Traditional recipes

Why the Texas Wine Industry Is Set to Become a Major Player

Why the Texas Wine Industry Is Set to Become a Major Player

We are searching data for your request:

Forums and discussions:
Manuals and reference books:
Data from registers:
Wait the end of the search in all databases.
Upon completion, a link will appear to access the found materials.

In the inaugural season of The Taste, the prime-time ABC network cooking competition hosted by Anthony Bourdain, Nigella Lawson, Ludo Lefebvre, and Marcus Samuelsson, Lefebvre, a famed Los Angeles French chef, conducted an introductory interview with one of the contestants. After being asked to “Tell us about yourself,” the contestant responded, “My name is Don Pullum, and I am a winemaker from Mason, Texas.” With the shock of a man regurgitating his food, Lefebvre retorted “I did not know there was any wine in Texas!”

More recently, I joined the official study group for the Certified Wine Educator (CWE) qualification of the Society of Wine Educators, where the assigned text was American Wine by Jancis Robinson and Linda Murphy. What I found in the six pages devoted to Texas in the 2013 edition were obsolete data, some timeless errors of fact, and only a superficial understanding of what is happening in the state. The latter led to vagueness and no discussion of the major challenges, no consideration of the measures being taken to overcome them, no discussion of trends in wine production, nor any assessment of where the state is in terms of winemaking maturity. Neither was there any consideration of the academic infrastructure for viticulturalists or enologists.

Faced with this double whammy of vacuousness, maybe the lesson Texas wine lovers need to learn is that we are doing a terrible job of telling our (overwhelmingly encouraging) story — doubly bad for a state with a reputation for having a big mouth.

The most important issue is the real story taking place on the ground. Texas is at an early stage on the path to a fully mature winegrowing state. We still don’t know exactly where to grow grapes and which varieties are best. However, there is a huge amount going on. (Elsewhere, I have written other articles on Texas enology and viticulture that provide a more complete picture.)

According to the 2012 USDA agriculture survey, Texas has the fifth-largest acreage of wine grapes of any state in the union, with about 8,000 acres. Seventy percent of these grapes grow in the High Plains region, although the state’s wineries are concentrated in the Texas Hill Country.

The state has no statewide disease or climatic problems. It is an area the size of France, though, so there are localized issues. In the High Plains, the near-desert humidity produces low disease pressure, but the area is prone to late-spring frosts that can destroy the crop if they follow bud break. Also, hail storms can be severe. With these conditions, Vitis vinifera (European wine grape) varieties are ubiquitous in this region. In the south and east of the state, a band of Pierce’s Disease susceptibility runs from the Louisiana border down the Gulf coast to Houston. That is the area where blanc du bois and Lenoir plantings are most common.

There are now around 300 bonded wineries in the state, although fewer than half are producing; about 40 of the wineries are aspirational, in the sense that they consistently strive to make the best wine possible from Texas grapes.

Perhaps the most important trend of all is the number of medals won by Texas wines in out-of-state wine competitions from 1984 to 2014. The number hovered around 30 medals per year for about a quarter of a century. However, in 2011, the medal count took a dramatic turn up, reaching 164 medals in 2014. Since these are out-of-state competitions, there is no "home field advantage." In fact, 80 percent of these medals came from shows in San Francisco, Los Angeles, San Diego, and the Finger Lakes. The only explanation for the increase is improved quality. We are observers at a moment when the Texas wine industry is undergoing a seismic shift.

Medals are only one metric of quality, of course. Another is that Texas wineries are stepping into the worldwide labor market for winemaking talent. In 2013, there was a visible example of this when Fall Creek Vineyards of Tow, in the Hill Country, hired Chilean winemaker Sergio Cuadra, an alumnus of Concha y Toro, where he served as principal winemaker at its Curicó, Puente Alto, and Colchagua facilities. Cuadra was recommended by Paul Hobbs, who makes acclaimed wines in California and Argentina, and close observers note that he has already had an effect with the winery's impressive 2013 sauvignon blanc and 2013 GSM. (What there hasn't been yet is any lasting foreign investment similar to that by French, German, and Italian wine producers in places like Washington State, Chile, and China; France's Domaine Cordier briefly came into the market in the 1980s to build Ste. Genevieve winery, but sold it and now it is the privately owned L.P. of an investor group that remains rather opaque.)

