I had no idea Texas had a wine scene, let alone one as vibrant and interesting as what I discovered inGrapevine, a town of 49,000 that swells annually to about 300,000 when it hosts the largest wine festival in the southwest United States.
Stuart Bourne, on the other hand, has been aware of Texans' wine production skills for a long time. A winemaker from Australia's Barossa Valley, Bourne attended the 30th annual GrapeFest earlier this month, representing his nation with a selection of varietals from six wineries. Bourne sees Texas as a wine-making state on the rise. It is now the fourth-largest wine producer among American states.
"We've been watching the Texas wine industry in Australia for years now. They are turning out some great wines and what's really interesting is they're willing to try things," says Bourne, who is a winemaker at Soul Growers in Australia. "You will find varietals here and think, 'Wow, how could they grow that in Texas?'"
Bourne says Texas's vast size allows it to produce a range of wines because its climate can support whites, which need cold weather, and full-bodied reds, which typically need scorching temperature levels for their grapes.
"You look at the band of latitude where you're on and see where it aligns with Europe, and from there you will likely be able to tell what kinds of wines you will be able to make," he says. "The climate is going to be about the same. That's what happened in Australia years ago. We looked for climate regions in Europe that were similar to what we have, and started growing those grapes and then creating different blends."
New article and grapestomping video on Vacay.ca: "Wine is Big -- and Good -- in Texas". Excerpt: "I had no idea #Texas had a #wine scene, let alone one as vibrant and interesting as what I discovered in #Grapevine, a town of 49,000 that swells annually to about 300,000 when it hosts the largest wine festival in the southern United States." @VisitGrapevine
Case in point: I was stunned to find a Montepulciano being poured at GrapeFest. Montepulciano is the grape famous for its use in Tuscan wines, which are often delicious, silky, medium-bodied reds. Finding a bottle made outside of Italy is unusual. But there it was, the first of its kind made in Texas, a product of Eden Hill Vineyard. There were also a number of Texas-made Sangiovese wines, a Roussanne, and Viognier. The favourite wine for me was the Homestead Winery Tempranillo, featuring the famous Spanish grape and the characteristic I found most exciting about Texas's wines: spice. Many of the state's most interesting wines, I found, had a strong spiciness you rarely find in wines from other parts of North America.
And these wines are popular, too. Messina Hof, a winery with a storefront location and tasting room in a renovated former hotel, makes a spicy red, its GSM (made from Grenache, Syrah and Mourvèdre grapes), which is its biggest seller.
Growing grapes and producing wine is one thing, celebrating that activity is quite another. GrapeFest was conceived three decades ago as a way to boost tourism to Grapevine and showcase its historic district. The plan has worked.
Grapevine is a tourism success story unlike few I've seen. Named after the indigenous Wild Mustang grape discovered by early settlers, the town owns the land on which resides the Dallas-Fort Worth Airport -- the third-busiest airport in the world by aircraft movements, according to Airports Council International. Most suburban communities that have a metropolitan area's airport approach it as a limitation. They seek business travellers who want accessibility to their departure gates and chase conferences, which can be difficult to rope in because of the level of competition.
Grapevine does that, too, with massive hotel complexes with theatres, thousands of square feet of conference space and multiple dining facilities. But the city has added a leisure component that is enticing for business travellers to extend their stay or even for visitors to the Dallas area to choose as their base.
The Cowboys Golf Club is a football fan's dream -- at least if you cheer for the team from Big D. Cowboys' regalia, including replicas of the team's five Super Bowl trophies, are on display in the club's lobby. A pro shop sells jerseys and sports apparel. The course features a large blue star -- the logo of the Dallas Cowboys. Once the possession of team owner Jerry Jones, the club remains the only NFL-themed golf club in the world.
For families, there's a Great Wolf Lodge, with that franchise's famous pools and water slides. Across the street is the sensational Gaylord Texan, a Marriott property so large guests need a map to locate all of its amenities. The hotel complex has numerous bars and restaurants, as well as a cavernous nightclub, Glass Cactus. Its meeting spaces total more than 400,000 square feet. Meanwhile, a nearby mall provides inexpensive shopping and offers a tax-free option for international visitors, including Canadians.
These days, tourism accounts for 83 cents of every dollar spent in Grapevine, making it overwhelmingly the number one industry in town. And GrapeFest is the most important event for that industry.
The festival takes over the five blocks along Main Street, which has preserved its heritage buildings, retaining a feel of the Old West. The event is a community-driven endeavour, with dozens of volunteers participating and family-friendly attractions, including midway rides and a grape-stomping competition. The city takes the guest experience so seriously it has created a wine-pouring society where volunteers are trained and certified to pour and present the wines at GrapeFest.
When asked about his wine knowledge before becoming part of GrapeFest, Mark Terpening, one of those friendly event volunteers, says, "I knew I liked the taste of it and what it did to me."
