As a founding member of the Wine Committee I can tell you that I have never been prouder of anything I have done. I saw a small group of people literally change people’s perception of what the Rodeo should be. The older Rodeo Board of Director Members such as Lewis Pearce who believed in the vision of the wine committee and gave the green light are to be forever congratulated I only wish that my father a longtime rodeo volunteer could have been around to see the success of the wine committee. I know he would have been proud of all the committee who worked so hard to make this an important part of the Houston Livestock show and Rodeo. We went from being called winos to connoisseurs
I don’t think anybody realized how much money we could raise for the rodeo when we started. Visionaries such as Bear Dalton, Scott Hilsher, Carol Sawyer, Jim Janke, Rachel Melcher, Laura Rosenberger, Howard Hoover, Stephanie Baird and countless others convinced the Houston Livestock Show that wine was an agricultural product and belonged in the rodeo. My fondest memories are of all of us working together doing everything to make the event happen. In the beginning there were 300 are so of us brave souls who committed to putting together an event the people of the city of Houston would be proud of. The original committee was composed of half wine drinkers and half long time rodeo volunteers. Our goal was to help the Rodeo with its scholarship fund.
When you think of the logistics and organization that went into putting the event together it is mind boggling. The wine companies through their wonderful representatives such as Arnold Gilberg, James Hilliard, Billy Davis, Sam Ray, Ned Thorn, Rick Jamail, and Bear Dalton contributed over 1,700 different wines. These wines had to be categorized into flights of similar wines and poured by committee members into 5 tastings glasses. Judges such as Mike Lonsford, Kyle Britt, and 65 others would taste the wines and rate them. During the 2 days of the Wine Competition 17,000 glasses of wine were poured. This means that each of those glasses had to be washed, polished, and cleaned without using soap.
My most memorable night was probably the first night the wine garden opened. We had two tents located near the stadium entrance where wine by the glass was being sold. It was one of those typical rodeo nights, insanely cold with a driving rain. Our tents were located in an area where the Stadium literally caused a wind tunnel to take place. One hour after we started the wind picked up one of the tents and literally blew it away. Bear was scared to death that our remaining tent would fly away so all the flaps to the tent were open. Of course, Bear left for some place warm and we were left to literally freeze death. I looked over at Callie Patton who was turning blue and made a game changing decision. I got on a chair and closed everyone one of those tents flaps. We had maybe one customer but we all survived the night.
Next time you are at the Rodeo stop visit the Wine Garden and have a glass of our award winning wines. And remember “A day without wine is like a day without sunshine.”