Some weeks ago I wrote about a wine carrying the familiar “Go Texan” mark of the Texas Department of Agriculture (TDA) that was made mainly (85%, as it happened) of non-Texas grapes. In the course of researching that story, I asked the TDA the minimum proportion of Texas grapes required in a wine carrying the Go Texan mark. They did not know the exact rule so I submitted a Freedom of Information Request for this information. Recently, they came back to me with the definitive answer: the minimum proportion of Texas grapes in a Go Texan wine is…Zero percent. In other words, you can put Go Texan on wine with grapes from anywhere.
This is not what I expected on the day that I first saw a wine with the Go Texan mark. Nor is it what the vast majority of consumers think Go Texan means based on the ones I have asked the question to (which is pretty much everyone that I have met over the last few weeks). The most common answer I got was that Go Texan meant 100% grapes. Seventy-five percent was another popular answer. Both numbers have a reasonable basis. One hundred percent is what common sense tells us. Seventy five percent is an existing federal standard for denominating a wine’s origin. The only people who answered zero percent were people who knew my predilection for asking trick questions.
The important thing to come out of this is that Go Texan (when applied to wine) is totally at odds with consumer expectations. I think the current rule is downright misleading. As I wrote, my instinctive reaction was to petition the TDA to simply make the Go Texan mark inapplicable to wine. Doing so would remove something that appears to help consumers make informed buying decisions by providing them with information but in actual fact misleads them.
Then I had a better idea: Instead of abolishing the Go Texan mark on wine, change the TDA rule to require that a wine bearing the mark be made from 100 percent Texas grapes. For the first time, Go Texan, would mean 100% Texan.
This change would, most importantly, make the meaning of Go Texan consistent with consumer expectations. However, it would also have a hugely beneficial secondary effect (one that I would expect other wine producing states to copy). It would provide Texas winemakers with a single, common, front-label method of indicating to consumers when their wines were made from 100% Texas fruit. That is a huge step forward for winemakers and consumers. It puts Texas on a par with the rigor in European, South American and Australian wine labeling where a single, front-label indicator exists to declare that all of a wine comes from one area. In France, the system is called Appellation Contrôlée, in Italy DOCG, etc. Not all areas of the world have such a system and at the moment the United States is one of those that does not. Under federal rules, the place of origin on the front label usually only guarantees that 75% of the grapes come from the place named on the front label. That system does have other advantages and I am not suggesting changing it. What I am proposing is the addition of the Go Texan mark as a kind of ‘gold ring’ of authenticity. At the moment, the consumer has to read every individual back label and work through the non-standard wording to determine which wines on a store shelf are made from 100% Texas grapes.
Participating in Go Texan is, and would remain, voluntary. But I expect that more wineries would want to pay the membership fee if the mark meant 100% Texas grapes.
Given this situation, I worked on a modified rule defining the use of the Go Texan mark on wine. With the generous pro bona help of a Texas attorney, the rule proposal was put into the legal form required by the state. The change will be delivered to the state today. The next step, per the Texas Administrative Code is “Within 60 days after the receipt of a petition for the adoption of a rule, the department shall either deny the petition in writing, stating its reasons for the denial, or initiate rule making proceedings in accordance with the Act, Subchapter B.” I will publish updates here as I have them. Stay tuned.
Two questions that readers asked, and that deserve responses, were as follows:
“What about coffee. I saw the Go Texan mark on coffee and it doesn’t come from Texas?”
Since Texas doesn’t grow any coffee there is no consumer confusion about the origins of the coffee. I don’t know what gets coffee a Go Texan mark (maybe the roasting technique) but I am not proposing this change for anything other than wine made from grapes.
“What about beer? Craft brewers don’t get their raw ingredients from Texas, why should winemakers”
The raw ingredients are different. With beer, the brewmaster is all powerful. If the brewmaster makes, for example, a wheat beer the source of the wheat doesn’t matter, only it’s type and grade. That is why traders on the Chicago Mercantile Exchange trade millions of dollars in wheat, knowing the type and grade (e.g. “#2 Soft Red Winter”), but not the place it was grown. Compare that with the situation with a wine grape example: a famous California Cabernet Sauvignon vineyard is the Beckstoffer To-Kalon.Vineyard. Owner Andy Beckstoffer sells a ton of grapes to winemakers for about $23,500. Nearby Napa Cabernet that is not in Beckstoffer To-Kalon Vineyard can be purchased for less than $5,500 a ton. The 400% difference reflects the primacy of grape origin when it comes to wine. The source of the grapes defines the wine.