Aug 142013
 

Bacchus-in-Texas

The New Texas Wine Business Model: Response to “The Bacchus Rewrite” Blog

My question is directed at Andy Chalk at CraveDFW who recently wrote a creative and penetrating blog titled, “The TWGGA President’s Speech Replacement”. Click here to link to it. For those not involved in the Texas wine industry or related activities, TWGGA is the Texas Wine and Grape Growers Association, the principal Texas wine industry trade, educational and political lobbying organization.

Andy, do you get the feeling like that some in the Texas wine industry would just like you to go away?

Andy, I particularly like your comment, “I once came across a Texas grape grower and winemaker who said that he had to resell California wine because there simply weren’t enough Texas grapes. It turned out he had been in business over twenty years. What has he been doing all that time? He could have plastered every square inch of the state with grapes. He isn’t short of Texas grapes because of an unanticipated bad harvest, he is short of Texas grapes by design. His business model is to grow a few grapes in Texas but to be a broker of California wine sold under the name of his Texas winery.”

However, it has only been about the past 5-10 years (literally a flash in time history shows that it takes to make a new quality wine appellation) that the Texas wine industry has been starting to realize the potential benefits in not emulating Bordeaux and Burgundy (or being a broker for California wine) in favor of making a play with a new Texas wine business model based on Mediterranean varietals that are better suited for our hot sunny summertime weather. However, this has been a bottom-up transformation with smaller wineries that sell primarily from their tasting rooms leading the charge with a plethora of “new” grape varieties that are not the old tried and true Cabernet, Merlot, Pinot Noir and Chardonnay that California taught us to love. It’s been a re-education process both at the winery and with consumers. Some of the larger Texas wineries are the ones that are still entrenched in what Andy described as the “broker model” investing more in buying the leftover grapes and bulk wine (mainly from California) rather than working with growers for the long term good of the new Texas wine industry and the consumers they serve.

However, the other part of this difficult question is that Texas is a winegrowing region that is a bit schizophrenic. It’s a warm wine growing region alright, but  in some ways it’s more like Champagne – with bad cold weather particularly in the spring when the grapevines are starting to bud out. Consequently, not every year is going to be a vintage year (just like in Champagne). For this new Texas business model to be successful, it calls for more tank space to handling juice and storing wine properly for an extended period from the good years (just like they do in Champagne), making more multi-vintage wine (again just like in Champagne) and a greater emphasis on blends of wine to account for variable harvests (you guessed it – like done in Champagne).

It was encouraging to attend this week’s Texsom Conference  in Dallas. The Texas tasting on Sunday evening was a crush of people from the wine trade trying to squeeze into the Taste Texas Wines hospitality suite was organized and promoted by Denise Clarke and sponsored by Texas Monthly with special thanks to Jessica Dupuy’s focus on Texas wines on the Texas Monthly blog. The wineries that participated in the Taste Texas Wines (Pedernales Cellars, McPherson Cellars, Brennan Vineyards and Duchman Family Winery) seem to get it (click here). They see the future with Texas grown grapes and making wines from Mediterranean-derived grape varieties with correctly and clearly defined appellations on the bottle labels.

In my discussions with conference attendees and particularly with several Certified Advanced and Master Sommeliers, they see the abovemention move as the clear and correct way for the Texas wine industry to go (not as brokers for California wine). However, the barriers are still their: namely, getting some of the larger Texas wineries and their distributors to accept a new Texas wine business model and changes to their labels on their non-Texas wines from “appellationless” under “For Sale in Texas Only” to American or any other authorized appellation approved by the U.S. federal government.

Personally, I would like for TWGGA to evaluate this new business model and play a role in transitioning the industry onto a more productive and consumer-oriented path, rather than trying bury the present “broker” business model under the cloudy veil of “For Sale in Texas Only” labeling. I would also like the Texas legislature and Department of Agriculture to weigh in on this issue as well and figure out how they can support the new Texas wine business model for the betterment of rural Texans and the overall economic development of rural Texas. A previous Texas Ag Commissioner (Susan Coombs) saw this potential and supported the cause during her tenure. Where is the leadership now?

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