Texas Wineries Start To Love New French Oak
by Andrew Chalk
I am at the Texas Hill Country Wineries (THCW) Symposium in the Texas resort town of Marble Falls for the next two days. It is more conference than symposium and is the biggest annual get-together of the 70+ wineries in the THCW. I was astonished at the first trade booth I came to: Tonnellerie de Mercurey. They are a well established Burgundy barrel maker (tonnellerie) with an office in Napa County California from where they service clients in the USA.
As one might expect, California (which makes 80% of U.S. wine) is their largest market, followed by Oregon and Washington. Of more surprise is that Texas vies for fourth largest customer. Sales Manager Michael Weyna sees the state as so important that he was manning the booth in person, explaining to me that it was the first time they had attended this show (they have attended the Texas Wine and Grape Growers conference before). He is expecting it to be a regular stop on his schedule.
While there has long been new French oak used in Texas wine making the cost is top dollar. New French oak barrels cost around $1000, more than twice as much as new American barrels, and more still than used barrels. Weyna sees selling as a multi-year process. Relationship selling rather than just a transaction. Given the novelty of new French oak in Texas winemaking and the style of Tonnellerie de Mercurey he will have to explain his product. And it is not just one option, barrels can be purchased in various ‘degrees of toast’. Toasting is heat applied to the interior of the barrel that alters the composition of the wood depending how long and intense it is. Since the wine spends months, if not years, in the oak barrel as the final stage before bottling toasting has a drastic effect on the resulting wine.
The interesting thing about seeing a prestigious French barrel maker at a THCW event is that a tangible sign of how seriously Hill Country winemakers (the core of Texas winemaking) are taking the finest form of wine ageing, and how seriously the French wine industry takes Texas.
Yet more evidence of the industry’s growth and improvement.