I never cared much for Texas. It’s too humid along the coast, too dry as you move farther north and west, and has only three seasons: hot, hotter, and hotter ’n hell. So getting out of my home state of 22 years should have been a welcome vacation. Instead, I’ve come down with a severe case of nostalgia. I miss breaking out into a sweat seconds after getting out of my car. I hunger for chicken fried steak with a side of sweet tea. And I long for something I took a fancy to not long before leaving Texas—its wine.
“Texas has wine?” a friend recently asked me upon viewing a poster of the Lone Star State’s wine regions and wineries in the kitchen of my everything-is-smaller-outside-of-Texas apartment. My friend’s reaction was nothing new. Despite the fact that Texas boasts more than 150 wineries and is growing in popularity as a wine destination (number two behind Napa, according to the Orbitz Insider Index), many people aren’t that familiar with the state’s many offerings.
The Austin Wine Festival hopes to change that. From May 23 through May 25 more than eight thousand oenophiles will descend on eleven acres in Austin to attend seminars, taste wine, listen to music, and eat good food. “The whole point of the festival is to create an environment where people can . . . learn about the wines that are out there,” says Bill Skrapits, a Texas wine expert. “There are great wines here. People just don’t know about them.”
Approximately 95 percent of Texas wine is sold in-state, and producers can’t keep up with the high demand. Vintners sell mostly from their tasting rooms or through local retailers, but until these wineries expand and mature, they won’t need to look beyond state lines. “If you don’t have to sell out of state, then why do it?” says Ed Hellman, a professor of viticulture at Texas Tech University. “It’s not that the opportunity isn’t there, it’s just that it has to fit the business situation—and for a lot of wineries, doing that in a big way doesn’t make sense right now.”
Texas Tech is trying to encourage growth by ramping up its wine and grape education program. In the fall, the university will add a degree specialization in viticulture and enology, the first of its kind in the state. Most experts realize that growing the industry to full capacity will take several years. But for now, the buzz around Texas wine, like my case of nostalgia, is swelling. And that’s a good reason to say cheers.