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, Newsums, 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