Thursday, February 18, 2010

Houston Livestock & Rodeo Wine Grand Champion

Journey from classroom to cellar


Food would be Guy Davis' meal ticket through college, where he thought he'd gone to learn how to become a stockbroker. But the most important subject he studied while working in the kitchen for "a couple of crazy French guys" in a Boise, Idaho, restaurant called The Creperie was wine.

"I answered an ad in the newspaper, and I wound up getting an unbelievable education," Davis said. "I got bitten by the bug at the age of 19."

The now-50-year-old Davis learned to appreciate wine's every stylistic nuance because his bosses offered him almost nightly tastings, accompanied by long philosophical discourses on the nuances of the different regions. Soon, their passion became his passion. Go to his Web site and the first thing you read is this:

"At Davis Family Vineyards, we have some pretty strong beliefs about wine. We believe wine is an essential element in a rich and passionate life. It adds an extra layer of flavors to both meals and to friendships. And, like a lover, wine has a sensuality of perfumed aromas and silky, supple textures -- endless charm and character that brings many pleasures to our senses and spirits."

If those words don't make you want to pop the nearest cork, nothing will.

Davis' thoughts on wine are relevant because of his small-production 2005 Davis Family Cabernet Sauvignon from Napa Valley, which will be formally introduced at the "Rodeo Uncorked! Best Bites" soiree Sunday as the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo's seventh Grand Champion. The cab will also be the star attraction at a dinner in Davis' honor tonight at Sullivan's Steakhouse.

He confesses he didn't know much about the Houston competition until one of his Texas contacts told him it had become an important, prestigious event. Among the nearly 1,800 wines that were entered, his triumphed. Now, most of the 700 cases he made wound up at Spec's, priced at $43.33 a bottle.

Because Houston is considered to be the hottest cabernet market in the country, he's delighted to now be more than just another blip on the city's radar screen. But he's hardly a one-trick pony. In fact, he's probably better known for his Russian River offerings such as pinot noir, syrah and chardonnay.

For Davis, though, it's about terroir. He doesn't force square pegs into round holes. In his eyes, all grape varietals are created equal.

"I just love making wine from special areas, to show that true sense of place and the character of the varietal," he said. "I'm about working with the right grapes in the right place."

After graduating from Boise State, Davis started selling wine, and that meant he was tasting lots of it he said. The more he sampled, the more he believed his future was in the cellar and the vineyards. By the late 1980s, he was actively hunting for property in Sonoma, and by 1994 his winery was open on a ridge top in the Russian River Valley.

His timing was perfect. The first cabernet Davis released was a 1997, frequently referred to as Napa's "vintage of the century." And the New York Times selected Davis' initial offering as one of the valley's 20 best.

His champion Houston cab represents a lucky 13th vintage, and there are at least that many more to come, now that his oldest son, Cole, is working at the family business. It's hard work and perhaps only glamorous when you win prestigious awards -- the '05 cab has now claimed several -- but Davis insists days off are overrated.

"I'm lucky the wine business gives you so much in return," Davis admits. "There are many sides to it, and they're all rewarding."


• What: Rodeo Uncorked! Roundup and Best Bites Competition.

• Where: Reliant Center, Halls D and E.

• When: 6:30-9:30 p.m. Sunday

• Info: Many of Houston's finest restaurants and caterers will have serving stations, and the rodeo competition's top wines will be featured, including the Grand Champion cab from Davis Family Vineyards and the George Bush Foundation Top Texas Wine, the Flat Creek Estate "Mistella" dessert wine. Proceeds benefit the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo charity.

• Cost: $100 in advance, $125 at the door. Table of 10, $1,800.

• Reservations: Visit the show's ticket office inside Reliant Center, or go to or call 832-667-1128.

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