In addition, new plantings are increasing the total acreage in Texas by over 10 percent per year, a trend that started in the mid-2000s. One consultant, Bobby Cox, told me that he estimated that there may be as many as 1,100 new acres planted in the High Plains alone in 2015. This is partly the result of confidence in the long-term future and partly pressure on water supplies in the High Plains. The latter situation is encouraging cotton growers to switch to grapes, as the latter use only one quarter of the amount of water per acre that other crops do. In the next two years, Texas will likely overtake New York in bearing acreage of Vitis vinifera vines, making the state America's fourth-largest vinifera producer

Two major labeling issues have faced the industry. One was resolved in 2014. The other remains open.

In 2014, the Texas Department of Agriculture modified the rules of its brand support program to require that wines be made from at least 75 percent Texas grapes in order to use the "Go Texan" logo on the label. Prior to the change, a wine containing no Texas grapes at all could carry the logo. As important as the change itself was the thinking behind it. When the Go Texan program was created, nobody thought of Texas wine in terroir terms. By 2013, when this rule change was proposed (full disclosure: I applied for the rule change), terroir was front and center. The democratic process looked vibrant in Texas as not one but two public comment sessions produced an unprecedented volume of input from growers, wineries, and consumers that eventually led to the new TDA rule. Consumers can now rely on the Go Texan logo on a bottle of wine to mean that the wine is pretty much a Texas wine.

The other issue involves "For Sale in Texas Only" — a legal loophole that lets wines conceal the origin of their grapes and that has a continuing damaging effect. By writing those words on the back label (typically in small print, using a difficult-to-read cursive script), a wine is removed from interstate commerce and thereby exempt from Federal labeling requirements that require declaration of the origin of the grapes. State law applies, and Texas state law does not require the source of grapes to be declared. This allows companies to bring in California jug wine by the tanker load and bottle and label it using label symbology designed to fool the consumer into believing that the wine is from Texas (look for long-horned cattle, cowboys, Texas poets, and the state flag adorning bottles of California jug wine your local supermarket). “For Sale in Texas Only” is the consumer’s single best guide that they are drinking a California jug wine. The fraud has fooled the nation’s largest wine retailer and even a Master of Wine. Sales of these wines are, as a first approximation, equal to “sales of Texas wine not made” and result in reduced demand for actual Texas grapes. Until FSITO wines are required to also state the appellation of origin of the fruit prominently on the front label (e.g. ‘American’), the damage will continue.This allows companies to bring in California jug wine by the tanker load and bottle and label it using label symbology designed to fool the consumer into believing that the wine is from Texas

While there is no still no apodictic certainty about which varietals do best in Texas, an empirical consensus is starting to emerge. Virtually nobody is growing pinot noir anymore (despite the favorable chalky soil in the High Plains and Hill Country AVAs). Chardonnay has been similarly written off (see below for an important exception). The long-story-short on grapes in Texas (considering only Vitis vinifera varieties) is that thus far viognier is the most successful white, and tempranillo (grown by over 20 aspirational producers) the most successful red.

Roussanne is in a close chase with viognier for best-selling white, but is not yet as widely planted. Good muscat and vermentino are each being made by more than one producer. The emerging white is albariño. Other white grapes (e.g. picpoul) can be good on a case-by-case basis.

Among reds, the bench of promising grapes is much deeper than for whites. After tempranillo, there is a litany of red varieties with successful wines to their name: aglianico, cabernet franc, cabernet sauvignon, Montepulciano, mourvèdre, petit verdot, petite sirah, sangiovese, syrah, tannat, and touriga nacional all have their proponents and concrete examples of success.

There are two inferences that can be drawn from the above list. First, Mediterranean varieties appear to do best in Texas. Second, optimal grape choice is still an open question. The latter issue extends deeper, down to the question of clonal selection. I met a grower recently who is growing a Bordeaux clone of cabernet sauvignon. He thinks criticism of cabernet in the state is misplaced. It has been the choice of the wrong clones that has made the wines unexciting, not the inherent suitability of the grape or winemaking skills.

Expect new names to crop up in the next few seasons. I saw new plantings of arinto (a Portuguese white variety) in the Texas Hill Country AVA in July of 2014. Other Mediterranean varieties will likely follow suit.

