High Plains Harvest Update - September 2019

Back from our latest trip to the High Plains, and one things for sure, we are picking up the Pace! Catch these highlights fresh from our Syrah Harvest at Lahey Vineyards in the Texas High Plains.

In addition to the vineyard owners who have become essential partners in the creation of our wines, we are working alongside two of our favorite winery owners — Ben Calais of Calais Winery (on US 290 between Hye and Johnson City), and Doug Reed of Hawk’s Shadow Winery (in Dripping Springs). Collaboration is not only a welcome aspect of working in the #txwine industry, it is, to be honest, a business necessity. Small wineries focusing on small-batch, block-levell harvests and single varietal wines often find it advantageous to pool resources on logistics. We do our best to share transportation and trucking costs, delivery dates and coordination, as well as notes on vineyard data and harvest impressions.

And even so, it is still with gratitude that we thank our vineyard partners for working with us — we know we are the new kids on the block, but we will give you our very best efforts to make the best #TxWine possible. Just. You. Wait!

~MRL

Miguel Lecuona
100% Texas Wine Labeling - Now Where Do We Go?

Now that HB4233 died in committee, let me get right to it. 

For three years, we’ve pursued the wrong answer to the right question. In the long run, State-level Appellation wines (100% Oregon, 100% California, even 100% France) are not the most sought-after, defining and collectible wines particularly among consumers who buy, cellar, track and even write about fine wine, and true Wine Origin.  State AVA wines are priced lower, tracked less by collectors and critics, and are not nearly as defining to the reputation of a wine producing region as other wines can be.  State-Appelated wines are less valuable, as a category, than wines designated at AVA, Vineyard, and Estate levels.

Again - know that our heart is in the right place:  Siboney Cellars is 100% Texas Grapes.  In fact we believe so much in Texas and Wine Origin, we just purchased a 52 acre site atop a limestone plateau in the Texas Hill Country.  A site where we will, in fact, pursue Vineyards and Wines of Origin and proudly declare them for Texas - for the Hill Country AVA, for our estate.

But we also stipulate that we should not ask the Texas Congress to legislate a 100% Texas Grape requirement at the state-AVA designated level. Instead, we urge the Texas Wine Industry to pursue a goal of Appellation-level wines to be 100% sourced from Texas Grapes.  

And now that you know the end of the story, let me start from the beginning.  I am doing here what I ask my wine marketing students to do in classes I teach at Texas Tech University in Fredericksburg: write a story grounded on facts.  A story without facts is just opinion.  Facts without a story are boring.  But put both together, and you’ve got a chance to persuade.

HB4233 died in committee

The 2019 Texas Legislative session ended in May, and a couple of bills we are tracking did not receive further action and so have not been passed or even voted on.  Included in the bills that died in committee is HB4233, the “100% Texas” Labeling Bill.  So, where do we go now?

We think there’s a better starting point for labeling and requiring Texas wines to be sourced from 100% Texas Grapes.  And, we think the benefits of doing so will be positive for all, including the consumer.  In fact, it is the wine consumer that is at the heart of this idea.  And the idea is simple:  start at the sub-appellation level for requiring 100% Texas grapes.  

Let me give you a couple of examples, then please let me explain why we think this is a more logical approach. I will back it up with market data for your own assessment.  You will make up your own mind and tell me whether we are on the right track.  

[Note:  I also include a Legislative Recap at the bottom of this post if you’re not already up to speed on the legislative action]

100% Texas - AVA and Vineyard 

Currently, wines designated as Texas High Plains, or the Texas Hill Country, or other Appellation, require 85% of the grapes to come from that AVA.  Neither Federal (TTB) nor State (TABC) law makes a statement about the origin of the remaining 15% - it allows wineries to use grapes from anywhere they want for that last 15%.  I propose we take a first step towards 100% Texas by requiring those remaining 15% grapes to originate from Texas.   

That way, all wines with an sub-AVA are guaranteed to be 100% Texas, with 85% minimum content from the AVA.  

It should be noted that Federal law does not even require imported wines to be 100% sourced from the country of origin.  In fact, TTB law says 75% from the named Appellation of Origin is sufficient, provided the wines conform to those AOC laws (source:  https://www.ttb.gov/appellation/index.shtml)  . 

In other words, the TTB decided it is not going to be the arbiter or enforcer of Terroir, Wines of Origin or authenticity.  TTB is largely a tax-collecting entity applying a uniform regulatory code across a huge domestic industry doing business in a worldwide market.  TABC appears to mirror TTB law in this regard, and they do not push beyond Federal laws without a darn good reason.  And that reason needs to be highly supported by the vast majority of the Texas wine industry for it to become a law they are obliged to enforce (source:  https://www.tabc.state.tx.us/publications/brochures/labels.pdf)

Why do this instead of State AVA @100%?  

Something about the fundamental appeal of a State-Appellated wine category just didn’t resonate.  Because our very wise Texas Congress has punted this issue back to the industry and cannot take up the issue for at least another two years, I thought I would do some upfront research and see where the data took me.  

I pulled up CellarTracker.com to see what the consumer data on wines by Appellation looks like.  Cellar Tracker is a powerful online wine tracking community used by over 600,000 wine consumers. CT users have catalogued 60 Million bottles of wine - logging shared tasting notes, tracking vintages, creating drinking windows, writing and noting critical reviews, even photographing labels as they change throughout time.  As a result, CT provides a wealth of wine consumer ratings, creating an incredible database of Wines by Origin in the process.  I started posting my own tasting notes under the ID “City Wine Journal” in 2008 while studying for a Wine MBA in Bordeaux, and wrote tasting notes for several years on hundreds of wines, accumulating hundreds of thousands of views from CT users in 10 years.

