When I was called for jury duty last year, the judge asked who had an obligation that might prevent them from serving. I raised my hand and told her that I had to go on a press trip to west Texas to see vineyards. Really, she asked? Do we make wine in Texas?

So much for 30 years of the Texas wine industry. The truth, though, is that Texas wine is thriving in a way it never has — better quality wine, more wineries and vineyards, and more sales, even during this recession. Best yet, you’ll get several chances this month and next to see that improvement for yourself.

The first drinklocalwine.com conference, which I helped put together and which the magazine is co-sponsoring, is Aug. 14-15 at the Cordon Bleu in north Dallas. Grapefest, Sept. 17-20 in Grapevine, features the legendary People’s Choice competition, in which four or five dozen Texas wineries pour their wares on two afternoons. And this year’s State Fair at the end of September will feature Texas wines in the Wine Garden, near the Cotton Bowl, for the third consecutive year.

How big has Texas wine become? Texas is the fifth-largest wine producing state in the country, with 177 wineries and 280 commercial vineyards, and has made important strides this decade by focusing on Italian, Spanish and Mediterranean grapes. That means growing less cabernet sauvignon, merlot and chardonnay, which don’t take well to the Texas climate, and growing more viognier, sangiovese, and the grapes that go into red Rhone-style blends. In addition, not only are there more wineries, but there are more wineries doing quality work — at least a dozen, and probably more. There are still some problems with wines designed to be sold in tasting rooms, and prices are still a bit higher than most would like to see. But the difference in Texas wines, even from a decade ago, is impressive.

We even did a Texas wine podcast on our Back Talk blog with two of the top Texas wine experts in the state, both of whom are neighborhood residents, John Bratcher and Alfonso Cevola (a search for “Texas wine trends” at advocatemag.com will take you to it).


Louisiana-style shrimp boil
The key to this, aside from Texas or Louisiana Gulf shrimp, is to have a big enough pot — at least 10 or 12 quarts. Serve the boil with a chilled Texas viognier, and reflect on how good and how much fun local food and wine can be. A note on ingredients: You can use pretty much anything you want, and you can even leave the shrimp out and do a veggie boil. It’s not unusal to see artichokes, green beans and even peanuts. But shrimp, potatoes and corn are traditional.

Serves four (30-40 minutes)
Two boxes of crab boil
6-8 Tbsp of salt
Black and red pepper to taste
Three or four quartered and squeezed lemons
Two or three quartered onions
A handful of chopped celery
Two or three bay leaves
Five or six cloves of garlic, peeled and smashed
6 ears corn
8 or 10 small red potatoes
1 lb. best-quality smoked sausage
1/2 pound asparagus
2 lbs. shrimp (size 21-30)

Put everything except the food in six quarts of water. Cover, bring to a boil, reduce to a simmer, and cook 15 or 20 minutes. Taste the liquid, which should be salty, lemony, herbal and spicy. Correct if necessary. Add the remaining ingredients in order of cooking time. Small ears of frozen corn on the cob take 15 to 20 minutes, the potatoes take about 10 minutes, the smoked sausage takes 5 or 10 minutes, and the asparagus takes 2 or 3 minutes. Shrimp goes in last. First, add corn and bring back to a boil. After 5 minutes, add the potatoes and bring back to a boil. After 5 more minutes, add  smoked sausage and bring back to a boil. After 5 more minutes, add asparagus and shrimp and bring back to a boil. Once the mixture comes to a boil the fourth time, cover, turn the heat off, and let the shrimp poach until they’re cooked. That can take 5 minutes or longer, depending on the size of the shrimp and whether they’re fresh or frozen. Taste shrimp to see if done. Drain the pot, dump the shrimp and vegetables in a big bowl, and serve with crusty French bread, fresh lemon and homemade cocktail sauce.