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Category Archives: Regional wine

Is Texas wine at a crossroads?

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Texas wineTexas wine may be approaching a crossroads, something that was evident during the 31st annual Lone Star International wine competition this week. That’s because some of the best wines at the competition weren’t Texas, but included California wines sold by Texas producers. Which is not supposed to be the point of what we’re doing here.

Years ago, when a lot of Texas wine left much to be desired, what happened this week wasn’t unusual. Or, as I told the competition organizer when I first judged Lone Star in 2005, “Give us better wines, and we’ll give you gold medals.”

Given the revolution in Texas wine quality and production over the past decade, I had hoped those days were gone. But the uneven quality of many of the wines I judged, this year and last, has me wondering. Has Texas wine reached a plateau, where quality isn’t going to get any better given the state’s resources and climate? Or is something else going on?

After the jump, my take on what’s happening:

Oregon’s example for the regional wine business

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Oregon's example for the regional wine business

Christopher Mazepink: “It’s all about Brand Oregon.”

Those of us who care about regional wine are often frustrated by its “me first” approach, the way too many wineries act like little kids who hog all the toys. It’s always about what they want, even when that’s not what’s best for regional wine.

That’s why it was so refreshing to Oregon winemaker Christopher Mazepink talk about how far Oregon wine has come in the past 15 years, and why it has come so far so quickly. Fifteen years, given the centuries-long history of wine, is hardly any time at all.

“We put Oregon’s wine industry out front, before the individual brands,” says Mazepink, the winemaker at Archery Summit who was in Dallas for a big-time wine tasting. “It’s all about Brand Oregon. That’s pretty unique in the wine world.”

That approach, he says, has paid off in Oregon’s popular and critical acclaim. Yes, it’s important that the state’s wine quality has improved over the last decade and a half, and that it has become one of the world’s great producers of pinot noir. But it also matters that Oregon winemakers work together, help each other, and generally avoid the sniping and backbiting that plagues much of the regional wine business. It’s something I saw all too often during my time with Drink Local Wine.

“When I travel with Oregon winemakers, we don’t throw anyone under the bus,” says Mazepink. “We understand that what’s good for one winery is good for all of Oregon wine. It is Brand Oregon, and that’s what we talk about before we talk about our wineries.”

Would that more people in regional understood that approach — that it’s not wineries or even regions within a state that matter in the long run, but the entire state and everyone who makes wine in it. After all, it’s not that don’t have an example, because Oregon has demonstrated that it works.

Colorado Governor’s Cup 2014

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Colorado Governor's Cup 2014Ten years ago, when I first tasted Colorado wine, I spent much of my time being polite. As in, “This is nice. Thank you for letting me taste it.”

Those days are long gone, as was amply demonstrated last weekend during judging for the fifth annual Colorado Governor’s Cup. The red wines were exceptionally strong, and though the whites weren’t as good, they were technically sound and professionally made. In the regional wine business, that’s an accomplishment.

The best reds were cabernet franc and petit verdot, two Bordeaux grapes that do well in Colorado and that the state’s winemakers have taken to with enthusiasm (and especially cab franc). My panel gave a gold and double gold to cab francs, and a gold to a petit verdot. And the best wine of the competition was a petit verdot, from Canyon Wind Cellars. The results are here.

The wines were varietally correct, but also distinctive and reflected Colorado’s terroir — not a lot of fruit, more dry than a California wine, yet complex and very long. This is not an easy style of wine to make, but the state’s winemakers have made great progress figuring out how to work with their terroir over the past decade.

Finally, a few words about my pal Doug Caskey, who oversees the Colorado Wine Board and has run the competition since it started. One reason I enjoy judging this event so much is that Doug brings together judges who understand that Colorado wine isn’t French wine or California wine and isn’t supposed to taste like it came from those places. Sadly, too many judges downgrade wines that are “different,” which has nothing to do with quality, but with a preconceived notion about what wine is supposed to taste like that borders on snobbery and elitism.

The two people on my panel, Tynan Szvetecz and Sarah Moore, were terrific in this respect, and it was a pleasure to judge with them. I’m always lucky to work with people who put up with my idiosyncrasies, and they were no exception.

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