What does the data show?  It clearly shows that fine wines designated at the AVA are much more collectible, more highly regarded, produced in more abundance, and as a result, more valuable than wines designated at state or national levels.  

Here’s what I did.  I examined several wine categories we have discussed over the years in relation to the 100% Texas debate:

  1. Pinot Noir from Oregon

  2. Cabernet Sauvignon from California

  3. Wines from France

  4. Wines from Texas 

I have done the homework for you, so let me tell you what the data shows (and I will publish the numbers separately).

CellarTracker.com findings (as of June 1, 2019):

OREGON

  • Oregon is a common point of comparison for Texas wine, a state pursuing quality and creating label laws more stringent than required by TTB.

  • CellarTracker shows over one 1 million bottles of Oregon Pinot Noir cataloged by thousands of users around the world.

  • Of these, only 3.2% carry a State-Appellation designation.

  • The remaining 96.8% are designated as Oregon Pinot Noirs at an AVA, VIneyard, or Estate level.  

  • In other words, the vast majority of Pinot Noir wines of interest are NOT state-level designated wines.

  • Now, when I cut the data by price, when the search is restricted to premium wines that are $20 and higher, the proportion of State-Appellated wines falls even more, to under 2% of all Oregon Pinots

  • Implication:  Not only are State-appellated Oregon Pinor wines less collectible, and produced in substantially smaller numbers, they are priced lower and do not command a premium price level as compared to AVA, Vineyard, and Estate Oregon Pinots

CALIFORNIA

What about California?  The state with the the most wines tracked in the USA, and the oldest wine appellation designations in the country. How do State-Appellated Cabernet wines compare to wines from sub-appellations like Napa, Sonoma, and Central Coast? The difference is even more pronounced:

  • Over 7.3Million bottles of California Cabernet are logged in CellarTracker.

  • Of these, only 1.6% are “100% California” designated Appellations

  • And above $20?  The proportion drops to 0.3%.  

  • IN other words, virtually nobody is tracking State-appellated California Cabernets above $20.  In fact you may be interested to know there are more Texas wines in total being tracked on CT than California-State-Appellated Cabernet!

FRANCE

Let’s look at France.  There are over 20 million bottles of French wine tracked and cataloged on Cellar Tracker today.  How many proudly say “100% French” at the national level, rather than declaring an AVA?

  • 0.3%  Of the 20M bottles indicated on CT, just 55,000 are Natioanlly Appellated.  The rest are all at the appellation level - Bordeaux, Burgundy, Loire, or many hundreds of sub-communes, vineyards, and estates.

  • And above $20?  Forget it.  0.1%  Just 17,000 bottles with an AOC France designation are cataloged in CT.  That is less than the number of Texas AVA designated wines.

Texas

  • First of all, I was pleased to see Texas wines even referenced in CT, this is a good thing for sure!

  • About 45,000 Texas wines are tracked by CT users.

    • Of these, 33% are State Appellation level, and 66% are AVA or vineyard/Estate designated.

    • Above $20, State Appellated wines drop to 25%.

So even in Texas, the overall theme is consistent with the data from the other regions. This data clearly shows that among the strongest wine consumers in the world, wines designated at the AVA level or vineyard level are much more collectible, more highly regarded, produced in more abundance, and as a result, more valuable than wines designated at state or national levels.  

This data has important implications for industry policy, winery operations, consumer demand, vineyard growth, and even distribution. 

It also tells us another point.  If you look at where “100% State” wines wines are a little less irrelevant, it is in the under-$20 price level.  These are not DTC wines, these are retail wines sold through distribution, competing on the world market on store shelves at HEB, Total Wine, Specs, and many other retailers.

In the under $20 category, the first defining consumer priority is price, the second is volume, the third is consistency and availability, and it all must work at the demands of the retailers in order to even be stocked.  There are hundreds of quality wines below $20.  Many are named-varietal wines.  Many are below $15, and even $10.

This to me is also critical.  Texas is larger than France. Larger than Spain. Yet we have less than 10,000 acres under vine.  France has 2.3M, Spain has 2.9M acres under vine.  California has about 600,000.  

These are mature wine growing regions who can supply the world with nice quality varietal wines at quantities and prices that Texas cannot compete with.  Not yet.  

If you make a law that says, for example, Llano Estacado has to source 100% of its state-appellate retail wines from Texas Vineyards in order to proudly call it a Texas wine, they will have to raise prices, alter blends, and potentially be displaced at retail shelves, or lose margin and lose shelf space.  It will change the economics of their entire value proposition.  It might even put their current Texas vineyard contracts at risk as an unexpected consequence.  Because there simply is not a big enough substitute bulk wine market at the varietal level where large retail wine brands can substitute a Texas source with enough supply, quality and consistency at a price that allows them to compete at those prices.  Not yet.

In other words, the rational choice for Llano would be to maintain its shelf space, and price points, and company profitability, by substituting more out-of-state grapes and abandon Texas grapes in favor of other sources just to maintain its current position.  

