Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Only a Little Bit of Wine @ the San Antonio Stock Show & Rodeo

February is rodeo season, and it kicked off during the first full week of February here in  San Antonio. Normally, I don't go in for the Rodeo; here it is more about the carnival -- overpriced rides -- and the concerts -- I'm not a C&W fan. Well, last year marked the first time wine played a role at the Rodeo. So this year, Sean and I headed out during opening weekend to visit the 2nd annual Rodeo Wine Garden and taste the wine competition winners.

Front of the Garden facing away from the foot traffic

Local grocery giant HEB sponsors the Wine Garden at the San Antonio Stock Show & Rodeo. This little oasis in the dust and buzz is hidden back from the foot traffic as visitors leave the exhibit halls and special tents for the carnival. In fact, the nearby ARMY recruiter is easier to spot. This out of the way location is indicative to how the wine portion of the Rodeo is seen: it is the red-headed step child of the San Antonio Stock Show & Rodeo.

I don't wish to be mean. I'm glad our Rodeo is taking a page from more established and recognized ones, like the Houston Rodeo. However, it just doesn't get any respect. Right now, it has a lot to be desired. One of the wine competition volunteers told me the wine competition and garden ranked low among the Rodeo's exhibits and events. And to be honest, this feeling was evident. So like the red-headed step child, we want to like it but it isn't quite what it could be.

View from and of the Garden

To be fair, it has some good points. The best part about the Wine Garden is the "Garden." In the back of the tent, a comfortable garden area is set-up for visitors to sip on their wine and talk -- a rare commodity with all the loud noises drowning out a normal conversation. The patio seating is beautiful and for sale; it is also well placed around the garden space to allow for a sense of privacy. Plants of all types fill the space, a nice break from the dust and road. There is even a pleasant waterfall. This ornament provides a nice setting: a way to drown out carnival noise and a way to keep the dust down. Sitting out in the garden enjoying a glass of wine on a beautiful warming sunny day was exactly what I had hoped when I arrived.

The waterfall in the back center of the Garden

Also recommending the garden was the friendly staff. The four young ladies that were pouring the wine were all very nice and approachable. But that was also the first sign of a problem; none of the stewardesses knew anything nothing about the wines (and in some cases, wine in general). During the first part of our tasting, we not only told the girl about the wines (as she and the others had not tried them), but we also informed her about how wine tastes. She was eager to learn, but I found it disappointing that those people most in contact with the visitors knew almost nothing. To make matters worse, they couldn't even tell anyone which wines were Texas wines; yes, I saw to that VERY quickly.

The tasting bars

To help with the lack of info, the Rodeo had a large number of wine competition volunteers roaming about. We were greeted by one not long after we entered, but after I introduced myself as a blogger, he decided not to keep talking with us. We later spoke to another gentleman who was eager to share his love for wine; I just wish I met him sooner. There were a number of others, but they seemed more intent on socializing with one another than the Garden's visitors. This was disappointing. They did one good thing though. They came around with chocolates to pair with the wine. The sample Sean and I got was quite good and paired well with the rich red blends.

Inside the tent

As for the wines, that is a whole other story. I recently spoke to someone involved with the judging, and she wasn't too happy about the whole thing. I can see why. Though the winners were good, it seems most were merely safe choices. The Cupcake Petite Sirah -- a non-vintage mass produced Malbec -- did well at the competition. I am not saying this isn't an enjoyable wine, but it isn't what I expect of a competition winner. The Red Rock Malbec (BRONZE, Top of Class), a better placed winner, was a better choice. It and the Red Rock red blend (GOLD) were two of the most intriguing wines Sean and I drank. They had some complexity in flavor and some progression, but they weren't wines to sit and slowly savor and ponder over. These weren't the something special I had expected; I was disappointed.

One of our favorites

To make matters worse, Texas wines did poorly at this wine competition. This is a shock compared to the successes they had at the other, more established Rodeo wine competitions (the Houston Stock Show and Rodeo had a great Texas turn out), as well as their showing at the San Antonio Wine Festival. At the Garden, only three were available and they were not properly presented: Messina Hof's Reserve Cabernet Franc (they were serving the Barrel Reserve though it was the Private Reserve that won), Messina Hof's Sophia Maria Rose (a semi-dry that they had put in the dry white category), and McPherson's Viognier (which was in the Sweet Wine section). The lack of Texas wines and the mistakes made presenting them was rather sad. And this went on. While we were there, a visitor asked to try all the Texas wines. He was disappointed to only find three; he left quickly.

Award winning Texas wine from Messina Hof

Sean and I did our best to look past the slight to Texas wines and try to find out the stand-outs, like the Red Rock. However, it was hard. Recently, I spoke to another visitor to the Rodeo who complained about this issue. First, the tastings were $2 a piece and were maybe 1 ounce pours. It didn't take long to spend a lot (we stopped at 6 tastings each, a total of $22). This is where the wineries and other festivals stand out. For $10, I could get at least five 1-ounce pours (probably 2 ounces) and a glass. This didn't match up. The mark-up didn't end there. The two glasses Sean and I chose were $10 each. Not really bad, except these bottles retail at $10. This was poor mark-up. Add to that one more problem: not enough. Even by opening day the Garden was out of many wines, especially the champions. Add all of this up, and it was no wonder people didn't stay long or drink.


All this said, I am glad that the San Antonio Stock Show & Rodeo is trying to be something more. However, it has a ways to go. In fact, the GOTEXAN areas were generally marginalized at the Rodeo, especially the Wine Garden (which also had so little to do with Texas). And I know I am not the only person unimpressed. While at my favorite wine shop recently, I chatted with some folks who had recently visited as well. They were disappointed by the lack of quality, as well as the lack of available wines (they went opening night and a number of the featured champion wines were already "SOLD OUT"). I hope that the Rodeo learns more every year and that the Wine Garden gets better. And since it is the Rodeo, I hope they will start to feature Texas wines more prominently. Here is hoping for next year will be brighter.

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