With wine corks popping and glasses clinking, the celebration of Texas wines began in the Champion Wine Garden at NRG Park, Friday, March 2.
The Texas Wine Celebration Day included free tastings and live music. Five Texas wineries participated, including Messina Hof Winery in Bryan, Haak Vineyards and Winery in Santa Fe, Llano Estacado in Lubbock, Hye Meadow Winery in Hye, and Saddlehorn Winery in Burton. The Texas Department of Agriculture also attended to support one of the most valuable sectors of Texas agriculture.
Ben Awalt, one of the founders of the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo Winery Relations Committee, has been involved with all things wine at the Rodeo for 11 years. He said the growth of the Champion Wine Garden and wine-related events during his involvement with the committee is unprecedented. He credits the committee leadership for all the work they've done in promoting the wine industry.
"When I started, we were operating out of a single small tent," Awalt said. "Now there are nine tents running at any given time. We have grown a lot recently, even in just the last two years, thanks to the great leadership in this committee."
Wine's presence at the Rodeo mirrors the growth of the wine industry across the nation, especially in Texas. Awalt said he expects exponential growth in the next few years due to increasing interest in agritourism and wine-related activities in the Lone Star State.
"Texans are coming out of their comfort zone," Awalt said. "Instead of sticking to the Chardonnays and the Pinot Noirs, they are starting to try the Tempranillos, something that is unique in many ways to Texas. Texas wineries want to become destinations for consumers to taste their products."
Commissioner Syd Miller takes pride in all the Texas wine industry has to offer. "The best-kept secret of Texas agriculture is our wine industry," Miller said.
Chairman of the Board at Messina Hof Winery and Resort, Paul Bonarrigo, said the Rodeo has helped tremendously in promoting Texas wines.
"We are so thankful to the Rodeo for supporting the industry so well," Bonarrigo said. "To see all of this support for Texas wineries is incredible."
From the Tuscan Tent to the Hill Country Bar, visitors can experience wines from across the world, and wines from your backyard in Texas. Visit the Champion Wine Garden to taste your favorite Texas wines Monday through Thursday from 4 to 11 p.m., Friday from 4 p.m. to midnight, Saturday from 11 a.m. to midnight and Sundays from noon to 10 p.m. Educational seminars are available in the Champion Wine Garden, ranging from $40 to $70 per person. To learn more and to view the 2018 entertainment schedule, visit rodeohouston.com/Visit-the-Rodeo/Attractions-Activities/Wine-Garden.