan Vineyards, Comanche, TX; Rob Parr, Parr Vineyards, Mason, TX.