WINE REVIEW: Fiesta Winery, 2019 Tempranillo, Texas High Plains ($40)
by Andrew Chalk
I never thought I would be posting a review of a Fiesta Winery wine, let alone one that finds the wine to be true to varietal character, well-balanced, and with enough structure to make it a consideration with barbecue brisket, or lamb, or ribeye steak. This is a real Texas wine. However, I still remember my first (and last) visit to the Fiesta tasting room on US-290 and being told by a cute employee that “all our wines are Texas wines” as I examined the shelves full of bottle after bottle of For Sale in Texas Only examples.
Quick note of explanation: The words For Sale in Texas Only on a wine label means that the wine does not come from Texas. In fact, it means that the wine is made from the cheapest fruit, which is typically sourced from California’s Central Valley but could, in future, be sourced from, say, China. That fruit normally ends up in a jug wine, and a For Sale in Texas Only (FSITO) wine is a kind of jug wine.
So why create it? The reason for reaching out to these weasel words is to trade on Texas cachet. A wine sold only inside Texas is exempt from Federal wine labeling regulations. As a result, it doesn’t have to have the origin of the grapes on the label. That allows the seller to conceal the fact that it is a jug wine, dress up the label with Texas symbology (e.g. a state flag, cowboy images, images of Texas longhorn steers, stories about a Texas poet, etc.) even though the wine has nothing to do with Texas. The fruit was grown in California’s Central Valley, the winemaking was done in Modesto, it may have been bottled there as well or it may have been sent in a giant tanker, like an Exxon tanker, and bottled and labeled in Texas at a place that inaccurately calls itself a ‘winery’.
This would be the end of the story were it not for the much more harmful side of FSITO. The consumer who is fooled into buying a bottle of FSITO wine by the Texas-looking label is actually not buying a Texas wine as they intended. As a result, a genuine Texas winemaker does not get the proceeds. A Texas grapegrower does not get the demand for the grapes for that wine, so they plant fewer acres. As a result, a Texas farming family has a lower income. Looking at Nielsen data on sales of FSITO wines, the Texas wine industry could possibly double its current sales and grape acreage if FSITO wines did not exist.
To end this legalized fraud we need two things:
Consumers should check their bottle labels for the phrase For Sale in Texas Only (usually in small, cursive script so as to be inconspicuous) and avoid such wines.
Texas Law should be changed to require FSITO wines to have the origin of the grapes clearly displayed on the front label in large type. The Texas wine industry just got a requirement for 100% Texas grape content in sub-Texas appellations. That is good, but the lack of truth in advertising on FSITO wines allows the unscrupulous people who use this legal loophole to drive a fake-wine tanker through it.
Fiesta wants $40 for this Tempranillo. I hope they get it, so that they continue to make Real Texas Wine and decide to drop their FSITO wines. Before they say that a large winery has to sell FSITO wine, they should look at the example of Messina Hof Winery, one of the three largest wineries in Texas. They used to sell FSITO wines but, since 2015, have sold only 100% Texas wines. It just takes an act of will.