Category:Texas wine

Drink Local Wine Week: Who knew it would outlast the organization?

drink localOnce more, evidence that local wine has become part of the wine mainstream — and a good thing, too

The last proper Drink Local Wine week was in October 2013; the organization went into hiatus the next spring. So what did my Drink Local cohort Dave McIntyre discover a couple of weeks ago?

“Someone just brought it to my attention that people still observe ‘Drink Local Wine Week,’ ” he wrote in an email. Google ‘drink local wine week 2017,’ and you’ll find a bunch of references. Go figure.”

So I did, and he was right – any number of listings on the first Google search page, an impressive performance for something that hasn’t been observed officially in four years. When Vinepair and Wine Folly mention your event, you’ve made the big time.

In this, regional wine has mostly become an accepted part of the wine landscape. In the dozen or so biggest regional wine states, the wines are on retail shelves – even grocery stores – and are represented by national distributors. In Texas, the Central Market supermarket chain is offering 20 percent off local wines for Texas wine month; yes, I bought a six-pack. This sort of thing was unheard of when we started Drink Local almost a decade ago. Most retailers and distributors treated local wine as if it was poisoned.

So, as Dave says, go figure: How did we do this?

• Publicity, publicity, and then publicity. The five Drink Local conferences, starting in 2009, made a tremendous difference in letting the world know local wine was a real thing that was worth learning about. Plus, they were a lot of fun.

• Tying local wine into the local food movement. This might have been our biggest accomplishment, since locavores don’t see wine as local in the way they see beer, spirits, and tomatoes. And too many, sadly, are horrible wine snobs who believe in points, Parker, and that all local wine is sweet and gross. But in Austin, for example, there is a local wine and food week featuring Devon Broglie, one of the country’s leading wine experts.

• Our friends at Google. We’ll take all the help we can get, even if it comes from the notorious Google search algorithm that figures hits are more important than whether something actually exists. And Drink Local has almost 10 years of hits on the Internet.

I found the announcement for the first Drink Local Wine Week in the blog’s archives – we’ve come a very long way in making local wine respectable since then, haven’t we?.

Eight years of Texas wine and the Kerrville Fall Folk Festival

Texas wine

Yes, that’s the Wine Curmudgeon in the hat on the left.

Talking about Texas wine to Texas wine consumers for almost a decade at the Kerrville Fall Folk Festival

In 2008, about nine months after I started the blog, I made my first appearance at the Kerrville Fall Folk Festival to talk about Texas wine. I didn’t do it this year; the event was canceled in the wake of Hurricane Harvey.

But in those eight years (I missed 2016 because of a conflict), I’ve seen two things: the growth and maturity of Texas wine, and the increasing enthusiasm for it from the audiences at the wine seminars.

I’ve been hard on Texas wine over the past couple of years, and deservedly so. But that shouldn’t obscure the improvements over the past decade, which have been on display at the wine seminar every Labor Day weekend. The wines are more professional and are made for wine drinkers, and there are fewer of the home-schooled wines made because the winemakers liked them that dominated the industry at the end of the 1990s and the beginning of the 2000s. That’s why there are so many Texas wines on store shelves, another change from 2008. Better quality means more retail outlets.

All of which has been terrific. But the audiences have been even more fun – smart, curious, and eager to embrace Texas wine. All they wanted was quality wine at an affordable price. This always reminded me that there was an audience for local wine, and that it was up to the winemakers to reach that audience. If you don’t make something people want, they don’t have to buy it, no matter what the Winestream Media implies.

We didn’t sell out every year, but we had large crowds most of the time. This included our regulars, people who came to the seminar every year. We had our hecklers, too, including one man who gave the panel moderator, John Bratcher, such a hard time you’d have thought we were discussing something important, like the survival of the republic.

And the best part came when the audience booed the one person every year – and there was always one person – who said Texas wine and local wine didn’t matter.

The other three things I’ll never forget about the festival? The legendary Rod Kennedy, who made the entire thing possible. The music, of course – Cook a chicken! And the traffic police, because you’re not supposed to drive faster than 5 mph, no matter how difficult that is to do.

