Asimov on Texas wine: Not quite right

asimov texas wineAsimov gives N.Y. Times readers skewed picture of Texas wine

Eric Asimov of the New York Times is probably the best wine writer in the United States, offering what a friend of mine calls a “thoughtful, balanced but personal approach to wine drinking.” He shows his passion and his joy for wine, he writes clearly and directly, and he doesn’t talk down to his readers. Would that more of my colleagues did that.

That’s why I was so disappointed by Asimov’s recent article about Texas wine — or, more specifically, about a Long Island winemaking couple, Regan and Carey Meador, who moved their Southold winery to the Hill Country. In the process, the story implied, they were bringing civilization and much needed progress to Texas winemaking. The article, displayed prominently on the cover of the paper’s Dining section, was everything that has always been wrong with regional wine reporting – not just condescending, but reinforcing the stereotype that those of us in the provinces can’t succeed without help from our betters.

It was the last thing that I expected from Asimov, and I do not write this lightly. In fact, it took me almost two weeks to decide to write anything. Who wants to be called petty and provincial?

Besides, I respect Asimov immensely (though we have never met) and have written very nice things about him on the blog and in the cheap wine book. And he has been a tremendous supporter of regional wine, helping to give New York the due it deserves. So the last thing I want to do is to get into a cyber-spat with someone who does what Asimov does as well as he does it. And this is not about the Meadors; people who want to make quality wine are always welcome.

Rather, it’s Asimov’s characterization of Texas winemaking that deserves to be called out. It was what those of us who have done journalism call “parachute reporting” – you parachute into a place with little knowledge beyond general stereotypes, do a little reporting and get airlifted out, stereotypes intact, and knowing almost nothing more about the subject than you did beforehand.

So, given what I do here and the blog’s reason for being, as well as my work over the past decade with Drink Local Wine and the regional wine movement, know this about Asimov’s Texas wine story:

• Yes, as Asimov writes, Texas produces lots of middling, mass market supermarket wine (and I’ve criticized the industry for this and taken my lumps). But so do California, France, and almost every other wine region in the world, including New York. I’m sure Asimov has run across Red Cat a time or two.

• Asimov writes that Texas’ move toward varietals more suited to its terroir, as well as the presence of more open and free-thinking winemakers like the Meadors, is a new development. This is untrue; those movements were underway at least a decade ago. We showcased both at our first Drink Local Wine conference in 2009 in Dallas. I wrote about the same subject in 2016, “The Texas Wine Revolution,” for Texas Journey magazine. If I may quote myself: “What is a new, especially in the past 10 years, is the acceptance that Texas wine is not California wine or French wine or Italian wine. It is Texas wine.”

• Hence, it was especially annoying to read that a New York winemaker had to come here to save the Texas wine business from itself.

• The Hill Country, which Asimov visited, is not the most important place in the Texas wine world. It gets the most tourists (think Red Cat again), but the High Plains near Lubbock produces 80 percent of the grapes and most of the best grapes. Because, among other reasons, Pierce’s Disease in the Hill Country — the grapevine version of the Black Death. So judging Texas wine off a visit to Fredericksburg is hardly the entire picture. And by the way, it’s not Hill Country, as the story referred to it, but the Hill Country, in the same way it’s Queens, and not the Queens.

• And since the Hill Country is not the center of the Texas wine business, Asimov apparently didn’t taste Brennan Vineyards’ viognier, always among the best in the country; McPherson Cellars’ Tre Colore, a red Rhone blend that speaks to terroir; and Haak Cellars’ amazing Madeira-style wine made with blanc du bois. None have anything to do with Fredericksburg. And it also seems that he missed Perdernales Cellars outside of Fredericksburg, with its terrific tempranillos.

So that’s a more complete picture, and one I wish Asimov had seen. He could have called Russ Kane, who probably knows more about this stuff than anyone, or Texas Monthly’s Jessica Dupuy. Either could have recommended Texas wine producers who would have been able to offer more perspective.

The old saying that any publicity is good publicity still rings true, but accurate publicity is even better.

5 thoughts on “Asimov on Texas wine: Not quite right

  • By Kyle Schlachter -

    Yes, he painted with a broad brush, but I thought he was generally positive about the future of Texas wine. I think his criticisms were fair and he did bestow praise on seven wineries in the article. One cannot really mention all the worthy wineries in such an article. I did not sense he intended to say that the Meadors were coming to “save the Texas wine business from itself.” And 10 years in the wine industry is not a long time, so something that was starting to happen 10 years ago is still a relatively new development.

  • By eric -

    glad to hear your honest thoughts on the article. I’ve never had any wines from Texas (perhaps some day when we actually get them here in NYC), but have read some of your posts about them. pretty sure your expertise in this area exceeds Asimov’s.

  • By Jeff Cope -

    You are partially correct that he probably did not taste any Brennan or McPherson wine, but he could have in Fredericksburg if he had stopped by 4.0 Cellars which the two wineries are part of the total three in that tasting room.

  • By Raymond Haak -

    Thanks for a great article Jeff, my chain was rattled a little by Eric’s article as well. I planted my first grapevines a little over 50 years ago and have seen our wine industry grow up handsomely. We have seen a lot of wine growing and wine making pioneers in Texas beginning no less than with the Qualia family in Del Rio, Texas. We have all been inspired by these hard working folks and worked to move our quality bar a little higher. I for one welcome the Meadors as well as all of my Texas colleagues in the industry. One more thought for Eric’s writing. To be in control of any process there needs to be a measured variable (wine quality), set point (desired result), and feedback to see if we hit hit set point. I, for one, also did not like Eric’s result and this is my feedback.
    Raymond Haak

  • By Mike -

    Right on. Texas wine is Texas wine. Appreciate the unique expression they have. Just visited the Hill Country and hit Fredricksburg along with a number of local wineries/tasting rooms. People in Texas are super friendly in general. Nice! I also enjoy the fierce loyalty to grown in Texas. I grow and make wine in California. Instead of comparing to Cali, Tuscany, Bordeaux et al, Best thing to do is come in with an open mind and enjoy!

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