When West Texas comes to mind, the first thing you think about may not necessarily be wine. However, many wineries in the Lubbock area have rich histories, like Llano Estacado, that are leaving their mark on the growing Texas wine industry.
In 1983, the winery decided to replace all its equipment, and installed state-of-the-art tanks, crushers and other equipment to expand and develop superior wines. In a five-year time-span, production increased by 9,000 cases a year.
Jason Centanni, a Llano Estacado winemaker, said the wine process starts as a grape on a vine. From there it moves on to the winery, where there are several processes applied to the grape that could take months to complete. The end result is the bottled wine.
Centanni added that once the grape leaves the vine and the wine is bottled and ready for shipment, it is about a minimum one-year turnaround.
Mike Laughlin, Director of Hospitality at Llano Estacado, said the winery was originally an experiment in alternative crops.
“Since then,” Laughlin said, “there’s a lot of farmers, even down the road from us, that have tried to grow rice, wheat and corn. This area is really an untapped part of the entire United States.”
Since opening in 1976, Llano Estacado has impressed the country by winning many awards and has established themselves today as the best selling Premium Winery in Texas.
Centanni said the company works towards making their wine accessible, approachable and affordable.
According to the Texas Wine and Grape Growers Association, Texas ranks fifth in the United States in wine production. Coming in first is California, followed by Washington, New York and Oregon. The wine grape industry contributes more than $1.88 billion of economic value to Texas.
But, nature and other factors can potentially affect a vineyard’s success. Phenoxy herbicides is a term majority of Texas wine growers are all too familiar with.
Damage, light or heavy, can occur when herbicides from nearby farms unintentionally drift over into the vineyards in the form of wind, shifting air currents or climatic inversions. Grapevines are highly sensitive to these weed killers, especially throughout the growing season.
Depending on the damaged occurred, vine growth could stop temporarily or can take two or more years to recover.
Centanni said herbicide drift is not a new concept for wine growers, but is just something they have to face out in the Texas High Plains.
“It’s a by-product of the area,” he said. “It’s our weather conditions – it’s windy.”
Kirk Williams, a senior teacher in the Viticulture Certificate Program at Texas Tech, said an easy way to keep the herbicides under control is to keep healthy relationships with your next-door farmers.
“A lot of it has to do with good neighbor relations,” Williams said, “just letting people know you’re there and that it is a sensitive crop.”
Laughlin said every standard established for the winery, whether on a federal, state or local level, is in regards to the protection of their customers. He said that Llano Estacado will take care of their customers first and make sure they are putting out the safest product out there.
In having about a third of the Texas wine market buying Llano Estacado’s sales, the winery is able to do many things other cannot. This past year, an event center was established.
The winery has also been shipping wines for about seven years and has had a wine club for eight, according to Laughlin.
“We are very excited about the future, and we’re extremely proud of our past,” Laughlin said.