Image courtesy of the Kerrville Folk Festival, using a Creative Commons license

Regional wine update: Virginia, Texas, Lake Erie

regional wineFour regional wines that show just how far Drink Local has come in the past decade

Regional wine has come a long way in the decade-plus of the blog’s history, from an afterthought in most of the country to an important part of the wine business in a dozen or so states. How far has it come? Consider these four regional wines:

Breaux Vineyards Cabernet Franc Lafayette 2015 ($26, sample, 13.5%): Virginia wine quality is so much better than the first time I tasted it, more than 20 years ago, that it’s almost hard to believe. The Breaux is a case in point: A well-made, bright, and approachable East Coast cabernet franc in a fruit forward (cherry?) style without flaws, oddities, or regional wine goofiness. Plus, structured tannins to offset the fruit and lots of balance. And, even at this price, a fair value.

McPherson Cellars Reserve Roussanne 2015 ($18, purchased, 13.5): This may be McPherson’s best reserve roussanne, which is saying something since it has traditionally been among the finest wines in Texas. Impeccably made, with lime fruit and just enough oak to balance the acidity. This is not a one-note wine, but is still very young and tight. It will age for at least three or four years, if not longer, and will open up and become more expressive with fruit and aroma. Highly recommended.

Fall Creek Sauvingon Blanc Vintners Selection 2016 ($21, sample, 13%): It’s too hot in Texas to make quality sauvignon blanc, but Fall Creek’s Sergio Cuadra has found a way to do it. This wine is more Chilean in style, not surprising since Cuadra is Chilean — tropical and lime fruit, as well as herbal (mint and lemongrass?), but still crisp and fresh. In this, as befitting its price, it’s more elegant than most one-note sauvignon blancs.

Presque Isle Eskimo Kisses 2016 ($30/375- ml bottle, sample, 12%): This ice-style wine from the Lake Erie appellation (parts of Ohio, Pennsylvania, and New York) is a tremendous value, about half the price of traditional ice wine. Yet it still hits most of the ice wine highlights – rich, luscious, honeyed, with a just a tiny bit of lemon. This vintage is still quite young, and probably needs another year in the bottle. The bad news? Very limited availability, still a problem for the regional wine business.

Drink local: It’s time to declare victory

drink localWhen restaurants feel comfortable enough to gouge us for local wine, then drink local has arrived

Dinner Saturday night was at a trendy Dallas Southern comfort/farm to market restaurant, and it showed just how far drink local has come. Right there on the wine list, with all of the other overpriced and too much marked up wine, was Texas wine. Overpriced and too much marked up, too.

The McPherson tempranillo blend, $12 at retail, cost $34 a bottle. That was almost three times retail, jacked up like many other wines on the list, including the Juve y Camps cava and the Faiveley white Burgundy.

When restaurants feel comfortable enough to gouge us for local wine, then drink local has arrived.

Our waitress told me that Texas wine sells quite well. It’s not the best seller that pinot noir is, she said, but people like it and ask for it. Plus, she knew the half dozen or so Texas wines on the list and spoke knowledgeably about them. I can’t remember the last time that happened to me in a Dallas restaurant.

In this, it’s yet another sign that regional wine has entered the mainstream. The Virginia wine industry is enjoying record growth, up six percent between 2014 and 2015 and a 34 percent increase from 2010. That’s even more impressive given the overall flat growth rate for wine in the U.S. and that local wine is usually more difficult to buy and is more expensive.

Meanwhile, another member of the Winestream Media has discovered local wine. Brian Freedman, writing in Forbes, talks about the “misperceptions of less famous wine regions in the United States, but also in how, when experienced on their own merits, without the outside influence of geographical stereotypes to get in the way of the juice itself, wine from less-venerated places has the potential to surprise, charm, and ultimately win over otherwise skeptical consumers.”

So the work we started all those years ago with Drink Local Wine is done. We did our job, and U.S. regional wine is the better for it – and so are wine drinkers.

