Having cut his winemaking teeth in Texas, Karl Weichold spent several vintages producing wines at different facilities in the Fredericksburg area. Although the siren song of Willamette Valley Pinot Noir lured him away from the great state of Texas, he still has a special place in his heart for the people, the grapes, and the sunsets of which that region alone can boast. Wines from Texas always take him back to a time and place where he fell in love with wine and winemaking. Here he recounts a recent return to attend the Texas Two-Sip Tasting.


How does a state that is not California, Washington, or Oregon establish itself as great place to make wine? According to Russ Kane of Vintage Texas, you simply let the wine speak for itself. Russ Kane and Steve Krueger (Sommelier at the Westin La Cantera) recently hosted the Culinaria Texas Two-Sip tasting at San Antonio’s Hilton Palacios Del Rio. The tasting pitted carefully selected Texas wines against comparable wines from around the world. Six pairs of wines were tasted blind, with one wine in each pair hailing from a Texas producer. The audience and panel were then invited to vote on their favorites and to guess which wine was made in Texas. The results were, to say the least, eye-opening.

“It’s amazing. When you taste these wines blind, people put them on a level playing field,” said Kane. While there were some notable examples of disparity in quality, the majority of the field held its own against the world. The voting audience preferred four of the six Texas wines in the flight and were able to identify the Texas wines in five out of the six pairs. The audience consisted primarily of enthusiastic Texas wine consumers and the tasting panel was composed of Texas wine personalities: Dr. Richard Becker of Becker Vineyards, Bill Esley of Duchman Vineyards, and Robin Allen of Messina Hof. The results speak volumes about wine drinkers in this state. Most wine produced in Texas is consumed within Texas’ borders. However, this isn’t necessarily where the Texas wine industry intends to remain.

Texas wines have enjoyed a recent influx of talent, endowment, and favorable climatic conditions. Producers that a decade ago were often making unpalatable plonk are beginning to produce wines that could compete nationally. However, do not expect to see these wines outside of Texas any time soon. “We don’t have enough grapes to fulfill our needs in Texas yet,” says Kane. “We have about 4,000 acres under vine right now. If we had 10,000 acres, we could go national. That will probably happen in five to ten years.”

“It’s not like California. Our conditions are much more like southern France, Spain, and Italy,” Kane claims. If the wines presented in the tasting were any representation of Texas wine as a whole, he is spot on. Texas wines seem to be trending towards wines based on tempranillo, viognier, and other Mediterranean or Southern European varieties. But that does not mean that there are not other impressive examples of great grapes being grown in the Lone Star State. During one pairing, that surprisingly fooled this taster, a 2007 Château Saint-Georges (unclassed) was bested by Messina Hof’s (Bryan, TX) 2006 Paulo Bordeaux Blend. While 2007 was one of the more variable vintages for Saint-Émilion in recent history, it truly is a testament to Texas wine that a Cabernet blend made entirely from fruit grown within its borders can compete with a wine from an internationally renowned region. The Haak Vineyard’s dry Blanc du Bois was also stunning (and deceiving), was pitted against Robert Mondavi’s Fumé Blanc. Not only was the non-vinifera varietal elegant, aromatic, and fantastically balanced, the panel and the audience overwhelmingly preferred it AND were fooled by the fact that it was from Texas.

Blanc du bois and other non-vinifera hybrids are grown in Texas and other states where disease resistance is crucial. “If you want to look back ten years ago, everyone would say that Pierce’s disease would be the limiting factor for vineyards in this state,” says Kane. “We’ve made significant advances in the control of the glassy-winged sharpshooter such that if you were to ask now, the answer you would probably get would be the late spring freeze or hail.” Aside from disease pressure, Texas faces other logistical hurdles. The lion’s share of vines are planted in the High Plains AVA, eight hours by truck from the nucleus of wineries and resorts in the Hill Country west of Austin. This means that grapes must be crushed, chilled, and shipped down to their production facilities, a process that not only increases the cost of production but complicates the winemaking process. But this still hasn’t stopped adamant winemakers from producing wine for a thirsty public.

