March 26, 2015

Back in the Texas Hill Country

I'm back in the hill country outside Austin, TX, visiting in-laws with my wife and kids. It's been a few years since I was last here and I've been quickly reminded about something I blogged some years back that really annoys me and is worth revisiting.

Lots of "local" Texas wine isn't local wine at all, and it's really hard for consumers to know. If you're in Texas and want wine from Texas-grown grapes, look for the words "For sales in Texas only" on any local winery label, and then make sure you put that wine back on the shelf and keep looking.

"For sale in Texas only" on the label means that wine is not 100% from Texas grapes, if any Texas grapes were used at all.

Obvious, right?

It's true, the hot, often humid climate here is a tough environment to grow vinifera grapes (the mostly Eurpoean varieties we all know and mostly love - cabernet, pinot, chardonnay, etc).

It's also true that many states across our country not named California import some grapes or finished wine from my native golden state. It's just that many times they'll admit it, or at least not have some obscure designation that hides the truth.

I only learned this through my own experiences tasting "Texas" wines over the years. In-laws would proudly pour me "local" wine, but I couldn't believe the wines actually came from here. They simply didn't taste like it, and then the labels didn't say it either but they didn't say anything about where the grapes came from. Just the for sale in Texas only designation, which I researched and found the truth.

How disappointing. It's frankly shameful and, especially in the name of promoting Texas wines by helping local producers quietly fill out their production with non-local wine, it does such a disservice to Texas wine.

People thinking they're drinking the real thing, but really getting duped, that isn't any way to build an industry. I wish Texas would do better here.

Why? Because there is good Texas wine, from actual Texas grapes, grown in the incredibly lovely, rocky limestone soils all over this state that are worth trying.

I'll admit, I haven't tried too much I would recommend in the traditional sense (this is fabulous, you should search it out where ever you are!). And I haven't tried much of anything that I think was fermented on its own and bottled without filtering or other winery fuss. Please help me if I'm missing under the radar producers.

But there are some good, drinkable wines here that taste best to me in the local setting where they have a context that amplifies their uniqueness and makes them especially memorable.

In my Texas wine experience, that means I look for wines mostly from grapes suited to hotter or at least really sunny climates. Think of the grapes of southern France, Italy, even Corsica, rather than the our typical American favorites like the Cabernet of maritime Bordeaux or the Pinot and Chardonnay of cool Burgundy.

Just make sure you read the label carefully. Good producers will tell you they use Texas grapes. I notice some seem to push that, perhaps to fight back at the obfuscation. Good for them.

[edit - so just after posting this, we went out to dinner with a group of locals. One ordered a bottle of "local" Pinot Grigio for the table and got called out nicely by her friends for always supporting Texas wine. Of course, the back label said it's "American" white wine, meaning the grapes could have come from anywhere in the US. That's not exactly clear about the source but at least it begs a question if anyone is paying attention. Of course I didn't say anything, and what was likely cheap Pinot Gris from California was lauded as "Texas wine" and no one cared. And that's the lesson, no one really cares. And so it goes...]