Page 34 - AustinChronicle

Basic HTML Version

JULY 25, 2014
a u s t
i n c h r o n
i c
l e
. c om
Although Rae Wilson admits she’s “inclined to a variety of
artistic endeavors,” she found her true passion in wine. Even
describing her as passionate could be considered an under-
statement. Soft-spoken and almost shy at first meeting, she
will immediately perk up and reveal a bubbly personality
and a wealth of knowledge at the slightest mention of Rosé.
From a young age, Wilson started working in restaurants
in her native St. Louis, Mo. She quickly became interested
in food and beverages, spending her free time reading
about gastronomy. She even took a run at brewing beer,
spending five years learning the microbrew business at
Schlafly Brewery. After discovering the wonders of fermen-
tation, she shifted her focus to wine once relocating to
Austin in November 2005. By 2008, she had turned her
attention to wine production, making her way to Napa
Valley to work the harvest at Artesa, one of the most highly
regarded wineries in the area.
This would become her first “classroom,” a place to learn
the winemaking process from harvest to production.
Because Artesa is home to several wineries, including
Spain’s famous Cava producer Codorníu Winery and
Montes Wines, she learned Spanish techniques as well as
traditional Napa-style production from a variety of wine-
makers. Between shifts, she spent time at one of the world’s
top wine programs – COPIA: The American Center for
Wine, Food and the Arts in Napa – earning her advanced
certification with the Wine and Spirits Education Trust.
Later that year, she earned her certification from the Court
of Master Sommeliers.
Wilson returned to Austin soon after completing her cer-
tification, working at Cafe Josie and Wink before taking a
job as the wine buyer at Whip In. There she not only kept
the shelves stocked with interesting finds and great bar-
gains, but installed a by-the-glass program when the cafe
and bar opened in 2009. During that period, Wilson held
informal bimonthly classes and tastings. Her easygoing
style encouraged audience participation and dialogue, and
she answered questions without condescension. She quick-
ly garnered a following, with regular customers returning
after her “Wine 101” class to pursue a variety of topics - any-
thing from sparkling wines to South American vintages,
Italian reds, and of course, Rosé.
But after only five months, Wilson’s wanderlust led her
to pack her bags and head to Portugal for the fall harvest.
“I had always been attracted by Portuguese wines,” she
recalls, “so I wanted to learn more about them, and it was
such an incredible opportunity.” Wilson’s
experience in Portugal was very different
from the one in Napa Valley. She had little
knowledge of the language and faced a
decidedly male-dominated culture. She
had to work extra hard to prove herself,
being the only female cellar worker at
Esporão, one of the country’s leading win-
eries in Alentejo, and Quinta dos Murças in the Douro
Valley. That hard work paid off. She not only earned her
co-workers’ respect and friendship, but gained a vast
amount of knowledge and experience, including a very
public fall into a fermenting vat and a stint shoveling mud
out of the winery after a huge landslide.
Upon her return to Austin, Wilson picked up where she
left off with her classes at Whip In, House Wine, and
Apothecary Wine Bar. She also founded her own company,
Wine for the People, with a goal of making the wine world
more accessible. In fact, Wilson played a very important
role in changing Austinites’ perception of Rosé through
classes and small events. Three years ago, Wine for the
People’s first Rosé party at Whip In was a total success. At
this year’s party in May, dozens of pink wine fans gathered
to sample Rosés from a wide variety of regions and styles.
A smiling Wilson mingled through the crowd, talking about
every wine as though she had made it herself. At that point,
Wilson had approximately 83 different Rosé labels on the
shelves. No wonder Whip In is known among customers as
the “Pink Mahal.”
In 2011, another winemaking opportunity beckoned.
This time, it was much closer to home at William Chris
Vineyards in Hye. “I wanted to learn more about the Hill
Country [American Viticultural Area], and this is one of the
best wineries in the area, so it was a perfect fit for me.”
Wilson worked in all aspects of production and also helped
in the tasting room, putting her unique knack for hospital-
ity to use. She even made a small five-case experimental
batch of her own wine “out of some leftover Merlot grapes
that had been too long on the vine. I knew it wasn’t going
to be great, but I wanted to play with Texas grapes.”
Her winemaking endeavors challenged her regular work
schedule, so she refocused her company as a wine consul-
tancy. Currently, she buys and oversees the list at Whip In,
Thai Fresh, and Snack Bar. She also developed the lists at
Porter Gastropub and Alta’s Cafe, where she was asked to
put her affinity for natural, organic, and biodynamic wines
to work. “I am drawn to natural and organic wines because
I am familiar with the practices, and because I actually seek
those wines for myself.”
While working at William Chris, she got to know most of
the Hill Country winemakers and discovered amazing
wines that have little to no distribution. It was here that
Wilson experienced her “aha” moment, or more accurately
the perfect niche to capitalize on her growing love for Texas
wine. She saw a gap between boutique producers – like
William Chris, Lewis Wines, Compass Rose, and La Cruz de
Comal – and the wine-drinking Austin public. She has
become a liaison between the two groups by including the
wines from the boutique producers in the lists she curates.
“I really want to feel that I am contributing to the growing
culinary scene in Austin, especially at smaller, independent
places whose owners have no knowledge of wine but want
to have a good list,” she says. “And these small producers
are making incredible wines, but have a very small audi-
ence. I want to connect these businesses together.”
Wilson stays true to her philosophy of keeping things
accessible by teaching classes at House Wine on the third
Saturday of every month. She also conducts staff training
and tastings for her clients. Both Snack Bar and Thai Fresh
have seen their wine sales increase, thanks to lists with
unique and affordable selections, and staffs that can make
informed recommendations. She also finds time to write
about wine for Texas Wine & Trail online magazine, and is
a member of the Texas Wine Journal, a panel of industry
professionals who conduct blind tastings
of Texas wines.
Wilson has already taken the next step
toward her complete immersion in Texas
wines: In April of this year, she planted a
co-venture vineyard with a longtime
friend. The tiny two-acre vineyard near
Pedernales Falls will exclusively produce
dry Rosé, as close to organic and biodynamic as possible,
made by Wilson herself. There will be no tasting room at
the yet-to-be-named winery; this will strictly be a direct-to-
Austin market production wine. The vineyard is under the
management of the team at Lewis Wines, and is planted
with Grenache, Mourvèdre, and Cinsault, varieties that
thrive in warmer climates. “Making Rosé just makes
sense,” says Wilson. “It’s perfect for drinking here. The
grapes are adapted to our climate, so they will be much
easier to grow and produce quality wines, with natural acid-
ity and little manipulation.”
Of course Rosé is also the perfect accompaniment to our
Central Texas weather and cuisine. And Rae Wilson – by
proving herself to be an asset to Austin’s culinary culture
and fiercely advocating the Texas wine industry – may be
its perfect pairing.
Through Rosé Colored Glasses
Rae Wilson helps Austin reconsider the pink drink
b y C l a u d i a a l a r C ó n
“These small producers
are making incredible
wines, but have a very
small audience.”
– Rae Wilson
j o h n a n d e r s o n