Another successful white cultivar is blanc du bois. A hybrid grape with golden muscat in its ancestry that proved to be able to survive Pierce’s disease, it was originally vinified in Texas to make semi-sweet and semi-dry white wines, most of which were sold at the cellar door. Now it finds at least three more expressions: in the Madeira style, invented by Raymond Haak at Haak Vineyards; in the opulent Rhône style developed by Dan Gatlin at The Vineyard at Florence; and as the base for sparkling wine. The last of these may eventually emerge as the predominant style for the grape.

In terms of sparkling wines, Charmat machines have appeared at a couple of locations, and methode traditionelle is being used as well in small experiments as part of what is becoming an incipient Texas sparkling wine industry. Not large yet, but watch this space!

The wineries below are each in its own sense models, or pioneers, in the state. This list is not exhaustive, and other people may have their own examples. It is presented in alphabetical order.

Founded in 2009 by physician Bob Young and his son-in-law John Rivenburgh, Bending Branch Winery is distinguished by its rapid rise into the top ranks of Texas wineries. The winery routinely wins medals at respected wine competitions around the country. Throughout the winery’s short life, the leadership team has shown an ability to focus firmly on well-defined goals. First, there was site selection for the estate vineyard. They searched for 18 months before settling on a place which has proven, thus far, to be a good choice. In particular, the sloping topography contributes to a lower risk of frost damage. Second, they stress the Mediterranean varietals that are emerging as the most promising category in the state. They select them without regard to perceived consumer popularity. Thus, picpoul blanc is among the whites, and tannat and mourvèdre among the reds. Third, Bending Branch views winemaking technique as an evolving process. Young uses cryomaceration and was just the fourth winery in the United States to adopt flash détente.

Raymond Haak invented the Madeira expression of blanc du bois at his Haak Vineyards and Winery, even implementing that wine’s Estufagem process. The wine’s fame spread, even reaching Jancis Robinson, who described it as "superior." The important thing for the Texas wine industry was that here was a totally new expression of blanc du bois that had none of the organoleptic or commercial flaws of traditional ways of making the wine. It could be priced against Madeira, rather than low-end sauvignon blanc, and had the long shelf life of fortified wine that made it an attractive by-the-glass option in restaurants.

Led by founder Dan Gatlin, Inwood Estate Vineyards has established itself as the producer of the most expensive wines in the state. They sell out every year, almost exclusively to a mailing list and a cadre of savvy restaurants where sommeliers and beverage managers are loyal customers from the winery’s early days. Gatlin is such a perfectionist that it was over two decades from his first plantings until his first commercial wine release. Along the way, he learned to eschew native and hybrid grapes in favor of vinifera and figured out that tempranillo in the High Plains offered the most potential. In the present day, it is a mantra that tempranillo is one of the state’s best grapes, but many of the believers have no idea that Gatlin established the fact, working with farmer Neal Newsom to found the now highly regarded Newsom Vineyards. Also breaking with tradition, he bottled palomino as a dry table wine, sometimes blending it with chardonnay. After over 30 years in the business, Gatlin shows no sign of slowing down. Shattering icons is one of his favorite pursuits. Just as everybody started to agree that chardonnay did not do well in Texas, he released not one but two chardonnays with Texas appellations (from grapes grown in Dallas County, to boot). Far from a gimmick, the wines had the steely structure of Chablis grand cru, as accomplished winemaking defied climatic differences. Gatlin is also reinventing the state’s approach to cabernet sauvignon with new clonal selections and vineyard locations. For The Vineyard at Florence, he invented an expression of blanc du bois as a bright Rhône-style wine that may move sales of wines from that grape beyond the state’s borders. Perhaps Gatlin is best regarded as the Manfred Krankl of Texas.

Kiepersol Estates should not exist. Former South African farmer Pierre de Wet is growing 14 different varieties of vinifera in East Texas, where Pierce’s disease is supposed to make it impossible — and his daughter, Marnelle Durrett, is making award-winning wine from them. Kiepersol is a fact on the ground to confound all East Texas skeptics. Their measures against another vineyard danger, the glassy-winged sharpshooter — such as innovative zinc treatments — get national attention.

The Messina Hof Winery, founded in 1977, has turned a local dependence on the Lenoir grape (a victim of Pierce’s disease) into a unique selling point by vinting it as a late-harvest wine and selling it as Papa Paolo’s Port. Lenoir’s structure and teinturier (colorant) properties made it a natural for the role.

