The Texas Hill Country AVA is located north of San Antonio and West of Austin. The key areas in the AVA are Austin, Fredricksburg, Lampass, New Braunfels and Johnson City. The size of the appellation is 9,000,000 acres with approximately 750 acres under vine. This AVA is the second largest in the US. The soil is predominately Limestone, Sandy Loam, and Granite. The area includes the Llano Uplift and the second largest Dome in the US, Enchanted Rock. The eastern portion of the region is notable for the Edwards Plateau and is bound by the Balcones Fault in the East and the Llano Uplift on the West and North. Again, the predominance of Limestone, Sandy Loan, Granite rocks and boulders with a very thin layer of topsoil do present a challenge; this topography is very prone to flash flooding.
Production levels vary from boutique producers putting out 500 to 1000 cases per year, to larger producers putting out in excess of 100,000 cases per year. Most of the wineries source their grapes from different areas within the AVA to produce and make their wines. There are very few estate wines from these wineries.
The grape origins are from France, Italy or Spain despite a large population of German descendants in this area. Wine types are numerous, to include; Cabernet Sauvignon, Sangiovese, Tempranillo, Malbec, most of the Rhone-style wines (Syrah, Grenache, and Mourvedre), Viognier and Albarino. A grape that is not so well known is also grown in this area, it’s the Tannat grape; light in body, high in tannins, traditionally used in Armagnac’s and full bodied Rose’s. Since this grape is usually high in tannins a process called micro-oxygenation is used to soften the tannins.
There are 60 wineries located within this AVA. Some of the more notable wineries are Becker Vineyards, Pedernales Cellars, Bending Branch Winery, and 4.0 Cellars to name a few. Some of the more notable winemakers are Jonathan Leahy from Becker Vineyards, Gerald (Mac) McReynolds from Mc Reynolds Winery, Doug Lewis and Duncan McNabb from Lewis Vineyards, and Dean Valentine from Wimberley Valley Wines.
The Marketing for this AVA is done in large part by the Texas Hill Country Wineries, this association is run by January Wiese, the Executive Director who I had the pleasure of speaking with while doing research on this area. (46 wineries out of the 60 belong to this association). She was raised on her family’s winery located in Paso Robles, CA (they sold it in the ’90s). She has been a very valuable source of information and data for this paper.
Wine Tasting Notes: I was fortunate to have a contact who works for Glazer’s Distributors. I was able to secure two bottles of wine from this area. They were from Becker Vineyards and included a 2012 Viognier and a 2012 Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon. My notes are as follows; 2012 Viognier – Nose: Mineral, ripe peaches with a touch of Clove. Palate: Entry was lush, mid-palate was nectarines and honeysuckle. However, I thought the finish was a little hot, with alcohol taste and a slight burn. Tasting conclusion: While this was a decent wine, it was a little out of balance. 2012 Becker Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon – Nose: Black fruit, spice, leather, mint, medicinal (in a good way), ruby color. Palate: Entry had chocolate and slight mint, mid-palate was raisins almost port-like with a balanced and a haunting awesome finish. I was blown away at how good this wine was. Tasting conclusion: these two wines were very enjoyable with the Cabernet being most impressive. The Viognier was about $17 and the Cabernet was about $42. The wines from this area tend to be a little higher in alcohol coming in from about 13.5 to 15.5% due in large part to the warmer weather.
The challenge is that while this area has over 5,000,000 visitors per year almost 95% of all the wine produced is consumed by Texans. As noted, with this level of quality wines it is certainly understandable that very little leaves Texas.