By Danny Mogle | Photos by Sarah A. Miller for IN Magazine
On a country road just west of Athens, a white, two-story mansion — resting atop a rolling hill like a diamond in the rough —comes into view. It’s spectacular.
Pairs of stately columns frame the wide front entrance. It has wrap-around porches and verandas with wrought-iron railings. black and white awnings accent the windows.
Then you see the vineyards in front. Row after row of vines hugs the hillside. Take the dusty drive past the mansion and you end up at an old barn converted into an upscale restaurant called the Cellar Door. The wine bar opens onto a flagstone patio where musicians perform on weekend nights.
In back of the restaurant, a room stores huge wooden barrels aging fine wine. Not far away are guest cottages and, if all goes as planned, a wedding chapel will one day be beyond the hill. And the stately mansion – it’s a bed and breakfast called Tara Inn.
Welcome to the world of Tara Vineyard & Winery.
Tara is typical of a new breed of winery in Texas not content just to produce a successful crop. It’s now all about being a destination — a place where people come to experience exceptional cuisine, wine, accommodations and atmosphere; a place where people go for the good life.
Blessed with generous rainfall, mild climate and large areas of sandy soil, Texas always has produced grapes. Native Indians and early settlers made note of thick bunches of wild grapes along streams and rivers.
Spanish missionaries arrived in the 17th century with a desire to spread the word of God and knowledge of grape-growing. Some of the earliest vineyards in Texas were at small missions scattered around present-day San Antonio.
Many credit Thomas Munson as the father of the Texas winery industry. In the late 1880s, Munson introduced a grapevine that was tolerant to phylloxera, an insect that nearly wiped out vineyards in wine-making regions of Europe. Munson created disease-resistant grape varieties by hybridizing Texas cultivars with plants from Europe.
In the early 1900s, Texas only had about two dozen commercial wineries. The industry was poised to take off, when Prohibition hit and it all but dried on the vine. Half a century later, as growing methods improved and wine became more popular, farmers converted acres from other crops to grapes.
Grape-growing in Texas is now a “serious, formidable business,” boasts a Texas Department of Agriculture pamphlet. Just how serious and formidable? Texas is the fifth-leading state in wine grape production behind California, Washington, New York and Oregon and is gaining ground quickly.
“What started as a fledgling industry built on pioneering Texas grit is now one of the fastest agriculture endeavors in the Lone Star State,” says a statement from Texas Department of Agriculture Commissioner Todd Staples.
About 4,400 acres in Texas supply grapes to commercial vineyards – and the number of acres grows each year. Texas has about 250 wineries, up from 188 just a few years ago.
“Based on the impressive growth of the past two decades, we are proud of our state’s promising future as a leader in the worldwide wine market,” says Staples.
The economic impact of all this grape growing and wine making is $1.83 billion annually, according to the Texas Wine and Grape Growers Association. Increasingly, the impact is felt in the form of wine-related tourism.
From 2009 to 2011, the number of wine-related tourists in Texas rose from 1.36 million to 1.43 million annually and the amount of money wine tourists spent climbed from $379 million to $437 million, shows a study commissioned by the Texas Wine Marketing Research Institute.
Patrick Pierce wants wine tourists to end up at Tara Vineyard & Winery. Pierce is the center of all things Tara. He’s the head winemaker, vineyard manager, owner and the guy who grabs a guitar and entertains guests on weekends. Read the FULL ARTICLE HERE