I’m Embarrassed to be Texan

I actively support the Texas wine industry as a consumer, in my marketing communications business and as a wine writer. We have fantastic wineries making delicious wine in Texas. However after visiting the Finger Lakes wine region in upstate New York for the 8th Annual Wine Bloggers Conference, I’m embarrassed to be a Texan.

I said it. I’m embarrassed to be a Texan.

Why? The Texas wine industry can’t hold a candle to New York.

Rainbow over Lake Seneca in the Finger Lakes wine region
Rainbow over Lake Seneca in the Finger Lakes wine region

 

Sure, Texas has excellent wines that win national and international awards. I’m confident Texas wines could go toe-to-toe with those from the Finger Lakes. It’s not about the quality of the wine.

Its all about the cohesion

It is about the cohesiveness of the industry. The Finger Lakes wine region has its stuff together. It’s more than a geographic region marked by 11 long, deep lakes gouged out of the earth by glaciers 10,000 years ago. It’s more than just an American Viticultural Area (AVA). It’s more than wine trails connecting the 129 wineries that grow cool climate vinifera grapes like Riesling and Cabernet Franc in Finger Lakes AVA (there are 428 wineries statewide). It is a tight knit community of wineries, farms, restaurants, tourism boards, chambers of commerce and businesses all with a shared mission of promoting the beautiful region as a top-notch wine and tourism destination. The biggest driver of this unity is the largest tourism board east of the Mississippi, the Finger Lakes Wine Country.

It’s working. The Finger Lakes wine region has been recognized as a “Top 10 Worldwide Wine Destination,” by Wine Enthusiast and a “Top Wine Destination in the U.S.,” by TripAdvisor.com. It also landed the challenge to host the 2015 Wine Bloggers Conference, a coveted marketing opportunity for any wine region looking to wine and dine around 270 wine writers. The folks of the Finger Lakes certainly made the most of that opportunity. They rolled out the red carpet for the bloggers.

A wine tourism board that works

The Finger Lakes Wine Country, founded in 2000, has a lot to do with that success. The group began conversations to bring the Wine Bloggers Conference to the Finger Lakes in 2011. That lobbying and the great press the region has enjoyed helped it win the RFP process to host the conference.

“It is a pretty big undertaking,” says Laury Ellen Poland, president of the Finger Lakes Wine Country Tourism Marketing Association. “There aren’t a whole lot of wine regions that have the infrastructure to support this kind of undertaking. It took all of our energy for more than a year.”

This whole concept of having a wine tourism board came about when Corning Enterprise, the economic development arm of Corning, commissioned a research study to determine the best ways to attract quality engineers and scientists to rural Upstate New York. The research firm determined the big draw is wine. Duh! I could have told them that.

Since then, four counties have signed on to support the Finger Lakes Wine Country by providing a portion of hotel room tax revenue. Private companies chip in too and Corning matches the public dollars. The group collaborates with organizations like Finger Lakes Wine Alliance and the New York wine and Grape Association for broader reach.

The Finger Lakes wine region screams community

Beyond the tourism board, everything about the Finger Lakes wine region screams community. Our first taste of this community during the conference was a tasty welcome dinner with dozens of restaurants and wineries hosted in a park in the middle of picturesque Corning, NY. That incredible level of hospitality was on also display with lovely receptions at the Rockwell Museum of Art and the Corning Museum of Glass.

Community was front and center in an excellent educational session put on by fruit crop physiologist Alan Lakso, a professor emeritus from Cornell University, who has researched grapes for 45 years, along with Fred Merwarth, owner, winemaker and vineyard manager of Hermann J. Wiemer Vineyard and Master Sommelier, chef and winemaker Christopher Bates. These guys shared deep insight into the history, geology, climate, grapes and winemaking techniques. It was clear that academia, viticulture, winemaking, wine sales and culinary arts are inextricably linked in the Finger Lakes. How else could the region produce quality wines from an area with extreme weather, crazy variations in soil and short growing seasons?

Merwarth of Hermann J. Wiemer Vineyard described the growing conditions saying, “Cold winters are a defining character. It can vary from minus 6 to minus 13 degrees Fahrenheit at the same time in the same winery. That kind of deep cold impacts vine health for up to 2 years. We don’t think of it as just a growing season. It’s a 12 month cycle.”

