This past Saturday, a sold-out crowd gathered at Le Cordon Bleu Institute of Culinary Arts in North Dallas for the first-ever DrinkLocalWine.com Conference. Hosted by website founders Jeff Siegel and Dave McIntyre and the Texas Department of Agriculture's Go Texan program, the event drew wine makers, wine writers, bloggers and enthusiasts from far and wide for discussions on the topic of regional wine from "around here"--wherever "here" happens to be.
Needless to say, this was not your typical wine to-do.
We didn't see many neckties or raised pinkies and conversation rarely veered into Robert Parker territory. Instead, new and noteworthy labels and varieties were in the spotlight, with a heavy emphasis on Texas wine. In satellite radio terms, think XM U or Underground Garage, not 20 on 20.
We snagged a seat and a glass and listened in on some eye-opening conversations, and more than a couple of clashes. Here's a taste of what the local wine crowd was buzzing about:
"There's all this wonderful wine out there! ...You'll see quality $8, $10 and $12 bottles." (Jeff Siegel, conference host and wine columnist for the Fort Worth Star-Telegram and Dallas' Advocate magazines on why local wine's a major bargain.) "Pour it first, before you tell 'em what it is." (Chesley Sanders, founder of Lone Star Wines in Fort Worth, on how to get people to try the aforementioned, low-cost, regional wine.) "It's gradual...changes are happening." (John Griffin of Savor SA on the process of changing our bass-ackward Texas liquor laws so that Texas wine is easier to get.) "We're not hitting the right people with the information...Sending every wine off to be judged by Wine Spectator is not the answer." (Griffin again, on promoting our wines.) "Just because you can doesn't mean you should." (Richard Leahy, East Coast Editor for Vineyard & Winery Management Magazine, on why Texas shouldn't grow grapes like Cabernet Sauvignon just because they're popular.) "We do very well with that particular variety." (Greg Bruni, Vice President and winemaker for Llano Estacado, on his success with Cab grapes--in strong response to Leahy's statement.)
Later in the discussion, master sommelier and grape grower Guy Stout asked another gentleman if he'd like to "step outside" when it was insinuated that he was growing the wrong type of grapes on his land. Yeah, them's fightin' words in this crowd, but there were ultimately no fisticuffs this time around. Stout assured us afterward--with a wink and a smile--that he had no intention of "kicking anybody's ass."
"We wanna be different from California." (Esteemed grape-grower Neal Newsom on why Texans will always do things our own way.) "The millennials are going to save the wine industry...They want to have new experiences." (Leahy on wine's newest fans--and why they don't give much of a damn about points and scores.) And, finally, our favorite quote of the conference came from Greg Bruni of Llano Estacado: "Quality wine is something that's hard to explain, but it's easy to taste."
The winemaker then sent the crowd into hysterics with his follow-up statement: "Texas makes the best Texas wine in the world."