Last Tuesday members of the Texas Wine and Grape Growers Association met in Austin to talk with their legislators about matters closest to them and to the Texas wine industry. I visited the educational tasting room in the evening to hug friends and catch up on some important happenings in the business. It was a joy to see Betty and Cliff Bingham and to chat with Bobby Cox, all down from Lubbock. I also had the opportunity to meet some legends face-to-face, like Carl Money of Pontotoc Vineyards and Ed Hellman, a professor of viticulture for Texas Tech and Texas A&M programs. And I learned a few great things:
1) The Department of Plant and Soil Science at Texas Tech University and Texas AgriLife Extension are working together to devleop a Texas Viticulture Certificate Program based in Fredericksburg. It is a two year curriculum covering grapevine biology, site assessment and vineyard development, vine nutrition and water management, disease, insect and weed management, and canopy and crop load management. There will be hands-on vineyard practices, including planting the first test vineyard in April of this year. Classes will be held in the ACC building just east of Fredricksburg and are now accepting students for courses starting in June: http://winegrapes.ttu.edu/viticulturecertificate.html.
2) The Binghams will be opening their own custom-crush and wine making facility. They’ve dedicated the site and Betty received news that evening that plans to lay cement were underway. It will be a way for the family to use any overflow of harvest and also to provide higher quality product to wineries outside of the High Plains. They will be able to immediately select, destem and press grapes on site, then send refrigerated juice to buyers. Much like Texas Custom Wine Works, a crush facility designed by Dusty Timmons, Mike Sipowicz, Jet Wilmeth, and Steve Talcott, the facility will be paired with a wine making operation as well. (As a kicker- Bobby Cox will be their wine maker!) And much like Texas Custom Wine Works, people are excited about the prospect of pressing and refrigerating juice before fermentation begins, and a fresh base for higher quality wine. With Bending Branch Winery discussing a mobile crush unit that would provide similar opportunities to growers around the state, it’s an exciting trend for the industry overall.
3) Carl Money, owner of a series of buildings in downtown Mason, will be re-appropriating several spaces for wineries: his Pontotoc Vineyards, Don Pullum’s Sandstone Cellars, and a winery by Alphonse and Martha Dotson of Certenberg Vineyards. That’s three great wineries in the heart of the “Sonoma of Texas,” sure to draw visitors to the area.
4) And in the vein of combining wineries, another facility is set to open in the 290 corridor. Called Six Shooter Cellars, it is a collaboration of Cross Timbers Winery out of Grapevine, Texas, Yepez Vineyard out of southeast Texas, and four others that remain a secret. (Could one be Arché since the man who makes ceramics from their grapevine ashes, Michael Obranovich, will be represented at Six Shooter…?) Final approval for the business just went through, and the facility could be up and running by the end of next month.
Four very exciting announcements for the industry! And I am happy to report that all were optimistic about their legislative visits, saying the representatives listened well and understood the proposals, a far cry from the way such meetings used to go. A great sign as the Texas wine trail barrels on.