Tag Archives: Texas wine

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Is this the end of For Sale in Texas Only?

For sale in Texas onlyA proposed change to federal wine label laws could mean the end for wine that says For Sale in Texas Only – a term that implies that a wine is local when it might be made with grapes from anywhere in the world.

The Treasury department’s tax and trade bureau announced this week that it wants to revise the regulations that allow a wine to carry For Sale in Only designation. In Texas, we call it FSTO – which stands for For Sale in Texas Only – but you’ll see FSO labels in every state: For Sale in Colorado Only, For Sale in Pennsylvania Only, and so forth.

Under the new rules, wines labeled FSO won’t be allowed to list the vintage or the grape it is made with, like cabernet sauvignon or chardonnay. Currently, FSO wines can list both and look local in almost every respect, save that they don’t have a state name or other appellation on the front label. The only clue that they aren’t local is a line in small type on the back label that says FSO, and that only wine writers, wine geeks, and winemakers understand.

FSO is sometimes used to circumvent appellation laws when the wine isn’t made with enough local fruit for it to have a state name. This is unfortunately common in regional wine, and has been an especial problem in Texas for the past decade or so, as the number of wineries has almost doubled and grape acreage hasn’t kept up.

That’s because appellation laws require that 75 percent of the grapes used to make the wine must come from that state for it to labeled Texas (or whatever). If a wine is made with less than 75 percent local grapes, it must use the word American on the front label, something producers don’t like to do because it’s obvious that the wine isn’t local. And what’s the point of local wine that isn’t local?

Hence the FSO label.

It’s important to note that FSO isn’t illegal and that many producers use it legitimately. The problem comes when it’s used to disguise non-local wine as local. That, apparently, was the impetus for the rules change – a Georgia winery selling an FSO wine made with Napa Valley grapes in North Carolina, and which caught the attention of a key Napa trade group and the Napa Valley’s U.S. congressman.

In fact, a spokeswoman for U.S. House Rep. Mike Thompson (D-Calif)., who chairs the Congressional wine caucus, emailed me to say that FSO in the Georgia case was “a TTB labeling loophole” and “works against strict and rigorous labeling rules to ensure that consumers know exactly what they are purchasing.”

The actual rules proposal is almost indecipherable unless you practice liquor law. My thanks to Austin attorney Kimberly Frost, who did her usual brilliant job in explaining it to me. The new rules will limit FSO wines to terms like red wine or white wine on the front label, in the hope that producers will use the more accurate American appellation so they can list the grapes and the vintage..

One irony to all this? The new FSO rules may give regional producers incentive to buy California bulk wine and put their label on it. That means  we could see more California wine sold by wineries in the other 47 — Texas-bottled Russian River pinot noir, anyone? That’s because the revisions will allow producers to use grape names and vintage on California bulk wine, which they couldn’t do if they bought California grapes or grape juice and combined them with local grapes to make FSO wine.

The tax and trade bureau is taking comments until Aug. 22, but there’s no time frame on when the rules will take effect. My guess, given how slowly the agency works, is that we won’t see anything until the middle of next year, and it could be even later than that.

 

winerant

Texas and the Walmart lawsuit

Walmart Texas lawsuitThree things are certain in Texas – the Cowboys, brutal summers, and the god-like power of the Texas Package Stores Association, the trade group that represents the state’s liquor store owners. The package store lobby is why liquor stores are closed on Sunday, why we have unbelievably restrictive laws on liquor store ownership, and why we have a fourth tier in the three-tier system.

All that may be about to change.

Later this year, a federal judge could overturn the ownership laws, and once that happens, many of the other restrictions could end, too. We might be able to buy wine in the grocery store before noon on Sunday or even – God forbid – spirits. And yes, that would be like a 72-degree day here in August, and where it gets chilly enough at night to need a jacket.

I never thought this would happen, but after talking to a variety of people who follow Texas liquor law, it looks like the unthinkable will take place. The package store owners, who have pretty much vetted the state’s liquor laws since the early 1970s, will have to compromise or lose all of the advantages they’ve written for themselves.

More, after the jump: Continue reading

wine news

Winebits 425: Pierre de Wet, grape shortage, fake rose

pierre de wet ? Texas wine pioneer: Pierre de Wet, who died last month at the age of 61, was one of the bravest Texas winery owners I knew. He planted vinifera — chardonnay, cabernet sauvignon, and so forth — in the heat and humidity of East Texas, even though Pierce’s Disease kills vinifera just as surely as I drink coffee in the morning. This never deterred the South African native, and he used to enjoy taking visitors around his Kiepersol Estate vineyards in a golf cart to show them where Pierce’s had destroyed the vines and where it hadn’t. And, somehow, Pierre’s daughter, Marnelle Durrett, used those grapes to fashion quality wine, including a very nice syrah. The other thing about Pierre that I admired? He understood the scourge of tasting room palate, a regional wine affliction that blinds winemakers to the flaws of what they make, and worked hard to overcome it. He was constantly asking others for their honest assessment of his wines, a quality all too rare in regional wine.

