Texas brings to mind many things: barbecue, rodeos, the rolling plains, everything supposedly bigger and better than anywhere else. But when it comes to wine, most connoisseurs might prefer to take a pass. A new documentary, Texas Wines, aims to change the perception that the Lone Star State’s vino is unremarkable, if not downright unpalatable. To the farmers, winemakers, and enologists featured in the film, Texas is undergoing a wine renaissance. “Why do we do grapes from Texas?” William Chris winemaker and co-founder Chris Brundrett rhetorically asks in the film’s opening scene. “Like, what else is there?”
Texas Wines was directed by independent filmmaker Robert Burks, who told Wine Spectator that he got the idea for the documentary after graduating from film school in San Antonio. “I was wanting to tell the stories of Texas … the Hill Country was experiencing a wine boom, and I wanted to focus on that, [though] I had no idea how big it truly is.”
The film doesn’t shy away from Texas’ less-than-stellar vinous reputation. Katy Jane Seaton, of Farmhouse Vineyards in the High Plains AVA, admits that “the last time people tasted Texas wine … it wasn’t premium.” Neal Newsom, proprietor of the High Plains’ Newsom Vineyards, says, “[People] walk up to a bottle of wine … and I’m sure they’re expecting it to taste like gunpowder, or something like that, ’cause it’s [from] Texas.”
There are real challenges to growing wine-worthy grapes in such an arid and unpredictable climate. Dr. Andreea Botezatu, an enologist at Texas A&M’s department of horticulture, explains that “because of the heat here, grapes tend to lose acidity during the ripening process … and that leads to a number of problems for wine quality, from color to taste to microbiological stability.”
Winemakers trying new and often unfamiliar grape varieties have spurred Texas’ wine boom. In the early years, vintners planted well-known (and commercially popular) grapes such as Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot. But those grapes aren’t necessarily suited to the state’s soils and climate (Texas shares approximate latitude with Spain and Italy, not California and France). These days, winegrowers find success with an eclectic litany of grapes, including Aglianico, Tempranillo, Vermentino, Mourvèdre, Sangiovese, Tannat, Lenoir, Blanc du Bois, Viognier, Malvasia and Counoise.
Master Sommelier James Tidwell, co-founder of the Texsom conference of Texas sommeliers, attributes Texas’ rise to winemakers finally homing in on the grapes that best fit the state’s terroirs. “Texas is really now coming into its own with its identity. We’re going beyond the experimental phase of grapegrowing—we’re still doing that to some extent—but people are now settling upon grapes that they really think are going to do well in their specific vineyard or their region, and they’re starting to grow those. And I think having that confidence is very important for the growth of the industry.”
Texas Wines had a small premiere in San Antonio before its first major showing, in April, at the USA Film Festival, at the Angelika Film Center in Dallas. Since then, it’s won Best Documentary Short from the Texas Arthouse Festival and been nominated for awards at the Austin International Art Festival, WorldFest-Houston International Film Festival and others. Burks hopes the film will encourage people, Texans and non-Texans alike, to give Texas wines a chance. He also has plans for an eight-part docuseries focusing on the many elements—history, people, science, terroir and more—that he thinks make Texas wine such a fascinating and tasty subject.
To those who are still skeptical about popping the cork on Texas wine, Burks says “just try it now. Yes, it was not all that great before, but so much has changed, and so has the wine.” He cites not just Texas’ wines but the pioneering spirit of the winemakers—the profound sense of freedom, possibility and friendliness one finds in Texas.
Dr. Botezatu puts it this way: “For the people out there who are not from Texas and are going to watch [the film]: Come down to Texas! We’ll take you for barbecue and some awesome Texas wine … and you’ll see for yourself how good our wines are.”
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