Early September in Lubbock is still a warm 85 degrees, but a hint of cool air makes Texas feel a little more bearable. The land is flat and I see rows upon rows of dark purple grapes, just ready to be picked off the vines and taken to be crushed and prepared for wine making.
Being local to Austin, I am privy to the wineries in Fredricksburg and the Texas Hill Country. In Lubbock, I learned just west of town in the Texas panhandle is the expanse of the Texas High Plains. The High Plains has an elevation of 3,000-4,000 feet and the American Viticultural Area encompasses more than 8 million acres. With the huge expanse and the relatively mild climate, the Texas High Plains is responsible for growing 80 percent of Texas wine grapes.
Lubbock boasts five wineries: Llano Estacado, Pheasant Ridge Winery, Cap Rock Winery, McPherson Cellars, and La Diosa Cellar. In a small college town, there is a lot of charm and very distinct feelings at each of the establishments. Whether you’re a wine connoisseur or just like to enjoy a nice afternoon sipping wine under the beautiful Texas sun, you can find something that fits you in Lubbock.
Llano Estacado is probably the most famous winery in Lubbock. Producing both specialty wines for their winery and bulk wine for commercial sales, Llano Estacado produces about 150,000 cases of wine a year. Any of the wineries in Lubbock will talk about the men who saw the potential in the Texas High Plains as a wine growing region. From this, Llano Estacado officially opened in 1976 and is lauded as the first winery in Lubbock.
My tour of Llano Estacado was a great experience from start to finish. They greeted us with a welcome glass of wine to enjoy on the tour of the facility. Most of the grapes had just been brought in so we got to see them put into the destemmer and the mechanical harvester, the first steps in the process of making the wine. Once we tried the wine, there was something for everyone’s wine palette. The Wine Club Rosè is one of the top ten rosès in Texas and definitely lives up to notoriety. Llano Estacado is currently making four types of rosès and it feels like they’ve really hit the sweet spot in finding a great tasting wine as well as tapping into a market of wine variety that is very popular. They make a Raider wine (obviously because they’re in Texas Tech country) that gives $1 for each bottle sold back to the Tech alumni association and the school’s vitroculturalist program. The Riesling is crisp and carbonated, while their Viva Rosso is effervescent and great for sangria.
Llano Estacado’s location is beautiful and has a newly renovated event center that opened in September of 2015. The event center has had a wedding every month since it opened and hosts charity and corporate events. They also cater to community events like Grape Day in October, Chocolate Fantasia in February, an artist festival called Wine & Clay, and Salsa & Sangria nights.
Pheasant Ridge opened in 1982, but has functioned as a production facility for most of that time. They are set a bit farther out of town, but have plenty of land to grow grapes on site. Up until about seven years ago, Lubbock was a dry county so they weren’t able to sell wine at the wineries. Bobby Cox, the winemaker and owner of Pheasant Ridge, came off the vineyards to show us around and give a great history of the winemaking region he so obviously loves. He got into wine during a Wine Appreciation Club at Texas Tech where he got to taste great French wines. He bought the farm in 1978 and spent the next 40 years studying the grapes and the wine market in Texas.
Bobby now produces wines that were popular in the 1970s and continues to work the vines he planted back then. When asked how long a vine would survive, he said “They’ll live as long as they’re loved”. It is obvious Bobby has a true love for what he’s built and the wines he produces. Most of his wines are estate bottled with grapes grown on his vines. His tasting room opened in April 2016 and has had a steady influx of people trying out his wines. Pheasant Ridge’s dry chenin blanc won a silver medal at the San Francisco International Wine Competition in 2016 and it’s easy to see why. Chenin Blanc is well suited for the climate of Lubbock and makes for a clean, deep, and refreshing wine.
McPherson Cellars is probably the most unassuming great winery in the bunch. Located in town with a huge corkscrew out front by the sign, the tasting room is casual. The son of one of the original three who started wine growing in west Texas, Kim McPherson is charming in a laid back kind of way. He talks about his wine while he pours himself a glass and pulls up a seat to chat with you. His wine definitely speaks for themselves, from a sparkling chenin blanc to picpoul to Sangiovese, all the McPherson wines are smooth and reminiscent of Italian wines.
McPherson Cellars wines are on restaurant menus around the country and ships out to customers regularly. McPherson makes what he calls “oddball wines” for the people in McPherson’s wine club to purchase. A wine club that has over 600 people, including the sommelier from CapRock Winery. His real passion is showcasing Texas and the wine that is made here by using locally grown grapes and turning them into a luscious wine.
Lubbock has a lot to offer in culture and history but if you like wine, visiting at least one of the wineries is a must. The area is steeped in the tradition of growing and using their unique climate to get grapes that can be turned into excellent wine. If I get an opportunity to go to Lubbock again, I would definitely go to Llano Estacado for their wide range of wines, Pheasant Ridge to learn about the history of grape production the area, and McPherson Cellars simply to have a couple glasses and chat with Kim.