He and many of his neighbours have also come to like what wine and the celebration of it has done for their community. As Bourne from Australia pointed out, ingenuity in wine-making can sometimes happen just through having the courage to try something and then stick with it. Tourism success often involves those same ingredients, as Grapevine has demonstrated.
Follow HuffPost Canada Blogs on Facebook
Also on HuffPost:
The winery: Peller Estates On the map: 290 John St E., Niagara-on-the-Lake Price of the tour: $15 per person for their daily Greatest Winery Tour. The sell: The most unique tours. What you need to know: With a wine and cheese tour (yum), a restaurant on site, and a tasting room made out of ice, Peller Estates can easily take up a full day.
The winery: Kew Vineyards On the map: 4696 King St., Lincoln Price of the tour: Contact the tour for prices and availability. Most tours depend on the group size. The sell: The best girls' trip/bachelorette weekend. What you need to know: This 160-year-old estate offers up everything from acres of vineyards to the perfect spot for an all-gal picnic.
The winery: Redstone Winery On the map: 4245 King St, Lincoln Price of the tour: Not a tour, but three wine tastings for $8. The sell: The best patio. What you need to know: Besides the stunning view, drop by Redstone for a selection of 16 wines, including two ice wines.
The winery: Château des Charmes On the map: 1025 York Rd, St., Davids Price of the tour: Tours range from $10 to $20 per person. The sell: A little slice of Niagara history. What you need to know: With 30 types of vintages in their vineyards, Château des Charmes is also great for family gatherings and special occasions.
The winery: Inniskillin Wines On the map: 499 Line 3, Niagara-on-the-Lake Price of the tour: Tours start at $10 per person. The sell: The iconic winery. What you need to know: You can't check out Ontario's wine country without a visit to Inniskillin Wines. With their iconic ice wine collection, dabble your palette in everything from sparkling to Cabernet Franc.
The winery: Southbrook Vineyards On the map: 581 Niagara Stone Rd., Niagara-on-the-Lake Price of the tour: Tours range from $10 to $35 per person. The sell: For the green thumb. What you need to know: The vineyard offers a dinner series every third Thursday of the month where you learn how to pair your wine with meals made with local ingredients. The vineyard is also proud of its green roots — a tour can teach you about their organic growing and farming practices.
The winery: Tawse Winery On the map: 3955 Cherry Ave., Vineland Price of the tour: Contact Tawse to make a reservation for tasting tours. Availability depends on group size. The sell: One of the most popular and award-winning wineries in the region. What you need to know: From white to red to rosé, Tawse is home to some award-winning blends and five vineyards in total.
The winery: Megalomaniac Winery On the map: 3930 Cherry Ave., Vineland Price of the tour: Tour and tasting $10 per person. The sell: The best view. What you need to know: During the month of August, you can also take part in the winery's jazz nights.
The winery: Fielding Estate Winery On the map: 4020 Locust Ln., Lincoln Price of the tour: Daily tours $10 per person. The sell: The most relaxing winery. What you need to know: The winery also has a daily cheese plate tasting at their retail shop on site.
The winery: Domaine Queylus On the map: 3651 Sixteen Rd., St. Anns Price of the tour: Contact the winery for reservations and prices. The sell: Off the beaten path. What you need to know: With 40 acres of vineyards, Domaine Queylus also serves up lessons (on their tours of course), on their distinct way of making wine.
The winery: Two Sisters Vineyards On the map: 240 John St E., Niagara-on-the-Lake Price of the tour: The Estate Tasting Tour is $20 per person. The sell: Delicious pizza to go with your wine. What you need to know: With a restaurant on site, experience holiday dinners, seasonal festivals and wine pairing events.
The winery: 13th Street Winery On the map: 776 Fourth Ave., St. Catharines Price of the tour: Wine and food tour $20 per person. The sell: Noted as one of Niagara's best wineries. What you need to know: According to the Globe and Mail, 13th Street Winery has tasty offerings but the sparkling wine and gamay are considered signatures.
The winery: Trius Winery On the map: 1249 Niagara Stone Rd., Niagara-on-the-Lake Price of the tour: Nine different wine tours. Check out the site for reservations and prices. The sell: Ideal for mini romantic getaways What you need to know: With a restaurant on site and several different types of wine tasting experiences, we suggest renting a local inn nearby and spending a good chunk of the day at the winery.
The winery: Vineland Estates Winery On the map: 3620 Moyer Rd., Vineland Price of the tour: Tours range from $6 to $25, depending on the group size. The sell: Perfect wedding venue. What you need to know: For a small intimate wedding of 56 guests, Vineland can host both wedding dinners and receptions. But our favourite part? The spectacular view.
Follow Adrian Brijbassi on Twitter: www.twitter.com/AdrianBrijbassi