While attending a Lost Maples tasting at Creekside Park H-E-B, Bill Azzam, the store’s wine manager and all around great guy, was kind enough to introduce me to Patrick Prendergast, the president of Mesa Vineyards. Mesa Vineyards’ primary brand is the well-known Ste. Genevieve, but Mesa Vineyards has quite a few other brands. One of those is the H-E-B exclusive, Lost Maples.
Mesa Vineyards is located 27 miles east of Fort Stockton in the Escondido Valley AVA of West Texas. They have several hundred acres of vines planted and grow about a dozen different grape varieties; including Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Zinfandel, Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, and Muscat Canelli. The vineyard and winery were founded over 30 years ago as a partnership between Cordier Estates and The University of Texas Land System. In 2005, Pat purchased the operation and has continuously made investments in both the winery and vineyard.
I recently had a chance to catch up with Pat to learn more about Mesa Vineyards and his experience in the wine industry.
Andrew: How did you get into the wine business? What drew you to Texas to continue your career in the wine industry?
Pat: I’ve been in the wine business for over 30 years now. I was recruited straight out of college at the age of 21 by Gallo and spent 13 years there. I spent the last 3 years of my time at Gallo working in Europe. After my time at Gallo, I founded a company called Universal Wine Network. We helped wineries that were successful in their home markets bring their wines beyond their home market. I sold that business and in 2003 joined Mesa Vineyards. The owners at the time were interested in selling, so that led me to purchase Mesa Vineyards in 2005.
Andrew: What are the biggest changes you’ve seen in the Texas wine industry since you became a part of it?
Pat: One of the biggest changes I’ve seen is how wine is sold into the retail market. It used to be that a winery could deliver a product to their distributor, and the distributor did a lot of the selling to the retailers. Now we have to do a lot of self-selling to the retailers at the corporate level. We spend a lot of time at the retailers’ corporate offices. After we have an agreement with the retailer, then the distributor takes over from there.
Andrew: Besides Ste. Genevieve, Mesa Vineyards has quite a few other brands. Can you share with me more about your other brands?
Pat: We do a lot of work with retailers to develop special brands for them. Lost Maples for H-E-B was a collaborative effort, but sometimes we make an exclusive brand for a retailer based upon what we think works best for them and make a sales proposition based upon that.
Andrew: How many cases a year is Mesa Vineyards making now? What’s the split between Ste. Genevieve and the other brands?
Pat: We’re making about 400,000 cases per year of packaged wine, and we make about another 100,000 cases worth of bulk wines. Ste. Genevieve is about 70% of our production, and the premium wines are 25-30%. The premium wines are the growth area for us.
Andrew: How many states is Ste. Genevieve distributed to? Do y’all distribute any of your other brands beyond Texas?
Pat: We distribute Ste. Genevieve to six states beyond Texas. We like to distribute to states where there is demand for the 1.5L bottle size and where we can partner with motivated distributors. We will begin distributing one of our premium Texas brands to Florida this year. We have a good retail partner in Florida that we think will do a good job of selling this wine. I think we will have stronger distribution beyond Texas in the next two years.
Andrew: What do you think needs to happen for Texas wines to break beyond the Texas market?
Pat: I think it’s going to take three things to happen for Texas wines to push to the next level. First, we need to work to have more banks understand the wine business in Texas. Texas wineries need to be able to make loans to purchase grapes and equipment, and that’s difficult if the banks don’t understand the wine business. Second, we need more crush facilities so wineries and vineyards can crush and store. It also helps wineries get started since they don’t have to purchase all the equipment up front. We’re becoming a big crush facility for other vineyards and wineries. Third, we need brokers to help facilitate the market for grapes between the vineyards and wineries. Right now we’re working with Ciatti to have a broker cover the Texas market.
Texas also needs to further develop its interior appellations. You can buy a $4 bottle of California wine, but you’re not going to find a $4 Napa wine. You can find a $4 French wine, but you’re not going to find a $4 Bordeaux. It’s important to grow the recognition of your AVAs as an image of quality.
Andrew: What at Mesa Vineyards makes you excited?
Pat: We have a new product called RAYS that is a distilled grape beverage made with real fruit. It’s made at a proof that can be sold at grocery stores, so it gives us a unique offering. It’s had a great start at nine Central Market stores, and we plan on selling it in eight states within the next year. We think it will do well and will have our retailers and distributors ask, “What else do you have?”
Mesa Vineyards has a tasting room in Fort Stockton called The Grey Mule Saloon, so if you’re making a trip to West Texas, be sure to stop by.