Drink Up

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Far from a traditional winery, Swirll is little more than an attractive environment for fiddling with home winemaking kits. With four mixing and three bottling stations just aft of the tasting bar, Swirll supplies varietal grape juices and concentrates in 6-gallon bladders ("Like a mini-waterbed," Peggy says) from the British Columbia firm Winexpert Inc., owned by the Canadian winery Andrés Wines Ltd. Winexpert bills itself as the world's largest manufacturer of premium winemaking kits, and Swirll stocks Winexpert's Selection brand of juices, which range from New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc to Stag's Leap District (Napa) Merlot, to Barbaresco (Italy). With Winexpert's Island Mist brand, customers can ferment fruit flavored wines such as black raspberry Merlot and peach apricot Chardonnay. The winery also offers kits for Port, cream sherry and Riesling Eiswein or ice wine, the German wine rendered from frozen grapes. "You could put it on your pancakes, it's so good," Peggy Davion insists.

Once the wine is blended, the plastic buckets are stocked on steel racks in a temperature-controlled backroom for fermenting. Swirll's "winemakers" then transfer the wines at various stages to a stepped series of 6-gallon clear plastic carboys for racking before the wines are clarified and filtered.

Though this is hardly the stuff to arouse the tongues of hardcore wine enthusiasts, Swirll's concept will no doubt appeal to downtown's herd of professionals huddled in firms and partnerships. What law partner wouldn't beam over a few bottles of French Merlot with his or her name on the label?

Will Texas cities be the next terrain to be invaded by hordes of commercial winemakers? With the Texas wet-dry patchwork cast into irrelevancy, the bet is good that they will. As wine consultant Bobby Cox says, Texas law has been a suffocating barrier, forcing the industry into Lilliputian dimensions for generations. Now Texas wineries can infiltrate metropolitan areas, where most of the state's wine enthusiasts live.

The propagation rate of new Texas wineries and vineyard acreage is likely to accelerate at a mind-bending pace. Gabe Parker, owner of Homestead Winery in Ivanhoe and chairman of the Texas Wine & Grape Growers Association legislative committee, says he expects the total number of Texas wineries to strike between 300 and 500 over the next five years. By contrast, California has 1,294 wineries. But the growth comes with a stern warning: Texas is perhaps the riskiest region on the planet to grow and produce wine. "It helps to be good and rich, but it really helps to be lucky," Cox says. "The newcomer always takes it in the shorts. "

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Mark Stuertz
Contact: Mark Stuertz