Like the pioneers before them who went west in search of gold, a new generation of prospectors is heading out into the Texas backcountry in search of treasure—only this time the mother lode is grapes.
In a trend that has grown steadily since the 1990s, viticulturists here have been experimenting with varietals from such countries as Spain, France, and Portugal. In particular, the often overlooked Italian white grape vermentino is flourishing in North Texas’s High Plains AVA, producing wines that are fast becoming the stars of the touristy tasting rooms along Hill Country’s Texas Wine Trail.
“It’s a drought-resistant grape variety that performs well in limestone—two key points to growing anything in Texas,” says Scott Ota, the general manager and beverage director at San Antonio’s High Street Wine Co. One of the big hits on Ota’s list is the vermentino from Duchman Family Winery; with its notes of crisp citrus and ripe apple, a bracing streak of minerality, and a surprisingly high level of zippy acid, the wine is a dead ringer for a vermentino made in Italy. “It’s perfect for the Texas heat,” Ota says, “and it offers our guests a great alternative to pinot grigio or albariño.”
Since Duchman Family released its 2007 vintage, many Texas producers have followed the winery’s lead. Spicewood Vineyards owner Ron Yates credits Duchman Family’s success as an inspiration for his Louisa vermentino, but he adds that Spicewood winemaker Todd Crowell “every once in a while enjoys taking a contrarian approach to current winemaking styles and trends. For our vermentino, we used neutral oak to bring out some of the other juicier fruit flavors and broaden the palate and profile of the wine.”
Meanwhile, brother-sister duo David and Julie Kuhlken of Pedernales Cellars began planting vermentino in 2014. David says the fruit is “brilliant to make wine with,” and that it’s the rare grape you can harvest in which the acid and sugar levels are perfectly in balance.
Dave Reilly, the winemaker at Duchman Family, predicts this is just the beginning for upstart vermentino. “It seems very much at home in Texas,” he says. “I would say it will be to Texas what sauvignon blanc is to New Zealand.”