Sitting Here Sipping On Some Messina Hof Private Reserve 2011 Blanc Du Bois
As I’m sitting down to write this piece, I’m sipping on a white wine from Texas. It’s not a Texas high plains vinifera with Mediterranean origins. Rather, it’s a grape grown in vineyards residing in the hot humid, rolling hills of the southeast Texas post oak belt. Additionally, this wine’s been made by one of the top-selling, mainstream Texas brands: Messina Hof Winery. It’s made from a grape that can claim to be a Texas original, almost.
It’s Blanc Du Bois, pronounced “Blahnk-Du-Bwah”, a Florida hybrid bunch grape with characteristics for wine production, early ripening and importantly Pierce’s Disease resistance. Blanc Du Bois originated from the grape breeding program at the Central Florida Research and Education Center. being one of 19 selections from a 1968 cross between Florida D6-148 and Cardinal. Despite Florida D6-148 being a PD-resistant selection with purple fruit Blanc Du Bois ended up being a white grape that was transplanted to the vineyard in 1970, and first fruited in 1973.
From the start, it was noticed that Blanc Du Bois made a spicy white wine which rated very good in formal wine taste panels, better than many other hybrid grapes. It had a delicate sugar/acid balance plus the presence of muscat-like flavor its juice gaining Blanc DuBois a prominent place among Florida’s wines: Bronze medal in the 1986 Eastern International Wine Competition held in New York and a gold medal at the 1986 North Florida Fair Wine Competition.
The Messina Hof Private Reserve Blanc Du Bois would have no problems sharing the table with any white vinifera, bar none. This wine is light-bodied/colored yet nicely perfumed in the glass and shows its lineage with a hint of Muscat on the nose (check out the Golden Muscat in the family tree – above). It’s also, dry and mouth-wateringly crisp with a pear-citrus character on the palate finishing with a “bite” of green apple. Interesting by itself? Complex? Food compatible? You bet! On all counts, it’s a mighty fine wine. Taste it blind with friends or associates and I will guarantee you that everyone will call it vinifera.
Back to this grapes story line…
Over time, Floridians appear to have lost interest in Blanc Du Bois as a wine grape. However, Florida’s loss has been a gain for Texas. According to Texas Agrilife viticulture program specialist Fritz Westover, “Since the release of Blanc Du Bois, the variety has found its way into commercial production in southeastern states such as Florida, Louisiana and Texas. Currently, Texas is leading the industry in production of Blanc Du Bois with more than 150 acres in production (in 2012) in the eastern and southeastern parts of the state (over 30 acres in Austin County alone) and more than 20 commercial wines.”
Thanks to the persistence of growers and winemakers like Raymond Haak and Jerry Watson, Blanc Du Bois has been producing wines in Texas since the 1980s and commercially since the late 1990’s, and winning medals in and outside Texas in a myriad wine styles from dry to off-dry to sweet
Messina Hof Winery has only recently embraced Blanc Du Bois after their careful evaluation of its merchantability and acceptance by consumers. Messina Hof is now the only one of the top-selling Texas brands having added it in their new wine offerings last November. I’m going to bet that the other large Texas wineries will follow Messina Hof’s lead.
According to Paul V. Bonarrigo, co-owner and winemakers at Messina Hof, “Our 2011 Messina Hof Private Reserve Blanc Du Bois came from grapes grown at Grandview Vineyards, located in Richards, Texas, located just North of Houston and South of our winery in Bryan. It was planted in 2008 and 2009. We’ve been looking for a great grower and location for the past 5 years and Grandview Vineyard fulfilled our requirements.”
Bonarrigo continued, “Blanc Du Bois is different than many wines. It has acidity, a great up front pallet, but a low mid-pallet and low after taste. That’s the reason we blended in about 10% Texas Chardonnay from the high plains. It filled in the mid-pallet and bumped up the after taste. But, it’s still varietally Blanc Du Bois.
As a side note, Blanc Du Bois [note the use of capitalization on all words as J.A. Mortensen intended] was named in honor of Emile DuBois, who came to Florida from France in 1882. An accomplished grape grower and winemaker in the Tallahassee area, DuBois spearheaded efforts in the state for 20 years. He planted over 150 varieties of grapes and made a wide variety of Florida wines, receiving numerous medals at the Paris Exposition in 1900. In his honor the name ‘Blanc Du Bois’ was suggested by Lafayette Vineyards & Winery. Blanc Du Bois is also spelling of this grape’s name recognized by the U.S. federal government that writes the wine labeling regulations. However, some still persist in using “Blanc du Bois” with a small “d”.
We can tip the brim of our Cowboy hats to Mortensen for originating this grape. But, as of this moment, Texas appears to own the rights to it and Texas is making Blanc Du Bois it’s very own wine grape variety; kind of like what Sauvignon Blanc has become to New Zealand.
Bonarrigo finished by saying, “As one of the largest wineries in the state, at Messina Hof, we believe Blanc Du Bois is a GREAT WINE not just a GREAT TEXAS WINE!”
The bottle price of the Messina Hof Private Reserve Blanc Du Bois is $18.99 and is available in the Messina Hof Winery tasting rooms in Bryan and Fredericksburg while supplies last. Don’t be caught without a bottle of this wine.
J.A. Mortensen, “Blanc Du Bois”, Circular S-340, Agriculatural Experimental Station, University of Florida, Gainesville FL, August 1987.
F. Westover, “Blanc Du Bois Takes Root: A winegrape found in Texas and the southeast is tolerant of Pierce’s disease, Wines & Vines, February 2012.