The Secrets of Bell Mountain, the First AVA in Texas

texashillGiven California’s place in the wine world today, you might think that it was the first state where Franciscan priests established vineyards.

That’s what I’d always assumed… until I did a little digging.

It turns out that during the 17th century, vines had been planted a half a continent away. Texas is the site of the first vineyard established in North America by Franciscan priests, circa 1662.

As European settlers followed the development of mission outposts, they brought more grapevine cuttings, further developing the industry through the 1800s — including in California, but long after those Texas vineyards were established.

Today, Texas has approximately 4,400 acres of producing vineyard farmland. The U.S. Department of Treasury, through the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau, officially designates American Viticultural Areas, or AVAs. Texas has eight AVAs, although many vineyards exist outside the specified AVAs.

The Bell Mountain viticultural area is located in Gillespie County, Texas. It’s entirely contained within the Hill Country AVA and covers approximately 3,200 acres on the south and southwestern slopes of Bell Mountain in northeast Gillespie County.

Bell Mountain was the first designated AVA in Texas, established in November 1986. This area is on the southwest slopes of Bell Mountain, and elevations range from 1,650 feet to approximately 1,950 feet. The areas of highest elevation are located in the northern parts of the AVA, with some areas of high elevations in the south.

The central part of the AVA forms a valley between the areas of high elevation in the north and south. Several tributaries of the Colorado River, including the Llano and Pedernales rivers, cross the region west to east and join the Colorado as it cuts across the region to the southeast. These rivers drain to a large portion of the Hill Country, thus having a tremendous effect on drainage in the region. The Guadalupe, San Antonio, Frio and Nueces rivers originate in the Hill Country.

The region is dominated by two soil associations, Luckenbach-Pedernales-Heaton and Nebgen-Campair-Hye, with the latter covering over 50% of the AVA.

The macroclimate is influenced by the effects of the entire Texas Hill Country. Annual precipitation values within the boundaries of the region ranged from 33 to 36 inches, with the most precipitation experienced during the month of September. The minimum temperatures are dominated by high diurnal variation in the winter months and more steady temperatures throughout the summer.

It all adds up to a climate that’s quite friendly for growing wine grapes. And October is a great time to visit, as wineries roll out the red carpet with a wide array of special events.

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Tomorrow: A preview of Texas Wine Month Trail.

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Posted in Wine Region Profiles
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