? Lots and lots of grapes: Most of the reporting detailing the 2015 California grape harvest said it was five percent less than the 2014 harvest, which got the panic mongers started. One even went so far as to say there would be a grape shortage thanks to the smaller harvest and wildfires that gave the grapes smoke taint. Fortunately, the Wine Curmudgeon is here to point that the smaller harvest was still the sixth biggest ever, and that grape prices have actually declined — which wouldn’t happen if there had been a shortage. So if wine prices increase this year and next, it won’t be because there aren’t enough grapes. It will be because producers are trying to make up for the last decade, when they didn’t raise prices.

? Pink fraud: It was bound to happen, given the increasing popularity of rose. One French producer has been fined some $11,000 for making rose by mixing red and white wine, which is not only illegal in France but results in crappy wine. Rose is typically made with red grapes, and the grape skins give the wine its pink color depending on how long they’re left in the grape juice. Ironically, reports the France 24 news site, there was a 2009 proposal to allow rose to be made by mixing red and white wine, but it was rejected after protests by French winemakers.

winetrends

2016 Virginia Governor’s Cup

Virginia Governors CupIt’s not the high quality of the wines that impressed me when I judged a preliminary round in the 2016 Virginia Governor’s Cup earlier this month. Rather, it was the consistency. There were almost no undrinkable wines among the five dozen or so wines we did, a far cry from the first time I did the competition in 2010.

If this is not unprecedented, it’s certainly rare in any state that’s not on the west coast. One of the biggest difficulties for regional wine, given that most local producers have too little experience and too little money, is consistency and improving toward that consistency. It’s not enough to make one great wine every three or four years; for regional wine to succeed, it must make drinkable wine every year. If it can do that, the great wines will follow on a regular basis.

And my panel saw that consistency earlier this month, allowing for the small sample size and that we judged blind. Especially impressive — but not surprising, given past experience — were the viogniers, where I though three of the five wines deserved gold medals (though medals won’t be awarded until the final judging in February). The other two were well worth drinking, too. Every wine was fresh and varietally correct, and even the two that had been oaked were nicely done. The oak complemented the wine, and was not its reason for being.

The half dozen cabernet francs, another Virginia specialty, were surprisingly fruity, without the elegance I have come to expect. But they were enjoyable and two were worthy of silver or gold meals.

Even those regional wines that usually fare poorly, like chardonnay and dry rose, were professional and competent. The former are usually under-ripe and over oaked, while the latter are usually just a mess. But though simple, they were drinkable, and that’s not damning with faint praise given the difficulty in making those wines drinkable.

This is the slow, steady improvement that we haven’t seen in Texas for several years, and is one reason why I despair about the Texas wine business. But if Virginia, Texas’ arch-rival, can do it, maybe we can be motivated to do it as well.

2015_AWS_Conference_Logo_16M

Four highlights from the 2015 American Wine Society conference

American Wine Society conferenceLast weekend’s American Wine Society conference reminded me that U.S. wine drinkers aren’t the stereotypes the wine business wants us to be. What a pleasure to be around curious, intelligent, and passionate wine drinkers for two days, people who want to learn more about wine and who are open to something that isn’t what they’re told they should drink.

Yes, it’s a small sample size, and yes, anyone who attends something like this isn’t going to be exactly typical. But when I mentioned the grocery store Great Wall of Wine in my first presentation, there was more than one nodding acknowledgment from the audience. Which means every wine drinker, no matter how experienced, faces many of the same problems.

Among the highlights:

? I took a lot of kidding when I offered to do a Texas wine seminar at an East Coast event, but it sold out almost immediately. The McPherson rose, the Llano Estacado Harvest tempranillo, and the Haak dry blanc du bois were the biggest hits, each speaking to Texas’ terroir and what happens when Texas winemakers make Texas wines. But that’s the point, isn’t it? That Texas wine will only grow and get better if the focus is on making Texas wine, and not California (or wherever) wine that comes from Texas.

? The other key from the Texas seminar? That people elsewhere seem eager to buy the wines, and that it’s time — if the grape harvests cooperate — to start exporting Texas wine to the rest of the U.S. The days when 95 percent of Texas wine was sold in Texas, and everyone was content with that, appear to be over.

? We aren’t scared of weird grapes, even though the wine business does its best to terrify us. That the hybrid blanc du bois impressed so many, with its clean citrus flavors, was one thing, but that the Augusta chambourcin was one of the hits of the regional wine seminar says even more. Chambourcin, a red hybrd, is notorious for its off, foxy aroma, but winemaker Tony Kooyumjian has solved that problem. This is probably the best chambourcin in the U.S., with spiciness, dark Rhone-style fruit, and a wonderful Missouri elan.

