Most of us buy Texas wine and we start a little collection to either age or just show off to our friends and family. One couple started a collection that surpassed the expectation of most Texas wine lovers.
I received an email earlier this year from Lanny Smith with a request. He and his wife Claris collected wines from 2013-2017 and the collection was over 500 unique bottles from over 300 Texas wineries.
The collection included what they called “genesis” wines. These were the very first wines made by a winery for public sale. Lanny explained, “I personally contacted many wineries and talked to the owners with an explanation of what we were doing and, if possible, did they still have a ‘genesis’ with which they would part. Of course, many did not and some who did were persuaded to part with a ‘genesis’ wine.”
The request from Lanny to me was if I could help find someone or an entity that they could donate the wines to. Yes, donate the wines. There were a few stipulations though. One is the entire collection must be kept together intact. Intact also means the bottles must not be opened and drunk. And the final stipulation is the interested party must work through me and then pick up the collection directly from the Smith’s house. They thought the collection would be a good backdrop for a winery or wine-related business.
This was an interesting request, and I could only imagine over 40 cases of wine sitting somewhere in my house that I couldn’t drink. Lanny mailed me a list of the collection and I enjoyed reading through it. Many of the wineries I have personally visited, so it was refreshing my memories of many trips throughout Texas over the years having visited over 450 Texas wineries. Some of the wineries are no longer in business or have changed names so they are what I would deem collectible.
I needed to reach out for suggestions, so I asked our Texas Wine Lover Website Facebook group members for suggestions. A lot of ideas came up but then Elizabeth Rodriguez, Wine Director at Cabernet Grill in Fredericksburg, asked owner Ross Burtwell if they had room for the bottles. The immediate answer from Ross was, “Yes!”
Some emails transpired and Cabernet Grill was soon the proud recipient of this incredible Texas wine collection. It would take months for Cabernet Grill to make changes to their dining room so the wine collection could be properly displayed in wine racks. During that time, Ross Burtwell reached out to Lanny Smith with some questions.
Ross: “What was the motivation for putting together such a diverse collection?”
Lanny: “The challenge. After reading and researching the Texas wine industry, came the desire to have a physical representation that traced its growth and diversity. Isn’t that a good representation of rationale? In reality, it was just plain fun.
“The collecting went far beyond just ‘accumulating’ Texas wines. We had so much fun traversing Texas, seeing places ‘off the beaten path,’ and I seriously so often got lost and turned around!
“At the first winery visited, off the highway, across a railroad track, onto a gravel road, we were first greeted by a goat. The ‘winery’ was in what must have been an old farmhouse, with linoleum floors…a wonderful experience.
“The satisfaction of ‘collecting’ was great; however, meeting the winery owners and listening to their stories was the highlight. To the nth degree, they were/are wonderful people.”
Ross: “Did you personally visit all of those wineries?”
Lanny: “No, not all, but the majority of them we did. All said and done, it was a fun-filled and wonderful experience. The kind that congers up pleasant memories and puts a smile on your face.”
After receiving the collection, Wine Director Elizabeth Rodriguez said, “We have been serving exclusively Texas wines at the Cabernet Grill for over 15 years now, and I have a strong knowledge of wines from all over the state of Texas, but some of the finds we discovered while unloading the collection were really eye-opening.
“The diversity of the collection is truly remarkable. It is easy to see that this collection was curated by a couple that is truly passionate about the Texas wine industry, I bet they had all kinds of fun discovering so many wines from one end of the state to the other.”
Ross Burtwell talked about the collection. He said, “We were very excited to learn that such a diverse collection of original Texas wines was available and jumped wholeheartedly at the opportunity to acquire the collection. We felt that our guests would relish the opportunity to view the display while dining at the Cabernet Grill.”
Elizabeth described the experience on getting the collection. “Unfortunately, we chose the worst day possible to transport the wines from East Texas back to Fredericksburg as a major cold front was moving in and we had to make a mad dash back across the state before temperatures dropped well below freezing in order to get them stored safely with no damage.”
Ross explained the changes Cabernet Grill had to make. “In order to display such a large collection, we reached out to Vintage View and had six double deep display style wine racks holding 90 bottles each sent out to us for installation across the main dining room of the restaurant.
“I am truly grateful to Lanny and Claris for allowing us to provide a home for their treasure. The collection is already generating a lot of interest from our guests and is proving to be a conversation point that allows us to share our passion for Texas wines and show our guests how diverse the Texas wine industry is.”
Elizabeth reminded everyone, “One of the stipulations regarding our acquisition of the wines was that we did not sell nor serve the collection. A fair warning to our guests of the Cabernet Grill, no amount of begging or bribes will coerce us to popping the cork on any of these bottles!”