The Tasting Panel magazine

JULY 2011

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A LONE STAR LIFE High Plains Drifting I A RECENT TRIP TO AN UNLIKELY AVA by Anthony Head / photos by Kirk Weddle t rains mud in Lubbock, Texas, and that is no tall tale. There is so much dirt blowing in the air that if the right amount of precipitation comes to town—splat, splat, splat—muddy rain. This meteorological curiosity is common enough throughout the endless high plains surrounding Lubbock, so locals are used to it. Living out here, far from the next city of any appreciable size, they’re also used to the relative isolation, the enormity of the sky and the featureless landscape spreading out in every direction. On a recent trip to Lubbock, I saw first-hand how flat the place really is. I could usually see for miles (I may have spotted Montana) except when swirling sands obscured my vision. Driving away from the city, I also noticed several aban- doned farm plots half-buried by blowing sands, but before long, the familiar green T-shaped vines of vineyards came into view. And then there were more until, quite unexpectedly, this empty landscape had turned into wine country, of sorts. With nearly two-dozen vine- yards planted near Lubbock, the area is the geographical heart of the High Plains AVA, roughly eight million acres of monochromatic flatness just north of where New Mexico forms a right angle with Texas. Grapes have been grown here commercially since the 1970s, but today, cotton and peanut The Toro de Tejas Tempranillo from Texas Hills Vineyard is sourced from the High Plains AVA. “Red sand on red clay.” Grower Neal Newsom, owner of Newsom Vineyards, shows off the High Plains terroir. farmers are adding many of the new acres of grapes, which love the semi-arid climate, the long hot summer days and cool nights, and maybe even the constant dirt in the air. You see, for such a desolate-looking place, this part of Texas is rich with a rare gem in the form of its topsoil, which was literally imported (an exceptionally long time ago) via wind and water from the face of the Rocky Mountains. This meteorological curiosity is definitely not common—here or most anywhere else on the planet—but grapevines adore it. “It’s red sand on red clay. Below that is caliche [lime- stone]. We have very well drained soils with enough clay to hold water,” said Neal Newsom, owner of Newsom Vineyards, as we both waded into a newly tilled field. “If 36 / the tasting panel / july 201 1

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