Master Sommelier, Bates, noted that the big challenge for the region is that it sells all of its wine to the millions of tourists that visit the areas each summer and the masses in New York City, a stone’s throw across the state. “If we’re not thinking about the future and real growth, people can be happy selling all the wine here. But we want our wine on a national stage. We need to get people excited about wine outside of New York. We have no interest in comparing our Riesling to the Riesling from Rheingau, Germany or our Cabernet Franc to what’s made in Loire, France. We make good Finger Lakes wine.”

Paul Scotto at sunset
Paul Scotto at sunset

 

Where the cohesiveness of the Finger Lakes wine community really shined was in the wineries visits that they arranged for the bloggers. These were incredibly well orchestrated to show off the interrelationships between the wineries, the interconnectivity between farmers, chefs, winemakers and the land itself. Each excursion along wine trails featured multiple wineries gathered in one location. We tasted fantastic wines from places like Glenora Wine Cellars, Zugibe Vineyards, Knapp Winery, Dr. Frank’s Wine Cellars, Fox Run Vineyards, Goose Watch Cellars, Wagner Vineyards Estate Winery and more. Can you imagine a Napa winery hosting other wineries on its property for group tastings? Would that happen in Bordeaux, Rioja, Mendoza, Barossa Valley or the Mosel? Well it happens in the Finger Lakes.

I’m not saying these people are nicer than Texans, but they sure can give us a run for our money.

What a treat to have a vegetable farmer, grain farmer, beef farmer, cheese maker, chef and winemaker describe what they grew, made and why they are great together. I was blown away by the camaraderie they shared not only with each other, but with those of us who were there eager to learn about it. Hospitality.

Texas isn’t ready

Texas, I don’t think you could pull off hosting the Wine Bloggers Conference. Yet. I don’t think you are ready. Texas has some great cities. It has some great wineries. It has some great wine trails. It has hospitality in spades. But, the Texas wine industry lacks the cohesion to really make it on the world stage. Maybe the state is just too dang big. After all, it is bigger than France. But, it is lacking a serious organizing body to unify the wine industry.

It can be done. It requires that a significant number of winery owners get on board. That’s tough. Established wineries may not feel the time and monetary investment is needed to advance their own business. That’s true in New York too, but they’ve gotten enough wineries on board to make it happen. It takes funding and that is definitely a challenge. The New York model of funding a concerted marketing campaign to promote economic development and regional tourism with a blend of private and public sector money may not work in exactly the same way in Texas. We may need state dollars to pull together our huge region.

Lake Seneca
Lake Seneca

 

It is worth the investment. The full economic impact of New York grapes, grape juice, and wine in 2012 was $4.8 billion in state and local taxes for New York State, according to a study conducted by Stonebridge Research Group for the New York Wine & Grape Foundation. This compares with a full economic impact of wine and wine grapes of $1.83 billion on the Texas economy in 2011 according to a study by Frank, Rimerman + Co. LLP commissioned by the Texas Wine and Grape Growers Association.

The words of Christopher Bates are ringing in my ears, “If we’re not thinking about the future and real growth, people can be happy selling all the wine here.” Does that sound familiar Texas? The 2016 Wine Bloggers Conference already has a home in Lodi, CA. What do you think Texas? Can we be ready to host in 2017? I know we can.

Related stories from the 2015 Wine Bloggers Conference:

Disclosure: I was provided with the Rodney Strong Scholarship which covered the costs of my participation in the 2015 Wine Bloggers Conference where this interview took place.

What are you drinking?

 

 

 

 

 

Published by

Matt McGinnis

As a marketing strategist for Pen & Tell Us, Matt McGinnis provides marketing, branding and communications counsel to food and beverage as well as other clients globally. He is also an avid beverage enthusiast, chronicling his interests as a Food & Drink contributing writer for CultureMap, as the Food & Drink columnist for Austin Man Magazine, and as a blogger for What Are You Drinking?. He is passionate about the wine industry having previously worked at a winery in Oregon and in wine sales. He has served as Guest Host of Sommelier Cinema at the Alamo Drafthouse, and is a Certified Sommelier in the Court of Master Sommeliers. His writing has been recognized as a Top 10 Food Blog by the Austin Chronicle in 2013 and 2014, with a 2011 Texas Social Media Award from the Austin American-Statesman.

