Proposed legislation presents challenges for local winemakers

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Local winemaker John Catalano said he believes strongly in truthfully labeling his products. All of his Texas wines are made from 100 percent Texas grapes, and all of his California wines are 100 percent California.

He said his winery, Bent Oak Winery in Austin, would not be affected by proposed legislation that would require all wines labeled as originating in Texas to be derived from the juice or fruit wholly grown and produced in the state; that is, made from 100 percent Texas grapes.

Sponsored in the Texas Senate by State Sen. Dawn Buckingham, R-Lakeway, and by Rep. Jason Isaac, R-Dripping Springs, in the Texas House of Representatives, the identical bills were filed March 9 and Feb. 2, respectively. As of the date of this publication, no legislative votes have been taken, though the bills were sent to committees in March.

Even though it would not affect business, Catalano said he is not in favor of the legislation.

“The last thing I want is more legislation on how my label has to look,” he said. “I’d rather just tell the truth.”

Allan Fetty, who has been growing grapes locally for 20 years on Hamilton Pool Road in Round Mountain, also said he owns one of the few Texas wineries that produces wine from 100 percent Texas-grown grapes.

Fetty said there are about 350 permitted wineries in Texas, with about 80 of these businesses located in the Hill Country. The Westcave Cellars Winery founder counts about 20 wineries within the Hill Country as producing 100 percent Texas wines.

“I certainly agree with the [proposed legislation] and support it 100 percent,” Fetty said. “We consider it to be a truth-in-labeling issue. There’s a lot of perceptions that when you are in a California winery, the grapes are grown in California. When you come here, you assume [you are drinking] Texas wine.”

According to the Code of Federal Regulations, a winery can label its wine as originating in Texas if at least 75 percent of the wine is derived from fruit grown in the state.

“You can put up to 25 percent of other wine in the bottle and call it Texas wine,” Fetty said. “[A winemaker] can save money by blending it—the cost of bringing in grapes or juice is less than the cost to grow grapes.”

He also said that tasting rooms may start a flight with wholly Texas wines but finish up with wines from outside the state. If a patron asks at the beginning of the tasting session if the wines are from Texas, he or she will receive an accurate response of “yes,” allowing the remainder of the wines tasted in the session to appear as though they were produced in Texas, he said. This practice misleads the buyer who thinks he or she is purchasing a local wine out of the tasting selections, he said.

“We want our wine to be authentic, not only for people in Texas but especially for visitors,” Fetty said.

However, Robert Fritz, winemaker and co-owner of Solaro Estate Vineyards & Winery in Dripping Springs, disagrees despite saying that his products are also 100 percent Texas wine.

“We don’t think politics has a place in wine,” Fritz said. “[The bill] is a good way to kill or slow down the industry.”

He said building a winery and growing a vineyard takes time, and the bill, if passed, would create a hardship on young, local winemakers to achieve a 100 percent product quickly.

Catalano said the bills defined no phase-in period, so wineries following the current law of 75 percent would not be grandfathered and could end up with excess bottles of wine.

“It doesn’t affect [Bent Oak] at all, but it affects my winery friends, who are following the letter of the law,” he said. “And all of a sudden this bill came in, and it doesn’t give them the opportunity to phase in for their new wines.”

Fritz is a member of the Texas Hill Country Wineries Association, which he said voted to oppose the bill.

“I think great wines have no borders,” he said about the current law that allows a blending of up to 25 percent of wine or grapes derived outside the state. “Isolationism is not a good idea in any business.”


Hill Country Wine Trail

Here are several wineries and tasting rooms around the region and in the Hill Country.

1. Bell Springs Winery

3700 Bell Springs Road, Dripping Springs
Hours: daily 11 a.m.-6 p.m.

2. Bent Oak Winery

2000 Windy Terrace, Bldg. 2B, Austin
Hours: Fri. 3-8 p.m., Sat. 11 a.m.-6 p.m.,
Sun. noon-5 p.m.

3. Driftwood Estate Winery

4001 Elder Hill Road/CR 170, Driftwood
Hours: daily 11 a.m.-6 p.m.

4. Duchman Family Winery

13308 W. FM 150, Driftwood
Hours: Mon. noon-6 p.m., Tue.-Thu. 11 a.m.-
8 p.m., Fri.-Sat. 11 a.m.-9 p.m., Sun. 11 a.m.-8 p.m.

21301 Kathy Lane, Spicewood
Hours: Thu.-Sun. 12:30-7 p.m.

6. Fall Creek Vineyards at Driftwood

18059 FM 1826, Driftwood
Hours: Mon.-Sat. 11 a.m.-7 p.m., Sun. noon-5 p.m.

7. Flat Creek Estate

24912 E. Singleton Bend, Marble Falls
Hours: Tue.-Sun. 11 a.m.-5 p.m.

8. Grape Creek Winery

101 W. Seventh St., Georgetown
Hours: Mon.-Thu. noon-7 p.m., Fri. noon-8 p.m., Sat. 11 a.m.-8 p.m., Sun. noon-5 p.m.

9. Hawk’s Shadow Winery

7500 McGregor Lane, Dripping Springs
Hours: Sat. noon-6 p.m.

10. McReynolds Winery

706 Shovel Mountain Road, Cypress Mill
Hours: Fri.-Sat. 10 a.m.-6 p.m., Sun. noon-6 p.m.

11. Solaro Estate Winery & Vineyards

13111 Silver Creek Road, Dripping Springs
Hours: Mon.-Thu. 11 a.m.-5 p.m.,
Fri.-Sat. 11 a.m.-7 p.m.

12. Spicewood Vineyards

1419 CR 409, Spicewood
Hours: Wed.-Sat. 10 a.m.-6 p.m., Sun. noon-5 p.m.

13. Stone House Vineyard

24350 Haynie Flat Road, Spicewood
Hours: Sun.-Mon., Thu. noon-5 p.m.; Fri.-Sat. noon-6 p.m.

14. Thirsty Mule Winery

101 CR 257, Liberty Hill
Hours: Wed.-Thu., Sun. noon-6 p.m.,
Fri.-Sat. 11 a.m.-7 p.m., closed Mon.-Tue.

15. The Vineyard at Florence

8711 FM 487, Florence
Hours: Mon.-Wed.11:30 a.m.-6 p.m., Thu.-Sat. 11 a.m.-8 p.m., Sun. 11 a.m.-6 p.m.

16. Westcave Cellars Winery

25711 Hamilton Pool Road, Round Mountain
Hours: Mon. 11 a.m.-5 p.m., Fri.-Sat. 11 a.m.-
6 p.m., Sun. noon-6 p.m.

17. Wimberley Valley Winery

2825 Lone Man Mountain Road, Driftwood
Hours: daily 10 a.m.-6 p.m.