The pandemic created a quandary for many organizations.  Especially for time honored traditions that brought large crowds of people together like the State Fair of Texas, which has taken place every year since 1886 (except for varying periods during World War I and World War II).  In my family, it has become part of our October ritual and it left a gaping hole in a tradition that began 15 years ago.

 

October is Texas Wine Month and it’s been a tough year for Texas wineries, first with a 2019 freeze that impacted this year’s harvest in the High Plains, which accounts for 70 percent of Texas’ grapes, followed by the Governor Greg Abbott’s shutdown of tasting rooms for months.

 

Wine has always been part of the Fair’s mission of celebrating agriculture, community and education.  I talked with Jennifer Schuder, Senior Vice President of Marketing for the State Fair of Texas who happens to be one of my closest friends, and we talked about how quickly the Fair had to pivot with the Pandemic to still celebrate Texas products.

 

“The Texas wine industry is a vital and growing part of the Texas agricultural scene, she said.  “Wine is a common link across our mission and while we can’t enjoy a glass of Texas wine in the Wine Garden, we decided to take the annual Blue Ribbon Selection virtual.”

 

The Wine Garden always featured Texas Wines, but Jennifer knew they needed to evolve the concept to showcase the quality and craftsmanship of wines coming out of Texas by taking a curated approach to the selection.  Prior to the pandemic, it was something they were working toward.  COVID accelerated the Fair’s plan.

 

 

 

 

How does a non-profit without a focus on wine come up with a concept that showcases a variety of diverse Texas wines at a price point consumers can afford with wines consumers can access?  The Fair has already started the Texas Blue Ribbon wine competition last year to show the best Texas had to offer.  It was time for the next evolution.

 

Bringing Texas Wine Home

 

Photo Courtesy of the State Fair of Texas

 

Three people were brought in to bring the vision to life (ironically two are dear friends of mine from the wine world):

 

Heather Queen, aka Queen of Grapes, who is a Certified Sommelier and WSET Level III with 35 years of experience working in fine dining who recently opened her wine concierge business.  Last year, I hired her to organize and categorize my wine cellar.  She’s become a good friend since.

 

Shelly Wilfong, who is Creator and Host of the Podcast “This is Texas Wine” podcast.  She is Dallas-based wine educator, founder of the Dallas Women’s Wine Club, holds a Certified Specialist of Wine designation through the Society of Wine Educators as well as the Level 3 Advanced award from the Wine and Spirit Education Trust (WSET) and is a Specialist of Texas Wine through the Texas Wine School.  We are also fellow Texas Wineaux and prior to COVID, would drink wine together often.

 

Jason Hisaw is the Texas portfolio manager for Republic National Distributing Company (RNDC) and he is an Advanced Sommelier through the Court of Master Sommeliers.

 

They each came to the table with four recommendations for the mixed case ranging from pioneering wineries to up-and-comers.  They wanted a mix to show the variety, quality and value of Texas wines at an average of under $25 a bottle.

 

The last piece of the puzzle to solve was shipping.  Roots and Water Wine, a private wine club and broker in Dallas fulfilled that role. (disclosure: I am a member of the wine club)

 

Bringing Texas Wine Home

 

Jennifer talked about Fair from Home programs like the Blue Ribbon Wine Selections, Taste of Texas (with Scardello’s Cheese) and Fair Food Fun.  With Blue Ribbon Wine, they were able to bring the experiences of Texas Wine County and the winemakers to your living room.

 

And, in the midst of harvest — sometimes setting up logistics from a tractor on the vineyards — the winemakers made time for a series of virtual tastings.  Heather talked how it was evident many of them hadn’t seen each other in some time and the discussion topics ranged from being a pioneer in Texas wine, the evolution of the industry and some of the latest innovations in production and winemaking.

 

Here are the twelve wines that make up the 2020 Blue Ribbon Selection with grapes from the High Plains and the Hill Country with some well-known and new varietals.  Ten were 100 percent Texas grown and two were made in Texas.  By law, a winery cannot designate a wine as a Texas “appellation” wine if it isn’t made with at least 75 percent Texas fruit.  If it has less, wineries are not allowed to sell it outside of the state and it must be marked as American Appellation, which means the grapes come from more than one state, or they can mark the back of the bottle as “For Sale In Texas Only.”

 

Here are the list of wines and use the promo code “Big Tex” for free shipping:

  • NV McPherson Cellars Winery, Sparkling Chenin Blanc
  • 2019 The Grower Project Albaniño
  • 2019 Fall Creek Winery Sauvignon Blanc
  • 2019 William Chris Vineyards Skeleton Key White Blend
  • 2019 Dandy Rosé
  • 2019 Lewis Wines Red Blend
  • 2017 Pedernales Cellars GSM
  • 2017 C.L. Butaud Tempranillo
  • 2017 Duchman Family Winery Montepulciano
  • 1836 2017 Cabernet Sauvignon Blend
  • 2019 Reddy Vineyards Red Blend
  • 2017 Bending Branch Winery Texas Tannat

If you want to watch the tastings, here are the links:

 

Blue Ribbon Wednesday 1: Roundtable tasting with Rae Wilson, Owner & Winemaker, Dandy Rose and Shawn Croft, Distribution Manager, Pedernales

 

Blue Ribbon Wednesday 2: Roundtable tasting with Eric Sigmund, Chief Operations Officer, Reddy Vineyards, Ed Auler, Owner, & Sergio Cuadra, Winemaker, Fall Creek Vineyards, and Kim McPherson, Owner, McPherson Cellars Winery

 

Blue Ribbon Wednesday 3: Roundtable tasting with Jennifer McInnis Fadel, General Manager, Bending Branch, Tony Offill, Winemaker, William Chris Vineyards and Jason Centanni, Winemaker & Bill Friedhof, VP of Sales & Marketing, Llano Estacado

 

Blue Ribbon Wednesday 4 (not yet posted): Roundtable tasting with Dave Reilly, Winemaker, Duchman Family Winery and Randy Hester, Owner, CL Butaud.

 

The response has been more than anticipated.  “We weren’t sure what the response would be,” Heather said.  We’ve shipped cases of wine to CO, NY, FL and Texas.  It’s given people in the US a chance to try great wines that normally never make it out of Texas and meet the people who make them.”

 

I asked her what she learned through this program.  “It’s really how good Texas wine can be and the differences terroir can make.”

 

I asked Jennifer the future of the wine program at the Fair.  “It’s a great opportunity to continue to evolve the program.  I see food pairings, more content and maybe even a blue ribbon selection curated by a panel of Texas Wine experts you can try and buy at the fair.”