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:

Haak Vineyards and Winery

Tara Vineyard Winery

Torre di Pietra

Crump Valley Vineyards

Enoch’s Stomp Vineyard & Winery

Lone Oak Winery

Saddlehorn 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)!

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Love to taste, talk and tweet about Texas wines and where they are in the global scheme for wines. After all that's the only way they will reach the full potential.