When TEXSOM draws hundreds of sommeliers, winery representatives, distributors and all-around wine enthusiasts this weekend to a Four Seasons in the Irving area, it’ll mark 10 years since the wine education conference first launched as a small gathering for sommeliers to study up for the exams and certifications that would take them to the next level of wine expert.
For Devon Broglie, master sommelier at Whole Foods, TEXSOM served as a key turning point that encouraged him to continue pursuing his wine education. He participated in the 2006 Texas Best Sommelier Competition, one of the main components of the conference, and won, and at this year’s, in a sort of TEXSOM success story, he will be one of the judges rating 25 other sommeliers. The competition, he said, provides a tough, valuable look at what further sommelier certifications require.
But since James Tidwell and Drew Hendricks, now both master sommeliers themselves, first created TEXSOM — a gathering in 2005 of 88 people — the conference has grown astronomically in scope, size and influence. It’s much more than an educational tool for aspiring sommeliers; it’s also not strictly for Texas.
People from 11 other states, as well as from around the world, will come to learn at the seminars, network and try wines from Texas and beyond at hospitality rooms and a big tasting event on Monday night. (The conference starts Saturday and runs through Monday because, after all, it’s for service industry folks who generally have Sunday and Monday off.) In total, some 900 people will attend, Tidwell said, a number he and Hendricks would never have expected during TEXSOM’s first year.
"If we had known what we were getting into, we might not have done it," he said, chuckling. "But we jumped in with both feet, and here we are."
Although Tidwell won’t give full credit to TEXSOM for the massive growth of the Texas wine industry and the depth of sommelier experience in the last 10 years (Texas now boasts a handful of master sommeliers, a top level that’s extremely hard to achieve), Broglie said that since he first started getting involved with Texas wine in 2005, when he moved here, he’s noticed that TEXSOM has become a "crucial and vital" part of the industry.
That’s because, he and Tidwell both said in separate interviews, everyone has gotten involved and pitched in, from the distributors who normally compete against each other to the wineries that are offering up some of their wines for tastings.
One such winery is Pedernales Cellars, which will have a TEXSOM hospitality suite for wine sampling with other Hill Country wineries, including Duchman Family Winery, Brennan Vineyards and Bending Branch Winery. Pedernales’ co-founder Fredrik Osterberg said TEXSOM hasn’t just benefited sommeliers — it’s taught many over the years that Texas is a wine region worthy of being on the map right alongside well-established wine regions like Napa Valley.
"To some extent, our success is partially due to support from the community," Osterberg said. "They’ve discovered us and promoted us. Now everybody knows about Texas wines, but years ago, people were saying ‘This is high-quality wine, even though it’s from Texas.’ They stepped up for us."
Tidwell, in fact, was one of the first sommeliers to put Pedernales wines on the menu at the Four Seasons, where he works and where the conference is held annually.
He said that as sommeliers have learned more, both through the conference and elsewhere, they’ve been better able "to frame Texas wines. We understand how they fit into the global pictures, and we know we make wines as good as anywhere else in the world.
"As (wineries) get more confident, we get more confident about their message and showcasing them," he said. "That’s sometimes hard to do, actually, because Texas consumes so much of our own wine that there’s not a lot to send out of state. But people who don’t live here and try them are amazed by them. We’ve seen the overall level of talent come up, and part of that is because wineries know what to plant where. So we’ve really grown up together, and it’s great to watch and be a part of."
He and Hendricks don’t have anything big planned to commemorate 10 years of TEXSOM. They’d rather look ahead than back to that first conference, "when it was 88 people and disorganized."
"We’re looking forward; we don’t want to engage in navel gazing or self-congratulating," he said. "Ultimately, it’s not about the conference. It’s about the industry and seeing it come together for many more years."