Now, Texas vineyard growers are working to meet these quality and volume requirements, and prices will also adjust over time as more acreage comes on line with varietals that meet consumer and supplier demand.  But to put a 100% requirement into law and tell the winery to expect no change in their business practices at the market or consumer or supplier level is naive, and in fact is punitive.  We NEED the Llanos and the Messina Hofs and other Texas Wineries to invest in larger contracts with more acreage planted in Texas.  The 100% Real Texas Wine group is not primarily focused on this market, nor are they sized to seriously drive it, even if they are moving some wine through the channel now, it’s not their main profitability mission. They will continue to play the premium DTC game at the AVA level. And do it exceedingly well.

That’s why this proposal has a certain logical feel to it.  It validates every premium AVA-level Texas wine as 100% authentic. These are wines of distinction and Origin, great wines above $20, sold direct to consumer.  It pursues Terroir at the AVA level, the vineyard level, the block level. 

This idea allows the larger State-AVA and varietal-focused wine producers to compete under price and volume pressures on a worldwide level under $20 while complying with federal and state 75% laws for Texas grapes & varietals.  It leaves them with the means to continue to invest in Texas vineyards  — to increase highly-desired varietal plantings, get more “locally sourced” supply into their product, meet consumer demand for good wine from Texas Wineries under $20, with broad availability. 

We agree: the foundational element of the advocates for 100% Texas wines is spot-on target —  the goal of aligning Origin with Wine labels and appellation is worthy, and valuable.   But now we can see how and where to do it.  It should be done at the appellation level.  And below.  Where Origin matters the most.  Not at the state level.

Let me restate from our first blog post:  

“Our view regarding 100% Texas Wine is clear, and we state it on every bottle.  No Stickers, no Legislation needed.  We will continue to produce amazing Texas Wine. And we are grateful if you count us as a friend of every Texas Winery and Grape Grower, no matter what your position is.  You have our Word.”

Miguel and Barbara Lecuona
Siboney Cellars
Dripping Springs, Texas

Recap: (Skip this if you’re already up to speed on the legislative action)

As you recall, HB4233 would require wineries to use 100% Texas grapes in any wine labeled with the Texas Appellation (not an AVA or vineyard designation, just Texas), with a 5 year phase in.  Currently, the law requires a minimum of 75% Texas fruit for a Texas-Appellated wine, but significantly higher levels for labeling indicating a specific AVA like the High Plains and the Hill Country). Further, it would require the wine to be fully produced here, never leaving the state to finish production, to be labeled as Texas Appellation. This was deleted 1 minute before public testimony began.  It also gave the Texas Agriculture Commissioner the right to allow non-Texas grapes in years where the state harvest is deemed “Insufficient to meet projected production estimates”.  (How that is determined and monitored is unclear, but I doubt the head of the Dept really wants to sit in judgment and referee on such issues).  

Legislative Results.

At the testimony, there were about equal numbers of wineries and testimonials in favor and in opposition, indicating that the industry was clearly divided, not reconciled about the wisdom of legislative action. Siboney Cellars is one 100% Texas Winery that openly, and respectfully, testified in opposition to this particular legislation.  There are others. We have heard from a few after posting our perspective on this issue, too. We are not here to cause a ruckus. We are here to support a more thoughtful, expansive look at the issue of 100% Texas fruit, and forge a solution that is embraced by many more wineries and vineyards.. Following the two legislative failures in 2017 and 2019, and the divide remaining within the Texas Wine Industry, we do think it is time for another option to gain more visibility and consideration. 




Siboney Cellars announces new Texas Hill Country winery site, partnership and expansion plans.

Have you heard the news? Siboney Cellars is coming to Wine Road 290 in the Texas Hill Country!

Yesterday, we announced a new partnership and the acquisition of a 52 acre parcel of land ideally suited for a full Texas Hill Country winery, production facility, tasting room and vineyards. The site is beautiful — a classic Hill Country property featuring a limestone plateau, rolling hills, heritage oaks, a fertile field, stepped terraces suitable for vineyard planting, and over 100 feet of elevation changes, rising to a plateau of 1500 feet.

The new home for Siboney Cellars Is the culmination of a long held vision, made possible by a new partnership we are very blessed to have, and a search that criss-crossed the Hill Country. It is ideally situated for our plans:

  • Location - With frontage directly on Wine Road 290, adjacent to Lewis Wines, the new home for Siboney Cellars is situated between Hye and Johnson City, continuing the development of the eastern corridor of WR290. We look forward to taking our place among the neighboring wineries in the area and participating as a 100% Texas house.

  • Vineyards - this site holds a promise for true Texas Terroir - a term we believe in when it is applied to an appellation or specific location. With limestone plateaus, north-facing terraces, and a soil structure that may prove favorable for vineyard growth, we are excited about the potential of estate wines.

  • Views - the limestone plateau rises 100 feet above the entry point on 290, and affords commanding views. We have many plans to share these views with you!

And the new partnership? We are delighted to introduce the Waldrips to the Texas Wine community, and over the next few weeks we will do exactly that. We met Bill and Mary Anne Waldrip at a wine writer’s event hosted at Boot Ranch in 2015 - one of many industry tours and events we have attended together. Mary Anne poured our first wine - the 2017 Coral Rosé, at the Texas Wine Revolution last year. And together, we have unlocked a mutual passion for creating a wonderful winery in the Hill Country. We can’t wait for you to meet them!