15 thoughts on “I’m Embarrassed to be Texan”

  1. I have long held this belief. When you look at Napa in the early days Robert Mondavi created a cohesive community. Today Lodi, Sonoma County, Santa Barbara County, all cohesive. Texas wineries would do much better if they worked with each other instead of seeing their neighbors as competitors. If the wine is good there is always enough to go around! Cheers Matt.

    1. I agree Michelle. We have great wines and the industry will be much better served if there is a more cohesive approach to the economic development and tourism associated with the Texas wine industry. Cheers!

  2. I’m glad you enjoyed your time up in New York state. Having moved back here FROM Texas … I compare the two states a lot. But, you’re right. The Finger Lakes wine region IS amazing. I see a lot of my favorite wines in your pictures (the mention of Dr. Frank … oh Gewurztraminer … I can taste you now)!

    The funny thing is, though, as you move around the state itself, the wines are not as popular as you might think. One of my favorites (ONE OF haha) is the Goose Watch Traminette … you can’t even find it in stores, but the Diamond is always stocked. The rosé from Goose Watch (also another favorite of mine) … a bit easier to find but only after the vineyards really pushed dry rosés on social media over the spring and summer.

    I’m in Syracuse, just east of the Finger Lakes. It’s easier and less expensive to just take the hour drive over there and pick up some wines. I try to pop over to Goose Watch and Varick (LOVE their Dry Vignoles, which I can’t get in stores) a few times a year, just to stock up. It drives me crazy when I go to a liquor store and they tell me, “we can get in a couple days.” So can I! If I leave now, I’ll have it tonight!

    Additionally, we have Hudson Valley wines too. So, the New York wine section can be quite large. Maybe that’s why most stores here just don’t carry that many … it’s too overwhelming. One of the stores told me California wine was more popular … I can’t imagine why? Maybe for reds … but I know quite a few of the vineyards in NY are producing some great reds too … Knapp’s “basic” red is so yummy and they have that blend that is just great …

    Texas will get there! I’ve been hearing good things about Texan dry rosé, though I can’t get my hands on any (no shipping to NY why?????) It won’t be the same as here, but it can still be amazing … after all, wine plus Texas MUST equal awesome, right?

    1. Thanks Lisa. There are so many good wines in Texas that deserve better exposure. Hopefully both NY and Texas will continue to do a better job of getting our delicious wines into the hands of thirsty consumers.

  3. Matt: Perhaps you should try our 2011 Cabernet Sauvignon that took top honors “Best in Class” at this year’s NY Finger Lakes International Wine Competition along with others receiving nods in silvers & bronzes. I’ll set aside some bottles for you.

    Cheers!

    Gerald Jones
    Los Pinos Ranch Vineyards
    Pittsburg, TX

    1. Hi Gerald, I’d love to try your wines. Please note – this article in no way challenges the quality of Texas wines. I drink them all the time. As I say in my intro, I support Texas wine in my marketing business, as a writer and as a consumer. Cheers!

  4. Really great contextual summary. Both New York and Texas have great potential as future hot spots for wine tourism, and both will have growing to do. I remember trying a William Chris Mourvèdre wine from Hill Country next to a premier cru Vosne Romanée (Burgundy Pinot Noir) and thinking “Geez, these two wines are remarkably similar… shockingly so.” Thanks for challenging your home state to bring it!

    1. Thanks Madeline. You are right. There are some really good wines being made in Texas, as there are in NY. I’d love to see areas of Texas develop a solid wine tourism infrastructure like they have in the Finger Lakes.

    1. Hi Marcella, perhaps that was a poorly worded sentence. I mean that the Texas wine industry is hospitable and does a great job of hosting guests. This is an important element of building an even better wine tourism industry. Cheers.

  5. You “trying” to be kind doesn’t work. Putting another area down because you have been at it longer isn’t using the best of manners, but then NY isn’t well known for that anyways. I sent Donald Trump a case of my wine. He will ditch that piece of worthless dirt he has there when he tastes what we sent him. I will never, ever drink another glass of NY wine because of your NY attitude. Enjoy your snotty little world.

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