Saturday, July 9, 2016

The Vine Bridge: Bringing Rhone Grape Varieties to Texas

One of the factors that has contributed to the current boom in Texas wine is the effort that Texas vineyard owners and winemakers have put into determining which grape varieties work best in Texas.  Grape varieties from the Rhone region of Southern France have found a strong footing in Texas.  The more popular of these varieties for red wines are Syrah, Mourvedre, and Grenache.  You'll see these as French Cote du Rhone wines and as Australian GSM blends.  These grape varieties, along with Viognier for white wines, are doing very well in Texas.  There are many other varieties that are native to the Rhone Valley, and several of these varieties are gaining popularity in Texas as well.  We've seen Roussanne really take off in recent years, and McPherson Cellars just announced their first Piquepoul Blanc.

The sun shining over Tablas Creek in Paso Robles

So how do these grape varieties make it to Texas from France?  One route has been through Tablas Creek, a winery in Paso Robles, California founded in the mid-1980's through a partnership between a French family with a long history of wine making, the Perrin family, and experienced importer Robert Haas.  We had the opportunity to learn more about Tablas Creek when we visited Paso Robles a few months ago.  The founders of Tablas Creek had the goal of bringing the best Rhone-style wines to California wine making.  They've done this by importing grapevines from France and putting them through the strenuous USDA 3 year quarantine and testing process.  They also follow the strict winemaking standards of Châteauneuf du Pape, one of the most prestigious areas of the Rhone Valley.  Tablas Creek started with importing and planting 8 Rhone grape varieties, and now they are approaching their goal of having all 13 grape varieties of Châteauneuf du Pape approved by the USDA.  

Tablas Creek is not keeping these vines to themselves.  They have worked with grapevine nursery NovaVine to make their vines available to vineyards across the US, and quite a few of these vines have wound up in Texas.  With new grapevine rootstock being available to Texas vineyards, more experimentation and the introduction of more interesting wines is sure to continue in Texas.  Paso Robles has hot days, enough elevation to get cool at night, and limestone soil.  Sound familiar?  These are characteristics that match many of the Texas AVAs and are traced back to the home of these grapes in Southern France.   

Wine ageing in large oak barrels called foudres - following the tradition of Châteauneuf du Pape

Interested in Rhone-style wines made in Texas with Texas grown fruit?  Check out Brennan Vineyards' Buffalo Roam and Pedernales Cellar's GSM for our go-to Rhone-style red wine blends.  Brennan Vineyards and Pedernales Cellars also make excellent Viogneir varietal wines. 

Want to learn more about the grape varieties of the Rhone Valley?  Tablas Creek's website is an excellent source:  Tablas Creek: Grapes

So how are Tablas Creek's wines?  Check out our tasting notes of their 2014 Cotes de Tablas.


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