by Matt Champion, Texas Wine and Trail Magazine
If you ask your average person about Texas wine, you’ll likely get one of two reactions. Either they’ve actually had it before and found some they enjoy or they’ll look at you bewildered and think “why would I drink Texas wine when I have California and imported wines readily available?” Gusto Tastings is trying to spread that first reaction as far and wide as possible.
I was fortunate enough recently to have a chance to attend one of their Texas vs. the World events. They put these on around the state monthly in an attempt to educate consumers on just how well certain varietals in Texas stand up to producers around the globe. Each event features a different varietal and winery to co-host. You will usually blind taste and judge up to 20 wines of the same varietal, some being from Texas and some elsewhere.
When I heard that September’s Austin event featured Viognier, I jumped at the chance. It’s one of my favorite varietals produced in the state and I can name several local producers off the top of my head that have done outstanding things with the grape. So, I made my way down to Malaga Tapas & Bar for what I assumed would be a very informative evening.
In attendance from Gusto to lead the event were: Daniel Kelada, Founder and Executive Wine Sommelier, Oscar A. Montes Iga, Travel Director and International Wine Guild Master Candidate, and Ashley Johns, Event Lead.
It was a very relaxed, laid back atmosphere and the set-up was organized extremely well. While I can’t reveal any results (Dallas and Houston have yet to have their Viognier events), I can say that I was incredibly surprised by my results. I not only was wrong in predicting what would be my top Viognier, but I also found a few that I hadn’t tried before that I’ll now be hunting down on a regular basis.
We were lucky enough to have not only one, but two local winemakers in attendance that night: David Kuhlken from Pedernales Cellars and Jeff Ivy from Hye Meadow Winery. Both make solid Viogniers and were gracious enough to briefly speak on the subject. Kuhlken recently produced a Viognier that won double gold in the Lyon International Wine Competition in France. He spoke first.
“Viognier is really doing well worldwide,” Kuhlken said. “It’s a good pick for Texas. We need to stick with it because what you get in terms of quality is fantastic.” He also spoke of the challenges of the Texas climate. “Every year is a different year with hail, freezes, and drought conditions. This year, there was almost no Viognier,” Kuhlken said. “But it’s not going away because the quality is there. I’ll be happy to continue making Viogniers.”
Ivy has made wine in California for the last 10 years and is relatively new to the Texas wine scene. Although Hye Meadow has only been open around 4 months, they are quickly making a positive impact. Ivy spoke fondly of the grape.
“Viognier grown in Texas will stand up with anything on the planet,” Ivy said. “I’ve made wine in California for the last decade, and in a great year, Texas Viognier is superior.” Ivy also spoke of some of the difficulties of the varietal. “The challenge with Viognier here is it buds so early, which makes it vulnerable to the spring freezes,” Ivy said. “Grapevine longevity is an issue for Texas due to the unpredictable climate.”
After both speakers finished, the last of the wines were tasted and the night began to wrap up. Daniel revealed which wines were which and we all had a good laugh. I said my goodbyes and left the event feeling warm and more knowledgeable on Viognier in general. I hear the next event in the series will feature Syrah. I’ll be looking forward to it.
For those that don’t make the events, the Texas Wine and Food Consortium does release a Texas Wine Journal after each event once the trade and consumer results have all been gathered. You can find them a the link. I was able to talk to Daniel more in-depth about the Texas vs. the World series a few days after the event.
Please see the interview for more information on Gusto and this series of events.