Over and again Texas is being promoted as the next Napa Valley. As promising as this is for the industry, there is still a major hurdle to overcome: wine drinkers in Texas. According to a Texas Tech wine marketing survey, Texas ranks 4th in the nation for wine consumption. We love wine. This same survey found the majority of wine drinkers in Texas don’t consume Texas wine, even though 70% are still domestic sales – mainly California. Why? According to the results, the cold clichéd truth is because of image. This daily wine swilling segment, the pseudo snobs, assume drinking wine from Texas will make them appear too bourgeois. As insane as it might sound, this is proven buyer logic and it equals millions of Texas dollars flying out of our state and landing on the West Coast. And we’ve heard every excuse from the detractors, “poor quality,” “not made here anyway,” “Texas only grows table grapes,” “too expensive.” All these excuses are totally bogus, but false information spreads like soft butter non the less.
Remember when you were warned not to be a follower, or you might end up jumping off a cliff? Well that seems to have happened with wine drinkers in Texas, and the cliff they’ve been led off of landed them in a pit of monotonous, predictable buying. At the same time America was gravitating toward food and wine culture, Napa County was heavily promoting their recent 1976 blind tasting win over French wines, the “Judgement of Paris,” to capture a huge growing market. And rightfully so, The Judgement of Paris was a major game changer for many new wine regions not just California, because the tasting results proved France no longer held the monopoly on fine wine production.
By the mid 80’s California Chardonnay, Merlot, and Cabernet Sauvignon were making their way into stores across the country, and the nation was drinking it up. As California wine hype swelled into the early 90s, so did the demand, and major labels pumped out copious amounts of wine at a dependable quality. This brought prices down, allowing good California wine to be enjoyed by a very large percent of the population…and for most casual wine drinkers, the exploration stalled. They found an affordable comfort zone. Wine is alive. It can transmute any experience you wish to have with it, but it should definitely be a constant exploration, not a grocery item listed between the organic hummus and corn free dog food.
But recent wins for the Texas wine industry are calling the Todd and Margot crowd out, proving that Lone Star wine can’t be dismissed for quality any longer, their usual “public” excuse for choosing not to drink it. This past year Texas wine has accumulated some serious awards in top International competitions. Frequent Double Golds, Golds, Silvers, and Best in Class are too numerous to list, but include San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition, Texsom Dallas Morning News Competition, Finger Lakes International Wine Competition in New York, Houston Livestock Show & Rodeo International Wine Competition, Lone Star International Wine Competition, Pacific Rim International Competition, and just last week the San Francisco International Wine Competition.
The largest award for the Texas wine industry came recently when Pedernales Cellars in Stonewall, Texas (only 8 years old) won Grand Gold in the 2013 French competition Concours International des Vins à Lyon, for their Viognier. The Viognier grape is recognized as one of France’s signature varietals, and has produced some of their finest whites. Two other Texas wineries, Becker Vineyards and Flat Creek Estate also won awards for their Viognier at this same competition; the ONLY three wineries from the entire United States to win in the Viognier category. This is the Texas Judgment of Paris, and as Viognier is quickly replacing Chardonnay among wine enthusiasts looking for a new white to explore, it seems Texas is premier frontier.
I sat down with Julie Kuhlken of Pedernales Cellars for an afternoon of tasting and conversation about their wines, the challenges that growers face in our extreme micro-climates, and mainly questions I had about the French win in Lyon. “We were sincerely encouraged by Melba Allen to enter this competition, and we’re really glad that we did. She assured us it was a true blind tasting.” When pressed about the significance of this award Julie’s response was all too humble, “Any win for Pedernales Cellars is a win for Texas wine.” This is true, and just as Napa County used their French win to springboard national tourism and wine sales, ultimately becoming “Napa Valley” overnight, Texas has garnered much attention from the Lyon wins as well. Andrew Chalk, editor of CraveDFW, organized a blind tasting for WinePost pitting Texas Viognier against California and French benchmarks. The results were impressive as the top six spots were all Texas wines, including Pedernales Cellars 2012 Viognier Reserve, which made Texas Monthly Magazine’s Wine of the Month for June.
But Texas is more than Viognier, and its considered an emerging wine region along with Oregon and Washington, the nation’s second largest wine producing state. The momentum of Texas wine popularity and the increasing number of awards has many serious travel writers endorsing Texas, the Hill Country in particular, as the newest wine destination for national wine and food travelers. The phrase “the next Napa,” implies that the Texas wine industry has the potential to be like Napa 1) extremely lucrative with a large economic impact on the state, 2) a heavy cultural influence, and 3) a region defining destination for national tourism. Texas wine continues to make large strides with or without the full support of wine drinkers in our state, and as Mark Oldman commented in a recent interview with Roger Beery, “A wine snob, I think, has often gotten into wine to lord it over others, as a status symbol,” It may be hard to Lord Texas wine over anyone. What this group should realize is that the “Napa culture” they’re trying so hard to imitate, is in their own back yard.
According to Stonebridge Research, “The total retail value of all the wine produced in Napa County, including sales through the 3 tier system as well as direct to consumer and export sales, is estimated to have totaled $10.1 billion in 2011, with the retail value of Napa Valley appellation wines estimated at $5.5 billion.” Napa Valley’s winery numbers and production capability far exceeds our own at present, but as Texas continues to open new winery doors every month and growers continue to plant varietals that do well in our soils, Texas wine production will increase exponentially as well. Millions of Texas dollars are spent monthly on domestics by people who dismiss Texas wine because of image, not quality. So the question is not whether Texas is the next Napa, because there is almost no way to make that comparison logical. The real question is how soon do Texans want wine wealth?
Article by Leanne Holley, Texas Wine and Trail Magazine