Texas winemakers find success in award-winning wine made from UF’s hardy grape
GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Along with dusty boots, cattle and big pickup trucks, try this Texas icon on for size: a dry, fruity white wine with a striking bouquet.
A University of Florida-created grape, introduced in 1987 as suitable for growing in the Southeast, is catching on big with Lone Star State winemakers.
The grape that makes Blanc du Bois wine is made from a hybrid developed by researchers with UF’s Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences, who wanted to create a variety that would work as a table grape and a wine production grape.
The wine has won international awards, including double gold medals in 1998, 2001 and 2002.
UF developmental biology professor Dennis Gray said the grape’s success in Texas is no mystery.
“It’s not too surprising, because this grape produces a true premium quality wine,” he said. “And because it was developed in a very harsh environment in Florida, it’s also not surprising that it would do well in Texas, where the environment is not so harsh.”
The UF grape is a cross between a hybrid and the Cardinal, a table grape. Its biggest benefit is its resistance to Pierce’s disease, a lethal grapevine affliction that for years kept Florida winemakers from growing European varieties.
Raymond Haak of Haak Vineyards and Winery in Santa Fe, Texas, was one of the first winemakers there to make Blanc du Bois since the grape’s 1987 release and recently began gathering data on how many vineyards are producing it.
His list shows two Louisiana vineyards, four in Florida and 18 in Texas. Of those, in 2005, the Louisiana vineyards reported producing 48 tons of the wine, Florida 17 tons and Texas 97 tons.
“Last year, I crushed about 40 tons of Blanc du Bois. It’s by far the largest volume of wine I make, and it’s my best-selling wine,” Haak said. “In the scheme of things, it’s just a drop in the bucket, but I was impressed to see how many acres we had planted.”
Jeanne Burgess, vice president of winemaking for Seavin, Inc., the company that runs Lakeridge Winery and Vineyards in Clermont and St. Augustine’s San Sebastian Winery, said the wine was good from the start.
Lakeridge was the first vineyard to grow UF’s grape and winemakers there made the first Blanc du Bois wine, naming it for Emile Dubois, a Tallahassee-area winemaker in the late 1800s.
“It’s got a unique character. In wine lingo, it’s a very spicy, fruity wine – very similar to a European style white wine,” Burgess said.
Texas winemakers are blessed with slightly drier growing conditions, she said.
“There’s a little less disease pressure than what we deal with here,” Burgess said. “It happens to ripen for us during the rainy season.”
Even with Texas winemakers’ interest in Blanc du Bois, it’s still not a wine that’s likely to be a household name anytime soon, she said. Most Blanc du Bois is sold at wineries.
Of the 100,000 or so cases Burgess’ wineries produce this year, only 500 to 600 will be Blanc du Bois, she said.
But winemaker Haak is excited by the growing interest in the wine from his home state.
“We’re on the radar screen,” he said, “and I think we’re on the threshold of this wine really continuing to grow.”