Texas’ Self-Proclaimed Wine Czar Speaks: "What’s Good for Languedoc, is Good for Texas. It's Time for TxQA"

Texas’  Self-Proclaimed Wine Czar Speaks: “What’s Good for Languedoc, is Good for Texas It’s Time for TxQA”

Drinks Business (www.thedrinksbusiness.com) recently reported….

Building upon the AOC Languedoc base first established in 2007, two new tiers have now been created: Grands Vins du Languedoc and Grands Crus du Languedoc, in a move that the industry hopes will demonstrate its improved quality rather than confuse drinkers with further fragmentation of the appellation.

Those appellations qualifying for the Grands Vins du Languedoc tier are: Minervois, Corbières, Saint Chinian, Limoux sparkling wines, Malepère, Faugères, Cabardès, Muscats and part of the Terroirs de Coteaux du Languedoc, to include Picpoul de Pinet.  The higher Grands Crus du Languedoc tier encompasses Minervois La Livinière, Corbières Boutenac, Saint Chinian Roquebrun, Terrasses du Larzac, Grès du Montpellier, Pic Saint Loup, Pézenas, La Clape and still wines from Limoux.

Each category has been determined by its economic value, with a requirement to respect strict regulations. More at:

http://www.thedrinksbusiness.com/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=11587&Itemid=66

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As Texas’ self-proclaimed Wine Czar, I say….”What’s good for Languedoc, is good for Texas. It’s time for TxQA.”

Both are wine producing regions that are struggling for credibility and building a reputation in a very crowded marketplace. Finally, it looks like AOC Languedoc in the south of France has found its path forward. It’s now time for a TxQA.

Alas, in Texas, consumers still have to sort through an increasing number of wineries and brand names, some that do a good job on their wine quality and some that don’t. The real problem is that some Texas wineries that don’t do a particular focus on their wine quality are on the “main drag” that brings considerable consumer traffic, thus bring down all Texas wineries, not just themselves. Other wineries hide the fact that they offer wines in major retail outlets throughout the state that are made from grapes and/or juice that come from outside Texas using the back-label misrepresentation “For Sale in Texas Only (FSITO)”.

[I say this is representation because, it is purposely confusing. The common belief among many wine consumers – that I have talked to that are NOT wine geeks – is that FSITO wines are special Texas products for Texans only. While FSITO is per federal TTB regulations, the actual situation couldn’t be farther from the truth; out of state grapes, plain and simple. Maybe “misrepresentation” isn’t the correct word, and maybe you can give me a better word from your personal lexicon. Perhaps “deceptive” is a better word. Wouldn’t “American Appellation” be more technically correct? That is if the label is to be clearly and easily read and understood by consumers.]

How can consumers of Texas wine, who really aren’t wine geeks, walk into their favorite store, market or wine shop and know which wines are made from Texas grapes and exhibit at least a reasonable level of quality. Right now, it’s something more like a crapshoot!

In the Drinks Business article, the key point is held in the line “Each category has ….. a requirement to respect strict regulations”. These regulations include measures to control wine quality and help wineries in managing their production and sales strategies, as well as communication and promotional programs designed to improve sales.

In Texas, we already have an excellent wine marketing support program, run as the Texas Wine Marketing Assistance Program under the auspices of the Texas Department of Agriculture (www.GoTexanWine.org). We even have a state-run extension service and a research program. However, nowhere on the horizon, do we have a wine quality program that sets a bar above which a wine could be, in a simple straightforward manner, acknowledged as a quality wine.

My proposal is that in Texas we adopt a wine quality program that is something more like what is found in Ontario Canada known as the Vintners Quality Alliance (VQA); see: www.vqaontario.com. However, both the French and Canadian program are government run. This is something that our free-enterprise system in the United State (and especially in Texas) is a non-starter. What I am talking about here is an opt-in program, something that a winery could decide to participate in, or not.

Under the sponsorship of a Texas Wine Quality Alliance (TxQA), wine could be evaluated by a series of chemical analyses and would have to meet certain limits. This approach could incorporate parameters that relate to flaws. For example, two such common flaws are volatile acidity and microbial action. Additionally, a panel of non-affiliated experts would run this program and be selected to also provide sensory evaluations. Best of all, the program would be self-funded derived from a reasonable fee on every wine submitted for evaluation.

Being an opt-in program, the market would be left to prevail. Wines that meet or exceed the TxQA quality bar would receive the right to use a bottle sticker saying (TxQA – Quality Texas Wine). The, wineries could then decide to participate or not depending if they felt it would benefit their wine’s market position. Alternatively, they might choose to seek TxQA for some wines and not others, depending on their needs.

I think that the time for Texas wine quality is here. We are in a banner year for Texas vineyards after a near perfect vintage. Some have dubbed this year of 2010, the “Vintage of the Century” for Texas wine. What better time to get to work, in this notably agricultural state, to separate the wheat from the chaff; or more appropriately to separate the premium wines from the swill.

