The First Annual Texas Wine Auction

A fun and classy start to a new tradition

The inaugural Texas Wine Auction took place on Saturday, April 9, at Vista Oaks in Fredericksburg, within an evening enhanced by live music from the Powell Brothers and culinary delights presented by Texas chefs and wineries.

Raise your glass to the start of a beautiful tradition

That’s a single sentence giving you just the barest facts … but if you’re reading this far, you’d probably like to know more. We figured we’d like to know more about this Texas Wine Auction, too, so – planning in advance as professional journalists are supposed to do, right? – we dispatched our team of married oenophiles, Rowan and John Halliday, to see what all the fuss was about.

[Note: You may recall the roamin’ Hallidays’ earlier report on the delights of the Hotel Sonesta and its associated distillery tours and the restaurants out there where the Galleria heralds the beginning of the Texas Hill Country.]

And so the two of them went – abetted by a relaxing night in the lovingly refurbished Stonewall Motor Lodge, a classic 1960s roadside motel along the Highway 290 wine trail – and they returned from that very first Texas Wine Auction with plenty of what characters in spy films like to call “intel.”

[SPOILER ALERT: Unless you hate good wine and good food, this report’s probably gonna make you smile.]

Let’s state a few more facts before we get into the subjective takes:

1) The Texas Wine Auction is run by Texas Wine Revolution, and that group is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit with a mission of supporting the health of the local hospitality community in general and furthering education and research into viticulture and its challenges; this year, the recipients were Hill Country Memorial Foundation and the Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Viticulture and Fruit Lab.

2) The featured winery for this first annual shindig was William Chris Wine Co. (they run William Chris Vineyards and Lost Draw Cellars), who showcased their superlative creations among an impressive array that included Arché Wines, Becker Vineyards, Brennan Vineyards, Calais Winery, Flat Creek Estate, Float Wines, Hawk’s Shadow Winery, Hidden Hangar, Kalasi Cellars, Reddy Vineyards, and, as they say, a whole lot more.

3) The food portion of this event boasted the Austin-based talents of Lenoir’s Todd Duplechan and Shane Stark of Mongers Market + Kitchen, alongside Dallas native Casey Thompson of Folktable, John Boehm of Otto’s German Bistro, and Hill & Vine’s Michael Hall.

Got it? And now …

Austin Chronicle: Okay, Rowan and John – you guys seem to’ve had a good time at the auction?

Rowan Halliday: It was really fun.

John Halliday: It was a lotta fun. And the whole thing was very classy.

RH: It was Texas classy.

JH: We had a bus that took us from the hotel to the event.

RH: I will clarify that what picked us up was the actual wine shuttle.

JH: Yes – the wine shuttle.

RH: It’s a bus that runs up and down 290, and – as far as I know – it does that every single day. And as long as you’re not buying wine in really large quantities, it’s amazingly affordable, a great idea for any time. They’ll pick you up in Fredericksburg – and I think they also have regular pickups in Stonewall – and they’ll take you around to whatever wineries you want on the 290 wine strip. So you don’t have to drive or deal with anything. You can book tours for the day, it’s just a wonderful service – and that’s who the Texas Wine Auction arranged the transportation with. Which meant that people weren’t leaving the wine auction soused and getting into their cars. Which was a good idea – because everybody at the auction was at least mildly tipsy.

JH: Oh, there was a lot of wine.

RH: A lot of very good wine.

JH: All Texas wine.

AC: Right, and those guys at the Austin Winery in the Yard – I know they’re not part of the Hill Country crowd, but they make a lot of different wines. So I’d imagine that, ah, was there an even greater variety at this auction?

RH: They probably had 50 different kinds represented there. I got to try wine from my favorite places and from several different wineries I hadn’t tried before: Hawk’s Shadow, Kalasi Vineyards – oh, Kalasi’s Merlot is phenomenal! I was trying some of their white wine and telling the lady how much I liked it, and she was like, “You need to try this, it’s even better,” and she gave me a glass of their Merlot. And – yeah, now we’re planning to make a trip to Kalasi to taste all their wine.

JH: Starting off, once you’re off the bus you walk into the place at Vista Oaks, you go down some stairs, and then you’re in the main room. And as I got to the bottom of the stairs, there was a man from Inwood winery – they were the first people to do Tempranillo in Texas – and he was giving out samples from a $225 bottle.

RH: [Smiles, remembering] It was delicious. And you could go up to the counter and just ask for a small glass of anything you wanted. Like, “I’ve never seen that wine before – may I try it?”

JH: Yeah, I had about eight different glasses of wine.

AC: And there were some decent vittles, too? Something to sop up all that tasty alcohol?

JH: Oh, the food was real good, too. They had chefs from different places in Fredericksburg and Austin.

RH: There was this sturgeon schnitzel with – I kept hearing it as beurre blanc, but the chef was actually saying beer blanc, because it was a white sauce made with Alstadt beer – and they had it topped with caviar and some itty-bitty chives. And Hill & Vine was serving up akaushi tri-tip, spicy but not too spicy, on top of nice creamy grits. And Otto’s restaurant – have you ever been there?

AC: I think so, a few years back?

RH: Oh, you’d remember. Otto’s does German food that’s like the good, solid German food you’d expect – but even better. Yeah, they’re definitely a must-visit place in Fredericksburg.

AC: Okay, so there’s the wine, there’s the food – sounds like a regular festival going on. And what about the auction itself, the whole bidding part?

RH: It was wild, it was delightful.

JH: I tried to bid, but [laughs] it got too rich for me.

RH: There was a lot of money flying around that room – and it was all going to support the Hill Country’s mobile wellness program.

JH: Well, for wine education, too – student scholarships and so on.

[Note: Texas Wine Auction, by the end of the event, had raised $130,000 to support those beneficiaries.]

RH: And the auction items – it wasn’t just wine, although there were a lot of very nice selections of wine. There was, ah, an all-expenses-paid, behind-the-scenes trip to Napa Valley, a lot of tasting experiences, whole packages of things to bid on. One of the items was a helicopter hog hunt! A helicopter hog hunt is probably the most Texas thing I can think of. It’s not a thing that other wine regions are gonna do.

JH: They had one bottle of wine that was 15 gallons. That one went for $8,500.

RH: Fifteen liters, I think.

JH: You sure it was liters?

RH: Well, it was enormous. It was where 13 different wineries had sent in samples of wine, and they blended it – but they blended it in Zoom.

AC: What do you mean, “They blended it in Zoom”?

RH: Wineries are doing this now! They ship out sets of samples to people all over the place, then everybody logs into the same Zoom room, and they make combinations. They all make the same combination, and then they taste it, and they adjust it, taste it, adjust it, and so on. It’s amazing – they’re blending wine in Zoom, it’s fucking next level!

AC: They’re, ah, leveraging the digital synergy?

RH: [Nods] They’re leveraging the digital synergy. And drinking.

AC: Okay, I reckon we’ve got this properly covered and I don’t want to tax the readers’ attention span or anything, you know? But lemme just ask you for, like, a final word on the big picture. What’s your basic takeaway from this whole thing?

RH: [Pondering]

AC: You need another glass of wine first?

RH: All right, listen: Self-proclaimed wine people are usually snooty and self-important and they say incomprehensible bullshit about wine all the time. And the thing I love about the Texas wine community? It has exactly zero of that. It’s a large collection of cheerful wine nerds gleefully experimenting with grapes. And everybody we met at the Texas Wine Auction loves wine, and supports the local community, and they’re exceptionally proud of what they’re doing – and they’re committed to doing it well. I love that.

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