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Texas Wine Industry Considers Identifying Best of the Bunch

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Texas wine enthusiasts seeking a better way to convey to consumers which local wines deserve their attentions are broaching the possibility of creating a wine quality program.

Russ Kane, a wine writer who's moderating a panel on wine quality at this week's Texas Wine and Grape Growers Association conference in San Marcos, describes the program as "something that would demonstrate the wine has been evaluated and deemed a quality wine."

In other new wine-growing regions, such as Ohio, wines made with primarily state-grown grapes are eligible to apply for a "quality wine" designation. Wines which pass sensory evaluation and chemical analysis tests can be sold with official "Ohio Quality Wine" seals.

A similar program was first explored in Texas in 2003, but Kane hopes to reignite excitement for the concept.

"Whether we get wineries to support it is why we're having the panel," Kane explains.

Since a wine quality program was first proposed, state enologist Mike Sipowitz has started consulting with wineries, offering free, confidential advice to winemakers. Kane believes his approach could provide the foundation for a consumer-oriented wine quality program.

Kane emphasizes any such program would be voluntary.

"You know how Texans are," he adds.

In addition to discussing a wine quality program, the eight-person panel will also take on the issue of improving Texas wines. Awarding seals is an "end result," Kane says, of better education and communication throughout the industry. The Texas AgriLife Extension Service has been working on both fronts, but Kane worries the state budget crunch could endanger those efforts.

"AgriLife is a relatively new support service, but it's proven to be phenomenal," Kane says. "I'm just crossing my fingers that sanity will prevail and legislators will look on both sides of the ledger."

The AgriLife Extension Service's wine programming costs the state about $4.3 million every two years. According to Kane, the state wine industry's worth $1.7 billion annually, and is continuing to grow.

"We're at a crux right now," he says. "We're making some changes, we're making improvements, yet we still have to work on making them better."

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