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Climate Change Chaos for Viticulturists

August 06, 2021

Most everyone has heard the adage, “If you want to make a small fortune in the wine business, start with a huge one.” I can tell you it is “spot on.”  Moreover, climate change has made it even more of a crap shoot with the dice loaded against you.  Upside down weather has had a very disruptive influence on the wine industry accelerating harvests in some areas while changing the very nature of the wine in others.  Cooler regions have been enabled to grow more heat-loving wine grapes like pinot noir. Move over France, as Britain has warmed up to grow champagne style grapes and produce bubbles that could cause concern in the Champagne region. 

Nonetheless, no viticulture folks need be worried about wine competition from the Hill Country of Texas though the number of wineries in this region is reaching a new plateau.  First of all, our region is doomed by a destructive disease called Pierce’s disease which is the result of a bacterium spread by sharpshooter insects that causes grapes to ripen unevenly. Over twenty years ago, we acquired a Texas historical building constructed in 1873 which sits on historic Lot 1 in the Texas Ranger town of Center Point with some three acres of adjoining garden. The building, Zanzenberg Storyville,, just seemed to be a perfect spot to plant a vineyard in the back.  

We planted a vineyard of Napa Cabernet clone grapes, made a good wine in 2003 and then lived through the ravages of Pierce’s disease.  We subsequently replanted the vineyard with a hardy Black Spanish grape which is more resistant to Pierce’s disease. As you can see the vineyard is beautiful though, sadly, highly uneconomic.  

We made wine in 2003, 2012, 2014 and have a barrel in the cellar from 2018. You will note that the label has changed from Zanzenberg Storyville over that period to recognize our not-for-profit elephant conservation endeavor in Comfort, Texas The economics should be clear as we have had only four years of produced wine in 21 years of viticulture. When people ask about our wine, my response is “not the best but the most expensive in the world.” The issues are Pierce’s disease, raccoons, birds, and radical weather shifts.  Therefore, we have two “not for profit enterprises” – elephant conservation and wine making.  Both are, in reality, labors of love. 

If winemaking is so difficult in the Texas Hill Country, the question remains why have so many wineries sprung up?  The answer is tourism in a beautiful and historic part of the state. The bulk of the grapes and/or juice originates in the wonderful grape growing region of West Texas where an arid climate coupled with drip irrigation produces largely trouble-free wine grape harvests. Therefore, a small vineyard is obligatory even though much of the actual source of the wine tastings is several hundred miles west of the winery.  

We too have succumbed to the tourism motivation.  We have added an adjoining restored historic Bank building to the original Zanzenberg Storyville overlooking three acres of gardens and a vineyard. Therefore, the economics of this vineyard evolve around the Zanzenberg Storyville event center, the three-bedroom upstairs Zanzenberg Storyville B&B and the Bank loft shown below. Plans are underway to create a restaurant in Zanzenberg Storyville and a coffee shop in the Bank Building. The Bank Loft is rented on Airbnb most every weekend and receives rave reviews.  

To complete the process, I put my Center Point office/getaway in another adjacent building that overlooks the vineyard. It is named Shavano in honor of a gentleman who formerly restored vintage Hudson automobiles in his “Shavano” garage.  Occasionally, I will look out my window at the view shown below, have a glass of wine and muse on our international oil efforts. Rest assured it is not a glass of The Elephant Story wine as it is too expensive.


Proudly show your support for elephant conservation with an Elephant Story tee-shirt.  

Not only will you be displaying your support, but you will also be contributing financially to elephant conservation. Every time you purchase anything from The Elephant Story, the sales margin is returned to the The Golden Triangle Asian Elephant Foundation to support basic care, their latest rescued elephantveterinarians and multiple external projects

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