When I suggested to my wife that we go camping for 18 days in the Texas heat, she agreed on one condition. While there, she insisted that we take a day and tour some of the wineries that dot the Hill Country landscape.
“Wine?” I asked her. “What kind of wine do they have in Texas?” I couldn’t make the association. To me, Texas meant country music, whiskey, and Westerns. I’ve never seen a movie where John Wayne walks into a saloon and announces, in his classic drawl, “Bartender! Give me a glass of that 1884 Chateau de Rothschild Grand Cru Reserve, and make it a double!” And Willie Nelson never did a song called, “Pinot Grigio River”.
“Okay,” I told her. “We’ll tour a few wineries. But if I see any of the workers there walking around in purple-stained cowboy boots, we’re leaving.”
It was a typical, blistering Texas summer day when we set out on our tour. Along the way, I wondered how they could make wine in this climate. I imagined the grapes going straight to raisins right there on the vine before anybody had a chance to pick them. I got my answer at our first stop, which featured a magnificent, high-ceilinged tasting room and a list of selections as long as Warren Buffett’s stock portfolio. There was, however, only a single, short row of vines at the front of the property. “They must have a messiah on the payroll to be able to produce all this wine,” I told my wife.
That’s when the host explained to me that they, as do many Texas vintners, grow most of their grapes on the High Plains in the northern part of the state. The vines out front were just for show. Great. That meant that the only part of the winemaking process that we were apt to see on this tour was the part where you fork over the money and load the bottles into your car. I could have saved myself the trouble and just strolled through the liquor section at Albertson’s. It would have been the same thing.
I must admit, the people who worked the tasting rooms tried to be helpful, asking us what kind of wines we typically like, in an attempt to determine which of their offerings would best suit us. “Do you prefer the light body and lively, acidic backbone of a Burgundian Pinot Noir, or rather the sturdy, oaken structure of a well-aged Napa Valley Cabernet?” the host asked me.
“I kind of go for the distinct, brackish pungency of an ice-cold Lone Star,” I answered.
It turned out he wasn’t able to help me very much. Neither did the tasting notes that they handed out to us. These are intended to describe all of the subtle flavors and aromas that one would expect to encounter when sampling each winery’s varietals. I’ve had a few glasses of wine in my day, and never once have I ever picked up a note of cassis, as is often suggested in those hoity-toity reviews in Wine Spectator. I don’t even know what a cassis is. For all I know, it could be a component of crude oil. Maybe it’s just me. Perhaps, if I’d have graduated to something of a higher quality than Boone’s Farm, I might pick up a nuance or two.
In at least one instance, I did find the tasting notes helpful to someone like me, who appreciates wine in the same way that a tractor pull enthusiast appreciates a greasy Frito Pie. What I mean is that they can sometimes tell you what wines to avoid. At one tasting room, the notes explained that one of their reds suggested a taste of pencil shavings. I kid you not. It made me think back to grade school. Never, when I was sharpening my number two pencils, would I catch the aroma of those shavings, and think something along the lines of, “Boy, someday I’d like to drink something that smells like that!”
Still, I have to say that the wine tour was enjoyable, if only for the fact that the tasting rooms were air-conditioned. My wallet had grown considerably lighter by the end of the day, but that’s something you really don’t seem to care much about after a long day of hitting the tasting rooms. I’ll tell you; judging by the price, those Texans sure are proud of their wines.
Of course, they’re also proud about such things as the size of their rattlesnakes.