Rae Wilson is a young Austin wine business professional and winemaker with her wine brands – Dandy Rosé, Grower Project (since 2015, in collaboration with Lost Draw Cellars’ Andrew Sides) and La Valentía under the banner of wineforthepeople.com. Recently, she brought her wines to Houston’s Montrose Cheese and Wine, and what better way to taste her wines but right here ”in the hood” within walking distance of my urban Houston homestead.
I first learned of Rae’s wine savvy while researching my story for Edible Houston titled, ”Young Turks – Texas Winemakers with New Ideas”. As she described back then, “I came to Texas with experience in restaurants and wine study in California but primarily to help a friend, but found a need for consulting services from wineries in helping them sort out market strategies.” She had a strong feeling that Texas winemakers were spending too much time apologizing for what Texas wine “ISN’T” rather than embracing what Texas wine “IS”. Her creative spark lit the fuse that started the explosion in Texas rosé wines.
She started with her first brand and her Montrose tasting with Dandy Rosé – made with Texas-grown Southern French varieties (this one 100% Mourvèdre from Fire Oak Vineyards, Mill County, Texas) and a unique sparkle and charm that is strong on red-berries and laced with herbs and minerals. As Rae recalled, ”I wanted to show Texas winemakers that rosé wines are a perfect entry point into the marketplace. Rosé’s are a perfect fit for the climate and lifestyle in Texas and they can be made from a range of red grape varieties that grow well here.” When I asked her how she got winemakers to buy-in to her rosé wine focus, she said, ”I just kept talking to them and sometimes it escalated to the yell before they got the message. Then, I figured that I needed to go out and make one myself.”
To the Montrose tasting, Rae also brought three of her La Valentia wines – a Chenin Blanc, a Carignan, and a Syrah blend. All were varietally spot on, with small batch quality, and were exciting to taste. The palate popper for me was her La Valentia, Chenin Blanc made from grapes harvested from Gary Gilstrap’s 26 year old Texas Hills Vineyards (Texas Hill Country, Blanco County). The aroma was light yet welcoming with Meyer lemon and jasmine. The wine evolved further on the palate with green apple, melon and minerals with a hint of tangerine on the finish.
Rae’s Chenin Blanc really lit me up. Being in the Montrose cheese shop, I decided to purchase a bottle of this wine to take home with me along with some French goat cheese and Spanish sheep’s milk cheese and a crispy baguette. On this fine Spring evening, once home, I set out my purchases on the outdoor patio table with patio party lights shining overhead. Then, my wife and I opened the bottle, sliced the bread and cheese and shared a wonderful and opportunistic moment together. What better way to enjoy Texas wine.
With a follow up email I asked Rae a question: What made her want to make this Texas Chenin Blanc? What inspired the wine and what surprised her about this particular grape variety in Texas? Rae said, ”It’s always been one of my favorite varieties. It’s typically grown in cooler climates in France, but it can also thrive in warmer areas in South Africa and Australia. I was surprised how well It maintains its acids well even in a warmer climate like the Texas Hill Country. That’s one of the things I look for in varieties I work with – good acidity.” Rae continued, “After tasting some memorable Texas Chenin, I went looking for established vineyards to work with. I make a sparkling wine from the Martin Vineyard (Ropesville, Texas High Plains AVA, planted in 1972). I made this still wine from Texas Hills Vineyard (Johnson City, Texas Hill Country AVA, planted in 1996).