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Whine capital of Texas

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What the brochures fail to mention is that the relationship between Grapevine's history and the Texas wine industry is more of a one-night stand than a life-long romance.

McCallum did not respond to a request for an interview for this story, but most everyone agrees that Grapevine's transformation into a wine district really took off in 1993.

For years, city ordinances prohibited the retail sale of wine in Grapevine. But city officials couldn't change the ordinances, because doing so would require a county election to change dry laws. Grapevine lies in three different counties, and nobody knew who had the authority to hold an election.

In 1993, the city council voted to de-annex some 470 acres of uninhabited land in Denton and Dallas counties and called an election. The people approved the ordinance change and, afterward, the city re-annexed the land.

At the time, passage of the ordinance was celebrated as the way that "Napa Valley started," while McCallum told reporters to expect a "serious cluster of Texas wineries" in Grapevine within 10 years.

Today there are four "wineries" in Grapevine, although Delaney Winery & Vineyard is the only one with a vineyard that actually grows grapes and manufactures wines in Grapevine. (The others are simply tasting rooms.) The other three winemakers are Homestead, La Buena Vida, and La Bodega, which is located in the airport. Cap*Rock winery is expected to open a fifth tasting room in town later this summer.

The idea to use wine as a tourist attraction has its obvious advantages to the city, but the concept is beneficial for wineries as well. Any winery that moves to Grapevine is going to be guaranteed free public relations, says Lisa Allen, the executive director of the Texas Wine and Grape Growers Association. Allen says TWGGA relocated to Grapevine from Austin in 1995 because the city's offer, and its location near the D/FW airport, was too good to pass up.

"Texas wine is part of the [PR] campaign; it's part of the plan, if you will," Allen says. "When you have a city that's willing to do that much for your organization, it's hard to turn that down."

So far, the city's batting average in attracting wineries isn't bad--five in five years. But there are 27 wineries in the state, and not all of them are exactly eager to jump onto the Grapevine bandwagon.

Leonard Garcia, president of Ste. Genevieve winery in Fort Stockton, the state's largest winery, says that Grapevine may be calling itself the Wine Capital of Texas, but that it is so only from a promotional viewpoint.

"When you talk 'wine capital of Texas,' the Hill Country stands out more to me than Grapevine does," Garcia says. "You have one vineyard there in Grapevine. You've got four or five or more in the Hill Country that have been there much longer."

One particularly outspoken holdout is Walter Haimann, president of the Llano Estacado winery in Lubbock. Haimann thinks Grapevine's effort to promote the Texas wine industry is just fine, but he says its attempt to compare itself to the Napa Valley and Sonoma regions of Northern California is "ludicrous."

"The issue in Grapevine is a gimmick," Haimann says. "These are not wineries at that location, except possibly for Delaney. The rest of them are tasting rooms, and satellite tasting rooms should not be permitted. They bill themselves as wineries, and they are not, but the average customer doesn't know it."

The difference, Haimann says, is that Napa Valley has 100 wineries within walking distance of each other that customers can visit to learn about the winemaking process from the vineyards to the bottling rooms.

In Grapevine, the "wineries" operate more like stores, where people are encouraged to hang out and drink wine. The goal is to introduce new customers to Texas wines and, hopefully, convince them to go home with a few bottles.

Although McCallum is spinning the vineyard aspect of the wineries (as recently as last month, he told the Fort Worth Star-Telegram that the goal of a "residential vineyard program" is to have grapevines growing in "every Grapevine yard"), Mayor Tate concedes that the city has had to abandon the concept of vineyards.

"We originally conceived of having aesthetic vineyards growing, but in the last few years the land values have soared," says Tate, who makes his living by handling real estate transactions for a local title company. "So the tasting rooms are becoming tasting rooms without the vineyards."

But the lack of vineyards hasn't stopped McCallum's wine publicity campaign.
In 1993, McCallum started the Texas New Vintage Wine & Food Festival, which, like GrapeFest, is a weekend event designed to lure tourists into Grapevine to taste samples of Texas wines. Before the wine-drinking begins, a local pastor usually opens the event with a "traditional" blessing of the vines. Last year, a Catholic priest prayed over 84 sprouts that one Grapevine resident planted in his back yard.

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Rose Farley
Contact: Rose Farley