Rhône White Grapes in Texas 2019
As I am organizing several wine tastings for Industry meetings that will include several Rhône white grape varieties, it seems appropriate to focus on these grapes that are doing extremely well in the Lone Star State. Texas grape growers and wine makers are planting and vinifying more white grapes that originate in hotter climates, such as the southern regions of France near the Mediterranean Sea coast. The best-known of these grape varieties include Viognier (vee own yay), the key grape in the northern Rhône appellation of Condrieu; Roussanne, an important component of white blends in the southern Rhône appellation of Chateauneuf-du-Pape, and Marsanne, a primary grape in white blends from the famed northern Rhône appellation of Hermitage. All three of these grapes have become well-established here in the Lone Star State.
In addition to the aforementioned grapes, lesser-known varieties, such as Grenache blanc, Vermentino (or Rolle) and Picpoul Blanc are really beginning to catch on with Texans. A 2017 article in Wine & Spirits magazine, highlighting these three grapes in warmer California regions, caught my attention. This article, filled with comments from California wine makers, pointed out some important aspects as to why these three grapes do well in warmer growing areas. The most important property exhibited by these grapes is their ability to gain significant flavor ripeness earlier in the growing season, allowing for an earlier harvest to retain greater natural acidity. Most grapes do not maintain a preferred level of natural grape acidity in the hot Texas growing season, so finding varieties that can do so is important to Texas growers and vintners. This natural acidity, accompanied by generally lower alcohol levels in the finished wines, tends to heighten fresh, crisp fruit aromas and flavors, and brighten an often mineral-laced finish that pairs so well with food.
Vermentino, usually called Rolle in the Rhône, is widely grown in Mediterranean regions of Sardinia, Corsica, Liguria, the Rhône Valley and the French Languedoc. When Ch. Beaucastel, the famous Perrin family estate in Chateauneuf-du-Pape, established Tablas Creek, their U.S. outpost in Paso Robles, Rolle grapes were included in the mix of white varieties. A significant portion of the Vermentino vines planted across California, southern Oregon, and Texas originated from this source. Vermentino has become a popular blending grape to brighten the acidity and fruit flavors in a number of California white blends. Here in Texas, some of the producers that are bottling Vermentino, either as a stand-alone variety or in a blend, include Wedding Oak Vineyards, Duchman Family Vineyards, William Chris Wines, Pedernales Cellars, and McPherson Cellars (a partner at 4.0 Cellars).
Picpoul Blanc has experienced a recent upsurge in Texas, primarily due to McPherson Cellars winning the prestigious prizes for Best White Rhône Varietal and Best in Show White at the 2016 San Francisco International Wine Competition. The grapes were grown on Timmons Ranch near Brownfield, and both McPherson and Lost Draw Cellars released a Picpoul Blanc from this vintage. Both producers continue to release new vintages of this delicious variety, and other Texas winemakers are catching on. Picpoul Blanc tends to make delicious, crisp, refreshing white wines, perfect for warm-weather meals and events.
Grenache blanc is not nearly so well-known in Texas, and there seems to be only a few acres of this grape planted. This variety is actually a mutation of the far better-known Grenache Rouge grape that is widely used as a blending grape, both in France and in Texas. It can provide more rounded peach and pineapple fruit aromas and flavors to a wine, while still contributing good acidity and limestone-mineral notes.
Based on recent success for Texas wines made from and with these Rhône varieties, the expectation is that more vineyard acreage will be planted, and more bottlings will be available in the future. So, seek out wines made from these grapes, and if you like them, make sure to tell the tasting room folks and wine makers so they will be inspired to focus even more on Vermentino (or Rolle), Picpoul blanc, and Grenache blanc wines in the future.
“The Little Three” by Patrick J. Comiskey, Wine & Spirits, June, 2017, p28-31.