Narry a week goes by that I don’t receive an email from a winemaker or importer asking me advice about how to find representation in Texas.
The state’s economy is robust despite the drop in the price of oil and the wine culture here vibrant and growing.
But aggressive and restrictive regulation of wine sales here (o how those Republican lawmakers love interventionist government!) and steep wholesale taxes (o how those Republican lawmakers love taxing small businesses!) remain unchanged. Unless you are with one of the big distributors, you face seemingly insurmountable obstacles to creating a foothold in the Lone Star State.
And now that Southern Wine & Spirits (the Microsoft of wine) has acquired distributor and direct importer Glazer’s (one of the Texas biggies) in what has euphemistically been deemed a “merger,” the odds are stacked even higher in favor of big wine and big money.
(“‘What’s also very important is that this is a combination,’ [Glazer’s CEO Sheldon] Stein added. ‘No one is being bought out, there is no acquisition, it’s a combination of the two.'” I guess it depends on what your definition of is is.)
Over the last five years or so, a new wave of smaller and more open-minded distributors has cropped up here. Many have gone by the wayside. But a few have flourished.
I was thrilled when Mark Middlebrook (above, left), national sales manager for Italian wine importer PortoVino, contacted me a few weeks ago about tasting with him and his Texas distributor Ian McCaffery (right) here in Houston.
Last week, I met with them and was geeked to see that one of my favorite expressions of Valpolicella, Corte Sant’Alda, is now available in Texas. The wine showed gorgeously, btw, fresh and lithe in the mouth despite the fact that it had been open and in their wine bag all day.
Ian has courageously stuck to his guns as he has brought a number of alternative and natural-leaning portfolios or “books” as they are known in the trade to the state (he also has Jenny & François, for example).
And gauging from the fact that he is currently expanding his sales force, it would seem that he is thriving.
As much as I love our wine scene here, it’s still challenging for me to obtain a lot of the wines I like to drink on a regular basis. As a consumer, I am forced to buy much of the wine we serve at home from out-of-state retailers and then have them shipped here through a third-party shipper (which is 100 percent legal, btw; it’s a pain in the ass and it’s expensive but it’s legal).
It’s all the more reason that I applaud Mark and Ian for their work here. Little by little, our state is catching up to New York and California in terms of the availability of the wines that the new generation of fine wine lovers wants to drink.
The night of our meeting, someone at our table challenged me to explain why I identify as a Marxist.
Forced to answer as succinctly as possible (also for the sake of the wines, which were the real focus of our meeting), I told her: materialism drives capitalism; capitalism drives consumerism; and consumerism diminishes our humanity.
However they see it, Mark and Ian are both doing their part to put a little bit of humanity back into the Texas wine scene. And I’m all for that…
Thanks for reading.