Manifesto: Blanc Du Bois – Texas’s Own Wine (It’s Time to be Proud of It!)
As Texas wineries and winegrowers move forward in the complicated and global world of wine, it should be more than obvious that they need to focus on a wine that says “Texas and only Texas”, that is now just a “me-to” of the wine world. Believe it or not, there’s one grape variety that IS Texas and makes wines that ARE Texas. It’s Blanc Du Bois!
We didn’t invent Blanc Du Bois, it was more or less handed to us by the great state of Florida. However, it found friends here like winemaker Raymond Haak at Haak Vineyards and Winery in Galveston County, and Jerry Watson at Austin County Vineyard in Cat Spring. Over the past decade or two, they worked to develop growing and harvesting techniques that resulted in consistent commercial production. They also toiled to learn harvesting parameters and winemaking techniques that gave the wines of Blanc Du Bois optimal varietal character and intensity. Because of these efforts, Blanc Du Bois is a grape that now delivers to wine consumers a quality sip of wine and something more – a statement of what a Texas wine is all about.
In her recent blog post in Southwest Wine Travel Examiner, Abby Wine (yes, her real name) said:
“[In] 1968….researchers at the University of Florida [announced] the grand debut of a varietal with the promise of producing outstanding, signature white wines particularly suited to their southern terroir. The Florida Muscadine along with the Cardinal table grape, and several others were transformed into Blanc Du Bois. But, it was not until 1987 that the university released the varietal for sale.”
The grape variety that is Blanc Du Bois was produced by a combination of chance and forethought. It’s lineage includes native American grapes, a French American hybrid or two, and a lesser known Vitis vinifera grape (Golden Muscat) all brought together with some additional help from open pollination (who knows what was in that) and a little self-pollination. As Abby Wine also said, “The white grape is named for French winemaker Emile Dubois who owned and developed Tallahasee’s old San Luis Vineyard into a preeminent industry in the late 1800s, and was involved in the early development of heartier wine varietals for the Gulf states.”
Blanc Du Bois may not have been born here in Texas, but it got here as fast is it could manage. Thanks to the efforts of Raymond and Jerry and now promoted by winegrowers and winemakers across this large state (about the size of France), Blanc Du Bois (often abbreviated as BdB on Twitter) is a true glass of quality Texas wine.
This point was driven home to me last week as I did a tasting with Jeremy Parzen (writer and blogger at Dobianchi and Eating Our Words/Houston Press) and Sean Beck (Sommelier at Backstreet Café/Hugos). For this tasting, I’d selected seven wines to present that I described to Jeremy and Sean as a true cross-section of the Texas wine experience. There were wines, red and white, a couple were selected at a local grocery wine section or wine retailer (wines widely distributed) and some were “secrets” not in distribution, but that I’d found on my trips across the countryside visiting winery tasting rooms. Included in my selection, were wines made from wine grapes grown in the four corners of Texas. There was a wine for $11 and a wine purchased for $30 (the low and high). All were made from vinifera grapes (the classic grapes of Europe) sans one. The non-vinifera wine was made from, Blanc Du Bois, and the grapes were grown right here on the Texas Gulf Coast.
The fact that I could now pour this Blanc Du Bois (Haak Vineyards, Dry Blanc Du Bois, 2010) in the same flight of wines as those made from classic vinifera and for a major Sommelier and wine writer was something that didn’t immediately hit me. It actually took five days (to be totally factual) for the gravity of this situation to settle in my brain. Here I was, pouring and tasting a Blanc Du Bois wine in a cool alcove at Backstreet Cafe (with the searing heat of the Houston summer left outside). We were discussing Blanc Du Bois’ great acidity (something that surprised both of my tasting partners), its fruit characteristics of citrus and pear, and I DID NOT have to apologize for the fact that it was NOT derived from pure breed European grapes.
