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Texas wine hits its stride

State's wineries focusing on viognier, tempranillo, other local grapes 'that we can hang our hats on'

Addie Broyles
abroyles@statesman.com

Russ Kane put almost 7,000 miles on his car driving across the state while researching his new book, "The Wineslinger Chronicles: Texas on the Vine" (Texas Tech University Press, $29.95). He's back on the road this month, but for a different reason.

Kane, a Houston resident who blogs about wine at VintageTexas.com, is a featured speaker at wine festival after wine festival, including three just this week, to talk about the industry he has spent almost 15 years covering.

On Friday, he and fellow author Terry Thompson-Anderson are the featured guests at a "locavore, locapour" event at the National Museum of the Pacific War's Ruff Haus in Fredericksburg that is part of the three-day Hill Country Wine and Music Festival (hillcountrywineand music.com). He'll travel to Bryan on Saturday for Messina Hof's Wine and Roses Festival (messinahof.com/wineroses), and at the Austin Food & Wine Festival on Sunday, he'll lead a panel with sommeliers Craig Collins, Devon Broglie and June Rodil, as well as Food & Wine editor Ray Isle, about Texas wines.

"The wines that (the Texas wine industry) are making our name on aren't the old standard, West-Coast formula of chardonnay, cabernet and merlot," he says. "We're finally hitting our stride in terms of finding the grapes that we can hang our hats on. It ain't Bordeaux, and it sure as hell ain't Burgundy."

Viognier, tempranillo and touriga nacional grapes, for example, grow well in Texas, but they are still relatively unknown because their European counterparts are known by their geography instead (Rioja, for example, instead of tempranillo).

But wine lovers, especially those visiting Texas, are starting to figure it out. More than 1 million tourists visited Texas wineries in 2009, spending almost $380 million while they were at it. Texas wines are doing better at national and international contests, too, which is drawing publicity, sometimes in unintended ways.

Kane cited the recent double gold that Lost Oak Winery won in San Francisco for its viognier. Once the winery, which had been known as Lone Oak, received the national acclaim, wine giant Kendall Jackson, which owns an estate with a similar name, intensified its trademark battle against the once-almost-overlooked Burleson winery. "It's the yin and yang," Kane says. "Now that we're winning these big awards, we are fair game for just about everybody."

At the Food & Wine Festival, Kane and his panelists will focus on the six Texas wines that won gold at the recent Dallas Morning News and TexSom Wine Competition.

He's hoping that some of the national attention from the festival will bode well for the Texas winemakers who sometimes get overlooked in the press because their wines aren't readily available outside the state. Texas is the fifth-largest wine-producing state but we're also the fourth-largest wine-consuming state, Kane says. "It'll be a long time before we have enough grapes to ship out of the state."

At his events this week, he'll spend a lot of time talking about what Texas winemakers are doing right and trying to change the minds of the consumers who still think of Texas wines in terms of their California counterparts. "The wine styles are so different; the grapes are different," he says. Texas' geography, soil and varied climate are more similar to Mediterranean countries like Spain and Portugal whose wines have experienced a surge of popularity in recent years. "It's up to us to lay the groundwork for teaching people about the Texas wine experience."

Contact Addie Broyles at 912-2504 Twitter: @broylesa