Yesterday I attended TexSom, the international wine conference held at The Four Seasons Resort and Club in Irving. At lunch I was seated at the same table with a woman named Lindsay (last name redacted) who runs a restaurant in Austin. She tells our table that buying local is critical in Austin. “Chains just don’t survive,” she said referring to restaurants. I asked her whether the same spirit translated into consumer wine choices. After all, Austin is in the center of the Hill Country AVA (American Viticultural Area). “They don’t give a sh*t,” she shot back. Austin is weird. They love their local food movement, but apparently their aren’t many “vine huggers” in the area. Dees this mean Texas wine is lacking some credibility?
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Part of the problem stems from the usage of the words “For Sale In Texas Only.” While the phrase may initially connote purity or exclusiveness, they imply the exact opposite. You will find the same phrase on bottles of wine made from grapes grown in California and front labels designed to convince you that the wine is from Texas. The sole purpose of the phrase is to conceal the origin of the grapes. It is an anti-consumer measure favored by people who want to import the cheapest fruit for mass-market wines and conceal the source of the grapes from consumers.
The problem is that these actions generate a reaction. Consumers smell the rat and stop buying California wine masquerading as Texas wine, and to save themselves the problem of discerning when wines are real Texas wines vs. fake Texas wines they stop buying Texas wines at all. According to Lindsay, that is what has happened in Austin.
For small Texas wineries striving for quality and using Texas grapes, this is a marketing nightmare . It makes it a lot harder for them to convey to consumers that they are committed to quality and make their wines entirely from Texas grapes. Certainly, with enough effort, small wineries can still survive, but this measure is something that makes their job harder.
The Texas Wine and Grape Growers Association has a legislative agenda each year. They should make the abolition of the “For Sale In Texas Only” provision a priority as part of a campaign to promote clear labeling. Require state labeling to include the origin of the grapes. The result will be increased consumer faith in Texas labeling and willingness to try Texas wines. Texas wineries that want to use California fruit can still do so, but clearly label it as such.