Needless to say, Barbara and I are over the moon! We just returned from our first 2019 trip to the High Plains and are excited about the this year’s vintage potential. With our collaboration at Hawk’s Shadow Winery continuing through 2019 and into 2020, the new partnership, and the new location coming to WR290, we can bring our vision into focus, put more quality grapes into Barbara’s capable hands, and put more Siboney wine into your own cellar. And as always, There’s a million things we haven’t done. Just you wait!! ~MRL

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: Info@SiboneyCellars.com) MRL

To the Texas Legislature Committee for HB4233, Emailed to the Committee Hearing on Tuesday April 16, 2019 to: Ms Haley.VanWagner@House.Texas.Gov

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

——————


Miguel Lecuona
100% Texas - Our View, Our Passion, Our Word
What is our view of 100% Texas Wine? We spell it out on each label: ‘Every bottle from Siboney Cellars is, and always will be, 100% Texas. Hand crafted and aged with the passion it deserves, and the patience it requires.’
Bluebonnets in the Texas Hill Country wine trail. Photo: www.HillCountryLight.com

Bluebonnets in the Texas Hill Country wine trail. Photo: www.HillCountryLight.com

With the advent of a prodigious wildflower season in the Texas Hill Country AVA, we are eager to begin the work ahead for the 2019 Vintage, and introduce a couple of new wines for you, perfect for Spring. But a couple of other flowers have popped up this season in the Texas Legislative session that are also catching our eye. (For our out-of-state friends, the standing joke about the bi-cameral Texas congress is: Texas Legislators meet for 172 days every two years. Perhaps they should meet for just 2 days every 172 years). Here is a rundown on a few of the filed bills:

The first bill, SB313, (there are Senate and House versions of this one) would eliminate the annual 35,000 gallon limit on winery production earmarked for Direct-to-Consumer, whether at the winery or through wine clubs and regular sales operations. This is a positive growth bill for wineries in the state where DTC sales have been on a roll this decade.

The second bill, HB3794, is the Grower’s Permit bill, which would allow a vineyard owner to grow grapes, store them and produce wine, keeping it in their legal control until it is sold in bulk to a winery. Growers love this added flexibility in managing their harvest and in establishing a lower-cost bulk wine market, something that will come in handy as production levels rise in the state and market demand continues at this healthy clip.

The third bill, HB4233, is the Labeling Bill, which would require wineries to use 100% Texas grapes in any wine labeled with the Texas Appellation, with a 5 year phase in. Currently, the law requires a minimum of 75% Texas fruit for a Texas Appellated wine, but significantly higher levels for labeling indicating a specific AVA like the High Plains and the Hill Country). Further, it would require the wine to be fully produced here, never leaving the state to finish production, to be labeled as Texas Appellation. It also gives the Texas Agriculture Commissioner the right to allow non-Texas grapes in years where the state harvest is deemed “Insufficient to meet projected production estimates”. (How that is determined and monitored is unclear).

What is our view of 100% Texas Wine? We spell it out on each label: “Every bottle from Siboney Cellars is, and always will be, 100% Texas. Hand crafted and aged with the passion it deserves, and the patience it requires.”

There’s a lot to unpack here, so pour a glass of Texas Wine and continue reading for the full story, and please do not hesitate to contact us for any reason!
We were recently asked by a dear friend and industry colleague about our position on the Labeling Bill. Our personal inclinations are quite clear when it comes to government regulation. Life lessons from my father growing up in Cuba, becoming a US Citizen, then Professor of Political science, have informed my views of the political process, which operates inside a world unto itself, sometimes losing the vital connection to original intentions, often becoming a pawn for lobbyists with competing agendas unrelated to the specific issue at hand, and would trade one for another in a heartbeat. So, we take no position other than to advise everyone to NOT put such reliance, expectation and control outside of the industry. That said, we will behave according to our stated view: We will produce wines from 100% Texas grapes and label them according to the laws on the books.

Now, here’s a challenge: say we were to embark on a plan to produce a spectacular sparkling wine from 100% Texas Grapes. and have the production handled by professionals of our choice - a company with the skill, capacity, safety and cost-value capability for methode champenoise that perhaps does not currently reside in Texas. Would we be allowed to declare it a Texas wine? The bill would forbid that. If the grapes are all from a single vineyard in the High Plains, would we be able to declare that instead under AVA rules, which in fact may not even require 100% Texas grapes at this point, I can’t honestly recall? The bill doesn’t say. That’s where things begin to break down — is this about Labeling? Or is there more implied in the situation — Origin, Texas Wine Industry, or even Terroir, which is specifically indicated in a press release by the main supporting group? [Sidebar: Terroir is a French term and naturally, takes some explaining. I think it is best explained as a combination of location/site, climate, soil, and informed human interaction (grapes, viticulture practices) with these variables. The more specific each variable is, the more authentic the Terroir becomes. The more general any one variable is, Terroir becomes progressively drained of potency and authentic relevance].

Further, who should make such picky decisions — should we empower and burden the bi-cameral congress and lobbyists who live in a horse-trading environment, with the Dept of Agriculture? Right now, our industry is incapable of making a unified decision on such matters, even though in 2017 a majority of wineries and Industry organizations made clear they would not support such a bill. Notably, in 2019, one Industry group has put forth an alternative with an Industry-issued 100% Texas sticker indicating the grapes are all from Texas. Ironically enough the loudest objections to the Sticker program came from voices who prefer congressional legislation rather than industry guidance. It’s unfortunate when motives and even Texas loyalties are questioned, and it’s tragic when friendships are burdened with political disagreements, which should be allowed to flow without impugning character and intent. There are plenty of Texas wineries, on both sides of the issue, that have bought thousands of tons and planted huge swaths of Texas vineyards, giving the grower community a viable future on both sides of the debate, with jobs, revenue and sales tax flowing across the state. Risking this economic engine by forcing a fractured industry to break along the lines drawn by a legislative bill where the advocacy itself has become personalized, for many, seems questionable.


