Lubbock- When it comes to wine, it’s safe to say that Texans like to toast to the good life. Wine is a 13 billion dollar per year industry in our state, so it’s easy to see why there are wine trails all over. Each winery has its own story to tell. So far, we’ve checked off the oldest winery in Texas, the Val Verde Winery in Del Rio, as well as the family-owned and operated Messina Hof in beautiful Bryan/College Station. This week, we decided to head north to the Texas high plains to visit a winery that got a scholarly start.
We’re at the Llano Estacado Winery in Lubbock, Texas.
“So we’re the second oldest winery, now, in the state of Texas,” Mike Laughlin said.
Mike gave us the basics of this vested vino, but first he wanted to make sure we said Llano right.
“We go by the Spanish ‘Y’, So Llano Estacado,” Mike said. “Sounds a little more romantic, I guess. Although, I’m not a big, beefy Spanish guy.”
Don’t confuse Llano with Llano, or you’ll have made one heck of a detour!
“We get calls all the time,” Mike said. “‘Hey, I’m near the courthouse in Llano. Can we … Where are you guys at?’ I’m like, ‘Six hours north. Missed us by a little bit.’”
According to Mike, Llano Estacado means “palisaded plains”.
“The kind of fantastical story is Coronado was exploring this region of the country,” Mike said. “In order to identify landmarks, because you have to imagine back then there’s absolutely nothing out here to tell where any water sources are, so he used to drive iron stakes into the planes. So that’s kind of like the mythical story, is that staked plains became Llano Estacado. “
This story starts back at Tech when two professors decided to start growing grapes in an area typically known for cotton.
“The first experimentation, Dr. Robert Reed, a horticulture professor, and Dr. Clinton ‘Doc’ McPherson, a chemistry professor, both at Texas Tech University, they started experimenting with grapes and growing and producing wine in the late 60’s,” Mike said. “The two of them started making wine in the basement of the chemistry building of Texas Tech.”
Considering Lubbock was a dry county all the way till 2009, it’s easy to see why some experimental elixirs were being concocted.
“In the early 70’s, they actually started to have some push from some local business leaders to take this commercial,” Mike said. “The actual winery opened its’ doors in 1976.”
The amount of wine made a Llano Estacado is staggering, around six to seven million bottles a year are made. You need a lot of grapes to accomplish a demand of that size, and with the research Dr. Reed and Dr. McPherson accomplished in their school cellar, it literally took Texas wine to another level.
“In addition to being the second oldest, the first founded after prohibition ended, we’re also the largest premium winery,” Mike said. “Annually, we produce about 150,000 cases, which is not quite double most of the other wineries in the state. The Lone Star International Wine Competition here in Texas, one of the big wine tasting competitions … Viviano has actually won double gold six times out of the last 15 years. “
This entire region of Texas is known for its vineyards.
“One of the great things about being out here around the grape-growing region, around Terry County is that we’re very close to a lot of our growers out here, so our feedback on their grapes happens pretty quickly and we actually get out to the vineyards quite often, at least once a week, especially during growing season,” Mike said.
An unexpected benefit has been found in the students at Texas Tech University many of whom become wine connoisseurs when they turn 21.
“They can start learning and appreciating wine at a younger age,” Mike said. “By the time they graduate, we’re seeing a lot of Texas Tech graduates purchasing bottles of Viviano, 1836 Red, which are very dry reds for more mature, advanced pallets. But by starting them out while they’re in college, they’re leaving here with a finer appreciation of wine.”
While you’re putting your guns up at Texas Tech University, make sure you also go bottoms up at a winery that played a Texas-sized role in the Lone Star State’s surging wine industry.
“We haven’t even hit our stride yet, as far as wine making is concerned,” Mike said.