San Antonio has an odd relationship with Texas wine. Many residents take the short drive north to visit the Texas Hill Country wineries, but afterwards, those same people decide to not buy Texas wine at area retailers and restaurants. Far too many times at my neighborhood H-E-B, shoppers will walk right past Texas wine samples. So when I visited the San Antonio Stock Show and Rodeo H-E-B Wine Garden in 2013, I was not surprised by the lack of Texas wine. But that is not the case today.
In October, the Rodeo’s wine committee holds their annual competition. This year’s winners included many Texas wineries and a large list of Texas wines. A few weeks before the Rodeo, the Champion Wine Auction is held to raise funds for S.A.L.E. This year, Mike Batek from Hye Meadow Winery reached out to the Rodeo and acquired me two tickets to the sought out event. After a bad experience with the H-E-B Wine Garden in 2013 (see my article at Vitis Poema for more), I was a bit leery; however, as soon as I stepped up for my first tasting at the auction, everything changed. On the primary white tasting table, Texas wine dominated.
Before the auction got going, guests mingled outside under a heated tent at the Briscoe Western Art Museum. As we moved through the crowd, we tasted many of this year’s Champions. We sipped on white wines and rosés from throughout Texas, as well as a handful of non-Texas wines. The reds were quite popular. The first section was dominated by non-Texas wines and included the Grand Champion Malbec from J. Rickards Winery in California. Later that evening, we would find ourselves sitting next to their representative and learning about the small winery. Closer to the door to the main auction, a long line of primarily Texas reds (including some Texas dessert wines, Texas whites, and a handful of non-Texas reds) provided a diverse selection of what Texas has to offer. If I wanted to, I could have drank only Texas wines that night and still had too many from which to select.
Alongside the sampling, the mixer provided plenty of entertainment. Live music played to warm the chilly night. For $25, we took a chance at the Ring Toss. We tried to land our rings on the competition winners, and took home those that we ringed; we came home with Hye Meadow’s Aglianico among our winnings. Two other fundraisers shared the tent space. At Camo and Cab, we bought a glass of Cabernet in a beautiful painted camo wine glass in hopes of scoring a Yeti cooler. Next to it, guests bought a chance to win a full set of pearl jewelry while enjoying Champagne from a Rodeo flute.
Bidding on silent auction items took place among the merriment in the tent. Packages and cases made up most of the auction, and among those offerings, Texas wine made quite a show. Many collections of Texas winners and cases of Texas winners were available, and the bids on these lots ran rather high.
The main event of the evening was the live auction. Hye Meadow and Messina Hof Winery poured their wines for select guests. Mike Batek and Paul Bonarrigo moved through the tables a good part of the evening. We found seats among the winery guests. Merrill Bonarrigo sat at our table, while Steven Krueger, representing Bingham Family Vineyards, sat at the next table. Familiar faces from McPherson Cellars and Becker Vineyards could also be easily found. We dined on great food provided by Tre Enoteca and Smoke the Restaurant (both in San Antonio) and drank the wine at our table, Messina Hof’s DBZ and Tempranillo.
Lots in the live auction included trips and tours at winning wineries and special wine packages (including a collection of cases). Lot 8 offered the Reserve Champion White Wine – the 2014 Viognier Reserve (High Plains) from Becker Vineyards, along with other goodies and a tour. Lot 10 showcased cases from Texas wine winners found along U.S. 290 in the Hill Country. Lot 11, the Best of Herd lot, came with a number of goodies from Messina Hof, along with a stay and dinner at the main winery in Bryan.
All of the Texas wine winners at the 2016 San Antonio Stock Show and Rodeo wine competition and their abundance at one the Rodeo’s premiere events suggests a shift in wine tastes in San Antonio. This is a good sign for the rest of February and beyond. The H-E-B Wine Garden at the Rodeo features competition winners, where a real taste of Texas wine awaits. Bingham Family Vineyards will pair their wines with food from Smoke on the last Saturday of the Rodeo. With Texas wines playing such a prominent role this year, “Let’s Rodeo San Antonio!”
The 2016 San Antonio Stock Show and Rodeo runs from February 11-28 at the AT&T Center and Freeman Coliseum Grounds, 3201 East Houston Street, San Antonio, TX 78219.