When you think of the rodeo, what do you picture?
Cowboys? Longhorns? Children lassoing mutton? Giant turkey legs?
How 'bout wine? Cabernet Sauvignon from Chile? Sparkling Rosé from New Zealand? What about Marchesi Antinori Tenuta Guado al Tasso "Tenuta Belvedere" Bolgheri Superiore from Tuscany?
If the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo doesn't make you think about wine, maybe it should. This year marks the tenth anniversary of the Rodeo Uncorked! Wine Show, and this year, it was bigger and better than ever.
"It appears that adding a wine show to our event couldn't have been timed any better," says Joel Cowley, president and CEO of the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo. "A 2013 Gallup poll indicates that consumers are nearly equally divided between beer and wine as their beverage of choice, and the number of Texas wineries has grown from 46 in 2001 to over 270 today."
Many people wonder what wine has to do with the rodeo. Why bring in an ostensibly classy beverage like wine to an event famous for fried food on sticks and the smell of barns? Turns out, there's more to the rodeo than most people realize.
"Beginning with the first show in 1932, the mission of the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo has been to promote agriculture, and viticulture is agriculture," Cowley says. "The wine show began when a group of volunteers, some involved in the wine industry and others being wine lovers, recognized the opportunity to promote another agricultural industry through our charitable mission while attracting an entirely new group of supporters to the show."
Right from the start, the show included the International Wine Competition, which is always held in November so the wines can be available for tasting at the rodeo in March. The Champion Wine Auction, a major fundraiser for the rodeo, as well as the Best Bites competition, were also part of the original plan, and both have continued to be hugely successful. This year, more than 5,000 people attended Best Bites.
"The Champion Wine Garden was added in 2008 and greatly adds to the value proposition of our 20-day event," Cowley says. "It has become a destination for many of our guests and appears to draw people who would otherwise not attend our show."
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Many people, it seems, are less into watching horses parade around than they are in indulging in a glass or two of bubbly. And that, it turns out, has been good for the rodeo.
In 2004, the first year of Rodeo Uncorked!, the wine show brought in 873 competition entries -- an impressive number for an inaugural event. This year saw 2,505 entries, though, and the wine auction grossed $1,702,175 (up from $313,700 the first year). The rodeo doesn't yet have the numbers for this year's Champion Wine Garden, but based on data from the first 12 days of the event, the profits were up 37 percent from 2013.
In spite of the cold, wet March we've had here in Houston, people clearly aren't staying away from the wine, which means increased revenue for the rodeo and its charitable endeavors.
"When combined with the efforts of the over 1,100 dedicated volunteers on our four wine show committees and the generosity of our supporters," Cowley says, "we have achieved incredible results over the first ten years."