Good news about Texas wine — no thanks to the state of Texas

Good news about Texas wine -- no thanks to the state of Texas
Texas legislature? We don’t need no stinking Texas legislature.

The fall wine season in Texas continues this month, and the Wine Curmudgeon will play his part at Grapefest at 4:15 p.m. on Thursday. I ?ll talk about the changes in Texas wine, what to look for in the next couple of years, and how the situation is much improved from a year ago.

The Texas wine industry has finally figured out that the state will be about as much help in the future as an umbrella in an earthquake. The Texas legislature, which had done so much to assist local wine, decided last year that creating jobs and boosting the rural economy was not nearly as important as whining about big gummint and worrying about college football.

Hence the news late this summer that the Texas Wine & Grape Growers Association will start taxing itself to replace some of the money lost when the legislature cut funding for research and marketing. The program, similar to what trade groups in other states do (see California milk), is at least a year away, but that the state ?s 250 wineries could agree that it needed to be done speaks volumes about how desperate the situation has become.

More good news, as well as a few things we still need to fix, after the jump:

The other good news? That the 2012 harvest could be the best ever, surpassing even the outstanding 2010 effort. This year promises quality on a par with 2010, plus quantity that the state has rarely had. Even better, a variety of winemakers have told me growers are less interested in the traditional varietals that don ?t do well here, and are planting more warm climate grapes. A couple of them even said they were having trouble finding chardonnay, which may be the best news about Texas wine I ?ve heard in a decade.

If the harvest is that good, then the state ?s wineries need to take the next step and move away from wine made with both Texas and out of state grapes. These are the notorious For Sale in Texas Only labels, in which the consumer buys something that he or she thinks is Texas but may be well mostly California. It ?s one thing to do this when there aren ?t enough local grapes; it ?s something entirely different if that ?s not the case.

In the short term, doing For Sale in Texas Only wines helps the winery, but does nothing for the wine business. Texas ? future is not in making California knockoffs with mostly California grapes, because these wines are usually more expensive than those from California and not as well made. Instead, the future is in making distinctively Texas wines made with Texas grapes. That ?s how every wine region in the world works, and there is no reason why it won ?t work here. As it has, over the past several years.

The mixed news? That the state ?s department of agriculture found $500,000 to spend on wine marketing over the next two years. And yes, found is the correct term ? the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission was supposed to transfer the money to the agriculture department in 2011, but the TABC didn ?t have it to give until the end of this August.

The money is about one-eighth of what the industry got before the Legislature eliminated funding in 2011. Wendy Womack, hired by the agriculture department to administer the money, says no decisions have been made about what to spend it on, though she hopes to bring back the Texas Wine Garden at the State Fair of Texas in 2013.

Because, sadly, when the state fair starts in a couple of weeks, the wine garden will not be what it has been. For one thing, the Other Wine Guy and I won ?t be there because of the budget problems. For another, though fair officials did their best to make it otherwise, winery participation is apparently down this year. Which is a shame, since that ?s one of the best marketing tools the industry has.

So I won ?t have to talk to drunk football fans about wine. Which I ?ll miss, actually, since there is so much good news to share with them.