Happy Texas Wine Month to all who celebrate.
Texas is home to the third-largest wine-growing region and second-most visited in the US, drawing in ~1.7 million visitors each year.
We sat down with Rae Wilson — founder of Austin-based Wine for the People and vintner with more than a decade of experience in the industry — to learn more about her journey into the wild west of Texas wine.
Editor’s note: this interview has been edited for clarity and brevity.
Can you tell me a little bit about how you came into the wine industry?
I was in restaurants, and I became a sommelier. … When I decided to do winemaking, I moved up to Napa. I was there for about a year. After that, I went to Portugal, then briefly France before coming back to Austin.
I ended up hearing that there was a burgeoning industry here and at first, I honestly did not think much about it. After a little time, I thought, “Okay, well, you should go out and try one of the wineries.” And so I did. I convinced a friend of mine, who’s a big food and wine nerd, to go with me … We were hesitant. I think a lot of people start there.
Then in 2014, I had an opportunity to get some fruit. … I made my first rosé. I wanted to start with rosé because it was just what I wanted to drink. Really traditional, dry French rosés, that’s my jam. I love all kinds of wines, but I really love that.
What I also learned is that there is no one thing that’s going on in Texas. Texas is larger than the entire country of France. There’s no one variety, there’s no one style, there’s no like, “This is going to be Texas’ thing.”
So, that’s how I came to it. I had no intention of making wine in Texas. … Now, I’m really excited about it.
What do you think is exciting about making wine in Texas?
This place will be a world class wine region, and we’re on the earlier side of it. It feels really good to feel like you can contribute to an industry, and also that you can stand out.
It’s kind of an underdog position. I didn’t know that I’d be making wine in a place that people don’t associate with wine yet. The potential and the growth is there, and I can’t wait to continue to see it grow.
There are very few females in wine in general, especially on the production side. But in Texas, we’re early on, and so I think it’s really good to visibly see women in this and see that this is a place that we’re just now establishing … We can choose how to make it more equitable. We can choose everything about it. We’re building it now.
Can you talk about the branding on your bottles?
[Wine is] not just a product. I mean, it can be, sure, depending on your business model. I don’t approach it that way. I very much approach it with an artist’s kind of mindset. I love the branding, I love making it beautiful. It’s really driven by the sense of place. To me, wine is unique in that way.
The artwork on the front [of our La Valentía line] is from an Austin artist. Her name is Katy Schmader. It’s all paper collage work. She hand-dyes the papers. She’s incredibly talented. I found her work at a show, I met her and I was just totally taken by it. Luckily, she also likes wine. … For each wine in that production, I choose a different collage.
The story behind [the quotes on the bottles] is that my grandmother — who I was really close to growing up, she’s been gone a really long time now — her family name meant courageous. I wanted to do something that was just a nod in that direction to her. … On the back, it has quotes from courageous women from all over the world.
Obviously, we as humans are visual and tactile, and before we see the wine or before we taste the wine, we see the bottle. Every bit of it is art … Getting to work along the way with all different artists in different capacities, whether it’s kind of in the branding or whether it’s events that we do, that’s very much something that’s important to me, too.
What was the Texas wine industry like when you were starting out in 2010?
It was definitely smaller and I think more people were bringing in fruit from other places.
Now, I think more and more people are working with Texas fruit. Not that there isn’t still fruit coming in from other places, that’s still very much part of business models here, but I think there are more and more people who are making the point of saying, “We’re working with 100% Texas grapes, and this is what we’re making. This is where it comes from.”
I’d say overall it’s a pretty supportive industry. … I think that the industry in general sees that a win for the visibility of any given producer benefits us all.
The more people we have working with Texas fruit brings in a lot more attention, brings a lot more people who are curious, wanting to know what it’s about. It gives greater visibility in the press and with that comes a lot more sincere interest and validation that’s outside of our smaller local communities.
Can you talk about your low intervention approach?
When we’re looking at farming techniques and methods that are going to be as low impact as possible, we have a lot, a lot of room to grow. The things that make the most sense are finding the right varieties that you don’t have to wrangle into just keeping them alive. … There’s a lot of trial and error, and the error is very expensive.
To me, I see my role as the person to learn what is unique about the site and bring that wine into its natural, highest expression that I can. I’m really constantly studying. If we’re not doing that, then we’re not going to keep this industry going.
How to try Rae’s wine
Try Wine for the People’s bottles yourself at its Rosedale location, at 1601 W. 38th St. Browse bottles online.
You can also taste Rae’s newest production, the inaugural Fire Oak Red at a launch party this Friday, Oct. 20 from 6 to 8 p.m. Get tickets.