Bill Bledsoe ’71 poured a splash of white wine in a glass and beamed.
“This is a very nice pinot grigio,” he said. "The grapes are Texas
grown. There’s a lot of citrus in it, a lot of different flavors.”
Bledsoe confided that he hoped the wine would win gold at the San
Francisco International Wine Competition, the nation’s largest wine
competition. “I’ve won bronzes and silvers before, but never a gold,” he
added. “I would love to see the word ‘Texas’ posted as a gold winner.”
As the owner and winemaker at Texas Legato Winery, Bledsoe takes
enormous pride in his own wine, grown on 40 acres of bottom land outside
of Lampasas, and in Texas wine overall. He’s had a lot to be proud of
since 2002, when he and his wife, Sulynn, planted their first crop of
grapes. Today, they bottle up to 1,500 cases of wine per year, 90% of
which they sell to the winery’s visitors. Hung on the winery’s tasting
room wall are plaques and frames filled with medals of various colors,
but the golds displayed here are from wine competitions in the state and
the region. Not from California, which is why the winemaker is so
hopeful to change that with his pinot grigio.
Bledsoe’s first planting coincided with a spectacular growth in the
Texas wine industry. In 2001, there were 40 wineries in the state;
today, there are 5,552. Currently, 4,000 acres of Texas farmland are
planted in grapes, making Texas the fifth largest producer of wine in
the country. The economic impact of the wine industry in Texas is $13
billion, largely from agritourism—when the public visits vineyards and
wineries and buys wine and related goods on site.
Aggies like Bledsoe are at the forefront of the Texas wine boom, and
with grapes and wine becoming such important commodities in the state,
it’s only fitting that Texas A&M University’s College of Agriculture and
Life Sciences take a leading role in the industry. Today, the college is
beefing up its enology and viticulture programs to increase its outreach
to growers and winemakers.
At the forefront of those efforts is a new certificate in grape growing
and winemaking, open to students of any discipline. The 15-hour program,
which seeks to train Aggies for careers in the wine industry, gives
students a solid understanding of the scientific principles of wine
production, grape growing, pre- and post-fermentation winemaking
processes, and wine etiquette.
“Texas A&M is well positioned to help the industry grow,” said Dr. Dan
Lineberger, head of the Department of Horticultural Sciences. “There’s a
science and art to winemaking.” With recent improvements to the
department and big plans for the program’s future, Lineberger predicts
that Aggies are poised to become experts in both aspects.