Whine capital of Texas

A rigged wine contest peels away Grapevine's grandiose label as the Napa Valley of Texas, revealing instead another cheap import

The hide of a black bear lies spread-eagle on the wall of Mayor William D. Tate's law office on Main Street. The office, which is filled with mounted deer heads, stuffed fowl, and framed arrowheads, is a reminder of Tate's past, when he owned thousands of acres of land along the Mexican border and took clients on guided hunts throughout the 1980s.

Back then, Tate was known to be a wealthy man.
In addition to running his law practice, Tate served as a director of the First National Bank of Grapevine, the city's first bank, founded in 1919.

As the bank's director and the second Tate elected mayor, Tate enjoyed the trust and respect of his peers--especially those at the bank, where Tate borrowed more than a million dollars to expand his ranching operation and invest in a new Grapevine subdivision called "Crystal Butte."

Tate's businesses appeared to do well until the late 1980s, when the real estate boom burst. Tate's own financial fall was not graceful, according to court records filed by Joe Box, the late chairman of the board of the First National Bank of Grapevine, who forced Tate into bankruptcy in 1992.

"Tate gorged himself on loans from clients and friends," Box charged, according to court records. "One by one his obligations began to overtake him. As Tate's financial condition deteriorated he became more and more desperate...Tate built a fantasy world wherein he represented to the world that he had a positive net worth of several million dollars. In truth and in fact, Tate was broke."

By 1995, when the bankruptcy case came to a close, Tate was forced to give up his ranch and his stake in the Grapevine subdivision.

The people of Grapevine were rather sympathetic for the hometown politician, whose daddy used to own the hardware store and other businesses. With the exception of one term in the 1980s, Tate has been the mayor of Grapevine since 1973.

Today, Tate is P.W. McCallum's biggest defender, and that carries a lot of weight.

"He's the cheerleader. He's the one that has promoted the community to all of the nation and around the world," Tate says of McCallum. "He has been the genius behind all of this, and he's probably done more than any one person in the community. I think he's a community treasure."

Tate says that he suspects that the foundation board members have grown jealous of the attention McCallum gets, and that their concerns are a thinly veiled attempt to get him fired.

He also realizes that McCallum and Emrich didn't get along, probably because of "creative" differences, which is why he decided to remove McCallum as CEO.

"There were obviously some conflicts between P.W. and Ron Emrich. Part of what we are trying to do in the reorganization...was to separate those two," Tate says. Although Tate concedes that McCallum rigged the People's Choice, he says that's not significant, as no one ever intended the contest to be taken seriously.

"It was really intended to promote the wineries and get them involved in GrapeFest and to donate to the Heritage Foundation," Tate says. "The idea was to give the wineries publicity."

That is not, however, how the participating wineries viewed the contest. The People's Choice was not a professionally judged contest, but it was a good way to determine the way consumers feel about your wine, says Ste. Genevieve's Garcia.

"When you got an award from the People's Choice, that meant a lot because it came from the consumer," says Garcia, who always assumed that the votes were taken seriously.

As it turns out, there has been a lot more cheating going on at the People's Choice than ever imagined.

Tate says that some wineries had been caught stuffing the ballot box, while others fell into the habit of over-serving the tasters in the hopes of winning their loyalty or getting them so looped that they didn't taste any other wines.

Tate also admits that some wineries, though he wouldn't say which, had an advantage because their booths were placed in the shade, which attracted a higher number of tasters.

"Thinking back on it, some of the wineries have had prime locations compared to others," says Garcia, who has chosen not to open a wine-tasting room in Grapevine. "We've always been in the sun."

From now on, People's Choice participants will have to enter voting booths in order to cast ballots. To offset the weather-related advantages, Tate says, he may move all of the wine booths into the sun.

Tate also accuses the heritage foundation board members of trying to take control of the foundation in an effort to be "autonomous" from the city. The argument is an odd one, given that it was Tate who spearheaded the changes in the foundation's structure. As part of the changes, the city council must approve all financial decisions the foundation makes involving more than $15,000. In the past, the council handled the foundation's property transactions, but never concerned itself with its other decisions.

Ousted board members say they were merely upset that McCallum was making decisions they didn't know about and that they no longer felt they could adequately explain to their contributors where their donations were going.

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