By Clay Roup on November 18th, 2022

Cabernet, malbec, sangiovese, riesling, zinfandel, syrah, tempranillo: Nearly every wine grape varietal today belongs to the Vitis vinifera family. They originated in Europe, are grown in all major wine regions today, and make up about 95% of the Texan wine economy.

But before industrial winemaking, most Texas growers planted indigenous American grapes for local and home production. Not only were these plants incredibly resistant to blight and insects, but they were also hardy enough to survive Texas’ infamously temperamental weather.

The Benefits of Growing Wild Grapes in Texas

In addition to providing incredible depth of flavor and body, the native grapes of Texas (and their hybrids):

Handle Changing Weather

One of the best reasons to consider growing wild grape varieties comes down to changing weather patterns. When early fall freezes occur, that means a difficult season for young, grafted vines. Rising temperatures mean that Pierce’s Disease can threaten crops, too.

texas storms

Resist Disease and Pests

Many of Texas’ indigenous grapes grow well in harsh soil conditions, resist numerous blights (e.g. Pierce’s Disease, cotton root rot, black rot), and have acidic fruit that is unappealing to wildlife.

Allow for Greater Organic Farming

There’s a greater call for organic wine production, but many European varieties succumb to disease and pests, requiring insecticides. When hardier wild grapes are used in appropriate terroirs, Texas wine and grape growers don’t need to use toxic chemicals for a strong harvest.

Texas Paved the Way for Wine Grapes

If we’re talking about indigenous grapes in Texas, we’d be remiss if we didn’t mention TV Munson. This local biologist was obsessed with matching the best possible grape varieties with climate and soil types. He bred grapes that would resist damage caused by disease and insects (and saved the French wine industry in the process). His research kickstarted a movement of hybridization that has revolutionized the way Texas – and world – maintains its grape supply.

Our 5 Favorite Native Texan Wine Grapes

While the Texas wine industry is heavily reliant on Vitis vinifera grapes, indigenous varieties have been an increasingly important part of wine production. With over 15 species naturally springing up along Texan hedgerows – and a proud history of award-winning wine production – there’s a growing call for greater production of wild grapes.

While the market is still expanding, you’ll certainly spot blends in certain top-tier Texan wines.

muscadine grapes

1. Muscadine

Also known as Vitis rotundifolia, Muscadine grapes tend to grow best in well-drained, sandy loam (especially in Eastern Texas). They thrive in humid summer weather and are almost exclusively resistant to disease and pests, including Pierce’s Disease and Phylloxera.

Fun fact: Muscadine grapes contain extremely high amounts of polyphenols and resveratrol. They’re also the only wine grape that produces ellagic acid (which is both an antioxidant and anti-inflammatory agent).

While most maintain their green color in the wild, muscadine wine grapes can be bronze, black, or deep violet with relatively thick skin. These varietals produce red, white, and rosé. Due to their oxidation rate, it is recommended to drink muscadines young.

Notable varietals:
Carlos, Noble, Cowart, Janebell, Triumph, Scuppernong, Ison
Best consumed:
Intensely fruity and sweet with notes of cranberry and apple
Pair with:
Dark chocolate, smoked meat
Sweet and aromatic with notes of banana, sweet tea, and honey
Pair with:
Spicy dishes, fish, blue cheese

texas mustang grapes

2. Mustang

If you’re a Texas native, you’ve probably spotted Mustang grapes (Vitis mustangensis) growing over fences and along forested areas. The mustang grape can be found across most of Texas, especially eastern regions. Able to thrive almost everywhere, these plants grow best in deep, sandy loam with solid drainage. Mustang grapes are used for white, rose, and red wines and are typically harvested between July and August.

Tannic, acidic, and filled with bitter seeds, mustang grapes contain very little sugar content and require sweetener to produce wine. This makes them excellent for bold, aged wines, especially port style).

Best consumed:
Slightly chilled
Flavor profile:
Bold, tannic finish. Notes of mesquite, cranberry
Pair with:
Beef, lamb, venison

A Note About Mustang and Muscadine Grapes

While mustang and muscadine grapes are often used interchangeably, there are definite differences between the two. Simply put, muscadines are sweet while mustang grapes are acidic.

lenoir grapes

3. Lenoir

The Lenoir grape is believed to be a hybrid of the Vitis aestivalis, Vitis berlandieri, and Vitis vinifera. You may also hear this Pierce’s disease-tolerant grape referred to as Black Spanish and Jacquez.

Primarily grown in eastern and Gulf Coast areas, Lenoir grapes are a dark purplish color and filled with a deep, red juice. Similar to fresh plums, the flavors are typically unbalanced and are accompanied by a relatively high acidity. With its robust nose and body, my winemakers compare it to syrah or pinotage. It’s most typically blended or used in aged, Port-style wines. Varietal wines, however, are best to age in oak and bottles.

Best Consumed:
Cool, room temperature
Flavor Profile:
Jammy, tart, musky. Boysenberry, plum, elderberry, spice, herbal
Pair varietals with:
Mushrooms, salmon, grilled meat
Pair Port-styles with:
Chocolate, blue cheese

lomanto grapes

4. Lomanto

Developed by TV Munson in 1902 to resist Pierce’s Disease, the Lomanto grape was crossed with Salado and Malaga (Vitis vinifera) varieties to grow in alkaline soil. In addition to disease tolerance, it resists both heat and drought.

Blue-black in color and extremely fleshy, it typically ripens in July and August. Without added sugar, Lomanto wine has a lower-than-average alcohol percentage. With such few tannic elements, it makes for a smooth table wine.

Best consumed:
Room temperature
Flavor profile:
Jammy, plummy, mellow, semi-sweet
Pair with:
Steak, roasted vegetables, chocolate

black spanish grapes

5. Summer Grapes

Also known as pigeon or bunch grapes, the summer grape (Vitis aestivalis) may be the oldest indigenous American grape that’s commercially produced today. It’s resistant to cold, heat, and drought, and is able to thrive in nutrient-poor soil.

Typically found in thickets and woods, it responds best to slightly loamy soil (though some farmers find it grows in well-drained clay). Harvest season falls between July and October when the dark blue/black berries are somewhere between sweet and tart.

Due to its acidity, summer grape wine ages beautifully, resulting in robust, medium-body reds. Think of this varietal as a Texan rival to Cabernet Sauvignon.

Best consumed:
Room temperature
Flavor profile:
High acid, light tannins, bold. Chocolate, red currant, black pepper, and earth
Pair with:
Red meat, lamb, tuna

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Author: Clay Roup
pheasant with wild texas grapes

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