Can a glass of wine change the world’s view of Houston?

By Mark Yost
The Houston Business Journal

Triniti 8One of Houston’s biggest stumbling blocks being mentioned alongside cosmopolitan cities such as New York, London and Paris is its image. While those who live here know what a great city it is — with arts, culture, food and an economy that’s the envy of the rest of the world — employers still struggle to convince outside prospects that the Bayou City has grown beyond the Urban Cowboy image of pointy-toed cowboy boots and oil wells.

The Greater Houston Partnership has formed what many say is the umpteenth image committee to lure both top-notch employers and employees here.

Triniti 3One person who’s trying to change Houston’s image all by himself is Ryan Hildebrand, chef and owner at Triniti Restaurant and Bar, the upscale South Shepard Drive eatery and the only Houston restaurant to attend the Napa Valley Vintners’ 18th annual Premiere Napa Valley wine auction, where a lot (which equals about five cases) of Scarecrow Wine sold for an astonishing $260,000, shattering the previous record of $125,000. The total auction take was a record as well, $5.9 million compared with $3.1 million a year ago.

Hildebrand bought four lots, two of which will arrive in Houston in the fall, and two in the spring of 2015.

“Everything is big, everything is red,” said Hildebrand, who had help at his first auction by Scotty Stark, the former sommelier for Pappas Brothers who’s now a wine broker in Napa.

Triniti 9Now that he has four lots of premier Napa wine from 2012, considered one of the best years in decades and exclusively his, Hildebrand’s biggest problem is how to sell them. The lots he purchased ranged in price from $7,000 to $35,000.

“We can’t simply mark them up and sell them,” Hildebrand said. “The most expensive
lot would sell for $1,000 a bottle.”

The average wholesale price at the Napa auction was $283 a bottle.
Instead, Hildebrand said he will most likely feature them as pairings with an exclusive tasting menu, and on special occasions like Valentine’s Day.

“I want people here to be able to taste these wines — and not just the people who can afford to pay $1,000 a bottle,” he said. “But more importantly than what these lots can do for us, I want to see what it can do for Houston.”

Indeed, Hildebrand said that he was greeted with more than a few raised eyebrows when he told other buyers at the Napa auction that he was from Texas.
“There’s still that perception out there,” he said.

But it’s changing.

“There were definitely people who I met in Napa who have heard about what we’re doing here in terms of food and wine. They told me they want to come here and check it out for themselves.”
As for the Napa auction, Hildebrand said “we will go back.”

About Mark Yost
Mark Yost is the author of the Rick Crane Noir series, published by Stay Thirsty Press. Rick Crane is the classic, anti-hero private eye in the spirit of Sam Spade and Jim Rockford. He works in the unmistakably noirish underworld of Upstate New York, running errands and fixing problems for Jimmy Ricchiati Sr., one of Upstate New York's most notorious crime bosses. But readers quickly learn that deep down, Rick Crane is one of the good guys. "Cooper's Daughter," the first book in the widely acclaimed series, is a fast-moving tale in which a heartbroken father comes to Rick and asks him to find out what really happened to his daughter, who was murdered and the details buried in the Unsolved Crimes File of the local police department. The second book in the series is "Jimmy's Nephew," which begins with the death of Joey "Boom Boom" Bonadeo, an up-and-coming boxer and the nephew of Rick's underworld boss. What starts out as a routine investigation turns into a case that will test Rick's faith -- in the Catholic Church and his fellow man. Book No. 3 in the series, "Mary's Fate" is due out in August 2015. Mark Yost also writes for The Wall Street Journal Arts in Review page, as well as the Book Review section. He is a member of the Mystery Writers of America -- Midwest Chapter, International Thriller Writers, and a number of other author groups. He is also a member of the Amazon Author's Program. Mark lives in the Loyola neighborhood of Chicago, but he and his son, George, call the Bensonhurst section of Brooklyn "home."

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