In early February, I had the great privilege of attending (and cooking for) the 4th annual Texas International Wine Competition (TXIWC).

This fantastic event was founded by Bonnie Villacampa, an international wine judge and co-founder of Baron de Villacampa, a wine brand from Uruñuela in the Rioja region in Spain.

Ms. Villacampa has been a judge at the Great American International Wine Competition and the Finger Lakes International Wine Competition (FLIWC) in New York for more than ten years. Farther afield, in 2018, she was asked to judge at The Silk Route Wine Competition in Yinchuan China.

The mission of the TXIWC is to bring attention to Texas as a prominent viticulture and wine-making region, though it is open to wines from anywhere in the world.

This year, entries came in from; Argentina, Bulgaria, Chile, Columbia, Czech Republic, Hungary, Israel, New Zealand, Slovakia, South Africa, Spain, and Uruguay with some countries sending several entries from multiple wine regions.

Additionally, some thirty-five different U.S. wine regions spanning twenty states sent in wine. As would be expected, the bulk of the U.S. entries were from wineries based in Texas and California.

Total entries in the 2020 competition came to about 681 vintage and label combinations.

The venue for this year’s competition was the beautiful ‘Lodge at Grace’ in Buda, Texas. The Lodge is a popular wedding venue, but with its rustic grand hall and sweeping views of ranchland, it serves up the “Texas experience,” which many of the international judges particularly like.

By virtue of the friendships and connections Ms. Villacampa has made over the years, she has managed to gather an impressive selection of judges ranging from Professors of Oenology, notably Annmarie Morse from Cornell University, prominent Vintners like Dan Gatlin of Inwood Estates and two rare Masters of Wine, (Joel Butler MW, and Count John Umberto Salvi MW.)

Count Salvi incidentally was one of only 20 Masters of Wine in the world in 1970. (There are now 389 though the credential is one of the most challenging to achieve in the world.)

I had the pleasure of taking Count Salvi to dinner in Austin on two occasions. He told wonderful stories and seemed to have a personal connection to nearly every fabled wine, fine food, or travel subject I could mention. He was also kind enough to autograph my copy of ‘The Count of Wine: A hedonistic autobiography.’

Over the several days, I enjoyed interacting with judges; François Côté, Sommelier from Quebec Canada, Dr. Timothy O’Connor, M.D. from New York, and Dr. Luboš Bárta, Czech Republic (editor-in-chief of Sommelier/Travel Review). Two friends, Sammy Angel Lam and Michael Stapleton were two of the youngest judges though both already have Sommelier credentials in their 20s and some pretty impressive knowledge!

The tastings were led by certified wine judge Ron Dougherty, Executive Director of the ‘Raise A Glass Foundation.’ Mr. Dougherty has been judging wine for twenty years and has been running several of his own tasting competitions for fifteen years.

He managed the heavy pace and brought considerable experience and knowledge to the process.

The actual judging took place over two days, with twenty-four judges in teams of four tasting nearly fifty different wines each day. To help with palate exhaustion, the wines were alternated, white to red to white, then sweet and sparkling wines to finish. The judges tasted and rendered a score between 1 and 20, analyzing the visual qualities of the wine, color and clarity, the nose (aromas), palate (flavors, acidity, tannins, finish), and the “overall quality” of the wine.

On the final Saturday, typically, the competition ends with a Gala. This year, the evening started a little different as Dr. Bárta had asked if he could surprise his partner of twenty years, Iva Kovarikova, with a Texas wedding!  The music and dancing that followed seemed just that much more festive.

Throughout the competition this year, I participated as a chef and organized the teams of folks that helped feed the twenty-four judges and some forty support-staff.

Each day I was responsible for various snacks and for preparing a large buffet lunch. I helped coordinate the large opening dinner with fantastic BBQ and sides provided by 44 Farms and Go Texan. Grill-master, Chef Juan Roman, was an absolute star.

On the Gala night, Grill Masters David Halvorson and Kevin Cook amazed the crowd with just how awesome Texas beef can be; David grilling more 44 Farm steaks, and Kevin providing some of the most flavorful brisket I’ve ever tasted. Sides and other incredible entrées had been donated by Oli’s Kitchen Bar & Grill.

TXIWC generates revenue from wine entry fees, auctions, and charitable events with proceeds donated to other charitable organizations, but their work is really made possible by generous sponsors like 4Floors, Go Texan (The Texas Department of Agriculture), Vinovium in Johnson City helping with the logistics of the hundreds of entries, and The Vine Vault in Austin who provides valuable and much-needed wine storage.

Other sponsors include Kent Black’s BBQ – San Marcos and The Austin Texas Wine Society (of which I am a founding member) providing direct funding and manpower. (Competition results and a full list of sponsors available at

By all standards, the 2020 Texas International Wine Competition was a huge success but certainly helped along by directors; Bonnie Villacampa, Brianna Smith, Norman Carr, and the dozens of volunteers that carted, sorted, cataloged, poured and generally kept the competition humming.

Richard Arebalo
OTL Features Editor





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