The Hill Country winery Pedernales Cellars was founded by the husband and wife team of Frederick Osterberg and Julie Kuhlken, who brought on her brother, David, as winemaker. They would be notable solely on their success winning medals domestically and in France. However, they are also a poster child for successfully running a winery as a business. The visitor facility is Napa quality and they were the first in Texas to introduce a reserve room for the visitor who wants a more personal tasting experience led by a credentialed sommelier (an idea that I hope spreads). As of 2015, it is surprising to find how many hospitality staff members at Hill Country wineries had stints at Pedernales Cellars. Behind the scenes, they are a modest good neighbor, quietly providing facilities for young startup wineries (Lewis Wines was a one-time occupant).

In the 1980s, Pheasant Ridge Winery started the medal trend under innovative winemaker Bobby Cox. Critic Robert Parker said “For cabernet sauvignon Pheasant Ridge Winery is turning out lush, intense wines with plenty of character that can compete in quality with anybody”. Their 1982 cabernet won a medal and their sauvignon blanc gained an honorable mention at the San Francisco Wine Competition. A silver medal was awarded to the 1984 sauvignon blanc at the San Francisco Wine Competition in 1985 and at the same event in 1986; the 1983 cabernet sauvignon won a gold. The wines also won several in-state awards during the 1980s. The early 1990s saw a recession, which put the original winery out of business. Just this month, history was made: Cox repurchased the name, vineyard, and winery building with the intention of reviving the winery.

Other Texas wineries to watch, again in alphabetical order, are Arche, Bar Z Winery, Becker Vineyards, Bingham Family Vineyards, Brennan Vineyards, Brushy Creek Vineyards, Calais Winery Compass Road Cellars, Crossroads Winery, Duchman Family Winery, Eden Hall Winery, Fall Creek Vineyards, Flat Creek Estate, Grape Creek Vineyards, Hilmy Cellars, Hye Meadow Winery, Kuhlman Cellars, Landon Winery, Llano Estacado Winery, Lewis Wines, Los Pinos Ranch, Lost Oak Winery, McPherson Cellars, Perissos Vineyard and Winery, Red Caboose Winery, Sandstone Cellars, Solaro Estate Winery, Spicewood, Stone House Vineyards, Times Ten Cellars, Wedding Oak Winery, and William Chris Wines.

Virtually all Texas wine is sold in state, though most wineries will sell to out-of-state customers through the Internet. One exception is McPherson Cellars, which is distributed in the Northeast. At a March 2015 meeting of the Texas Hill Country Wineries, a winery group, there was very little interest in pushing out-of-state sales via distributors. Burgeoning in-state demand made costly and risky out-of-state expansion unattractive.

One thing is certain: This article will soon be out of date, as the Texas wine industry continues to rapidly evolve. As of now, 2015 is going to be a good harvest — if growers dodge disease following the heaviest rain in years — and may yield a new record tonnage. There might even be enough for Ludo Lefebvre's restaurant, if somebody will send him some.

The NBA's Secret Wine Society

A version of this story appears in GOLD RUSH: powered by espnW, a special collaboration with ESPN The Magazine for its Feb. 19 issue. Subscribe!

The river of black shuttle buses negotiates sharp switchbacks, bouncing upward along miles of uneven pavement that fades into dirt, from two lanes to one, climbing beneath oak forest that blocks out the morning light. Cellphone service dwindles to nothing. Finally, a metal gate appears, a large "M" at its center, and soon the Cleveland Cavaliers pour out of the buses. About 60 members of the franchise gather near tables covered in white cloth, sitting atop cedar bark spread across a small clearing. They clink flutes of 2006 Dom Pérignon in toast. Nearby, all around the property, lies charred earth. Burned hillsides, stippled with the black skeletons of trees, loom ominous.

This is Mayacamas, one of Napa Valley's most iconic wineries. Not many of the Cavs have been here, but LeBron James has, and he recognizes that the area where he's standing now, the small clearing, once belonged to a building that is no more.

The fire, when it came, had raced in from the west, feeding on dry underbrush, roaring over the hills. Winds swept it along the edges of and into Mayacamas' vineyards, the intense heat threatening dormant vines harvested not long before. Workers evacuated as flames neared the winery, not knowing what -- if anything -- would survive. When staffers returned weeks later, they saw how the flames had crept to the edge of the three main buildings, licked up their sides, leaving deep black scars near the foundation. Millions in damage was caused, though the true toll will be tallied when it becomes clear which vines can still bud in the spring. But somehow the fire had devoured only one of the buildings, a 5,000-square-foot, two-story Italian villa-style structure used for hospitality and dining.

