Rae Wilson didn’t come to Texas with the ambition of disrupting the wine industry. It was a big challenge – an emerging region that is the size of the country of France, a 40-year history, lots of varietals to choose from and the need to build a community of like-minded advocates.
But entrepreneurship runs deep in Rae’s blood. And she was up for the challenge. The St. Louis native became a sommelier and later learned winemaking in Napa Valley and Portugal. She brought that talent to Texas and started to talk to anyone with influence in wine circles. Rae’s name immediately surfaces as someone who has helped change Texas wine. I’ve heard her name for a long time, but a good friend has been telling me I needed to dive in more when she featured her as one of the top wines in her State Fair Texas collaboration.
But Rae didn’t strike gold in Texas immediately. When she moved here, she dove right in planting a small vineyard in Texas. Ironically, six years later, this particular vineyard has not yielded fruit. That didn’t stop her.
She started Wine For the People, a company (even a mantra) inspiring community through wine culture and collaborating with nature to foster connection. They produce three wine brands: Dandy Rosé, The Grower Project and La Valentía. She’s opened a Hill Country wine tasting room featuring Wines for the People Wines and C.L. Butaud.
She co-founded The Grower Project with Andrew Sides of Lost Draw Cellars to connect growers to the larger market and raise awareness of individual vineyard sites exhibiting the wide-ranging terroir of the vast state. The Grower Project bottles single-site wines made from 100% Texas grapes showcasing the story of Texas wine.
Her excitement for the region is evident as we tasted through the Dandy Rosé still (they make a sparkling as well) and La Valentía red. She talked about how Texas is an established region, but has an independent culture. “There is a communal sharing of information that is happening which is making Texas wines better,” she said. “Texas wines have a sense of place showing the clarity of the fruit.”
The 2019 Dandy Rosé is a traditional Southern French blend featuring varieties grown in Texas. Sold in Texas at Central Market and Whole Foods for around $20, it is a blend of 40 percent Mourvèdre, 25 percent Cinsault, 15 percent Syrah, 10 percent Grenache and 10 percent Counoise.
The wine is in its sixth vintage and it’s delightful with lots of red berry, cherry and floral notes. Rae talked about the copious amount of dry rosé that she enjoyed in Texas weather and the ability to drink it year-round. I concur.
La Valentía wines are a homage to Rae’s grandmother whose family name meant courageous. “It’s a homage to my grandmother and amazing bad ass women who have succeeded against all odds,” Rae said.
Flip over the bottle and you’ll see Bessie Coleman, the first women to have a pilot’s license quoted, “As soon as I walk, I am going to fly.” And the label is designed by Katy Schmader who creates paper collages inspired by the earth—its land and materials. Rae saw her art, waited in line to meet her, and asked if she’d be interested in creating her label because she embodied her vision of the brand. Then it took a while to make the wine and she recalled the “remember me” phone call.
We tasted the wine, which as a blend of 70 percent Carignon, 10 percent Mourvèdre, 10 percent Grenache and 10 percent Counoise. This is a higher-end, boutique label featuring older vineyards and is only available for wine club members with a retail price of $34. Notes of cranberry, strawberry, spice and herbs that make you really taste what is special about Texas wines.
And as we saw last week, Texas weather is still full of discovery for winemakers. After Texas’ big storm last week, many Texas winemakers still are uncovering the extent of the damage. The continued challenge of agriculture products and wine in crazy Texas weather. I am hoping for the best because the evolution of Texas wines has been exciting.
And Rae proves there is so much more to discover in this state and she has a new Texas perspective. In her wines, she wants people to drink wine from a particular place. “I want people that drink my wines to have a liquid recording of a particular place and season,” she said.