Wall Street Journal: Texas Farmers Turn to Grapes as State’s Wine Industry Grows

By Ana Campoy March 16, 2015 7:12 p.m. ET Wall Street Journal

TERRY COUNTY, Texas—This remote swath of West Texas, dotted with bobbing oil-pump jacks and Angus steers, is never going to be confused with California’s Napa Valley or Bordeaux.

But among the rows of white-tufted cotton plants that have long been the area’s cash crop, farmers are increasingly cultivating a new product: wine grapes.

“I’m a West Texas boy who drinks beer,” said Brent Hogue, whose family is now growing Merlot and Albariño grapes alongside cotton. “With grapes we can hopefully survive in the farm.”

The Lone Star State now ranks as the nation’s fifth-largest wine producer, after California, Washington, New York and Oregon, according to Wines Vines Analytics, the research arm of trade publication Wines & Vines. Last year, Texas winemakers churned out 1.8 million cases, 36% more than in 2010.

The state’s industry generated $1.88 billion in economic activity in 2013, the most recent year available, a report by the Texas Wine and Grape Growers Association said last month.

Texas wine connoisseurs say the state has the potential to become a world-class wine region, pointing to numerous awards won by local vintages. Wine Enthusiast magazine rated the scenic Texas Hill Country region outside of Austin among its 10 best wine travel destinations world-wide in 2014, saying oenophiles could take in “the romance of the Old West” amid “a sea of cowboy hats and pickup trucks.”

But there is a problem. The extreme weather in many parts of the state isn’t always conducive to grape growing. So to fill their bottles, some Texas winemakers have been forced to import grape juice from California. By federal rules, however, a bottle can only carry a Texas appellation if 75% or more of its contents were harvested in the state. The result: bottles carrying labels emblazoned with motifs like Lone Stars and cowboy boots, but bearing an “American” instead of a “Texas” appellation. READ FULL ARTICLE HERE

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