- By Arianna Auber American-Statesman Staff
A rosé created just for Austinites is returning just in time for the patio weather we’ve all been craving.
Local sommelier Rae Wilson began producing Dandy Rosé’s first vintage in 2014, at the cusp of the renaissance that the light and refreshing wine is now enjoying all over the country. Rosé has been so red-hot, in fact, that growth in sales of the wine in the U.S. last year outpaced the growth of wine overall. Austin has been one of the cities most thirsty for it, and Wilson is a key reason why.
Though she might not have predicted a few years ago just how popular rosé would grow to be, she did know one thing: Texas rosé was the style of wine she most wanted to make. And she wanted it to be available exclusively here.
Now, Dandy Rosé’s newest vintage is about to be released, in its largest amount yet. Get your first taste of the 2017 bottles at a garden party at the Umlauf Sculpture Garden & Museum on March 8. Afterward, Dandy Rosé will be primarily available at local restaurants and a couple of retailers — and, for the first time, at a limited number of places in Houston and San Antonio. The Dandy brand is just one of the wine projects Wilson produces under her Wine for the People company.
Sommeliers, the wine stewards at restaurants who help you find the right glass or bottle, don’t often branch into winemaking. But Wilson isn’t your average sommelier. Filled with wanderlust, she worked a couple of grape harvests in Napa Valley and Portugal beginning in 2008 to understand the wine production side of the industry.
Upon returning to Austin, she noticed how much she loved to drink rosé in hot weather. That got her thinking. Rosé is an antidote to our steamy summers, and the grapes common in the style thrive in our heat. At the time, however, Texas winemakers weren’t making much of it.
“‘You guys should be swimming in rosé,’” she said she would tell winemakers at their forums and yearly meetings. “Here, out in the Hill Country, you weren’t seeing rosés being made, or they were of the blush style, more sweet. I thought there really needed to be a Texas representation of dry rosé because it just seemed a natural fit, something the land makes really easily and something you want to drink in this climate.”
Blush wine once gave rosé a poor reputation. But the type of rosé flooding the country now is dry, like the kind Provence and Rhone Valley winemakers have long been producing with red grapes like mourvedre, grenache, cinsault and carignan. Though dry rosé can be made with a wide range of red varietals, Wilson has chosen to emulate the Southern France tradition with Dandy and used those four grapes, grown entirely in Texas, for the 2017 vintage.
Dandy this year is “bright and fresh, very silky, with soft berry tones and a touch of citrus. Some floral and berry aromatics,” she said. “I’d say it’s overall pretty delicate, both in the color and in the palate. But it’s very friendly. I’m very excited about this vintage.”
She is able to make the rosé — despite not having her own winery — at a custom crush facility, a bonded winery she partners with to use their equipment. She also relies on grapes sourced from vineyards around the state. Future vintages of Dandy Rosé, however, might be made at least in part with grapes from Wilson’s very own vineyard in the Hill Country. It hasn’t yielded fruit yet, but she’s hopeful this year will be the first harvest.
It’s going to be a year of firsts in more ways than one: Wilson is also planning to release a new wine under the Dandy label in June. Called Dandy Bubbles, the sparkling wine is naturally conditioned in the bottle in the “pétillant naturel” style. Pét-nat wines, as they’re often called, essentially make their own bubbles using the remaining sugar and yeast left over when the wine is bottled, before primary fermentation has completely finished. And as the movement of natural wines has flourished, this fun, fizzy wine has been called “the new rosé.”
So far, Texas winemakers have only just begun exploring pét-nat wines. In the Hill Country, William Chris Vineyards — where Wilson worked in 2011 — is one of them, releasing such sparklers as the 2015 Pétillant-Naturel Rosé.
In contrast, there are far more Texas rosés on the market, and William Chris hosts an annual springtime celebration, the Texas Wine Revolution, to showcase them. The tasting event is meant to convey what Wilson has been saying all along: Texas, like France and other warm-weather wine regions, is especially suited to growing grapes for rosé.
Red grapes designated to become rosé are picked from the vine sooner, she said, and “allow winemakers to keep the lights on while they’re barrel-aging their reds.”
To Wilson, rosé isn’t just another fad that will fade away in a year or two, despite its astronomical rise in the market.
“I just see it as a style that works for the climate,” she said. “I don’t see it as a trend as much as something that just matches up with where you live and what you want to eat and drink. So for Austin, I don’t see it going anywhere.”