"It's a miracle," says Mayacamas assistant winemaker Braiden Albrecht.

Mayacamas hadn't hosted any groups since that October blaze. No groups, that is, until today, a clear, brisk late-December Thursday -- two days before James' 33rd birthday -- when the Cavaliers arrive for a midseason two-day Napa getaway.

At Mayacamas, organizers had rushed to prepare for the Cavaliers, hauling away burned rubble in huge bins. Now, after the champagne toast, players gather beside fermentation tanks before moving next door to a spacious living room, where glasses of 2015 chardonnay and 2013 cabernet dot a heavy wooden table. They playfully sneak more glasses of wine. James tries to tempt rookie forward Cedi Osman, who, along with some of the other rookies, isn't into wine just yet. "Drink me . " James says, holding the glass near Osman, but Osman declines. "Their loss," James would say later. "More for me."

Mayacamas winemaker Andy Erickson introduces the chardonnay by describing how proud he is that it's not a typical Napa Valley chardonnay, not over-the-top with buttery-tasting notes. The players sip and are asked for their thoughts. Guard J.R. Smith, sitting on a couch against a back wall, raises his hand. What comes to mind as he sips the wine?

"It's like butter," Smith says, smiling. Laughter erupts from all over. Classic J.R.

Eventually, the players head below to the cellar, where 1,200-gallon oak barrels line stone walls built before Prohibition. Glasses of 2003 cabernet await. The Cavaliers are staying for just an hour and a half, but throughout, as winemakers explain the step-by-step process of how wine comes to be, players lob a stream of questions -- about wines produced on mountains versus those in the valley, what practices are best to maintain a healthy cellar, how long to age certain wines, how to keep fermentation tanks clean, why some wines are $15, some $1,500.

No one asks these questions, Carissa Mondavi, a fourth-generation vintner from Continuum Estate and granddaughter of California wine pioneer Robert Mondavi, thinks to herself. The vintners love curiosity, when visitors probe deeper than others. But this feels like something more.

And here, Mondavi sees a corollary: NBA players are the product of so many unseen hours spent perfecting so many hidden details, all leading to the moment when the ball is tossed in the air. So too is wine crafted against countless variables -- the weather, soil, harvest, tanks, the barrels and blends, the delicate alchemy of it all -- until, one day, the cork is pulled. For both to shine, it takes so much work no one will ever see.

The NBA's oenophilia is taking root -- from post-banana boat yacht parties to team-sanctioned vineyard visits. Courtesy Dwyane Wade

TIMBERWOLVES GUARD JIMMY Butler travels with a wine case, one he toted to the 2016 Rio Olympics, bringing along bottles of pinot noir. Warriors point guard Stephen Curry, a fan of Bordeaux, makes the hour trek to Napa to unwind, though he wishes he'd started doing so nine years ago, when he arrived in the Bay Area. ("I don't know if I appreciated what was in my backyard," Curry says today.) Warriors forward Kevin Durant is still gauging which wines pair best with certain foods, still curious about terroir -- the environmental factors that affect wine. But he knows what he likes to unwind with, especially after a game: a richer, fuller-bodied pinot noir.

Miami Heat guard Dwyane Wade started on riesling one night at Prime 112 in Miami years ago, now craves cabernet and, in a partnership with Napa's acclaimed Pahlmeyer wine, started his own label, D Wade Cellars, which features a red blend and a cabernet sauvignon. There's talk of a rosé to come.

Chris Paul likewise started on riesling before moving to reds, now adores pinot noir, befriended a master sommelier, partakes in blind tastings and visits vineyards during harvest. During a November game against the Warriors in 2015, when Paul was with the Clippers, he was bringing the ball up the court when he shouted to a man courtside. "Hey! You bring me any good wine?" The man was Juan Mercado, founder of Realm Cellars in Napa.

More ESPN The Magazine

Then there's Thunder forward Carmelo Anthony.