According to a report given in 2009 by MKF Research, 188 Texas wineries employed almost 11,000 Texans, produced 1.2 million cases of wine, and brought in $68 million in revenue. While this may be relatively small compared to other well known winemaking states, Texas wine quality, investment, and renown are on the rise. “It’s an exciting time for Texas wine,” says Kane. Perhaps, by the end of the next decade, we’ll enjoy another great new American wine region.


Karl manages the lab at 12th and Maple Wine Company in Dundee, Oregon. After earning a degree in Biochemistry at Texas A&M, he spent several vintages making wine in the Texas Hill Country. In search of scientific rigor, he left for the Willamette Valley in 2009. When he’s not busy nerd bustin’ or dork wranglin’, Karl enjoys tending his homebrews, hiking the Cascades, and making enormous gastronomic messes in his kitchen.

  • James Freeman

    Great unbiased article about the recent Texas 2 sip tasting!

    Myself and many others were very curious and baffled about the Haak Blanc du Bois being compared to Mondavi’s Fume Blanc. First off you have Blanc du Bois which is a great wine but there is really no finish to the wine and it is being compared to an oaked Savignon blanc that has a finish. Pretty much Apples to oranges in my book.
    I wanted to actually recreate this blind comparison on my own but realized I could not obtain the 2010 Haak Dry Blanc du Bois since it is currently only available in the tasting room in Santa Fe, Tx. Haaks 2009 is actually a blend of Chenin blanc and Blanc du Bois (which I did not care for and is nothing similar to what was used)
    Now dont get me wrong, I am a fan of Blanc du Bois and love what Haak has done with this grape. But to be honest I was able to find a bottle of 2008 Mondavi Fume Blanc Napa Valley and was disgusted by this wine. Used to be Mondavi’s Fume Blanc was a fantastic wine that everyone talked about and loved now it merely taste like overpressed and oaked Savignon Blanc…a tremendous shame… and a really poor comparison.
    When I first tasted the Fume Blanc I said to myself “I know Haak can make better wine than this.”
    Reading some of the reviews online about the Fume Blanc many compared it to Refrigerator water and lamented about how the quality has dropped considerably since Constellation Foods purchased Mondavi several years back.
    I am looking forward to trying Haaks 2010 Blanc du Bois but to be honest Blanc du Bois is its own wine and is better compared to a Riesling than a Savignon Blanc. After all Blanc du Bois is made in a Riesling style.

    Just my 2 cents….this is what I do not like about many of the Texas wine promotions being done, they hype up how good the wine is to a point where an uneducated (or new wine drinker) thinks the wines are comparable to everything in Napa or Bordeaux only to find out that they were mislead and in my case even embarrassed.

  • http://vintagetexas.com/blog Russ Kane

    James,

    Thanks for your comments and they are very well taken. I appreciate your view of where Mondavi Fume Blanc has gone, but it is still a recognized name in the marketplace. Some like it and some don’t. Our intent was to make a comparison between the Haak 2010 Dry blanc Du Bois and the Mondavi Woodbridge Fume Blanc.

    However, the more interesting thing that happened was the distributor delivered the wrong wine to the tasting and it was the Mondavi Fume Blanc Napa Valley which is a superior wine to the Woodbridge brand.

    Despite their differences the two wines tasted blind did not present vastly different qualities afterall the Mondavi Fume Blanc is not a heavily oaked wine, part is made in stainless steel and only a portion sees oak and not for vary long. By comparison, the Haak dry Blanc Du Bois was dry (not fruity), but with pear adn citrus notes followed by earthy and yeasty tones. The later made the comparison with the Mondavi Fume Blanc work.

