On Wednesday, I spent six hours pouring at the Italy-America Chamber of Commerce “Taste of Italy” event in Houston at the Hilton Post Oak hotel.
The annual event is intended to connect food and wine producers with buyers here in Texas.
The Franciacorta Consortium’s participation was actually organized by Balzac Communications out of Napa. The agency is one of the consortium’s official representatives in the U.S. And while they general staff these kind of events themselves, I had offered to cover for them since I live in Houston. It was a much more economical application of our combined carbon footprint, I figured.
Although the event wasn’t very well attended, the good news is that nearly everyone who stopped at our table to taste — including a number of locally based importers and distributors — was truly excited to taste and learn more about Franciacorta.
The bottom line is that Franciacorta remains a virtually undiscovered category in the United States today and there is a growing interest among wine professionals across the board.
My sense is that small importers are keen to find appellations that haven’t already saturated the U.S. market. Who needs another Chianti?
Currently, Texas is a sort of wild west of Italian wine. For nearly a generation, the Lone Star state has been dominated by two major distributors (who, btw, between the two of them, bring in roughly eight different Franciacorta producers and at least twice as many SKUS).
But over the last five years or so, a number of small independent companies have popped up.
I met no fewer than three distributors who are skirting aggressive regulation of wine distribution in Texas by operating as wineries.
Because Texas favors and fosters Texas wine production, wineries in Texas enjoy much more liberal oversight. In Texas, a winery can import and distribute European wines here. And they are also allowed to sell the wines directly to consumers (something the big distributors cannot do).
In order to obtain the licenses, all the winery has to do is produce five gallons of wine each year (or at least, I am told). Most of these newly formed companies simply buy fruit and have a mobile winemaker vinify then on the site of their business. That’s all it takes.
Having said that, it’s also important to note that these small companies rarely have the “bandwidth” to build a brand in the Texas market.
And it’s also important to remember that licensing fees are steep in Texas. “A winemaker has to spend around $1,000,” said one importer, “before they can even sell their first bottle” in the state.
Despite the challenges of importing and selling wine in Texas, the best news is that there is a generally high level of enthusiasm for and curiosity about Franciacorta among the wine trade here.
And there were even representatives from two of the bigger distributors present at the tasting. When I offered to give the relief map of Franciacorta to one of them, he jumped at the chance. He gladly took my branded ice bucket as well!
I took that as a good sign. 🙂
Thanks again to Paulie Wagner and Catherine Bugue of Balzac for hooking it up.