The Tasting Panel magazine

July 2010

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Page 90 of 96

A Lone StAR LIFE Finding Their Champion ARE TEXAS WINES READY FOR THEIR CLOSE-UP? BoBBY CHAmpion THINKS THEY ARE by Anthony Head / photo by Kirk Weddle fi fth-largest wine-producer, which is why I fi nd it strange that within the borders—and despite the fact that 95 percent of all Texas wine is consumed by Texans in Texas—there’s still so much room to grow the culture, and so much of a need to get that famous Texan pride gathered into a groundswell behind Texas wines. Because Texas has that need, Texas also has Bobby Champion. With a name like a super- hero, Bobby Champion (it’s fun to say, too) is the State Coordinator for Wine Marketing, an offi cial post with the Texas Department of Agriculture (TDA). He wants all y’all to know about Texas wines, but his tasks include con- vincing the wine industry as a whole that when the tide comes in, all the boats can fl oat. “We have an incredible amount of coopera- tion from the growers and winemakers, and lots of interaction between government agencies, university programs and the private industry. We just need more of them to take advantage of the resources we have,” Bobby Champion tells me when we meet in June. Based in Austin, he’s affable enough, and thoroughly committed to his position. “I have one of the best jobs in the state, no doubt about it, because [wine] is a young and dynamic industry here.” O Dynamic? Certainly. But young? Hardly. Texas has a longer winemaking history than anywhere else in the country; its taproot dates back to the Spaniards making wine in the 1600s where El Paso stands today. Yes, Texas and wine go way back. What Bobby Champion means when he says the industry is “young” is that the modern era of Texas wines began around 1970. Commercial viticulture was undertaken in earnest; even still, 90 / the tasting panel / july 2010 utside of the state, the world can be forgiven for not knowing that Texas is wine country. But it is the nation’s the past four decades of growth have been so slow that when Bobby Champion took his job with the TDA in 2003, there were still only 42 wineries in the state. “We’re over 200 wineries now,” Bobby Champion points out, adding that they’re part of a $1.35 billion industry that employs about 9,000 people. The recent growth spurt can be traced back to 2001, when legislators passed House Bill 892, “The Texas Wine Marketing Assistance Program,” which originally earmarked $500,000 for two years of wine marketing. Something must have gone right, because in 2005, the stipend increased to nearly fi ve million. So the industry is bourgeoning, which means so is the TDA’s mission. In its way, it’s helping to develop the industry as a whole. Bobby Champion earned a horticultural degree from Texas Tech, so he understands the growers’ side of things. Part of his budget includes grants to grape growers to increase acreage. We need to just showcase Texas as Texas. Some day, with time, the comparisons to Napa will drop off .” When it comes to the marketing side of his desk, he admits the bulk of the work is overcoming one obstacle: “Perception is a problem—perception of quality. Great wines can be made here. We really want consistency of quality across the board. People need to get out and try some Texas wines and when it comes to my budget, I want to make sure every dollar spent is quantifi ed.”

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