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Can Texas Wine Break Into the National Scene?

A new marketing initiative led by some of the state's top wine producers has lofty ambitions of winning over an industry that has largely ignored Texas wines.

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They say there’s strength in numbers, and the new Texas Fine Wine marketing initiative is betting on it. Four of the state’s top wine producers, including Bending Branch Winery, Brennan Vineyards, Duchman Family Winery, and Pedernales Cellars, are partnering together to to help redefine the perception of Texas wine both in and outside of the state.

This four-winery partnership is the first of its kind in the state, and they plan to leverage their collective status as some of the state’s top producers to spread the message that Texas is home to top-tier wines. 

This initiative fills a gap left by the Texas Department of Agriculture (TDA), which used to fund a massive marketing program to help promote all Texas wineries across the state. A few years ago, that funding was cut and most of the major marketing initiatives dried up. Despite some attempting to revive the state funding, the ultimate result was a number of large and small wineries left to market themselves, a costly proposition. But it’s something the Texas Fine Wine partnership feels is the necessary step to move their respective wineries forward in the global wine sphere. 

“The Texas wine industry benefited tremendously from TDA,” says Jeff Ogle, general manager for Duchman Family Winery. “While we are all still actively seeking to reinstate TDA funds to support a growing industry, those of us in the Texas Fine Wine group realize that our efforts cannot be dependent on state funding. Holding our breath to wait on state funding is a poor strategy.”

The initial goal of Texas Fine Wine is to get wine in front of key influencers who help shape consumer perception on wine, namely restaurant sommeliers and select fine wine retailers.

“The myth that only quality wine in the U.S. comes from California needs to be demystified,” says John Rivenburgh, co-founder of Bending Branch Winery. “When tasted, our wines speak well for themselves with both consumers and wine professionals. We’ve proven that in the competitions we chose to enter.”

For Pedernales Cellars’ co-founder Fredrik Osterberg, Texas Fine Wine needs to do more than display the local industry’s collection of medals; it needs to share the story of Texas’s viticultural history.

“We’ve got a story for Texas wine that can stand up to other global producers,” said Fredrik Osterberg, co-owner of Pedernales Cellars. “Getting our wines to those who make the buying decisions for wine lists and retail shelves, is what can make a difference for us. They ultimately have to stand behind the wines they choose because in the end, it’s their bottom line if they can’t sell it.”

“As a group, we are fairly small producers, but all of us aspire to someday sell our wines outside of Texas. In order to do that, we need to begin building awareness on a national level,” said Ogle. “If we can create some exposure for our wines, then I hope we can later say that this group effort helped open the door for other quality-driven wineries in the state.”

Just like California roughly four decades ago, the Texas wine industry is looking for a big break. For California, that break came in 1976 when two California wineries, Stag’s Leap and Chateau Montelena, sent their Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay to France to be evaluated by French experts in a blind tasting. Not only did the two wines win the tasting, but the event brought respect to California wine producers who had long been ignored the global market.

“I remember clearly when California wine was regarded as second class, but when Stags’ Leap and Chateau Montelena won the ‘Judgement of Paris’ in the seventies, that changed things dramatically for California wine and I think something like that can happen for Texas,” said Pat Brennan, owner of Brennan Vineyards, which opened in 2005. “When we got into this business, my long-time friend Richard Becker of Becker Vineyards told me there was enough junk wine out there in Texas and that if we were going to get in the game, we better commit to making good wine.”

Within the past year alone, these four wineries have amassed a collection of more than thirty gold-level awards from some of the world’s most prestigious wine competitions, including the San Francisco International Wine Competition, the Dallas Morning News/TEXSOM Wine Competition, and the Lyon France International Wine Competition.

“Over the years, the quality has improved dramatically, but we still run into consumers and restaurants who turn their nose up at Texas wine,” Brennan said. “Putting a marketing group together like this isn’t about trying to say we’re the only good wineries in Texas. There are a lot of people making great Texas wine. But we are working together to help each other change that perception and get the word out that Texas can make world class wines.”

The timing couldn’t be better. The Texas wine industry has been chugging along for well over forty years, and until recently, it’s been largely marked by a number of ho-hum releases. But in the last decade or so, the quality of wine has substantially improved. Many people attribute this to a new philosophy among winemakers and grape growers to plant vines better suited for Texas’ warm climate and varied soils. But it also has a lot to do with a strong contingency of those who know what good wine is and are committed to making nothing short of the best.

It will likely take a few more years of growing and testing various grape varieties in Texas’ soil before the local industry can zero in on the best vines for the state, but so far, single variety and blend red wines made from Tempranillo, Mourvedre, Syrah, Touriga Nacional, Tannat, Sangiovese and a list of other Mediterranean varieties are making a statement. White wines made from Viognier, Roussanne, Vermentino, Trebbiano, and Grenache Blanc also produce acclaimed wines.

“It’s clear that Texas grape growers have identified several new varieties that thrive in our Texas terroir,” said Rivenburgh. “To me it’s like a toddler’s development from the age of 3 to 4. One day they just ‘get it’ and have found their identity. I think we, the Texas wine industry, are at that point and now is the time to reveal this new generation of outstanding Texas wines to broader markets.”

“This is a group of wineries I’m happy to be standing shoulder to shoulder with,” says Osterberg. “We’re doing amazing things in Texas, and in the grand scheme of things, we’re just getting started.”

 

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