Update on 100% Texas Labeling Bill HB4233 – Public Testimony

On April 16, 2019, the Texas State Legislative Committee charged with consideration of HB4233, the 100% Texas Labeling Bill, convened a public hearing on the matter (and on many other bills of more significant importance) at the State Capitol in Austin. We participated in the hearing, submitting a written testimony outlining our dissenting view as to why this bill is not in the best interest of the Texas Wine Industry.

I regret I was unable to publicly read my testimony due to a scheduling conflict as the hearing reconvened late Tuesday night, when I was already back in Fredericksburg teaching my Wine course at Texas Tech. The testimony builds on the blog we posted a few weeks ago (on our website at www.SiboneyCellars.com/Passion). As a new, small winery in the Texas Hill Country, we already declare on every label of Siboney Cellars that we use 100% Texas Grapes. We are mindful that our view goes against at least some conventional Industry thinking. That’s OK, being part Cuban, I am quite used to that! All we ask is for respectful consideration of our full view, as we have certainly given this issue careful thought for a number of years, and have come to a comprehensive view and a recommendation for a better path forward. But first, as this is now a political issue and not a wine industry issue, the bill itself has to run its legal course. With that, here is the written Testimony we submitted. And if this resonates with you, please share it and let us know your thoughts. (email: [email protected]) MRL

To the Texas Legislature Committee for HB4233, Emailed to the Committee Hearing on Tuesday April 16, 2019 to: Ms [email protected]

From Miguel and Barbara Lecuona, Siboney Cellars

[Note:  I could not stay for the afternoon session as I have to teach my Wine course at Texas Tech this evening.  Please accept this written testimony on my behalf.]

After hearing the serious issues posed by many other bills brought before this committee in the morning session, I think HB4233 should just be withdrawn, this committee has more important matters to attend to.   

Before I read my statement in opposition to HB4233, I should declare my affiliations, my own label.

  • I am a winery owner in Texas.

  • I am a University Instructor at Texas Tech in Fredericksburg, where I teach two courses – Wine Tourism, and Wine Marketing.

  • I am an independent wine marketing consultant. My clients include William Chris Vineyards, Grape Creek Vineyards, Fall Creek Vineyards, Wine Road 290, and many other wineries and vineyards, on both sides of this issue.

  • I am an international wine journalist for the Union des Grands Crus de Bordeaux, with a Wine MBA from Bordeaux.  

My wife and I started our winery in the Texas Hill Country – Siboney Cellars, in Dripping Springs.  2019 will be our third vintage.  And we make wine with 100% Texas grapes.  We declare it on every label.  No legislation is necessary.  No customers are confused.  Nobody doubts us.

That said, first of all, HB4233 is unnecessary legislation and if enacted, will receive legal challenges. It reaches beyond its stated goal of truth in labeling. It imposes production requirements not present in current TTB law.  And, it appears to be in contradiction with other labeling laws already on the books. This bill will cause distortions, litigation and even more agitation within our already divided industry.  

Apart from the legal hazards, there are other issues — The advocacy for HB4233 attempts to appeal to people by headlining an important wine word, “Terroir”.  Terroir is a French term picked up by the industry to describe a specific location where a wine comes from… Terroir takes its meaning from distinct site, soil, sun, elevation and human interaction in the vineyard with these elements.  It is also defined locally — commune, vineyard, estate, block, the smaller the better. The market has learned to value these distinctions, and will pay a premium for it, often an incredible premium.  

Look, Texans already understand Terroir.  We know about Strawberries from Poteet, Crude Oil from the Permian basin, BBQ from the City Market in Luling.  Kolaches from West. These distinctions matter to consumers, because they are Site-Specific.

Its is the same in wine –  There are grapes from Lost Draw Vineyards in the High Plains.  There are beautiful Merlot vines from the 500 Block of Granite Hill Vineyards in the Texas Hill Country.  There is a world class Syrah made from grapes in the Salt Lick Vineyard next to Onion Creek, rated and verified by world renowned critics.  If we want to use Terroir as a justification for wine labeling, then let’s start at the appellation level where it makes sense.  

We grow grapes from the high plains border of New Mexico, down to the Rio Grande valley, from Fort Davis to Longview… yet Texas has less than 10,000 acres under vine.  Texas is bigger than France, France has 2.3 million acres of grapes.  We are just getting started. In France, if you combined grapes from Burgundy and Bordeaux, it would be 100% French, but you would have a cultural disaster, and de-value the wine itself.  The market is pushing for local – and that means appellations, not countries and states.

HB4233 is not pushing the Texas Wine Industry in the right direction when it comes to the true value Terroir-driven wines.  In Oregon, where red wine industry focuses on Pinot Noir, it makes sense to consider the appeal of a statewide appellation for the same grape, right?  Well, the highly valued consumer market that uses CellarTracker.com database has logged just 5% of all Oregon Pinots with a State appellation.  The other 95% are labeled by appellation, estate or vineyard.  This is also true for California State-Appellated wines, and certainly true for Spain and France. What Terroir-driven consumers pursue is authenticity at the LOCAL point of origin, not the political boundary.  So If you want to talk about Terroir in Texas, then let’s talk about 100% High Plains, or 100% Hill Perissos Estate, or 100% Round Mountain Vineyard.  Then you are talking about site, and origin, and the wine world will listen and be quite interested.  And I have a plan for just that.

There is plenty of interest from everyone in this room in growing more grapes across the state. And we’ve done just that over the past decade, clearly.  But when you look at the fault lines within our industry, created by HB4233, one can’t help but notice something — there are more Texas grapes planted and grown by vineyards and wineries who do not support this bill than by those who do.  This is not a zero-sum, fixed pie situation. And every year, a greater share of grapes is put into a greater number of Texas wines.  When this happens at the appellation level, you will see quality and interest soar to new heights.  And believe me, these farmers and wine growers are every bit 100% Texan as Sam Houston.  The advocacy and opposition forced into the industry by the very existence of HB4233, represents a real threat to the economic vitality of the Texas Wine.

There is an alternate plan that can arrive at a more meaningful, more impactful solution, one that I believe would have more support from more wineries and vineyards, giving our industry a chance to unify, and is in compliance with federal law, true wine origin, and wine quality that is meaningful to wine consumers.  It’s our problem.  We can solve it.  And we will. Drop this bill, return this situation to the industry.  You can find the makings of this alternate plan on the blog at SiboneyCellars.com/Passion.

Thank you for your consideration.

Miguel Lecuona
Siboney Cellars
Wine Marketing Guide
Friend to all Texas Wineries and Vineyards