The Last Texas Pour Leaves Big Boots to Fill
Guest Blog by Chesley Sanders (Lone Star Wines)
Lone Star Wines poured its last taste of Texas wine this past Wednesday. I want to thank everyone in the industry that helped me in spreading the Gospel of Texas wines for the past 13 years. It has been an exhilarating journey and an honor to take part in seeing dreams become wineries and hard scrabble Texas dirt becoming wines worthy of anyone’s table.
Some of the proudest memories I have are from being the first to introduce to the Dallas Fort Worth Metroplex, and people from all over the world (especially those doubters [read snobs] from the left coast) to great Texas wines such as Becker, Blue Mountain, Brushy Creek, Sister Creek, Flat Creek, Texas Hills, Alamosa, McPherson, Sandstone, Mitchell, and the premium wines from Llano Estacado, Fall Creek, Cap Rock, La Buena Vida, and many more that age and indulging in my left-over inventory cloud at the moment. I want to thank everyone that allowed me the honor of acting as M.C. at festivals, and tour guide on many trips to the wine regions of Texas. I believe the attendees had as much fun as I did, and we made a lot of disciples of Texas Wine.
It has been rewarding to watch the success of start-ups and the maturing of the “Old Dogs” into a viable base and support system for the whole industry. It has also been something of a vindication to see the Texas wine industry go from being the “Red Headed Step Child” of Texas agriculture to a viable, supported facet of the agricultural scene. A huge thank you is in high order for the hard work of wine industry political leaders, and Comptroller Susan Combs (who I once introduced as the best thing to happen to Texas wine since drip irrigation).
There have been some good comments on the importance of wine quality in the forum lately (See: Texas Winegrowers – http://groups.yahoo.com/group/Texas_Winegrowers). After having poured a few tastes of Texas wine (I lost count somewhere after a hundred thousand) to every possible demographic group of consumer from every corner of the world, I would like to offer some observations.
1. When I first started selling Texas Wine there were 24 Texas wineries, as you know today there are about 150. I have tasted the wines from most all of them. Though 13 years ago there were good wines and bad wines the ratio of really bad wines to good wines was much smaller than it is today. If you are making wine, and putting it before the public, and you haven’t tasted at least 150 different wines from different parts of the world in the past year, put your ego in a bucket, set it out the back door, and find someone who has; someone that you can trust to be brutally honest with you about your wine, and take heed.
2. Until you can consistently make a good honest bottle of $14 wine from decent grapes forget about “reserve” wine from high dollar grapes and new French Oak. You can’t cheat the learning curve, and you’re wasting grapes the industry desperately needs.
3. Don’t confuse what happens in your tasting room with life in the real world. You have a captive audience who sought you out, all of the tasting room ambiance, and your best sales people one-on-one. Just because a wine sells for $25 or more in your tasting room doesn’t mean there is a problem with everyone else outside your tasting room who can’t sell it for that price. It means there is a problem with your pricing or your wine.
4. Take advantage of every one of the great educational opportunities that are becoming available. Just remember, a couple of courses start you on the path to becoming a wine maker, they don’t make you one. Seek out the advice of successful professionals. All of the best have been at it for decades. Hire them!
5. Don’t let medals, especially from regional competitions, cloud your judgment. They can help as marketing tools, but what has been said about wine judging short comings lately is an understatement. 90% of the judges in any given competition don’t know Shiraz from Shinola.
6. Honesty! This is getting a little better; it still has a long way to go. A winery is a winery, a bottling operation is a bottling operation, a tasting room is a tasting room, Texas has no Napa Valley (California has no Hill Country, nor High Plains, no Cross Timbers, nor mad men on the Gulf coast), and most of all TEXAS WINE IS TEXAS WINE, don’t try to hide the truth. Don’t offer your retailers, or your customers, much less submit for competition, a “best barrel” sample, and then sell them a blend of everything else. It’s not that hard to figure out, hurts everyone in the business, and destroys respect for your brand.
7. When you reach the Major Leagues, and are running with the Big Dogs, don’t forget the people that helped “Bring you to the dance”.
8. Have Fun! It’s wine. Like I say, “Life is made for livin’, Wine is made for drinkin’, and Lips are made for kissin’.”
Personal note from Russ Kane:
I appreciate Chesley as a good friend, fellow Texas wine aficionado, Fort Worth fireman, and even cowboy philosopher. He has a way with words and offered one of the best vignettes on Texas wine that, still to this day, best sums up the Texas wine experience….
“Texas wine is the chill of a blue norther tempered by the fire of the summer sun, the fierceness of a spring thunderstorm calmed by an endless sky full of countless stars, and the stick of a prickly pear cactus soothed by a bluebonnet’s kiss.”
This description gives you the feeling like you are on the trail with your trusty horse and bedroll. You are camped down for the night and are savoring a full-bodied Texas Cabernet around the camp fire with a few of your closest compadres. Sweet Jesus…..this is definitely NOT California wine country. It’s a different brand of wine experience right here in Texas!