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Texas wine at the crossroads, one year later

Texas wineAnd, apparently, not much has changed with Texas wine a year after I wrote: “Has Texas wine reached a plateau, where quality isn’t going to get any better given the state’s resources and climate? Or is something else going on?”

That was my conclusion after a couple of days tasting wine and moderating a Texas wine panel in the Hill Country last week. The day before I left, a Texas winemaker (who has told me I’m an idiot) took to the Internet to criticize almost everyone else who disagreed with him. During my visit, a winery owner told me I knew nothing about wine, Texas wine, and the ugni blanc grape, my Gascon favorite that is starting to be grown in Texas. And the wine during those couple of days? Mostly, and sadly, ordinary. At worst, it brought back memories of the bad old days in the late 1990s.

What’s going on? Why is this happening? Much of it has to do with the state’s wine success over the past decade — more wineries, better quality, and increased recognition here and elsewhere as part of the local wine movement. There are more wineries making better wine than ever before, using the grapes best-suited for the state’s terroir, and it’s easier to buy quality Texas wine than it has ever been — even grocery stores sell it.

But that success has led to other, less welcome, developments: First, people getting into the wine business not because they particularly care about wine, but because it’s a successful business and they don’t understand that wine is more than a business. Second, as the Texas wine business has changed, not everyone has changed with it, and many of those people are bitter and angry about the changes.

U.S. Hwy. 290 in the Hill Country had a couple of wineries when I started writing about Texas wine some 20 years ago. There are more than a dozen today, and applications for almost two dozen more. Ignoring for the moment whether there is enough business to support that many, we can’t ignore that there aren’t enough grapes. As Houston wine writer Ron Saikowski pointed out during the seminar at Boot Ranch, there are about 8,000 acres of grapes in Texas. We need 40,000 acres to meet the demand, which means we use all the grapes grown here, regardless of quality, and make up the difference with imports, mostly from California and Washington state, and also of varying quality. The irony? As Texas wine becomes more successful, and we get more wineries, the grape shortage becomes more acute.

Which is not to say there isn’t good news. The new vintage of Becker’s Provencal rose ($17, sample, 12%) may be the best ever, and it’s usually one of the best roses in the state (and which says something about how professional wineries can make quality wine). Consumers are more knowledgeable, and so are the people who follow Texas wine. The writers on the panel — Saikowski, John Griffin of SavorSA, and Austin’s Matt McGinnis — know their stuff, and are more than capable of tracking the changes in the business and holding producers accountable. And they’re far from the only ones, also much different from the early days when there were just a couple of us.

Because, frankly, this version of Texas wine has worn me out, and it’s why I’m not judging the Lone Star competition this year. I’ve done it every year but one since they invited me 10 years ago, but I don’t see the point this time. Too many Texas producers don’t want honest criticism; they want gold medals and parades in the street, because they know how much better they are than everyone else. That’s not the way I do business, and anyone who is honest with themselves shouldn’t, either.

 

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