It seems inevitable that the authors of the two guides to the wines of Texas have names that sound like they're straight out of the movie Stagecoach: Wes Marshall published The Wine Roads of Texas in 2002 (Maverick), and now "Doc" Russ Kane is about to release The Wine Slinger Chronicles: Texas on the Vine (Texas Tech University Press, February, 2012).
And while Marshall's effort was unquestionably valiant (including a foreword by American wine luminary Robert Mondavi and 2007 reprint and a PBS show produced by KLRU, Austin, inspired by the book and narrated by Wes), the Texas wine industry has expanded exponentially in the decade between the two publications. Back in 2002, Texas wines were still learning to crawl; today, they are a "sleeping juggernaut," in the words of Master Sommelier and Master of Wine Doug Frost, author of the new tome's foreword.
"A market research report in 2009," writes Russ, "assessed the economic impact of the Texas wine and grape industries at $1.7 billion, a 25 percent increase over 2007, and that was 35 percent over 2005. Surprisingly, while Texas is the fifth-largest wine-producing state, the revenue generated from wine tourism outpaces the next two larger wine-producing states, Oregon and New York, and is nearly on par with the next largest wine state, Washington."
But don't let the cut-and-dry tone of the above passage give you the wrong idea: Russ's book is full of the same fun, humor, curiosity, and keen understanding of wine and the wine industry that he shares when he lectures, blogs, or tweets about his second calling in life and his number one passion (after his beautiful wife, Delia).
Here's one of my favorite passages, culled from a section devoted to the Texas High Plains AVA (American Viticultural Area), arguably the best growing zone for Texas wines, an appellation championed by the great Texas viticulturist Bobby Cox:
Bobby continued: "We find that this high-altitude sunlight also results in higher levels of antioxidants in our wines. I guess that this could stir up a new marketing phrase for us: Drink a glass of Texas sunshine."
I took a last look at the cinnamon soil from the land of Zen-like simplicity that manages to breed complexity in its wines. It's a place where sky and soil conjoin to reflect an indomitable history, a rich agricultural tradition, and a striking bit of Texas wine-growing terroir, all part of a new Texas wine country experience.
"Searching for Texas terroir," reads the tagline on Russ's blog Vintage Texas. As a leading oil industry researcher and technical author (his first career), the Houston-based writer knows that there's so much more to terroir than just geography, climate, exposure, and soil type. The "place" of wine (as we say in wine parlance) is made as much from these measurable elements as it is comprised by the people, culture, and history that produce the wine.
Where other writers have glossed over Texas wine history and culture, Russ dives into the epistemological implications of Lone Star State wine with chapters like "A Sip with a Good Friar" (on the Spanish origins of Texas wine), "Limestone Ledges and Red Sandy Soil" (on the historical context of Texas winemaking), "The Supreme Expérimenteur" (devoted to "Northern Region" growing zones), and "From Mediterranean Shores" (on the success of grape growers who looked beyond the pedestrian and predictable Cab, Merlot, and Chard to Southern European varieties that now flourish here).
As the Texas wine industry comes of age, so does its vinography. The Wine Slinger Chronicles includes a nearly exhaustive directory of Texas wineries (with URLs for each estate) and well collated index and extensive bibliography (extremely useful for researchers and wine writers who cover Texas).
It's hard to imagine that Russ's book won't be shortlisted for the Beard Awards this year.
But forget literary prizes! Would someone just give this guy a medal? He deserves one for this excellent book.