As mentioned in my last post, I spent last weekend in Dallas, Texas at the Drink Local Wine Conference and TEXSOM. While the general goal of the DLW Conference was to discuss the topic of local wine, the overall focus was on Texas wine specifically. Afterall, that was where we were.
I have to say that I have tried a few Texas wines in the past and have never been impressed. They were either too tannic and lacking in fruit, or just plain weird. So, while I came to the conference with an open mind, I didn’t have very high expectations for the quality of the wines. During the conference, we had the opportunity to taste about 50 or so Texas wines. I think my Tweet during the conference sums it up: “Holy Shit! They can make wine in Texas!”
I was thoroughly impressed with the quality of the wines overall. Sure, there were a few dogs in the bunch, but that could be said of any wine tasting from California to Bordeaux, etc. A few producers really stood out as producing really great wine, but there were many who were producing solid wines.
In recent years, Texas wines have not only improved in quality, but also in popularity. Most every restaurant in Texas worth its salt carries at least a few Texas wines. This is due in large part to the support of the Texas Department of Agriculture and an influx of investment. Though, there is still a lot of work to do on the part of Texas wineries to educate wine consumers that not only does Texas make wine, but that they make good wine. Perceptions persist that the wines can’t be as good as those from California.
So, what is a Texas wine? What makes it different? One of the points I tried to make during a panel discussion at the conference was that Texas wineries needed to find their own identity. They are doing themselves and their customers a disservice if they try to imitate California wines for instance. In fact, California fell into this trap in the early 70s and 80s when they tried to make their wines like France. The thing is, California isn’t France. The climates and soils and completely different. It took California producers years to find their own identities and establish a style. Texas is now in that same boat.
The most widely planted vinifera variety in Texas is Cabernet Sauvignon. It seems to do reasonably well, and exhibit a unique style. It also lends itself to being blended with other varieties to produce impressive wines. From the small sample size of wines that I tried, I believe that the most promising varieties for Texas are: Tempranillo, Sangiovese, Viognier, and Muscat. These wines, whether blended or 100% seemed to me to show the most character and potential. There is also promise with hybrids such as Blanc du Bois which is pretty unique.
The biggest challenge facing the Texas wine industry is the lack of raw materials. Though Texas is the 5th largest wine producing state, the 4th largest consumer, with over 170 wineries, there are less than 3500-4000 acres of grapes in the whole State. The largest winery in Texas is Ste. Genevieve with the majority of the market share, which leaves a LOT of smaller wineries fighting over a limited amount of grapes.
I believe that the future health of the Texas wine industry is going to depend on two things: increased grape supply and expanded marketing.
It seems obvious that in order to produce more wine, wineries need more grapes. But the industry needs an infusion of capital from inside or outside the state to help purchase land and plant grapes. Based on what some of the panelists said, Texas really needs about 10,000 acres of vines to reach critical mass. It seems like a GREAT opportunity for investment.
As I mentioned in my previous post, Texas wineries need to start building their street cred. They need to get the word out to people who write about the wines and get them to taste the wines. By building their credibility and spurring demand, wineries will lay the foundation for a robust and thriving business.
The only thing wrong, is that now that I have discovered good Texas wine, I can’t get any since most don’t distribute outside of the state. Damn it!