A Bit of France Comes to Texas Via New Mexico; Hopefully a Bit More of Texas Will Reach the Rest of America, Too
This might not be a French Chateau, but inside this simple winery facade there is a sister/brother duo, Nathalie and Laurent Gruet, who moved to the high dessert in New Mexico from the Champagne region of France 27 years ago. They now make what have been been acknowledged as successful domestic sparkling wines. While the recession has pummeled wine producers in Champagne, Napa and elsewhere, Gruet has held its own, and even made headway in some markets.
As reported by Lubbock Online, Laurent Gruet said, “I would like to see Jerry Jones with a bottle of Texas champagne the next time the Cowboys win the Super Bowl”. His father, Gilbert Gruet, founded the G. Gruet et Fils winery in Bethon, France, in 1952, planting chardonnay and pinot noir vines, which led to his first champagne produced in 1956. In the 1960s, he formed a winery cooperative in the region. Father and son, looking for a place to expand, came to New Mexico and bought a vineyard in 1984 near the city of Truth or Consequences, and brought machinery from France to begin operations in Albuquerque.
It is interesting to note that few Texas winemakers have consistently produced a sparkling wine. Ironically, CapRock in the 1990s did produce a blanc de noir. Maybe this was an omen for future things to come.
I asked Mark Hyman, President of Llano Estacado Winery (www.llanowine.com), Texas’ largest premium winery also in Lubbock, what he thought. He said, “I was at the auction yesterday with our Chairman, our attorney and Executive Winemaker Greg Bruni. The auction far exceeded my and most everyone’s expectations. Now, looking back at it after the fact, I think it’s a major coup for the Texas Wine Industry to have this Internationally known, ‘quality producer’ set up operation in the state! In particular, it should be a nice boost to Lubbock tourism, and potential future events/festivals together out there. We whole-heartedly welcome Gruet to Lubbock, Texas!”
In fact, the Gruets have done a great job of marketing their New Mexico sparkling wines. They are distributed in 49 states. Distribution outside Texas is something that Texas wineries have not accomplished to any great degree (95% of Texas wines are consumed in Texas; after all, Texas is the 4th largest wine consuming state and soon to be number three). However, this is something that they will eventually have to do, if they want to continue to grow and gain notoriety that they deserve. Perhaps, the Texas wine industry will benefit from the Gruet market experience. Their management should at least be able to better finance and provide the leadership that was sorely lacking for many years at CapRock, one of the largest winemaking facilities in Texas.
It will be interesting to see the path that the Gruets take with their newly acquired winemaking operation in Texas. It is a first class winery and destination facility. The number one question to many in the Texas wine industry, particularly the nearby winegrowers on the Texas High Plains AVA around Lubbock is…Will the new operation be based on Texas fruit? This is a logical question due to the Gruet’s out of state roots and because many Texas wineries have supported their continued growth by importing fruit from outside Texas.
Comments on the Gruet acquistion, pro and con, have been coming into VintageTexas since Ben Simons and I simultantously announced the sale on my VintageTexas blog (http://vintagetexas.com/blog/?p=1896) and his Vinotology blog at www.vinotology.com.
Some in the Texas wine industry see this as an intrusion of foreigners that will take over the industry with their unlimited cash. Others are just shaking their heads and saying that he simply paid too much. However, the consensus of most Texas winegrowers and winery owners seems to be to conservatively wait and see how this whole thing plays out. Some see the Gruets being very busy right now as they try to figure out what they actually bought in the Lone Star State. Some industry people questioned the possible condition of the equipment and wine there in storage.
Guy Stout MS, (See: http://theblendblog.com/wordpress) who has been in the wine distribution business in Texas for decades, gained his Master Sommelier acreditation, and even started his own Texas Hill Country vineyard, said, “This is a smart move for the Gruets to get a foothold in Texas. It will also benefit the Texas wine industry as a whole.”
Consultant Texas winemaker Don Pullum said, “I’ve enjoyed Gruet sparkling wines since they became available in the Texas market. Gruet’s New Mexico winery produces over 100,000 cases of wine and distributes ascross the country. They bring a great deal of talent and business acumen to the Texas wine industry and, hopefully, CapRock will be able to take advantage of the Gruet distribution network and take Texas wine to the rest of the United States. I have no doubt that the wines Gruet’s CapRock Winery produces will represent Texas well.”
Katy Jane Bothum, who administers the largest and most active wine trail winery group in Texas (http://www.texaswinetrail.com), said, “While I didn’t work with him directly in New Mexico, I would often hear discussion from our other growers and wineries, that was always positive. They are quality driven and have the cash flow to ensure the CapRock operation doesn’t wind up right back in the same position. Gruet said yesterday that he was prepared to stop bidding at 10 Million. So, that tells me they have plenty to spend on the re-vamp of CapRock. I also believe they will stand behind the custom crush contracts and all is well.”
The first response from the growers was that sparkling wines like the Gruets make is probably the best use of what little Chardonnay and Pinot Noir the Texas winegrowers now produce. They can harvest early at low Brix and when the high acidity needed for a sparkling wine prevail, and be done with it. Who knows, this might be the hidden value of this whole venture. It might bring s new street cred when in a conversation someone says the words that have struck fear in many….”Texas Chardonnay and Texas Pinot Noir”. However, my feelings on Texas sparkling wines are to look for more the Spumante and Prosecco-style wines as we can grow wonderful Muscat Canelli in Texas.
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More analysis and video form Ben Simons at:
More from Wine Business Online:
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New York Times:
Mark Holm for The New York Times