I had an interesting chat over dinner at the Crescent Moon Wine Bar in the Woodlands (a Houston suburb) last night with David Duran, the head of Beverages for HEB, the 300-plus-store Texas-only gourmet grocery store chain. Duran’s full title is one of the longest I’ve encountered outside European nobility (“Business Unit Director-Grocery Procurement & Merchandising Beverages, Breakfast, Kosher & International Foods for HEB) but he seems to have the breadth of knowledge to carry it off. Duran has been with the company for over 30 years (his first job was bagging groceries) and he has seen a great many changes in Texas wine-drinking habits in that time. “Wine is up to seven percent of our beverage sales now,” he said. This may not sound like much, but it’s a full one percent higher than just last year, Duran noted, adding that Texas is still, quite resolutely, a beer-drinking state.
The wine selections at individual HEB stores can vary widely but one of the chain’s biggest successes has been a Vinho Verde from Portugal, a HEB-created wine called Twin Vines. “That doesn’t sound like a Portuguese wine to me,” I commented. That was the exactly the point, Duran replied. “Unless you look at it really hard, it’s difficult to tell the country. Even the fact that it’s Vinho Verde is less important than the packaging and the price." ($6)
Duran and a few others from HEB went to Portugal to find a winery they could work with (Fonseca) and came up with a light, slightly fizzy white that “looks good by a pool.” (The bottle is transparent.) The wine also fits what Duran says is the “perfect flavor profile for Texans – we like to drink wines that are lighter and sweeter- than most other parts of the country.” (Never mind all the California Cabernets I saw on the Crescent Moon wine list!)
Twin Vines is one of a staggering 270 house brands that HEB has developed with producers around the world... I’ll be tasting it later today at the HEB on Market Street in The Woodlands, along with a few other store brands and will post tasting notes tomorrow.