Anthony too went through a riesling phase, not long after he became intrigued by wine in 2007, back when he played for the Nuggets. He would soon begin vacationing at wine-rich regions around the globe. He'd stock up at a wine shop in Sacramento, savor early vintages of Dominus. He tried an '86 Petrus, a vintage Bordeaux worth thousands of dollars, and, in his words, there was "no going back" -- but then a friend persuaded him to give burgundies a chance, and though Anthony at first found them too intricate, he soon fell for those too. Now those varietals populate the six-bottle wine case Anthony lugs around the league.

As Anthony dove deeper into wine, he began engaging in blind tastings, tasting groups. He began priding himself on being able to pair wine with any dish. He became driven to pick up the tasting notes in any glass. "If a master sommelier gets 12 out of 12," Anthony declares about tasting notes, "I want to get three." And so he kept probing, developing his palate, until now, he says proudly and with a huge smile, "I can give you three."

Today, Anthony looks around the NBA and sees a blooming trend but admits some players might be intimidated by the vastness of the wine world. "You gotta find your own palate," Anthony preaches. "It's like art. Like everybody can't go buy the Basquiats and the Rembrandts, the big pieces. That's how I look at wine, you gotta figure out what you like."

When he was traded to the Knicks in 2011, Anthony began attending and hosting "two-bottle Sunday" New York City dinners with high-ranking aficionados -- those whose collections, he says, are valued in the millions. The mandate at such dinners: bring top-flight bottles.

"Here's a story," Anthony begins, sitting in the Thunder's practice facility on a chilly December morning. A few years ago, maybe 2014, he attended a dinner at the home of one of the East Coast's biggest collectors, along with about 80 others, all well versed in vino, and everyone was asked to bring his or her very best bottle. Oh my god, Anthony thought to himself. I don't want to be "that guy." Because I know those guys are coming with '50s, '60s, '70s. They'd go deep into their cellars, bringing the heat. Then it hit him: champagne. Always classy, always a safe bet. So he brought a Dom Pérignon Brut Rosé magnum, late 1990s.

At the end of the night, there was a contest to select the best bottle. And? Anthony grins now. He placed in the top three.

It's easy to see the corollary: NBA players are the product of so many unseen hours spent perfecting so many hidden details. So too is wine crafted against countless variables. For both to shine, it takes so much work no one will ever see. Courtesy Mayacamas

ACTRESS GABRIELLE UNION, who is married to Wade, remembers a time only a few years ago when her husband didn't drink wine at all. But then she pursued her own label -- Vanilla Puddin, a California chardonnay -- and an opportunity arose. Wade was young in wine but believed he might do such a thing at 40, after retiring.

It happened much sooner. By summer 2014, there he was, sitting at the Bardessono Hotel in Yountville, with three cabernet-centric red blends in front of him, each one crafted by Pahlmeyer to fit the style he specifically requested. Wade sipped all three, but in Goldilocks style, only one was just right -- 75 percent cabernet, 15 percent merlot, 7 percent cabernet franc, 2.5 percent petit verdot, 0.5 percent malbec, featuring notes of dark chocolate, cured tobacco, sage and blueberry pie. Wade beamed as he sipped that combination, declaring, "I feel like I've arrived. I've got my own wine now."

Says Union, author of the memoir We're Going to Need More Wine: "When they were first in the league . it was the jewelry and the cars and the rock star lifestyles and all the accoutrements that comes with that. As they all got older and started families, it was houses and all of the obvious visual trappings of wealth. Now no longer are people impressed by your financial portfolio or how big your house is. Nobody talks about square footage. Nobody talks about cars or jewelry or whatever. It's who can bring the best bottle of wine."

In dozens of interviews with players and those in the wine industry who've interacted with them -- winemakers, collectors, master sommeliers -- it's clear: The game's iconic figures are burgeoning oenophiles. But when it comes to which team is the most wine-obsessed, you'd be hard-pressed to beat the one whose colors are, fittingly, wine and gold.

SOMETHING IS OFF with the Cleveland Cavaliers. (And no, we're not talking about these last few weeks.) It's February 2014, and David Griffin has just been named acting general manager. But as he begins to examine the team's culture, he finds it . lacking. Seeking a fix, Griffin rips a page from Warriors coach Steve Kerr, whom Griffin worked alongside in the Suns' front office and who swears by the power of team dinners. And not just any dinners but wine-paired dinners. And for that, Griffin turns to his wife, Meredith.