Texas needs to look for its equivalent to New Zealand’s Sauvignon Blanc and Oregon’s Pinot Noir, a grape variety that will define it’s quality wine experience for years to come in an increasingly competitive and global marketplace. Some in Texas think that the definition of the classic Texas wine will be in Viognier or Tempranillo. Well, they may be right, but I propose in the here-and-now that we need to look no further. Blanc Du Bois is here and making a bold statement that supports the premise that Texas can grow and make quality wines and it can be done sustainably, economically and at a high level of wine quality.
Supporting justification for Blanc Du Bois to receive “most favored grape” status in Texas comes simply from the standpoint of quality of the wine in the glass, which can now gladly speak for itself. Additionally, we have an increasing number of wineries around the state that are growing Blanc Du Bois, not just because it’s one of the few grapes that they can grow (due to the significant threat of Pierce’s Disease), but for the right reason…it’s a grape that can be made into a very palatable white wine. Actually it’s proved to be perhaps the most flexible grape Texas has once it gets into the winery, too.
As Raymond Haak as found, Blanc Du Bois is adaptable to a wide variety of wine styles (dry, semi-sweet and sweet table wines, oak aged and not, Port-style and, the most enchanting experience to behold, Madeira-style). Best of all, Blanc Du Bois can be grown just about anywhere in the state. There are now Blanc Du Bois vineyards on the Texas Gulf Coast, on the Rio Grande, in the Texas Hill Country, and in the eastern and northern regions of Texas.
Blanc Du Bois is the one grape for all Texans. If you haven’t tried it, grab a bottle; choose your style from those given above. Most importantly, if you don’t find it where you buy wine, please ask for it! If you’re out and about in Texas, stop by a winery today and ask for it, too!
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Here are some of the Texas wineries that make quality wines from Blanc Du Bois:
Enoch’s Stomp Vineyard & Winery
There are likely a few wineries making Blanc Du Bois that I’ve forgotten to mention. If there is one no on the aforementioned list that makes
A Blanc Du Bois wine that strikes your fancy, please respond by commenting to this post.
Cheers (with a glass of Texas Blanc Du Bois in hand)!
You make a great case for blanc du bois, Russ, and I’ve always been partial to it. But I’d argue that viognier has even more potential as Texas’ signature white wine. It’s far from one of the best known vinifiera, so identity is not a problem, and it’s easier to grow and to make wine with.
I guess that my concern is that Viognier is a love it or hate it grape (that is people either love it or hate it). It also has issues with early budding, a no-no for Texas.
Additionally, and even more importantly, there is a heck of a lot more land where you can grow BdB in Texas than where Viognier can be grown. Shoot, I could grow BdB in my backyard in downtown Houston if I wanted to, but I can’t do that with Viognier.
Thanks for the comments,
I would suggest that Blanc Du Bois be grown only in those areas where vinifera cultivation is untenable due to Pierce’s Disease. The reason being that Blanc du Bois is a Pierce’s Disease tolerant grape. If grown adjacent to or very near vitis vinifera vines then the BdB vines will become a reservoir of Xylella bacterium that will assure the destruction of your vinifera at some point, Admire or no Admire. That being said BdB opens up huge areas of Texas, and for that matter the deep South, to viticulture where it would not otherwise be possible.
Recently had Raymond Haaks Reserve Blanc du Bois, 2010, courtesy of Jim Baker and Raymond Haak and found it to be a lovely wine with a lot of very Riesling/Albarino like qualities. For those areas where PD pressure precludes any but the tolerant varieties BdB is a great choice for a white wine grape. And like so many varieties now grown in Texas it broadens consumer awareness that Cabernet, Chardonnay and Merlot are not the only varieties that can make great wines.
Thanks for your comments. It’s interesting that there have been several BdB and Lenoir vineyards.planted in the Hill Country as a safer option to PD susceptible vinifera. Any data on what risk they pose to nearby vineyards growing vinifera grapes?