And with a solid alternative, albeit not without challenges and a long road, we believe it’s an unnecessary risk to take.

So what would we do? How would we proceed? Because we do agree “you have to start somewhere”. This is more than just Truth in Labeling. as the production requirement makes clear. So, if this is truly about Origin, and Texas wine growers, and Texas wine quality, as well as Truth in Labeling — which we believe it is — then we would advise a different way to approach. One rooted in wine history, culture, and practice around the world, and also with the potential to be practiced more effectively here in Texas.

For our part, we would prefer, and would work with all parties, to create a self-governing body firmly rooted within the control of a united Texas Wine Industry, a group that drives Appellation-designated labeling requirements supporting 100% Texas Grapes, and 100% Appellation grapes, over time. And we would advocate continued sub-appellation development, leveraging the original Hill Country AVA work of Texas Wine pioneers like the Aulers of Fall Creek Winery. Overlay that with the pride of Real Texas Wine stewards like William Chris Vineyards, the historic retail connections of Becker and Messina Hof, the strong customer reach of Grape Creek, the meticulous small batch production of Calais Winery and Lewis Wines. The family vineyard and winery businesses of the McPhersons, Timmons, Newsoms, and Binghams…. And the many new 100% Texas Wine producers and out-of-state investors arriving every month. Like us, all are grateful for those who came before, and are delighted to make great Texas wine and grow a business to serve a multitude of happy customers. Think about that for a second, and all the sacrifices, investments and accomplishments sourced from these groups for the Texas Wine Industry. Sounds like a pretty great team!

In our discussions with generational families, growers, and wine loving experts in California, Washington, Oregon, France, and Spain, this is how the best wine growing regions emerge… not by defined decree at the national or state level, but through meticulous work at the AVA level. Yes, we stipulate that their wines are 100% National or State origin. But that’s incidental to what is happening locally. Just what is it that gives these AVA’s market power, collectibility, premium retail presence, and a clear place in the hearts of wine lovers? What is it that imbues these wines with Terroir? It is the authentic sense of a specific place. One that is classified and protected by the industry within the AOC systems in place around the wine world. Terroir is not designated by a political boundary, which by definition every country, every state is. There is no French Terroir, no Spanish Terroir, no California Terroir. Terroir exists at the micro level — appellation, region, commune, vineyard, estate, and block. The more narrow the definition, the greater the expression of the site by the wine. In France, if you took grapes from Bordeaux and from Burgundy to blend the two greatest appellations into a single “100% French” wine, you would have a national and cultural disaster. Because everyone associates the Appellation with great wine, Terroir-driven wine, a wine of specific authenticity, wines worthy of pursuing, collecting and supporting a premium.

This can easily be corroborated on www.CellarTracker.com. Search for yourself - have a look at the many thousands of Pinot Noir wines listed by wine lovers from Oregon, to take one often-used example to support the premise of desirability of 100% state-appellation wines. What do we find? Less than 5% of the Oregon Pinot wines tracked by Cellar Tracker are designated at the state level for appellation. The other 95%? They are designated by specific AVAs within the state — regions, communes and estates. Look at the pricing, the ratings, the collections —- it’s quite clear on the matter. This is true, again and again, for AVA-specific wines vs state or nationally appellated wines. If you want Terroir, if you want expression, if you want the name to mean something to the wine-loving, critically driven world of collectors, critics and retailers, then you must pursue quality and Terroir at an authentically specific level - estate, vineyard, commune - or the appellation level at a minimum, and build up from there. We should not conflate a concept like Terroir , apply it to anything that grows from Amarillo to Laredo for the sake of Labeling, and expect the market to recognize us as a superior wine region. Now when we talk about say, Sagmore vineyard, or Hye Texas, or Round Mountain, the Salt Lick Vineyard, or Mason, or even a region as large as the High Plains, we begin to get a more clearly defined, specific indicator of true Texas wine quality and authenticity. Let the 100% Texas Grape origin labeling solutions flow from that level and radiate up and out. They will gain strength and be replicated elsewhere.

Texans always think big. It’s our birthright. We are bigger than Spain. And bigger than France. (ironically, the first two of the Six Flags that have flown over the Lone Star State). In terms of vineyards? Well, Texas has less than 10,000 acres under vine. (France has 2.3M acres, Spain, 2.9M acres under vine). In this case, we cheerfully advise eating the elephant in the room one bite at a time. So, let’s start from a specific point of origin to tighten Labeling, bolster 100% Texas Fruit, and improve #TxWine quality. And, importantly, embrace another goal of equal importance — let bygones be bygones, presume positive intent in our dealings, and unify the industry. Then let’s see how the market, wineries and growers respond. That way, we can build on a solid foundation of mutual support rather than imposed law. Row by row, we will create an authenticated, Terroir-driven vineyard map of Texas that will rival any you care to name. When we do that, our future will be as big as the Lone Star State which we all call home.

That was probably more than you wanted to read — thank you for the honor of holding your attention for this long. We’ve thought about this for a very long time. And there is so much more that can be said. But that’s for another post. Our view regarding 100% Texas Wine is clear, and we state it on every bottle. No Stickers, no Legislation needed. We will continue to produce amazing Texas Wine. And we are grateful if you count us as a friend of every Texas Winery and Grape Grower, no matter what your position is. You have our Word.

