Viticulture flourished in the Great Plains during the last half of the nineteenth century, especially in Kansas, Nebraska, and Texas, due to the wine-growing traditions introduced by European immigrants and the promotional efforts of Thomas V. Munson of Texas, one of the nation's leading viticultural authorities. However, the industry was destroyed by "Dry" interests and Prohibition and did not revive until the 1970s, when the United States became involved in a wine-growing boom that spread to most states.
A short growing season in the Northern Plains of the United States and the Prairie Provinces of Canada limits viticulture to coldtolerant American table grapes or hybrid wine grapes, which are of little commercial significance. Viticulture is most prominent in the Southern Plains, where the industry focuses almost solely on vinifera, or European, wine grapes for premium wine production. Texas leads in wine grape growing in the Great Plains. High Plains farmers in Texas have long been interested in finding alternative crops to cotton or grain sorghum that require less water from the dwindling Ogallala Aquifer, and many have planted five to ten acres of wine grapes as a water-conserving, high-value, supplemental crop. The arid/semiarid climate of West Texas is conducive to growing vinifera grapes, a fact already proven by turn-of-thecentury experiments. The region has impressive natural advantages (warm days, cool nights, low humidity, high elevation, fewer harmful insects and diseases) over more humid or higher-latitude regions. The only significant climatic problems are the erratic weather and occasional damage from late spring frosts. Texas usually ranks about fifth in the United States in wine grape acreage and produces more than a million gallons of wine a year. Over 80 percent of its more than 3,000 vineyard acres are located on the Southern Plains and in the Pecos Valley. All of Texas's five designated American Viticultural Areas and about half of its twenty-seven wineries are located in West Texas or the Hill Country, either within or on the fringes of the Plains.
Viticultural acreage on the Southern Great Plains continues to expand, and Texas's wine-growing industry alone employs more than 2,200 people and has an estimated total economic value of over $100 million per year. Legal impediments in some Plains states are doubtless more important than adverse physical factors in inhibiting the spread of viticulture in the region.
Otis W. Templer Texas Tech University
Peters, Gary L. American Winescapes: The Cultural Landscapes of America's Wine Country. Boulder CO: Westview Press, 1997.
Templer, Otis W. "The Southern High Plains: Focal Point of the Texas Wine Growing Industry." In Viticulture in Geographic Perspective: Proceedings of the 1991 Miami AAG Symposium, edited by Harm J. de Blij. Miami: Miami Geographical Society, 1992, 97–110.