? The best wine that almost no one has ever tasted is the Edmunds St. John Bone-Jolly gamay from California’s Sierra Foothills. It seems so simple, but there is so much going on that it’s difficult to believe. Most winemaker tasting notes don’t say much, but Steve Edmunds is exactly right: “Juicy and precise on the palate, mouth-watering, showing lot of depth. The finish is long, and clean. This is already really versatile at the table, as always.” How much do I like it? It’s worth every penny of the $21 it costs.

winereview

Four wines for International Tempranillo Day

International Tempranillo DayToday is the fifth annual International Tempranillo Day, in which those of us who appreciate value and quality tip our hats towards Spain’s signature grape — even when the wine isn’t from Spain. How wonderful is tempranillo? This year, the wine that the students in my El Centro class have enjoyed the most was a tempranillo from Spain’s Ribero del Deuro, and they’re a tough audience.

Tempranillo, and especially from Spain, is food friendly, terrific for Thanksgiving, and something that I drink almost as often as I drink rose. It’s one more example why the best wine values in the world come from Spain. This year, four wines for International Tempranillo Day:

?El Coto Rioja Crianza 2010 ($10, sample, 13%): This Spanish red, from the Rioja region, is always well done, always more traditional (brighter acid and cherry fruit), and always with just enough oak to round out the wine. And the stag label isn’t bad, either.

? C.V.N.E. Rioja Cune Crianza 2010 ($15, purchased, 13.5%): Sophisticated crianza (the first of three quality levels of Rioja) that is more complex than its $10 cousins, with deeper and richer cherry fruit, more layered oak, and a fuller, more complete finish. Highly recommended and worth the extra money.

? Llano Estacado Harvest Tempranillo 2014 ($18, sample, 12.8%): This is a beautiful wine, rounder than a Rioja, with less obvious red fruit and that speaks to Texas’ terroir. I was one of the doubters when Texas producers started making tempranillo, and I’m happy to say I was wrong. Highly recommended and one of the highlights of my American Wine Society presentation, though availability will be limited outside of Texas.

? Emilio Moro 2011 ($20, sample. 14.5%): The wine that wowed those hard-nosed students, showing what Ribero can do when its producers want to make great wine and not just get a 98. The Moro is fruitier (black instead of red), with more oak, and less tart than a Rioja, but the alcohol doesn’t get in the way. Highly recommended.

For more on tempranillo:
? 12 wines for International Tempranillo Day
? Wine of the week: Barao de Vila Proeza Dao Tinto 2010

winetrends

Texas wine developments: 2015

texas wineSome thoughts after driving some 900 miles through the Texas High Plains in search of Texas wine:

• It’s not so much that this year’s harvest was plentiful, or that quality looks to be good. Rather, it’s that growers who normally had a couple of tons of grapes to sell have six or eight. Or 10. That means wineries may have more grapes than they know what to do with — something that could only happen in Texas, where short harvests have been the norm for a decade. Hence, there may not be anywhere to store the extra crushed grapes, and I don’t even want to think about what it will do to grape prices over the next couple of years. The good news? That there will be almost no excuse to sell Texas wine that doesn’t carry a Texas appellation, a practice long common here and which has generated huge controversy.

• Even I get tired of ragging on Dallas restaurants that don’t carry Texas wine, but after eating in three Lubbock restaurants that do Texas wine justice — the Pecan Grill at the Overton Hotel, La Diosa, and West Table — Dallas restaurants have no excuse for not carrying Texas wine. If they can do it in Lubbock, why can’t we do it here? We are supposed to be more cosmopolitan than Lubbock, aren’t we?

• Neal Newsom, a west Texas cotton farmer who planted his first grapes 30 years ago and today grows only grapes, says his fellow cotton farmers used to heckle him — literally — over that decision. Because what kind of self-respecting cotton farmer would grow something as silly as grapes in a part of the country where cotton is king? Today, though, says Newsom, they’re practically jealous, given his success. “I got more people asking me about growing grapes last year than I did in the previous 29 years put together,” he says.

• The less said about my experiences in Post, about 50 miles southwest of Lubbock, the better. Who knew driving through a small town, no bigger than five minutes from north to south, could cause so much aggravation, and both times I went through it?

• The best wines I tasted? A tempranillo from Llano Estacado (which I’ll use in my American Wine Society seminar about Texas wine in November) and the McPherson rose. The former had varietal character — some earthiness, a bit of orange peel — but tasted of Texas, with more red fruit than a Rioja and more balanced acidity. It’s about $15 for people lucky enough to have an HEB in their town. The rose, about $10, is sold out in much of the state, but a couple of restaurants in Lubbock still had it. That it sold out so quickly speaks to how well it’s made — juicy strawberry fruit and a crispness that makes me smile when I write about it — as well as how much Texas wine drinkers have changed. Just a couple of years ago, to paraphrase my pal John Bratcher, you couldn’t sell rose here if you left it outside the liquor store with a sign that said free for the taking.