Great post on Blanc du Bois, I have long thought that this was a grape that needed to have a spotlight shown on it, glad to see you giving it a nod. I am confident that as Texas winemakers experiment more and more with this varietal it will surely prove to be a go to grape for not only single varietal style wine but also for blends. We planted some of these vines around the Cabernet Grill restaurant in Fredericksburg and even with the severe drought we are in, these vines have produced in a prolific fashion.
Two winemakers that I have on our all Texas wine list that need attention are Paula Williamson at Chisholm Trail Winery for her Belle Star Blanc du bois, and Ken Maxwell with Torre di Pietra for his Porto Blanco made with Blanc du Bois grapes. The Belle Star has great Rio Grande Valley red grapefruit notes, while the Torre di Pietra Porto is flush with honey and fig. Both great examples of the variety of flavors that can be pulled from Blanc du Bois.
Thanks for mentioning Chisholm Trail Winery’s BdB, I did fail to include it in my list. This just a testament to the number of winemakers working with BdB in Texas and the need to plant for of it here.
If anyone else has the names of other wineries with BdB wines, please post.
Thanks for the BdB testimonial! I really love reading the the words or hearing anyone speak nicely about BdB. It is sort of like hearing from a new convert that has been baptized in BdB!
I could not have spoken your words any better. Some early negative comments about BdB was that “it did not have name recognition or no one new what it was or what it would taste like?” Very few wine consumers have heard of Viognier, Tempranillo, dolcetto, Rousanne, etc and yet these are the varietals that seem to be prospering well in Texas. The proof comes when BdB is tasted blind against well known varietals and regions of the world. In an international wine competition, a large winery in Florida entered their BdB in the Sauvignon Blanc Category for fun and the judges awarded it a Gold medal!
Sometimes a good wine is not a good wine until the right person discovers it!
Cheers & Ciao!
Jim’s post is partially correct about BdB being tolerant to PD because it is. However, it is not a magnet to PD, it only survives with the bactrium in its xylem. If any vineyard had PD near it in local host plants the vinifera living in that vineyard is just as susceptible to contract PD from the hosts as it is from BdB. The point I believe Jim was making is that beign a host itself it needs to be cleared/cleaned of PD prior to planting it in a non-PD zone.
Market ID is soooo tough. Up Here on The High Plains we have experimental data on 250 or so white vinifera. Which one will wear the crown as “our” grape. Melon? Trebbiano? R-cats? Above 3800 ft. Riesling sure looks good. Roussanne, Marsanne, and Viognier look good “down South” in Terry County. Up North in Bailey County, Scheurebe anyone? Jed Steele’s winery in Lake County CALIFORNIA buys Aligote from WASHINGTON state. It would grow up there. We have 4 million acres of crop land to play with. CA has 590 K of wine grapes. If we can ever get traction in the market, boy could we ever rock!
OK, Texas is big enough to have two “National” grape varieties. I’ve picked Blanc Du Bois because it can be grown anywhere and it makes wine that quench the hell out of this bloody hot place! What would be the other national grape of Texas?
Another great Blanc Du Bois article, Russ. And I’d believed all along that the variety was named for Blanche DuBois, that flower of the Southern woodlands, how appropriate, I thought.
But the lineage of our Golden Girl is more complicated than Ms. Abby Wine could have guessed. First, there is no Muscadine in there at all, and second, Golden Muscat is actually a Muscat Hamburg X Diamond hybrid, per the great German site VIVC, http://www.vivc.de/index.php?r=passport%2Fview&id=4881 And all this complication is without delving into where the Cardinal is coming from.
Muscat Hamburg = Trollinger – aka Schiava Grossa X Muscat of Alexandria
Muscat of Alexandria = Muscat a Petits Grains X Heptakilo
Diamond = Concord X Iona
Concord = Catawba X Vitis Labrusca Linne
Catawba = Vitis Labrusca Linne X Semillon
Iona = Diana O.P.
Diana = Catawba O.P.
Catawba = Vitis Labrusca Linne X Semillon
Pixiola = Vitis Simpsonii Munson O.P.
Vitis Simpsonii Munson aka Vitis cinerea var. floridana Munson