Last week, the biggest news in the Texas wine industry was Bingham Family Vineyards formal announcement that they had acquired Pheasant Ridge Winery and Vineyard. The property, includes the winery, a tasting room and 25 acres of vinifera grapes. The news was greeted with relief and anticipation by Texas wine drinkers as the Binghams are a ‘safe pair of hands’ for the vineyard assets.
One puzzling sentence in the widely-reported press release was a sentence that read We are thrilled to have the original Pheasant Ridge founder and winegrower, Bobby Cox, on our team. What on earth did that amount to?
Bobby Cox is one of the closest things to a legend in the Texas wine industry, having proved that vinifera grapes could produce world class wine in Texas back in the 1980s. And at Pheasant Ridge Winery at that (he co-founded it in 1979, and suffered when it nearly went bankrupt in the early 1990s and he handed the keys over to the bank. Although the winery was within eyesight of his Lubbock home, it was too painful to go back). He considers his 1982 Pheasant Ridge Cabernet Sauvignon the best wine he has ever made.
Now that he was back on the team, what was his role to be? That was the foremost question in my mind as I read last week’s vexing press release. Viticulturalist? Winemaker? Mascot? Marketing chick at liquor stores?
I just got a long e-mail from Betty Bingham, the matriarch of Bingham Family Vineyards, that clears up the role of Bobby Cox in the New Pheasant Ridge and the Bingham’s plan for the winery. Cox will have the title of Winegrower, to emphasize that, although he is making wine, he is also responsible for the growth and progress of the vines in the vineyard. Fitting, since Cliff Bingham told the Houston Chronicle in 2011 “All the success I’ve had, I owe to Bobby”.
Daniel Bingham, Cliff and Betty’s son, will serve as Bobby’s Assistant Winegrower. He is currently in his third year at Texas Tech University, majoring in enology. Marissa Bingham, the Bingham’s daughter, currently minoring in oenology at Texas Tech, will also become involved with the winery side in the future, and current Pheasant Ridge employee Manuel Lachuga will continue in winery operations.
The precise business plan is still being hashed out but, in general terms, grape commitments to Bingham customers will continue to be honored and the Binghams will continue to sell most of their grapes to others. Some un-contracted grapes will be used at the Pheasant Ridge winery to augment its output and new plantings in Bingham properties are planned.
Regarding varieties, Betty writes “We are considering the production of varietal wines such as Viognier, Roussanne, Vermentino, Trebbiano, and a blend of some of those. For the reds, we are interested in focusing on Tempranillo, Dolcetto, Mourvedre, and possibly a blend of Tempranillo, Mourvedre, and Carignan. We are also considering ideas for producing a Rose´ of Tempranillo and sweet Moscato Giallo.” However she cautions “These are initial thoughts; we are enjoying the excitement of brainstorming but will not be defining a full wine program until next year.”
My takeaway from all this is that the key theme is continuity. The Bingham’s are staying primarily in the grape growing business. They are continuing to be one of the go-to suppliers to quality-focused winemakers large and small. They have a succession plan in place in that they are grooming their children to run the family business.
The Pheasant Ridge association with Bobby Cox is the revelation. Under his tutelage this winery could emerge as one of the stars of the state in just two or three years, just as it was in the 1980s. Time will tell.