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For previous Texas Wine Czar proclamations, go to: http://vintagetexas.com/blog/?p=1192.

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15 Comments

  1. Really interesting idea. You are absolutely right about the program having to be voluntary. No way any other approach would fly in the US, let alone Texas.

    I think that something along these lines needs to happen to establish Texas reputation as a quality wine producer. Systems like this have worked well all over the world, and I think it could work here too. It would separate the wheat from the chaff, so to speak, and would give consumers an objective indicator of quality Texas wines.

    Really great think piece that I hope makes it’s way in front of the right eyes to push something like this to become reality.

  2. OK, now you’ve done it. You’ve “outed” the “For Sale In Texas Only” as a misrepresentation.

    Those who use out of state grapes to make wine under a Texas label have limited options. They can either state the true origin of the grapes (Lodi, Sierra Foothills, whatever), they can call it American (which has absolutely no cache) or they can apply for the label exception “For Sale In Texas Only”, a clearly defined TTB term, and let people think it’s a Texas wine while not actually stating that it is. I have heard absolutely NOBODY who uses this designation tell the consumer without prompting that the wine is not made from Texas grapes.

    I, as a Texas wine producer, have been loathe to point out that some of my colleagues are not being truly honest about their grape, or for that matter bottled wine, sources. Many who do this are laboring under the assumption that the consumer has no real interest in where the grapes come from as long as the wine is good. While there is some truth in that point of view it has long been my opinion that with respect to labeling information the source of the grapes in the wine is second in importance only to the name of the winery. The practice is particularly offensive when there is other stuff printed on the label to suggest that the contents are truly a Texas product. But maybe that’s just me, I’m a wine geek and I think geography matters.

    There was a recent instance where a shiner purchased from California had a Texas label applied and did extremely well in a wine competition earning a gold medal, even though the entering winery had nothing to do with the production of the wine other than applying the label. Instances such as this make a mockery of our labeling laws. I would further suggest that any reputable wine competition should have rules that preclude this type of result.

    Your idea of a Texas wine quality alliance is a good one and perhaps one whose time has come. Alamosa would gladly participate provided that the endorsements provided by the alliance are truly meaningful and that adequate thought is put into the process by which those endorsements are bestowed. I have ideas on the subject and would be glad to participate in the formation of the governing body if asked.

    Jim Johnson
    Alamosa Wine Cellars
    Bend, Texas

    • Jim, you, as always, have the right thing to say at the right time. You have put it succinctly…it’s about time to out the unscrupulous wine “producers” here in Texas as what they are — scammers. They’re not producing Texas wines, so they shouldn’t be legally allowed to label it as such. I’ve always know you, & Alamosa, to produce excellent, cutting-edge TEXAS wines. Why should you, or any other REAL producer of REAL Texas wines have to compete against cheap Cali crap masquerading as Texas wine. Here here! Keep up the good work, my friend! Cheers, Buckley

  3. Thanks for both of you for your comments.

    To move this concept forward we need to indentify a venue and a working group that can bring together ideas and established models for this effort that can be adapted to this opt-in program.

    About six years ago, I was working on some organizational documents for such as group, but it the effort for several reasons, lost steam.

    Maybe now is the time to move of it again.

    Consummers, winemakers, growers, let me know your comments and suggestions, either as comments on this blog or privately by email.

  4. Mr Johnson speaks the truth about the “For sale in Texas Only” labeling! I have also seen this and know of some of these competitors that he speaks of.
    I totally agree with you on the TXQA however I think the TABC may not like this. The reason being is that they keep these lax wine laws here in Texas because its a revenue generator. The TABC does not care where the grapes are from they just want the revenue. And many wineries here in Texas that are in dry counties have to have 75% local juice and these “impostors” who are in wet areas do not have to abide by it. I think the first order is that these TXQA’s must have a minimum amount of Tx juice on hand at all times.

    I have also educated several consumers about how the wines that they call “Texas wines” and not of Texas grapes. Funny yesterday I was having this conversation with a wine steward in whole foods regarding what was Texas wine and what is not. Half of their wines in the “Texas” section were from non-Texas grapes. I He was looking at the labels going “WOW thats not from Texas is it”
    However Alamosa was there! and I was proud to point out that their wines were 100% Texas! And 100% Texas Terrior to boot!

    When the wine stewards in the wine stores do not know what is a Texas wine and what is not you know you have a problem.
    TXQA is a great idea however I would think that price is going to become an issue. Many who become part of the TXQA alliance might want to charge more for their wines simply because they tote the badge. Albeit that they are higher quality, but we all know that price moves wine more than quality (ie: Llano’s blush/Sweet Red/ Ste Genevieve ect.
    And what would justify someone getting the badge.
    I once thought the Go Texan Label stood for 100% Texan but later found out that a winery (which is in a wet area) who has had several bad years here in Texas is not currently selling 1 single wine from Texas. Yet the TDA is allowing them to still use the Go Texan labeling as well as the support from the Go Texan membership. Why? because the keep paying the membership dues. This is wrong and I lost my belief in the TDA for not policing these “impostors”
    By the way when I pointed this out to the TDA they did nothing about it and did not pull their membership.
    Something has to be done and the TXQA is a step in the right direction. I know that there would be many real Texas wineries out there that would jump on this because they are tired of competing with the “For Sale in Texas Only” crowd
    I just have to say the largest slam I thought to the Texas wine industry was when Ed’s Smooth Red was listed as a Texas wine on the today show. So sad….