More on drink local:
Local wine matters — another hipster says so
The Texas wine revolution
8 things I learned during my Colorado wine adventure

For Sale in Texas Only: The lawyers strike back

fsoLawyers may know law, but they don’t necessarily know regional wine – and the FSO rule changes are good for regional wine.

When the federal government proposed rules to stop wineries from confusing customers by using the For Sale in Texas Only dodge, those of us who care about regional wine wrote glowing reviews of the regulations. Finally, producers would have to call a non-local wine a non-local wine, instead of using some fine print on the back label to get around appellation laws.

Now, though, the lawyers for the other side are taking shots at the proposal, and you’d think those of us who want Texas wine to be from Texas – or Virginia wine to be from Virginia, Missouri wine to be from Missouri, and so forth – were Commie pinkos trying to undermine the American way of life.

“… [C]onsumers right to know where the grapes in their wine come from is compromised,” says the blog post describing the proposal, written by two attorneys from the prestigious Hinman & Carmichael law firm in San Francisco, well known in liquor law circles (and who are not related to me, though one is named Siegel). The post says the rules are unfair and will penalize hard-working winemakers who genuinely want to make great wine using out-of-state grapes.

It also defends “small wineries in remote states” who “won’t be able to provide their consumers with truthful and accurate information about the wine they are drinking locally” if the rules are accepted. Which may be the first time in more than 25 years writing about regional wine that I’ve seen anyone in California take up the cause of small wineries in remote states.

The proposed regulations require wine that doesn’t meet appellation laws for local labeling to be labeled American, or else not list the vintage and the grapes the wine is made to be allowed to a For Sale in Only, or FSO, label. There is nothing onerous about that, and especially for producers who aren’t trying to pull a fast one by using the FSO rules to make wine drinkers think the wine is local. Because FSO rules allow wine that can be mostly out-of-state grapes to carry a label that makes it look like the grapes are all local. As I have written, “This is unfortunately common in regional wine, and has been an especial problem in Texas for the past decade or so.”

I would never try to explain law to a lawyer, and there may be something legal in the Hinman post that I’m missing. But I do know regional wine, maybe better than all but two or three people in the country. And to argue that this law penalizes well-intentioned winemakers is specious. Well-intentioned winemakers are already labeling their wine American, so this law won’t hurt them at all. It will hurt everyone who wants consumers to think a wine is local when it isn’t, and what’s wrong with that?

The Texas wine revolution

Texas wineTexas wine has changed so much in the past 25 years – and yes, usually for the better – that it’s sometimes difficult to believe how far we’ve come.

This story, The Vine Frontier, ran in the July/August issue of Texas Journey magazine, and it neatly sums my 25 years tasting and writing about Texas wine. As I wrote:

“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, as Greg Bruni, Llano’s long-time winemaker, says, ‘Texas wine. And Texas makes the best Texas wine in the world.’ … This has been a surprisingly difficult concept for many in Texas to understand.”

The first generation of Texas producers thought we had to be the next Napa Valley, and didn’t realize it was enough to be the next Texas and produce distinctively Texas wine. The current generation of winemakers has a better grasp of this, and we’re seeing better quality wine made with grapes better suited to the Texas terroir – grapes from Europe’s warmest regions, like the southern Rhone in France, Rioja and Rias Baixas in Spain, and central and southern Italy. That means tempranillo, a red grape famous in Spain; viognier, a white from the southern Rhone; sangiovese, the red used to make Chianti; and vermentino, a white best known along Italy’s Mediterranean coast.

All is still not perfect, of course. Quality can improve and prices are too high, as producers struggle with economies of scale and limited distribution. And we’re still fighting the battle over Texas grapes; that is, that the industry can only flourish if we make Texas wine with Texas grapes, and not wine in Texas with grapes from California.

Finally, I got a number of emails from wine drinkers saying the story was welcome news, given how much they didn’t like the Texas labels they had tried. Several of the emails came from Californians who had moved to Texas, and didn’t understand why the wine here didn’t taste like it did there. Now, they wrote, they did.

More about Texas wine:
Kerrville 2015: We don’t need no stinkin’ brose
Texas wine at the crossroads, one year later

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.