A Texas House Bill sent to committee last week could impact the wine industry, starting September 1, 2017.
House Bill 1514, filed Feb. 2, would require wineries looking for a Texas wine distinction to use 100 percent of the grapes grown on Texas farms and produce it entirely in the state to qualify. The current benchmark for consideration was 75 percent of the volume, said Terry Franks, chief of staff for Texas Representative Jason Isaac (R-Dripping Springs).
“As the wine industries grows and becomes more sophisticated in Texas, we really need to do a lot more to protect and bring the wine industry into more of a recognized status so when you buy a Texas wine, you’re buying Texas grapes,” Franks said.
Isaac and his staff used the wine industries in California, Oregon and Washington state as a model for the bill. All three states require more than 75 percent of the volume to be produced in the state, Franks said.
The bill was referred to the licensing and administrative procedures committee March 9, though Franks said the provision of the bill calling for 100 percent of the wine volume to be produced in-state will likely be unobtainable in the near future.
“Obviously we know the way the bill is written would be very difficult, almost unobtainable in its current form, which is why it’s a proposal … We’re working on some language with the industry to stair-step up and get close to that 100 percent over the next five or six years.”
Terry Franks, chief of staff for Texas Representative Jason Isaac
The bill, as currently constituted, would cause Texas wineries to decrease the import of California grapes, which are generally cheaper by the ton than Texas grapes. Franks said businesses aren’t prepared to make this adjustment on the accelerated calendar called for in the bill. For this reason, Franks said implementing the law by Sept. 1 of this year is “unrealistic.”
“That would just crush a lot of the wineries,” Franks said. “We’ve heard from a lot of the wineries and they’ve had some serious concern and heartburn over that. We don’t want to hurt the industry. We want to help the industry, so we are going to substitute in some language to help out with that.”
Robert Fritz, a wine maker at Solaro Estate Winery in Dripping Springs, joined in opposition of the proposal. Fritz is a member of the Hill Country Wine Association, which includes 53 Texas wineries as members.
Fritz said the association “overwhelmingly” voted in opposition of the bill.
“The worry is that any legislation at all slows down the industry to the point where a number of wineries and vineyards could go out of business,” Fritz said. “That was the thought behind the vote.”
The legislation would place an extra burden on the Texas agricultural system, tasked with keeping up with the rising demand for grapes. If the bill passes, Fritz is unsure if Texas can sustain the wineries’ individual needs at the rate the industry is growing.
“My personal opinion is that the industry should be left alone and have the freedom to grow,” Fritz said. “And at some point when it gets bigger, then maybe there should be some regulations. Right now as a whole, for the good of the industry, we should leave politics out of it.”
In the meantime, legislators and local wineries will continue to move towards a working piece of law to benefit a wine industry that provides more than 12,000 full-time jobs, according to the Texas Wine and Grape Growers Association.
“Folks out there say ‘we see where you’re going, but we need to have a longer discussion on this,’” Franks said. “We are happy to do that. This (bill) has brought this issue to the forefront and the discussion has begun in earnest.”