  5. Great post Russ. I have thought about this idea for the past year. There needs to be a barometer for quality in the state for Texas Wines. We need to inform customers and supporters of Texas Wine what FSITO is and what it really means any chance that we get.

    I feel that if we kept the philosophy of “Texas wine should promote Texas agriculture and have a sense of place in Texas” then we would be moving in the right direction. I would love to help support this movement in any way I can. Please keep me posted if you get a start up!

    Bill Elsey
    Duchman Family Winery

    • Once I get my book project wrapped up, I am going to try to call some sort of meeting together at a convenient forum (maybe TWGGA early next year) to discuss the possibilities for a TxQA system.

      Russ

    • I think that the 200K was directed for grape and wine research with the aim of improving wine quality. It was not to develop a wine quality program for differentiating commercial wines.

      This has not been done in Texas as yet, as far as I know.

      Russ

  6. “Additionally, a panel of non-affiliated experts would run this program and be selected to also provide sensory evaluations.”

    Russ, my friend — I didn’t know one of your hobbies was defending yourself from lawsuits from disgruntled winemakers.

    The issue is not whether this is a good idea or not. It is. The issue is whether a workable system can be set up (and this doesn’t include funding, which is more problematical than you suggest).

    The Italian system, if not a joke, is certainly a giggle. As our pal Alfonso Cevola has noted, they don’t even know how many DOCGs they have (let alone that some IGT wines are better than the DOCG wines).

    Yes, the French system works — sort of. But even they have significant problems, and that there has been just one change in the main Bordeaux classification system since it started in 1855 is just the most obvious one. And even the French, who are not supposed to be as litigious as we are, sue when they don’t like what happens. There have been several such suits — very messy — over the past couple of years.

    And Texas is not France. The industry isn’t as mature or as sophisticated here as it there, and I’ll be honest: Can you think of one winemaker who would participate in a Texas quality program who wouldn’t expect to be in the highest tier for each of their wines?

    • I’m with ya brother. But, I think that a two step process might be more workable. Step one is to submit wines to a suite of analyses. This way the really bad, out-of-whack wines are excluded frmo the start. Then in step two, the wines that pass step one are evaluated by a panel of experts. However, in advance the panel memebers need to have been qualified with a certain level of training in the identification of wine flaws.

      Russ

  7. Jeff, Jeff, I don’t think lawsuits should be a problem. This is not a new idea, a number of winegrowing regions have similar programs and it would probably be wise for us to take some of the best features of each to incorporate into a Texas program.

    I think participation by the winery would be by contract. The contract should include a hold harmless clause preventing a winery from litigating against the sanctioning body and should also include provisions requiring the sanctioning body to observe strict rules of confidentiality with respect to reasons for rejecting submitted wines. The process should essentially be a go/no go decision wherein the sanction is granted or declined without comment in either case. This is necessary to 1) preserve winery motivation to participate, 2) avoid calling attention to flawed wines and 3) avoid situations where a wine is not showing particularly well on judgement day but outgrows whatever condition caused it to be rejected. Up to 3 resubmissions should be permissable.

    Principle judging criteria should be 1) 100% Texas fruit, 2) absence of significant winemaking flaws, and 3) varietal typicity.

    Just a few ideas to start, you may have others, either complementing of conflicting. No matter, the dialogue has begun.

    Jim Johnson
    Alamosa Wine Cellars
    Bend, Texas

  8. So it’s more than a year later and I haven’t heard anything more. Have I missed an announcement or like so many TrulyExcellent ideas has this one died on the vine? (Sorry I couldn’t help myself).

    I’m a consumer. I truly enjoy wine and I’ve tried to educate myself where ever I can, but I too thought that “Go Texan” meant that the product was from Texas.

    I spent 2 days this Thanksgiving visiting Hill Country Wineries and learned to ask, “Are these Texas grapes?” Then I learned to ask, Where in Texas do they come from?”

    I would love to see a TXQA, heck, I’d even be happy to serve as Ye Local Consumer.

    Please let me know this isn’t just going to not happen.

    Liz Biss
    Houston, TX

  9. Russ,

    GREAT Idea! How do we make this happen? Or at least promote the idea? I realize it’s been over a year since you proposed it and may think it can’t get any traction, but the market’s a bit bigger now with some *really good* wineries. Could we perhaps prevail on Fall Creek for lab facilities?

    Would like to hear more about this.

    Jim

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