The Little Sommelier Conference That Could: Texsom Now Major National Event

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"Texsom has grown from just a few diehard fans to a fairly decent following," wrote Master Sommelier and Texsom co-founder Drew Hendricks in an e-mail.

The Houston-based wine pro and former wine director for Pappas Bros. Steakhouse is "nervous and excited about the amount of seminars," he said. "We have many more moving parts, but it is giving us the opportunity to cover much more."

Since he and Master Sommelier James Tidwell (wine director at the Four Seasons in Dallas, where the event is held) founded the annual convention in 2005, it has transcended its homegrown roots: Today it is a nationally recognized gathering that attracts wine professionals and wineries from across the globe.

As Texan wine professionals gear up for the conference next week (August 8-13) and wine professionals from across the country prepare to travel to Dallas to attend, not a day goes by that a colleague from New York or California doesn't e-mail me asking me if I'll be there. (I won't this year because my wife and I just brought our newborn baby girl home from the hospital.)

According to data compiled for this post by Texsom executive director Donaji Lira, this year's attendance is expected to increase nearly two-fold from roughly 300 to 600.

Last year's event, she wrote, included participation of 30 Master Sommeliers and one Master of Wine (Master Sommeliers are full-fledged members of the elite Guild of Sommeliers; the Masters of Wine belong to the Institute of Masters of Wine, an equally exclusive association).

This year, 34 Master Sommeliers will be in attendance, as will four Masters of Wine.

Last year's conference featured nine seminars and 64 wines. This year's: 22 seminars and 154 wines poured at seminars and 226 wines poured at the grand tasting, up from 165 poured at last year's grand tasting.

That is one serious buttload of wine!

But even in the wake of Texsom's unbridled and practically unrivaled success on the national wine-education circuit, the organizers have never lost sight of their Texas roots: As in past years, one of the conference's highlights will be the Texas' Best Sommelier competition.

"We love it that all come and want more and more," said Hendricks, who now sells wine for luxury Californian producer Rudd. But the competition, this year sponsored by Texas Monthly, "keeps a focus on Texas."

And while Texas wines have always made an appearance at Texsom (including some notable seminars led by leading Texan wine professionals), this year's conference will include the first-ever "Taste Texas Wines" hospitality suite, featuring the wines of four different Lone Star State bottlers: Brennan Vineyards, Duchman Family Winery, McPherson Cellars and Pedernales Cellars. Considered by most wine trade observers to be the among the best in the state, the four wineries have banded together to form a new marketing consortium (click here for their Web site), a smart move in a bustling wine world where it's not easy to stand apart from the crowd.

The Texas wine scene has changed radically since I first moved here five years ago. At the time, Texsom was considered a top but wholly local wine-education event. Today, it represents one of the most important schmoozing opportunities in the U.S. wine community's yearly calendar.

As someone who has lived and worked on both coasts, I can tell you from personal experience that New Yorkers and Californians used to shrug off the fine-wine community in Texas. Today, I have ex-colleagues calling me nearly every day and asking me if we'll connect at the conference.

As one of the events organizers, Master Sommelier Devon Broglie, said to me in a tweet the other day, "We've come a long way, baby."

This new world of fine wine in Texas emerged in part thanks to a couple of Master Sommeliers who had a vision for a better Texas wine world and a little sommelier conference that could.

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