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Hospitality students uncork Texas wine history

Students from the Hilton N. Conrad College spent five days over spring break exploring the Texas wine country. | Courtesy of Hilton N. Conrad College

While it may seem like a wine enthusiast’s paradise, students from the University of Houston’s Conrad N. Hilton College of Hotel and Restaurant Management were not simply vacationing when they embarked for a trip to the Texas High Plains over spring break to unearth and experience firsthand the history of the state’s wine industry, spending five days exploring various Texas wineries.

The group explored McPhearson Cellars in Lubbock, Reddy Vineyard in Brownsville and High Plains Winegrowers in Meadow, uncorking rich bodies of history and flavor with each bottle. Students were considered and chosen for the trip based on a stringent application and their seriousness about pursuing a career in the wine industry.

“Now I can see that every segment of the Texas wine industry has its stories, and it all has to be learned before you can educate people about it and try and sell it,” said Michael Meza, a hotel and restaurant management senior.

Chris Taylor, director of the beverage management program, intended for this trip to open students’ eyes to the effort and process that goes on behind the scenes at each winery. A key part of this was learning not only the history of Texas wine but the stories of individual wineries and the products they put out as well.

“To know some background, to see how it works and grows into something else is tantamount to the success in the industry in the future,” said Taylor. “(Students) really understand it at its core and its essence rather than just reading about it in a book.”

The modern Texas wine industry is relatively young — about 40 years old, Taylor said — compared to better-known regions like Napa Valley, which has wine industry ties dating back to the early 1800s, according to The Wine Cellar Insider. Knowing this, Taylor is investing in the future of the Texas industry by encouraging students to “fight the good fight” for the state’s wine businesses.

Sophie Yang, a HRM graduate student who also works in the wine department at HEB, said that a lot of people don’t pay attention to Texas wines but prefer more familiar California wines. After visiting the heart of Texas wine country, Yang confesses a new appreciation for Texas wine.

“You see the effort that people are actually making to try and make Texas wine better, and it helped me talk about Texas wine with people,” Yang said. “I tell them about my experience and the story behind the wineries and people will try it.”

Taylor will continue to invest in the industry by preparing students to promote and fight for the local industry. He hopes that future trips will be able to accommodate larger groups and allow visits to more Texas wineries.

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