Have a wonderful Spring and come taste with us at Siboney Cellars and Hawk’s Shadow Winery in Dripping Springs. Barbara’s wine portfolio is about to bloom and you definitely want to be a part of that.

Miguel and Barbara Lecuona
Siboney Cellars
contact: Miguel@SiboneyCellars.com

Going Solo. The new Red from Siboney Cellars
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Solo - Our Newest Red…

Solo is so good you’ll want it all to yourself. But we won’t blame you if you share!


We are excited to introduce our newest Red from the 2017 Vintage. Solo is a single vineyard varietal, from Lahey Vineyards in The High Plains. The grape? Nebbiolo. Extremely rare in Texas, Nebbiolo is one of the most noble and prestigious grapes in the world. You may know that in the Piedmont, Nebbiolo creates a profound wine, Barolo - extremely long lived, complex and rather rare in the fine wine world. We have only a very few bottles of this Italian Icon in our cellar. But, the way Barolo ages, the color and complexity it shows, the grace it features when served, Barolo is one of the true high points in wine appreciation.

Clearly and with profound respect to Pio Cesare, Conterno and all the greats in Piedmont for centuries, it takes much more than Nebbiolo to make great Barolo. So please do not mistake our humble offering of this noble grape as a precocious attempt to replicate Barolo. I know it goes without saying, but I’d rather you hear that from us directly so there is no mistake!

Generally speaking, the grape may not be ideally suited for our challenging growing conditions. Consequently, there are not many vineyards growing Nebbiolo. When we first met Doug and Tom Reed at Hawk’s Shadow, we were surprised and delighted to find they planted a few rows of Nebbiolo in their Estate vineyards in Dripping Springs. Not enough for a separate bottling, Nebbiolo is featured in their flagship Estate blend, HSV. So when we learned that Lahey Vineyards was working with a young plot, we jumped at the chance to try it and we can say with affection, the result in the glass is certainly encouraging!

A unique wine with many special attributes, Solo is a young, early drinking red striking in character. A deep shade of ruby, more Pinot than Cabernet in hue, with pearlescent reflections, elegant in the glass. On the nose, cherry blossoms, cut strawberries, and Italian herbs. The wine is young, punchy with a savory warmth on the structured, tannic finish. Hold or drink now, but either way, it’s the perfect red for simple roast chicken.

Just $32 for the bottle. Give Solo a try. Stop by the tasting room in Dripping Springs. We think you’ll appreciate Nebbiolo as we do!

Wine Tasting - And The Wine Maker on the Other Side of the Table
Checking in on the 2017 Barrel Samples.

Last night, we set up a dozen glasses to taste through red wine barrel samples from the 2017 Harvest.  While we are close to releasing our first red wine, Travis, we are also working on a range 2017 vintage wines that will be released in 2019-20.  

Our sampling session reminded me of one of my first tastings in France, where a veteran winemaker poured his wine and told our of group of young students, "this is my wine. You may taste it, but I really don't care what you think about it.  If you don't understand it, that is not my problem!" 

Well, more than ever, I can empathize with this man!

Barbara and I have tasted wines through a number of professional programs over the years, from the Wine School of Philadelphia, the Court of Master Sommeliers, and a few terrific Texas Winery and club programs.  Barbara continued her education through the Winemaking Certificate Program at Texas Tech and in the cellars of a few of our colleagues. And, for my part, I have tasted thousands of barrel samples with the Union des Grands Crus de Bordeaux, and with professional wine writers at the top of their field, for 10 years.

Last night’s tasting - assessing our own wines - well, this was something entirely different, for both of us.  

The difference is not just the personal stakes -- this is our wine, destined for your trial and appreciation, which is of course, quite motivating.  It's also the variations and stages of evolution of foundational barrel samples that - trust me on this - individually, you just don't encounter in finished wines... wines that are yet to be blended, then bottled, over the next two years. The :30s video gives you a simple idea of these variances.  But the two hours of tasting that followed is not so easily conveyed!  

It's one thing to assess a dozen wine samples from top Grand Cru properties in Pauillac, looking for nuances between blends and terroir, and between vintages and chateaux (It's also a privilege to make such assessments!). You quickly can pick up patterns and look for certain markers to create a strong view of what the finished wine will become. Plus you have a well-trained group of tasters who have a long history at this sort of thing to exchange views.

In this case, however, there are just the two of us.  And, we are assessing raw materials in early stage, building blocks that may very well be combined in ways we have not contemplated.  By definition in Texas, these are very young vines, new plantings for the most part.  We do have a going-in plan, again on paper, but the wines in the glass have other ideas.  Surprises to the upside or the downside, and on particular days one will taste completely different than it will on another day.  Samples pulled from barrels just recently stirred, or racked, will behave quite differently today than they will two weeks from now.  No matter, the show must go on!

One of the fundamental questions is, should we commit to a particular blend now, at this point, combining the barrels together and setting an irreversible course now?  Or should we follow each wine on its own trajectory, and defer the blending options until we decide to bottle?  Obviously these are not new questions for any wine maker, but for wine tasters, the implications of such questions rarely cross your mind.  It's not your problem, and by the time you are poured a glass of wine, it's fait accompli!

