On Thursday of last week, the Texas Department of Agriculture (TDA) released the text of a proposed amendment to its Go Texan licensing rules for Texas wines.
Go Texan is a TDA marking program that helps to promote awareness of Texan agricultural products (including wine). It allows approved growers and producers of Texan foods and wines to add the Go Texan logo to their labeling.
Currently, the TDA allows Texan wine producers to use the logo as long as the wine is "produced" or "processed" in the state of Texas. In other words, even if none of the grapes are grown in Texas, a winemaker can still label it using the Go Texan logo.
The proposed amendment would require winemakers to use a minimum of 75 percent of Texan-grown fruit in order to be licensed as Go Texan participants. You can read the complete text of the proposed amendment on Houston-based wine blogger Jeff Cope's site, Texas Wine Lover.
In formal and informal surveys, the TDA found that a majority of Texans -- including producers, trade members, and consumers -- favor a "threshold" for eligibility.
"At the end of an informal and formal comment process," wrote the authors of a press release distributed on Thursday, "only 34% of commenters supported keeping the current standard for GO TEXAN promotion of wine, while the remaining 66% of commenters believed the standard needed some level of threshold of Texas-grown fruit to be met in order to be marketed as GO TEXAN."
"This minimum percentage is based," they note, "on other standard federal and industry-recognized thresholds for other origin requirements used for -- such as for federally-approved appellation of origin label designations."
They are referring to the fact that the U.S. government requires winemakers to use a minimum of 75 percent of state-grown fruit if the wine is to be labeled as a product of that state and shipped for sale out of state. If the wine is to be sold exclusively within the state's borders, there is no minimum required as long as the producer writes "For Sale in [State] Only" on the label.
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As we reported in a cover story in June of 2012, "Texas Wines: Behind the Cellar Door," some of our state's biggest producers use up to 80-90 percent of grapes sourced beyond the Texas border in their wines. In challenging vintages, said a Texas wine industry leader, less than 50 percent of the wines sold as Texas wines are actually made from fruit grown in Texas.
While the proposed changes would address deceptive labeling practices with regard to the Go Texan logo, it does nothing to address the fact that Texan consumers regularly purchase so-called "Texan" wines that contain no state-grown fruit. If approved by the
Texas legislature TDA, the new requirement would be akin to a bandaid on a broken leg.
It's time for Texan wine bottlers to come clean and treat their country-women and men with the respect and integrity they deserve.
And it's time for the TDA and the Texas legislature to acknowledge that the Texas wine trade has engaged in deceptive and unfair marketing practices for far too long.