A winemaker, a master sommelier, and a chef walk into a bar. (Or, in this time of the coronavirus, a Zoom meeting.) While this may sound like the start of a cheesy joke, the end result is a serious one: a new Texas wine that will benefit the many restaurant industry professionals who have lost their livelihoods during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Now for sale online, the Wanderer Series Relief Project cinsault ($20) will hit shelves at H-E-B, Kroger, Central Market, Twin Liquors, Whole Foods Market, and several independent bottle shops within a week.
The project is a collaboration between Hill Country winery William Chris Vineyards and Austin-based master sommelier Craig Collins. Collins had long admired William Chris’s wines and had been kicking around the idea of a collaborative project with Chris Brundrett, the winery’s co-owner. He had even tasted multiple samples of wines with Brundrett in the winery’s cellar. But it wasn’t until restaurants and bars began closing their doors in March that a clear vision came into view for both of them.
“Watching my friends close restaurants and furlough employees at the onset of this was horrible,” Collins says. “I felt so helpless to do anything. But when Chris and I started talking, we realized we could put our hypothetical conversations about making a wine together to good use.”
The two quickly came up with the idea of releasing a wine that could benefit their friends in need. Collins had remembered tasting a distinctive cinsault that had been aging in a concrete tank in the cellar.
“It was so fresh and tart and lively,” he says. “The kind of red wine Texans should be drinking all summer.”
Brundrett worked with him to blend out the wine with a touch of mourvèdre (about 5 percent) for a little added depth. The resulting wine is indeed fresh, with chewy notes of cranberry and raspberry framed with pretty floral aromas and an appealing savory finish. It’s delicious. And when served with a bit of a chill (twenty minutes in the fridge), this refreshing, low-alcohol red will disappear before you realize it.
“Wine is about community, and our brothers and sisters in the restaurant and bar industry are an important part of that community,” Brundrett says. “We knew if we did something, it would have to be a focused pitch that had to hit a home run to get help to the people who need it most.”
The project quickly drew support from national vendors, including Fortis Solutions Group, Berlin Packaging, Lafitte Cork & Capsule, G3 Enterprises, and Oeneo-DIAM. They stepped up to donate glass bottles, corks, and foil capsules, while Austin-based Canales & Co. designed the labels. Victory Wine Group is handling distribution. After just four weeks of planning, the wine was ready for release. All Collins and Brundrett needed was a way to get their profits appropriately dispersed.
The final piece of the puzzle was Chris Shepherd, a James Beard Award-winning Houston chef who owns UB Preserv, Georgia James, and One Fifth Houston. His Southern Smoke Foundation has been a catalyst in the food and beverage industry, supporting hospitality professionals in need since 2015; during the pandemic, the group has donated more than $1.2 million in relief aid. All profits from the sale of the cinsault will go to the foundation to benefit the Texas hospitality industry.
“I truly love William Chris wines,” says Shepherd. “And Craig Collins has been a good friend for a long time. We’re honored and humbled that they’ve chosen Southern Smoke as the beneficiary of the Wanderer Series Relief Project.”
As a bonus, YETI has contributed to the cause, offering two wine tumblers as part of a “Relief Wine 11-pack” for $220.
William Chris is only one of the many wineries, distilleries, and breweries that have shifted their focus to help others in the industry, even in the wake of their own difficulties.
Garrison Brothers Distillery’s Operation Crush COVID-19 campaign is raising funds for the veteran-led disaster response organization Team Rubicon through the sale of their special-release, eight-year-old bourbon, Laguna Madre. Bottles of this rare Texas bourbon are on offer for $1,000. And in Houston, Karbach Brewing Company and Saint Arnold Brewing Company have both hosted meals for out-of-work food and beverage professionals through Houston Shift Meal.
Numerous distilleries have also halted production of spirits and pivoted to making hand sanitizer for health care workers, law enforcement agencies, and first responders. The list includes Deep Eddy Vodka, Desert Door, MKT Distillery, Ironroot Republic, Blackland Distillery, and many more.