Another factor -- A small winery does not have "safety in numbers" that allows larger wineries to specialize, blend away, or even declassify multiple barrels or entire parcels and still create a very good expression of the Grand Vin de Chateaux, or a particular wine program.  In our case, each barrel has a critical future, a role to play, a performance to give.  It's our job to maximize that potential, and then identify the best way to bring it to bottle. Obviously, the wine will not age itself or blend itself.  Left to its own in barrel, wine will (1) settle, (2) begin to oxidize, (3) commit itself to a course, and eventually (4) evaporate. 

Knowing the inevitability of these natural forces at work, and the choices that remain, it falls to the wine maker to monitor, guide, intervene, interdict, or redirect the trajectory of each barrel, and work out the plan for combining (or deferring) the barrels to showcase a vineyard site, a varietal expression, or a house style.  So the glasses in front of us now are scrutinized with specific intent -- not just what the expressions are, but how committed they are, what they lack, where one barrel might help another, whether tonight's sample is a true picture of the wine, and what might be the next action to take.  Options abound -- do nothing (you may be surprised how often this is employed, and how well it works in the world of wine!); rack to a different barrel, give it a good stir, top with a similar wine, blend into a combination you had not considered, or send out for testing.  Or retaste in two weeks.

If Blind Tasting is the great leveling experience for wine critics, then foundational barrel tasting is the great humbling experience for ANY wine taster.  As we tasted these samples, we learned a lot about what we don't know, even with our "experience".  But we are resourceful, and can work through any problem..., that is clear in the determination I see from Barbara, which always inspires me to be at my best.

Take a look at the photo at the top of Siboney Passion.  That was taken after tasting two wines that would make even the most stoic jaded wine taster give in.  You can see the bottles in front of us.  Its hard to imagine those winemakers at one point in their careers working through the beginning stages of new wine programs.  But they all do.  One day, we fully expect to earn the right to say, "WE all do".  Just. You. Wait.

And if you hear me say, "this is our wine, I don't care what you think", just slap me!
 

2018 #TxWine Growing Season Underway - Spring Report

As the growing season for the 2018 Vintage is ramping up, we traveled to the High Plains AVA with Doug Reed of Hawk's Shadow Winery, and visited with our vineyard partners.  A brief report from Siboney Cellars, Miguel Lecuona:

Hill Country- On our way to the High Plains we visited Drew Tallent in Mason.  We checked on Drew's Cabernet Sauvignon and Tempranillo, which we harvested last season and plan to follow up again for 2018.  Drew's site is one of the premiere Hill Country vineyards, a sloping terrain with good drainage on granite and quartzite sandstone.  Drew has a long history of growing quality grapes for several wineries we admire, including Becker Vineyards and Lewis Wines.  We jumped on the opportunity to secure small parcels from relatively young vines so as to get a good read on what is possible from a Hill Country AVA for two of our long term favorite grapes. The Tempranillo looked to be pretty well balanced for fruit production and vine vigor, while the Cabernet shows a bit more fruit blossoms on the vine (which make for a wonderful aroma!).  We will monitor that and assess ways to reduce yield so all the fruit has a better opportunity to ripen fully within the growing season.

High Plains - So far, in the High Plains, 2018 has been quite dry, even by High Plains standards, and our vineyard checks confirmed this, particularly between the rows where cover crops have not rooted, and the soil looks quite thirsty!  That said, the first part of the spring growing season are favorable for many vineyard blocks, which came through a cold winter and avoided Spring Frosts.  Of course all eyes now look to the skies not just for beneficial rains, but for the potential for towering thunderstorms that bring the ever-present threat of hail.  Indeed, as soon as we left the High Plains, we encountered a spectacular storm in San Angelo, and rode the lightning all the way back home.  So it is touch and go over the ensuing days!  

  • Narra Vineyards -- Our visit with Owner Nikki Narra on May 14-15 confirmed this weather pattern.  Happily, vine health and spring blooming look quite nice, progressing on track. While we were there, Nikki and her team were working on nutrient levels, irrigation management, and assessing potential cluster thinning.  We discussed the prognosis for 2018 for Viognier, and the potential for two varietals of interest to our expanding program -- Sauvignon Blanc, and Tannat.  We are encouraged, and know with Nikki we are in strong hands and look forward to visiting her regularly to assess progress
  • Lahey Vineyards -- we truly admire, and to be honest, are somewhat awestruck, by the size and scale of the operation at Lahey Vineyards.  With over 600 acres under vine, and managing more than 2 dozen varietals, Doug Fairbanks is one of the busiest in the industry.  We are working with a few blocks at Lahey - Syrah, and Bordeaux Red Varietals.  Doug also indicated a very dry spring in his vineyard, and is dodging storms while assessing early growth and blooming. 

    Miguel Lecuona
    SIboney Cellars
January 2018 - Blending Trials Underway!
Siboney Cellars is a new Texas Winery, co-located with Hawk's Shadow Winery in Dripping Springs. Blending Trials are underway for the premiere Spring Release. Sign up for details and allocation opportunities at www.SiboneyCellars.com. Winery Owners: Miguel and Barbara Lecuona

Everything is coming into focus -- Barbara's blending trials are now at hand. Tasting through samples from our 20 barrels resting in the cellars at Hawk's Shadow -- red, white, rosé, and our aforementioned port -- the way forward points directly to a Spring Release of our premiere wines. And we can't wait to share it with you!

