A Taste Of Texas
Before bringing her expertise to Texas A&M University, Dr. Andreea Botezatu grew up roaming through her grandfather’s vineyard in Romania. “When we began making wine, everything smelled like fruits, the earth and the sun all put together,” she said. “We used a large wooden wine press to crush the grapes, and bees buzzed around as everything became sweet and sticky.”
Botezatu grew even more captivated by the process of making wine as she discovered the science behind it, known as enology. “I was fascinated by the interplay of the aromatic compounds, how they work together and how we perceive them,” Botezatu said. Inspired by her grandfather and her native country’s centuries-old winemaking traditions, Botezatu decided to become a winemaker herself.
After spending a few years producing wine in Romania, she and her husband moved to Canada, where she completed her doctoral studies. In 2017, Botezatu brought her experience to Texas, where she now oversees Texas A&M’s new enology certificate program and helps local winemakers craft their reds, whites and rosés with a Texan flair. As the demand for wine and grape production continues to grow in the Lone Star State, Texas A&M is equipping graduates with the knowledge and skills necessary to enter the $13.1 billion wine industry through applied research and improved programs.
From Vines to Wine
Though the state’s first winery opened in 1883, the Texas wine industry did not begin to evolve until the early 1970s. Since then, Texas has grown to boast more than 500 licensed wineries. During the past 20 years, Texas A&M has advanced grape-growing knowledge through its viticulture program’s research, which focuses on adjusting growing practices to the Texas climate and combating persistent diseases, such as Pierce’s disease and cotton root rot, that ruin crop yields. To further prepare students for the industry, the university established a course in enology, the technical side of winemaking, in 2017.
“Winemakers have to grow the types of grapes that produce the wines people want to consume,” said Dr. Dan Lineberger, head of Texas A&M’s Department of Horticultural Sciences. “Our university has always had a strong viticulture program, but we need to turn our attention to helping winery operators actually make wines as well.”
As Texas A&M’s first licensed enologist, Botezatu heads the certificate program, which offers Aggies courses in enology, viticulture, chemistry, sensory evaluation and more to enhance their knowledge of the winemaking process. “The impact of this program has been phenomenal,” Botezatu said. “Many students have been surprised by the science behind making wine, and some have even changed their career paths to enter the wine industry.”
Botezatu also leads the graduate enology program, in which students focus on the issues most prevalent in the Texas wine industry, such as acidity, aroma profiles and color consistency. “We use both the chemical and sensory components of wines to figure out which chemical is influencing which aspect,” Botezatu said. “This helps us inform the industries as to what aromas and flavor profiles customers prefer, so they can make appropriate production decisions.”
Raising the Bar
Texas A&M’s viticulture and enology researchers remain in constant contact with the wine industry, helping winemakers identify grape varieties that can flourish in the Texas terroir while researching methods for producing the highest quality wines from those grapes. “My research has focused on problems of pH, or acidity, which often leads to other problems such as color stability,” Botezatu said. “I’ve been studying an enzyme that could decrease the pH of wines, and I’ve discovered some very exciting results.”
In addition to applying research, the Texas A&M AgriLife Viticulture and Enology team hosts more than 25 annual programs for winemakers and offers one-on-one consulting to industry partners in the Texas High Plains, Hill Country, northern and coastal regions. “We’ve been working to solve the problems of the Texas grape industry and conduct outreach to educate growers for decades,” said Jim Kamas, an AgriLife Extension specialist with the Fredericksburg Viticulture and Fruit Lab. “As Texas A&M’s programs grow, I hope to see more of the next generation of industry experts come from the ranks of our graduates.”
One such graduate is Chris Brundrett ’06, who co-founded William Chris Vineyards, one of the top producers of 100 percent Texas-grown wines. “My time at Texas A&M taught me to never settle and to create my own path,” Brundrett said. “This really translated into my career, as our team works everyday to ensure our company is a leader in the wine industry.”
As Texas A&M’s programs continue to grow, graduates launch their careers in the industry equipped with the knowledge necessary to further its advancement. “Thanks to the generosity of donors and collaborations with extension specialists like Jim, we’ve greatly advanced our knowledge behind winemaking,” Brundrett said. “We’ve worked with several incredible people from Texas A&M who are really helping us raise the bar for Texas wines.”
Bottling the Texas Terroir
Aggies who enter Texas’ flourishing wine industry have the chance to influence not only the state’s economy, but also the state’s culture. “Culinary culture and the art of pairing wine and food is really just beginning to establish itself in Texas,” said Lineberger. “People are hungry for this type of culture, and our programs are preparing students to meet this demand.”
Texas is currently the country’s fifth largest producer of wine, and the Fredericksburg area is second only to California’s Napa Valley when it comes to wine-based tourism and entertainment. “To capture the full economic potential of wine, we need to be producing the grapes and making the wine here on Texas soil while also integrating the drink into our culture through tourism, tasting rooms and other entertainment activities,” Lineberger added.
Currently, Texans produce only 3 to 4 percent of the wine they consume. “With its acreage, Texas has the ability to catch up with its competition in the next five to 10 years,” Brundrett said. “We need to expand our market outside of our tasting rooms and into restaurants and dining rooms both inside and outside the state. Right now, William Chris exports wine to 35 different states, which definitely leaves us with room to grow.”
Though Texas lacks the castles, cottages and architecture of southern France, producers in the state are crafting a wine industry with a uniquely Texan flavor, glimpsed through the wine gardens, competitions and tastings held at the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo and other venues across the state. With such a diverse terroir, producers bottle the taste of the Hill Country, the High Plains and other Texas regions with every drop.
“We’re not trying to make French wine or Californian wine; we’re trying to grow Texan wine,” Brundrett noted. “As we boost our authenticity by requiring Texan wines to be completely made from Texas-grown grapes, we’ll start to catch up with other states. Texas has the resources to produce some of the most incredible rosés, and the wines that come from the Mourvedre grape are just phenomenal.”
Room to Grow
Just as Texas wines are making a name for themselves, so are Texas A&M’s viticulture and enology programs. With the creation of two endowed chair positions in addition to graduate and undergraduate scholarships, the Department of Horticultural Sciences hopes to establish a premier faculty and attract quality students. The department also plans to enhance its laboratory facilities and offer students high-impact learning experiences through research and internship opportunities with further funding.
“Currently, we don’t have the equipment to make large quantities of wine and test them,” Lineberger said. “We are continuing to develop our resources, however, and the industry has been very supportive of us. It’s exciting to see the program coming into its own, broadening the educational experience and producing more students.”
As the viticulture and enology programs mature, Botezatu is very optimistic for the future of Texas wine. “We have a lot of room to grow in regard to both the quantity and quality of wine we can produce,” she said. “But with the expansion of our production capacity, knowledge and increases in quality, I think that more and more people will become aware of Texas wines very soon.”