The owners of Alamosa Wine Cellars will always love wine. But now, after almost 20 years of growing grapes and making wines in the Texas Hill Country, they’re ready to drink it elsewhere.
After Labor Day weekend in early September, Alamosa Wine Cellars — which includes 10 acres of vineyards, a tasting room and a winery — will close its doors to visitors and finish harvesting estate-grown grapes for the last time. The 20-acre property is currently on the market.
It wasn’t an easy decision to make, owners Jim and Karen Johnson admit, but closing their winery will give them the time and flexibility to do things they can’t with a winery to run, such as traveling to far-off places like France and Alaska — even to much closer ones like Austin, where they’ll be able to attend more wine events again. They’ll also get to spend more time with family.
“We’ve reached an age where running a winery and growing grapes is a lot of work, and we’re ready to be done with it,” Jim Johnson says.
The couple first planted grapes on the property, situated in between Lampasas and San Saba, in 1996. They were the first winemakers in Texas, he says, to focus on warm-weather varietals like Sangiovese and Viognier, grapes that fare far better in this state’s hot climate than Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon. In those days, those better-known varietals, which thrive in the very different climates of California and the Pacific Northwest, were all that was planted in Texas.
“That was really when (the Texas wine industry) was in its infancy, and winemakers were producing wines that weren’t up to snuff, that weren’t comparing to what Jim had been drinking from France and California,” Karen Johnson says of the state’s early wine-producing days.
Her husband was about to help change that. His instinct, even before he took viticulture and winemaking classes at the University of California-Davis, told him that winemakers in Texas needed to focus on the grapes that grow in Southern Europe, from Spain to Italy to the Rhone Valley. There, the soil and climate is similar to ours.
The reception toward another Texas winery’s first foray into Rhone Valley grapes was promising. Before starting Alamosa, Jim Johnson helped produce Becker Vineyards’ first Viognier in the early 1990s, and its success confirmed his belief about Texas terroir. He and his wife set about planting their own grapes for Alamosa, which has primarily made estate-grown wines.
The Johnsons’ first 5-acre vineyard grew Sangiovese and Viognier. In 1998, the couple doubled the acreage and expanded the grapes grown there to Tempranillo, Syrah, Grenache and Mourvedre. (In fact, Alamosa can claim to be the first winery in the state to commercially bottle Tempranillo, now one of Texas’ most successful grapes.) But the Johnsons had a lot of work ahead of them convincing local wine drinkers that these kinds of wines were worth trying.
“When we first started out, people said no one was going to buy Texas Sangiovese,” Jim Johnson says.
He noticed the culture finally shift toward these wines in the mid-2000s, as more and more wineries began to pop up in the Hill Country and around Texas. About 20 of them existed when Alamosa was first opened; now, there are more than 300, and many of the newer winemakers look to him and other pioneers in the industry for guidance.
Although he says even in retirement he’ll still be open to mentoring up-and-coming winemakers, one big change is coming in the next few weeks: Alamosa Wine Cellars is hoping to sell every last bottle of wine in the tasting room.
The Johnsons are offering big discounts on both cases and individual bottles at the winery through Sept. 6, the last day it’ll be open. And they also will have fun events up until then, including an intimate retrospective tasting on Aug. 8 that will showcase some of Alamosa’s best vintages over the years, “the stuff we’re most proud of,” Jim Johnson says. Get tickets for the Library Tasting here.
Or you can visit and reminisce with the Johnsons at Alamosa’s regular tasting room hours every Friday, Saturday and Sunday throughout the rest of the next two months. Although they’re looking to sell the property to prospective winemakers, the Alamosa name is retiring with them.
“The Texas wine industry has come a long way since we first planted in 1996, but it still has a long way to go,” Karen Johnson says. “We thought we were at the cutting edge of it, being pioneers in an industry that really hadn’t gotten much recognition yet. If we had known what we were doing, we almost wouldn’t have done it, just because it was such hard work and a slow slog to get some of the stuff going industry-wide. But looking back, we think it’s worth it and we had a great time.”
Alamosa Wine Cellars, 677 County Road 430, west of Bend. 325-628-3313, alamosawinecellars.com.