Despite Blue Laws, Texas Sommelier Conference Opens on Schedule

"You'll note that there are pastries in the foyer," said Master Sommelier James Tidwell, as he and Houston's own Master Sommelier, Drew Hendricks, opened the Texas Sommelier Conference promptly at 9 a.m. yesterday morning at the Four Seasons Las Colinas Resort in Irving, Texas. The two co-founders were addressing the more than 300 wine professionals and wine lovers -- mostly from Texas -- who had gathered for the opening session of the annual conference, which was founded by Hendricks and Tidwell seven years ago.

"The reason for the [breakfast] food," unusual for a formal wine tasting, said Tidwell, "is because the T[exas] A[lcohol] and B[everage] C[ommission] does not allow us to serve wine on Sunday morning without food." The irony was not lost on the room: The pastries had gone virtually untouched by conference-goers because wine professionals avoid coffee and high-sugar foods before tasting.

"And we regret to inform you," added Tidwell, "that the TABC does not allow us to serve wine before 10 a.m. on Sunday morning. And so the first seminar will be conducted without a tasting."

"I didn't know that Texas was a Muslim country," quipped Master of Wine and Master Sommelier -- one of only three persons in the world to hold both titles -- as he began his 9 a.m. talk on the wines of Spain sans vin. "Strange... because the last time I checked, wine was a central element in the Judeo-Christian tradition."

While yesterday was the first official day of the conference, sessions for candidates in the Society of Wine Educators and Court of Master Sommeliers certification programs had already begun on Saturday, like the Sherry seminar led by Master Sommelier Hendricks (above). Saturday's sessions also included a sold-out Media and Technology Symposium featuring some of the Lone Star State's top wine writers and bloggers.

The gathering continues today with talks by internationally renowned wine celebrities like James Beard winner Rajat Parr, author of an 84-page wine list at RN74 in San Francisco, and Serge Hochar, owner of the Château Musar in Lebanon, widely considered one of the greatest wineries in the world today. The conference grand tasting follows the last lecture this afternoon.

The absurdity of mounds of untouched pastries and a wine tasting without wine was not lost on yesterday's crowd, even if the majority of attendees was nonplussed by the reasons behind such anachronistic legislation. The history of Texas blue laws stretches back to the post-Prohibition era when unscrupulous wine distributors divvied up the various counties of our state like Tammany Hall operators. Reaching far beyond the seemingly innocuous restrictions of wine served on the Sabbath, those laws painfully continue to affect the cost and the availability of wines in our state.

There's a saying in French: Sans pain, sans vin, l'amour n'est rien (without bread and wine, love is nothing). Despite the absence of wine yesterday at 9 a.m., there was no lack of l'amour du vin.

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