    Doing blind Two Sip tastings of Blanc Du Bois is difficult. My first reaction would be to use a dry Chenin Blanc up against it, but my then the pairings were already set.

    If you want to provide constructive criticism, please suggest what you would select as the non-Texas wine in a dry Blanc Du Bois Two Sip tasting.

    I’m all ears.

    Russ Kane
    VintageTexas

  • http://www.haakwine.com Raymond Haak

    James & Russ:
    I enjoyed reading your comments about Blanc du Bois. Thank you for your honest and candid comments.
    Blanc du Bois is a very versatile grape variety and as one of its noble parents Golden Muscat, it seems to bring a lot to the flavor party. This varietal is a rare winegrape with only approximately 100 acres in cultivation and about 70 acres of it here in Texas. Of course, because tasting and judging wines is not an exact science, wine lovers will never agree 100% on the quality, balance, flavors, structure, finish, etc of any specific varietal. We at Haak winery have been able to develope and fine tune the process of each specific stylistic type of Blanc du Bois to produce over six different styles. The 2010 vintage for Texas was outstanding in every way producing some of the best quality wines in recent memory. The 2010 dry Blanc du Bois is whole cluster pressed, cold soaked for 48 hours, then racked and cold fermented below 55F to produce a soft,floral wine with hints of citrus and a great grape fuit finish. I am supprised that James missed this awesome finsh. We also produce a dry barrel fermented, Reserve Blanc du Bois that is aged sur lie for 2 to 3 months in new American oak. This is also a wine that has its own unique flavor profile and defies comparison to other varietals.
    Texas is producing such distinguishable wines that it is difficult to do a Texas Two-Sip blind tasting with many of them. What, for instance, would you blind taste our Madeira Blanc du Bois or Madeira Jacquez against?
    Here is to the great state of Texas and a great future in viticulture & Enology
    Cheers & Ciao!
    Raymond

  • http://vintagetexas.com/blog Russ Kane

    Ryamond,

    Raymond,

    Do you recon that the whole cluster pressing would give you some added complexity rather than destemming first.W There is some depth to the wine beyond just fruit. I think that this is one reason why we found it a good two sip partner with the Fume Blanc.

    What do you think cause I was surprized that it wasn’t easier to discern in this stasting.

    Russ
    VintageTexas

  • James Freeman

    Mr. Haak, I would LOVE to try this new 2010 blanc du bois made in a different style than your previous vintages, but it is not available anywhere but your tasting room. So therefore I have not tried it. I am going off your 2008 and 2007 vintages from Memory as well as other producers who have followed your lead producing Riesling style Blanc du Bois.
    I have no time to travel to Santa Fe to pick up a bottle but would gladly accept a bottle of the new 2010 Dry if you wanted to send a bottle to me.
    I have tasted several other BdB’s that have been made like this and the skin gives an off putting taste that many try to hide with oak. Again I have never had your 2010 Dry so I do not know how it is.
    But then again the Napa Fume Blanc might actually be close to the 2010 Dry. Like I said it tasted like overpressed Sav blanc (cold soaked) with a touch of oak. And Russ I could taste the oak.
    No one mentioned ANYWHERE that this wine was made in a different style than previous vintages which is where the confusion has comes in.
    Why Mr Haak have you moved away from the Riesling style?
    Again like I said. We are talking about a wine that is not available to the general public. And to be honest I find it very disheartening that a wine would be paraded around yet the general public can not taste it for themselves.
    Also too I might want to add that I was not the only one who thought the Napa Fume blanc was a “Bad wine” many of my wine friends also tried this wine at about the same time. One was at a tasting with the people from Mondavi and they agreed with me that the wine was “bad.” and “undrinkable”
    There are so many better California Sav Blanc out there, why were they not chosen instead. A sommelier knows this, yet he chose that wine anyway? When you come down to it, the tasting was still a “stacked deck”

  • http://www.feudi.it/en/ Fiano

    Evry body needs wine.

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