As you stroll through the shelves of various wine aisles on one of your day-to-day wine-shopping ventures, you’ll probably notice them if you haven’t already—the opaque, almost black bottles displaying simple white oval labels with F, I, E, AR, or CA in large lettering on the front. And for a limited time this month, you may spot the latest addition to the lineup: TX.
The wines are a novelty project from famed winemaker Dave Phinney of Orin Swift Cellars in St. Helena, California. In his Napa winemaking career, Phinney has made wines for Robert Mondavi, Opus One, and White Hall. His Orin Swift Cellars has garnered a cult following of wine aficionados who appreciate the bold flavors he blends in the bottle and his eclectic, artistic style.
The Locations brand was a separate project allowing him to select fruit from quality vineyards in specific locations around the world to make wines that reflect the authentic flavors of those regions. Much like the country-coded bumper stickers you may see on cars, the lettered labels represent France, Italy, Spain (España), Argentina, California, and now Texas.
The Texas project was an idea Phinney tossed around with one of Texas’ most reputable winemakers, Kim McPherson of McPherson Cellars. The two met in 2013 at McPherson’s winery in Lubbock and, following a few glasses of wine and dinner at McPherson’s wife’s restaurant La Diosa, had the idea to add a Texas wine to the Locations lineup.
“This is the first step in getting Texas more recognition as a great wine producing region,” says McPherson.
To him, the only way Texas is going to make a name in the global wine market is for Texas wines to be distributed outside of the state. To date, few Texas wines make it outside of the state lines, most being consumed within the Lone Star State. The lack of national distribution is partly due to the small quantity of grapes produced in the state. While McPherson admits it’s a short-term problem, but he doesn’t agree that it’s a reason to hold back.
“Right now, I’ve got just enough that we can at least get wines out there,” says McPherson whose McPherson Cellars label is currently distributed in Washington D.C., Maryland, and South Carolina in addition to Texas. “Getting national distribution helps solidify that we’re bonafide as a serious wine region. I’m getting tired of saying it when I’m traveling to other parts of the country. But if my wines are found in other states, that just helps.”
What’s in the TX wine? A little bit of everything. It’s primarily a Rhône blend—Mourvèdre, Carignan, Cinsaut, Syrah and Grenache—making up about 88 percent of the wine of Texas appellation. To complete the collaboration, the remaining 12 percent is from Phinney’s California stock with Bordeaux reds and Petite Sirah to add rich color and a little more alcohol.
As of last week, the Locations TX wine is on retail shelves throughout the state, but they’re likely to go fast. For this first run, McPherson only produced about 600 cases. Your best bet is to visit a store where you’ve already seen other Locations labels. (Whole Foods Market and independent wine merchants are a good place to start.)
McPherson anticipates that the next release could be within the next year. And it’s likely to be close to double the production of this year. While Phinney has asked for 5,000 cases, a quantity of that size—roughly 50 percent of McPherson Cellars’ overall production—isn’t likely to happen for a few more years.
The demand for McPherson Cellars wines alone has increased his 2015 projected production by 30 percent and he’s relying on friend and business partner Andy Timmons of Lost Draw Vineyards to help provide the fruit to make that happen. To date, Timmons has the most vineyard plantings in the state, but most his vines are young and not quite ready to deliver the bulk of what McPherson needs. In the next two to three years, things will be different.
“This is a start. And I think it’s at the right time for Texas. Having our wines sold in other parts of the country is the sort of thing that will trigger 30,000 acres of vineyards in the state rather than the roughly 4,000 acres we have planted now,” says McPherson. “We’ve just got to pull that trigger.”
Note: Don’t read into the number “3” printed on the back of the label. It’s part of a Locations labeling code. There aren’t any number “1” or “2” wines floating around out there.