Texas wine — 10 years after (part I)
This is the first of two parts looking at where Texas wine has been, where it is, and where it’s going. Part II, detailing some of the best wines I tasted during my trip to the Hill Country, ran on April 15.
In the first years of this century, there were fewer than 100 wineries in Texas, and I knew almost everyone in the Texas wine business. Today, there are almost 300 wineries, and not only don’t I know them, but they don’t know me.
That growth is a function of two things: First, more favorable state regulation, which no longer treats a Texas winery as the work of the devil. Second, the increasing influence of all things local, and especially the local wine and food movements, which has helped to create an increasingly viable market for Texas wine.
Nothing demonstrates this better than Texas wine on restaurant wine lists. When I started going to the Hill Country in the early 1990s, it was almost impossible to find Texas wine in restaurants, and I annoyed more than one employee by asking why they didn’t have Texas wine. This time, there was Texas wine on every list (including a brewpub), and the Cabernet Grill only has Texas wine.
In addition, the locals have made a commitment to Texas wine that didn’t exist before. Ernie Loeffler, the director of the Fredericksburg Convention and Visitors Bureau, is knowledgeable about the local wine business, and sees it as a crucial part of the region’s identity. Five wine country tour buses check in at his office every Saturday, and the percentage of visitors who say wine is why they’re in town has tripled.
Even better, the quality of Texas wine was markedly improved. There was very little difference between the best Texas wines (at any price) and wines from the rest of the world. This does not mean that the state has solved all of its wine problems, and there is still too much poorly made and indifferent wine. But the changes have mostly been for the better, and there is no reason to believe that things won’t keep improving.
More, after the jump:
First, this caveat: I spent 3 1/2 days in Fredericksburg on a media trip sponsored by the Fredericksburg CVB, which paid for food and lodging (though I paid for some of the Texas wine I tasted). However, there was no quid pro quo – no favorable story in exchange for the trip.
The Hill Country in and around Fredericksburg only has 30 or so wineries, but it’s the most popular wine destination in the state. This means it’s often the first impression that wine drinkers have of Texas wine, and what they taste in the Hill Country can make or break Texas wine for them.
The good news for those of us who care about local wine is that those wineries, for the most part, now make a terrific first impression. Among the reasons:
• The next generation of Texas winemakers, who are younger, better trained, and more attuned to what needs to be done in Texas to make quality wine. In the Hill Country, that includes Chris Brundrett at William Chris, Todd Webster at Brennan Vineyards, Jason Englert at Grape Creek, and David Kuhlken at Pedernales Cellars.
• The idea that Texas wine doesn’t have to be chardonnay, merlot and cabernet sauvignon. To my mind, there’s still too much of that wine in Texas, but it’s not as much as it used to be and it’s not as important.
• The best grapes for Texas are warm-weather friendly – reds like tempranillo, sangiovese, grenache, mourvedre, and whites like viognier, albarino, roussanne, and blanc du bois. These grapes are producing excellent wine (and more on that on Monday).
• The idea that Texas wine doesn’t have to be a varietal. Blends, and especially reds that blend the aforementioned grapes with cabernet and
merlot, allow winemakers to take advantage of the latter without sacrificing value or quality.
• That Texas wine should be made from Texas grapes. This, too, is a big change from the old days, when consumers assumed that Texas wineries used only Texas grapes, and too many wineries didn’t want to tell them the truth. Each of the eight wineries where I tasted went out of the way to explain that Texas wine should be made with Texas grapes, told us why some wines are made with out-of-state fruit (not enough grapes in Texas, usually), and were happy to answer questions about it.