The crowd at TEXSOM’s annual sommelier conference is always an interesting mix. It includes not just sommeliers, but also distributors, retailers, winery owners, winemakers, writers, and general wine enthusiasts. The conference agenda features an impressive lineup of Master Sommeliers, Masters of Wine, and similarly well-respected wine experts who descend on the Four Seasons Resort & Club Dallas for educational seminars, networking, and plenty of wine tasting. Texans are well represented in all of these categories. Similarly, Texas wines are visible at the conference both as selections in the educational seminars and in sponsored tasting exhibitions.
The first opportunity for Texas wine to shine at TEXSOM was at a luncheon sponsored by the Texas Wine and Grape Growers Association (TWGGA). Each day of the seminar, conference attendees have a chance to pick one of 11 sponsored lunches. In the TWGGA luncheon, guests arrived to find eight bottles of Texas wine on each table. The wines were all gold medal winners from the 2019 Lone Star International Wine Competition. Paul Bonarrigo of Messina Hof Winery, President of TWGGA, welcomed the group and said a few words of introduction. Each winery representative present was able to share a few words about the wines on the tables. It was nice to meet Jacob and Rikki Leigh Willoughby of Red House Winery. This Nacogdoches winery is new on the Texas wine scene. The Willoughbys are learning the wine business with guidance from Wedding Oak Winery. Their 2018 Roussanne reserve was a hit. Other wines on the table included selections from Duchman Family Winery, Kuhlman Cellars, Pedernales Cellars, Becker Vineyard, Llano Estacado Winery, Landon Winery, and Messina Hof Winery.
Perhaps the largest stage for Texas wines at TEXSOM was during a seminar on Tempranillo. Jessica Dupuy, a regular Texas Monthly wine writer and supporter of Texas wine, joined Masters of Wine Sarah Jane Evans and Dirceu Vianna Junior as speakers for the session. A total of 13 100% Tempranillo wines were poured, and two Texas wines made the list. Jessica chose the 2016 Fall Creek Vineyard “Exterra” Tempranillo from Salt Lick Vineyards and the 2016 Pedernales Cellars Reserve Tempranillo. Both wines showed very well and received positive remarks from panelists and attendees. Some discussion followed on the prices of the Texas wines which have higher price tags than many of the Spanish Tempranillos that were poured.
Outside of the educational seminars and lunches, TEXSOM attendees had many opportunities to taste Texas wine. On Monday evening, both Texas Fine Wine and the Texas Department of Agriculture hosted tasting exhibitions. At the Texas Fine Wine suite, representatives from Bending Branch Winery, Brennan Vineyards, Duchman Family Winery, Pedernales Cellars, and Spicewood Vineyards poured wine and shared information on the 2019 harvest. Each winery poured four wines, so the suite had 20 Texas wines available to taste. A table showcased the many medals that these wineries have won in recent wine competitions. Winery representatives didn’t just come to TEXSOM to pour wines, though. They also attended educational seminars, lunches, and networking events throughout the conference.
Just down the hall, the Texas Department of Agriculture’s Uncork Texas Wines exhibition featured 13 Texas wines poured by members of the Grapevine Wine Pouring Society It was a pleasure to meet Assistant Commissioner of Agriculture Dan Hunter and Lindsay Baerwald of the GO TEXAN Texas wine program. We discussed the new opportunities for Texas wineries to pour at the State Fair of Texas on September 27 through October 20. Can’t wait! Wineries represented in the exhibition included Lost Draw Cellars, Hye Meadow Winery, Messina Hof Winery, Fall Creek Vineyards, Pedernales Cellars, Wedding Oak Winery, Lost Oak Winery, Kiepersol, McPherson Cellars, and Llano Estacado Winery.
Texas wines that medaled during the 2019 TEXSOM International Wine Awards (TIWA) were poured for attendees during tasting breaks and in networking lounges. Each time I passed the TIWA table, I spotted a bottle of Texas wine being poured. This is just one way that TEXSOM promotes the wines that win medals at the annual competition.
The final event of the conference was the Grand Tasting on Tuesday night. I studied the winery map before venturing into the large tasting spaces that spread out between two ballrooms. My first stop was the William Chris Vineyards table where I met Chris Brundrett and complimented him on the new Pét-Nat that I had sampled the night before. Next, I visited Paul and Karen Bonarrigo of Messina Hof who poured me the Paulo blend. Finally, I lingered at the Pedernales table to visit with Julie Kuhlken and sample the GSM Mélange, my final Texas wine of the day.
Christina Walther of Jeffrey’s of Austin was announced as the winner of the 2019 TEXSOM Best Sommelier competition. She won a $2500 scholarship to continue her wine training. Jeffrey’s of Austin also employs the second and third place finishers, Skyler Ring and Austin Farina. The competitors completed exercises in blind tasting, service, and theory during this rigorous process. Congratulations!
It was a great year for Texas wines at TEXSOM.