Taking a Look at Texas Wine Month

Throughout October, and thanks to Susan Combs

Agriculture Commissioner Susan Combs
Agriculture Commissioner Susan Combs

Texas farmers and winemakers are already mourning the upcoming loss of Agriculture Commissioner Susan Combs, whose term is about to end. During the past eight years, she has helped shepherd a number of laws and created an abundance of programs, all aimed at supporting the family farmer.

Wine grapes provide more profit per acre than any other crop. Profits help keep family farmers solvent. But when Combs came to office, the state was a hodgepodge of crisscrossing jurisdictions, each with its own local option about making or selling wine. Having to face opposition from several lobbying groups, Commissioner Combs displayed the type of diplomacy and concern for the public good that had winery owners and farmers cheering. By the time she was through, a winery in a dry area could sell wine from its tasting room, something that has probably kept dozens if not hundreds of small family farmers in business.

If that wasn't enough, her next move was to aggressively help the wineries market their wines. She was instrumental in establishing the Texas Wine Marketing Assistance Program (www.gotexanwine.org), under whose auspices Texas Wine Month sprang to life. Under her watch, we've seen explosive growth of wineries in Texas, more than doubling in the last four years. I've been traveling around the state talking to winery owners, and everywhere I go, I ask the same question: What has caused the growth? They all say Combs. Without her efforts, Texas Wine Month would be a much smaller celebration.

When Combs reads this, she'll be thinking, "Enough about me: Let's talk about the wineries!"

Well, let's start by recognizing a few of the wineries that have been working hard since the beginning of the Texas wine industry to build a platform for the state's accelerating growth. Val Verde in Del Rio is the oldest and still makes one of Texas' best ports ($20). Fall Creek Vineyard in Tow is a family business and the third-oldest winery. Their most recent success is a white wine called Cache ($20). The concept came from son Chad, the name and artistic ideas came from mom Susan, and Ed, the patriarch, came up with the recipe. If you like Conundrum, you'll love Cache. Llano Estacado in Lubbock is the second-largest and fourth-oldest winery in Texas. They've been on a winning streak since winemaker Greg Bruni signed on. Look for their Cabernet/Syrah blend ($10).

The other wineries that started in the lean years and have kept the faith also deserve kudos during Texas Wine Month: La Buena Vida Vineyards, Bell Mountain Vineyards, Wimberley Valley Winery, Sister Creek Vineyards, Homestead Vineyards, Messina Hof, Delaney Vineyards, Becker, Spicewood Vineyards, Fredericksburg Winery, and Pleasant Hill Winery. If you get a chance this month, go pat them on the backs and say thanks.

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