While the trail riders rode into town last Friday, you could be riding out one weekend soon to hit one of Texas's 11 wine trails just as the bluebonnets are beginning to bloom this spring.
The fifth most productive wine-producing state in the nation, Texas features more than 200 vineyards with an annual output of 1.2 million cases of wine. One point two million. And that number will only continue to grow, as last year's record grape harvest would indicate: 8,900 tons of grapes were produced, a nearly 50 percent increase just from the year before.
Go Texan Wine wants to encourage Texans to take advantage of the thriving wine industry in their own backyard and, to that end, they've developed a Texas Winery Passport program that goes hand-in-glove with the state's many wine trails.
For every four visits to a Texas winery, you can redeem your passport "stamps" for rewards on Go Texan Wine's website. And although the rewards are pretty basic stuff at the outset -- a pair of stemless wine glasses for your 20th winery visit, a free winery tour for your 36th visit -- they get increasingly fancy as you make your way around all of the state's vineyards.
And if you manage to hit all 216 wineries? That's when the real rewards kick in.
Serious oenophiles will be rewarded at that point with a choice of three prizes for their dedication: a private wine tasting for 20, an in-home tasting anywhere in Texas for 20 or a private winery tour and tasting all of their own.
To get started, all you need to do is hit your closest winery, pick up a Texas Wine Passport and drink. Pretty manageable, all in all. (I personally suggest nearby Haak Winery and its breezy, sweet Pink Pelican to start your journey on a high note.)
But back to those wine trails.
There are 11 total, several of which would make an ideal weekend trip -- or even just a day trip, if you're a fast sipper -- from Houston:
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- Cross Timbers Wine Trail
- Dallas Wine Trail
- Fredericksburg Wine Road 290
- Grapevine Wine Trail
- Munson Wine Trail
- Piney Woods Wine Trail
- Red River Wine Trail
- San Gabriel Wine Trail
- Texas Bluebonnet Wine Trail
- Texas Hill Country Wine Trail
- Way Out Wineries
The Texas Bluebonnet Wine Trail -- with stops in Plantersville, Waller, Montgomery, Bryan, Brenham, Navasota, Burton and Richards -- is the closest to Houston, but wine trails that are farther out also have some conveniences if you want to make a weekend out of it. Many of the wineries along each trail feature bed and breakfasts: Becker Vineyards, Lost Creek Vineyard, Los Pinos Ranch Vineyards and The Inn at Tara Winery, just to name a few.
People want to visit Napa Valley in pursuit of the "best" wines in the country? Let 'em. Texas has amazing wines right here in our neighborhood, and these Texas wine trails -- and Go Texan Wine -- are pulling together to showcase that bounty to its greatest extent. Plus, a trip up 290 is a lot cheaper than a plane ticket to San Francisco.