Sign up for allocations, wine releases and invitations to release event

Blending trials are fascinating, and give us even more respect for winemakers all over the world.  Whether assembling a final blend from 90 lots for an amazing 2015 Bordeaux, or working with a vineyard plot that hung just a little too long, winemakers sweat the details.  We approach this task with a plan in hand as we taste, test, and talk about each sample. But the wine in the glass has the final word.  And this must be noted: some of these lots are just too beautiful to blend!  Like a classroom of students, each lot holds the potential for a delightful future.  Some are obvious in their strengths, others require a certain amount of guidance.  But all are gifted and talented!

Meanwhile, we are ordering bottles, glasses and have just taken delivery of our corks.  Our closure is a 2" natural cork from Scott Labs.  It features our branding on the cylinder and a fire-vintage imprint on both ends.  We know you will delight in pulling this cork very soon!

Sign up for allocations, wine releases and invitations to release events

From Vineyard to Bin to Barrel
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Barrel Rider

Getting our arms around this vintage


Siboney Cellars has completed the 2017 Harvest -- our very first -- and happily, at the high end of our volume expectations.  Now in the grand scheme of things, being above our modest plan doesn't amount to a whole lot, but when you are doing it all yourself by hand, you definitely feel it!  I should say, Barbara definitely feels it, as she is the one who has done substantially ALL of it!  Splitting time between our own harvest and that of our hosts, Barbara has now worked over 11 tons of grapes destined for Siboney Cellars, from vineyard to bin through fermentation and now to barrel.  

We have 20 barrels of 2017 vintage Texas Wine in our corner of Siboney Cellars.  We went into the harvest with a plan, and have emerged with a pretty good chance to bring that plan to market, and offer a couple of unexpected, hopefully delightful, surprises.  

  • With two white grape varietals in the cellar, Roussanne and Viognier, we have an opportunity to present two single varietals, or a blend, or potentially the blend and one single vineyard varietal.  
  • The bounty of red varietals in 2017 affords an opportunity to present a Saignée Rosé.  We fully embrace and applaud the Pink #TxWine efforts across the state!  We see consistent quality and thousands of happy wine lovers when they taste a great Texas Rosé, bright, balanced and dry, and perfect with gulf coast seafood.  We can't wait to join in.
  • Turning to Reds, the prospects are exciting.  We don't want to say too much at this point, but we plan to have a precocious early-drinking Red in 2018.  And, we are preparing at least two assaults up the steep slopes of the "serious" Texas Red Wine summit, in the style of classic wines we have come to know and love over the years.  With the varietals, quality, and sources under Barbara's care - now safely in barrel - we look forward to tempting you with wines for your own cellar.

MRL

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Just. You. Wait.

2017 is in Barrel.  Our Barrel.

Siboney Cellars - The inspiration Behind the Name

Siboney Cellars takes its name from a personal metaphor that speaks to the journey of the owners, and is embodied in several meanings of the word, Siboney (See-Bo-NAY)

  • Siboney is a beautiful old Cuban song written in 1929 by Ernesto Lecuona.  A true child prodigy and prolific songwriter, Lecuona composed many classical pieces, theatrical plays, and ground-breaking Afro-Cuban songs.  Well known in Cuba, Latin America and the USA, nominated for an Academy Award, and inducted into the Songwriter's Hall of Fame, his musical career spanned 5 decades before his passing in 1963 in the Canary Islands.
  • Siboney  was adopted in Cuba as a cross-over song with great popular appeal (well before Fidel Castro), to the point where it became an unofficial national anthem -- the song is played by the television network at the end of broadcast each night.  
  • Siboney has been recorded in dozens of arrangements over the decades, and featured by artists including Placido Domingo and Bing Crosby, and more contemporary to Texas, The Mavericks (who one day we hope to meet).  Listen to the original classical version by Ernesto Lecuona, the flawless interpretation by virtuoso Thomas Tirino, and several by the Buena Vista Social Club. 
  • Lyrically, in English, Siboney is nothing more than a catchy pop tune evoking the rhythms of a Havana night club, crooned by Bing Crosby.  The original Spanish lyrics, however, written by Lecuona, are a different matter.  The Canto Siboney speaks of a man calling to his one eternal love, without whom he cannot live.  The one who he asks to come to him, the treasure in his heart valued beyond all.  That even in the murmuring of the palm trees in the breeze, he wishes to be thought of by his one true love.  Entreating for his love to hear his voice, his clarion call, his voice of crystal, and not to lose this calling amid the many distractions of life, he loves her, and without her love, he will die.  This, without doubt, is passion defined. Perhaps in a future post we will showcase the lyrics in Spanish, as we are seeking permission to feature a version sung in Spanish that is particularly haunting in its rendition.  
  • This life journey -- to discover, recognize and follow the clarion call – to hear life’s passions – and not to lose track of the fragility of this song in the midst of life’s chaos – this is the passion that brought the owners together 10 years ago.  And it happened on a trip in Bordeaux.  Since that moment, Barbara and Miguel have endeavored to stay in touch with this calling. 
  • Siboney Cellars is the embodiment of this journey.  Siboney Cellars is a life's passion. Pursued, realized, savored.

The composer of Siboney, Ernesto Lecuona, is Miguel's great uncle.  

Would you like to hear Siboney as it was originally composed for solo piano?  We have permission from BIS recording artist Thomas Tirino to feature his virtuoso recording of Canto Siboney here, and it is the only one we know of that faithfully replicates the version Ernesto recorded in 1954 for RCA, for there is no sheet music of this rendition. Mr. Tirino executed this recording through his own efforts by ear, in 1995.  Bravo Thomas, thank you for allowing us to feature you!