by Janie Master
Doesn’t everyone want to be in Houston in July?!!!  For us, the whole point of going to Houston IN JULY was to taste our Le Charmel, Tiamo and Tortoise Creek wines with our Texas distributor, Pioneer Wine, and give our wonderful sales reps a bloody good lunch to say thank you!

We arrived in a blistering heat wave and a thousand-degree humidity.  What to do the night before our meeting? We had read about a new wave Mexican restaurant place called Xochi. It specializes in food from Oaxaca and is downtown Houston (1777 Walker Street, 77010 – tel: 713-400-3330).  It is the latest creation of the wonderful Chef Hugo Ortega and the food is excellent. We sat at the bar (always our preferred seating) and made friends with the bartender who gave us a tasting of 3 different tequilas and 3 different mescals (just a taste, I promise!).  The tequila from Oaxaca is famously smooth. The mescals were sublime – smoky grappa, malt whiskey and even smokier truck fuel came to mind!  The General Manager Elvis Espinoza (no, really!) spoilt us rotten with all the above whilst we bravely ate the specialty of the house – house-made queso de rancho topped with ants, grubs and grasshoppers – I swear the crunchy fried dried little buggers were nutty and delicious.  I don’t know why we don’t have them at home!

It took until the next morning for the fire of the habanera chili sauce, double roasted duck with almond mole to subside! So, we were most thankful for the icy goblets of Le Charmel Rosé, Mont Gravet White and Tiamo Prosecco we tasted with our team from Pioneer Wine the following morning!  We met all the young reps at a board game café called Tea and Victory at 2030 ETC Jester Blvd, 77008 (tel: 832-831-2483) in the Heights district of Houston.  Fascinating place with all kinds of games to play and a great wine bar and the food was totally amazing as we coasted through many different apps with all our wines in the cool comfort there.


Coltivare Pizza and Garden

That evening we met up with our wonderful sales manager, Keith Livingston and his beautiful wife and newborn daughter (who thrilled the entire restaurant!).  We went to one of our favorite restaurants, Coltivare Pizza and Garden located at 3320 White Oak Drive, 77007 (tel: 713-637-4095).  When Mel and I arrived the place was already full of happy clients.  The first time we went there a few years ago we didn’t know that it didn’t take reservations and when we arrived the hostess told us to wait at the bar for a table.  The bar was like a theatrical production in full swing.  Four bar tenders were flying backwards and forwards, leaping up onto the back bar and reaching high up on the wall which was covered in oblique mixers, rare alcohols and top end booze to make their magic potions with Coltivare’s own tonics, ancient herbs (borage and lemon verbena and elder flowers).  Mel ordered our two cocktails and the nearest bar tender Adrian planted a piece of paper in front of him and rushed off.  Mel filled in the document with ‘name, address, size of your grandmothers’ feet, etc.;’ and Adrian flew back and asked Mel for a dollar.  Wow!!  Was this the happiest ‘happy hour’ in Texas?  No, said Adrian, that is so that you can order a drink in the first place.  You must be members of the ‘Coltivare club’ – because here IT IS A DRY DISTRICT!?!  We thought prohibition had ended eons ago but there are some ‘stick-in-the-mud’ areas that still hang onto the 1920s formula for abstinence!

Jamie our waiter recognized Mel from last year and we and our vinous guests were given a lovely round table inside in the cool air conditioned comfort and told us that Ryan Perra, the chef/owner who had worked for Mel’s partner Jonathan Waxman in New York, would love to say hi!  His wine waiter Leonora meanwhile found us a rare Rossere Bianco from the Piedmont in Italy made from ancient 15th century grapes the color of pink gold.  Ryan creates fabulous simple fresh pastas, pizzas, grills and salads and spoilt us with a blackberry cobbler with satiny home-made decadent ice cream melting on the top.

Bed early and up to another humid/hot/horrible day in Houston. We started the day by visiting the huge HEB store which sales large quantities of our Le Charmel rose.  Now, I always knew that everything is bigger in Texas (especially women’s hair!) but this place was mega-humongous!  We trotted about 3 miles to the whopping wine department which, I swear, was bigger and better than most wine stores.  The wine selection there was fantastic especially for a supermarket and so was the knowledge of the wine staff.  The head wine buyer was also a woman and it’s was a wonderful surprise when she literally hugged us and told us how much she loved our wines.  They sold more Le Charmel Provence rose than most other retailers in America and we were thrilled and awed at the professionalism and care they took with every bottle in their acres and acres of displays. Then it was on to another mega store, Kroger. Again, a great selection of wines including our own and again wonderfully helpful wine people to aid with the shopper choosing the right wines amongst the myriad choices available.

Jerry and Laura Lasco

Jerry and Laura Lasco

There is a fantastic wine/restaurant group in Texas called the Tasting Toom. They also own the Boiler House in San Antonio and Max’s wine drive in different locations. It is all the brainchild of Jerry and Laura Lasco , two wonderful human beings and brilliant restauranteurs. Their philosophy is to give the public access to lesser known, affordable wines with outstanding food. It is all casual, fun and unique. Mel did a tasting for the staff in the afternoon as we source some of their private label wines from our growers in France. After the tasting Mel and I were joined by Jerry and Laura for dinner together with our agent Jay Alvis and we returned to Coltivare again. We were taste the wine buyer on our Mont Gravet Carignan which is a lovely red made in the Languedoc region of France  from 90 year old vines. She loved it and bought some for the restaurant!  We had another fabulous meal and spent a couple of happy hours discussing both sides of the politics of the Trump presidency. Discussion was spirited (!) but hilarity and conviviality were uppermost in all our minds and we bade our goodbyes with no hard feelings, no judgmental sulks and our deep friendships intact.   We wish the Congress, the press and the political talking heads were all more like us!!!???

The Pioneer Wine Houston team!