Meredith is training to become a sommelier and hosts seminars about the relationship between wine and wellness as part of her company, decantU. She believes in wine's purported benefits -- that it's good for the cardiovascular system, good for the heart, that appreciating it inspires mindfulness, encourages being present. If you start noticing what the person across the table is smelling in the glass? Then you might begin paying more attention to him or her.

Consider the scene midday on Dec. 28, after visiting Mayacamas, as the Cavaliers head to the Brand Napa Valley winery, where they lunch in a cave before moving to the fermentation room. Inside are eight tables, each holding three wines Brand produces: a cabernet sauvignon, a cabernet franc and a petit verdot. Also on the table is its Brio, a Bordeaux-style red blend.

In what amounts to a team-building exercise -- a far cry from a contentious team meeting in their locker room 25 days later and a series of trade-deadline deals that would jettison six Cavaliers elsewhere -- the Cavs are divvied up among the eight tables, and players are told to try the blend, then mix together portions of the three other wines to match the blend. They're given no percentages they must go only by taste. Using graduated glass cylinders, players begin to mix, jotting down the quantities.

The formula for the Brio is 65 percent cabernet sauvignon, 30 percent cabernet franc and 5 percent petit verdot. Many come close to nailing the exact formula. But when the results are examined, one player, who'd visited this winery months earlier, in late August, comes closest.

"I got it, I got it!" Kevin Love shouts. And indeed he is close, very close, just a touch too rich, a percentage point too much of petit verdot. High-fives are exchanged at his table. "We have a future winemaker with us," the owners tell Love. "Of all the accolades in my career, that's up there," Love jokes.

Later that night, Griffin, who now lives in Sonoma with his wife, will arrive at the resort where the Cavs are staying, and Love will wrap Griffin in a bear hug.

"Did they tell you?" Love will ask. "I was 1 percent from perfect!"

More NBA

Consider another scene in the Cavs' locker room, after their 109-95 road loss to the Kings, the team's second loss in what will become a 7-13 stretch leading to the Feb. 8 roster shakeup. Sitting at his locker, forward Channing Frye, who will be among six Cavaliers traded, discusses wine and its role on the team. "It's not just like 'Here's a Jack and Coke,' " Frye says. "It's like each bottle of wine is different. And I think it's just a representation of us and our relationship with each other."

Many, like James and Wade, love big, bold Napa reds. Frye lives in Oregon in the summer and enjoys the local fare, and as he ascended into middle age, he began to prefer a good pinot noir -- as does Kyle Korver. Still, Frye isn't afraid to try the Tempranillo that Jose Calderon gifted him, or to wander into South American wine.

The beverage is always present on the team plane, where quality labels are mandated (players bring the bottles, and Frye often delivered). It was the gift du jour during their latest Secret Santa exchange. It might not have been enough, all by itself, to save the roster from upheaval. But one restaurant manager, who works at a Western Conference hotel that has hosted the Cavaliers, notes that when the wine service begins, everyone stops. "Everyone is paying attention and talking about the nose and the color and the aroma of the wine," the manager says. "It's amazing." But who orders the best wine at these dinners? Frye, still sitting in his locker, leans forward, tilting his head back a bit, pausing, weighing possibilities.

"Probably Kevin," Frye says after a beat, and Love, who's sitting to Frye's right, his feet soaking in an ice bucket after logging 30 minutes against the Kings, appreciates the mention. Love hails from Oregon, prides himself on not easing into wine on a sweet white but instead his home state's famed reds.

"He has the simplest taste," Frye continues, "but he also . "

"Simplest taste?!" Love interrupts, his eyes wide, eyebrows raised, head perched forward.

"I mean easiest taste," Frye says. "Shut up."

"Simplest taste?" Love repeats.

A reporter chimes in: "Elementary, kind of?"

Frye: "No, I wouldn't say elementary."

Frye: "It's just simple. You just get solid bottles of wine."

Love: "I wasn't going to go with simple."

Frye: "What is the word for that? Very solid."

Love: "That's 'simple'? It's not."

Frye: "Reliable, very reliable taste. F--- you, Kevin."

Love, still shooting a glare at Frye, pauses for a beat, then another . "Simple?"

"I'm playing the best ball of my life and drinking wine pretty much every day." - LeBron James Dwight Eschliman for ESPN

AT THE CAVS' morning shootaround before their loss in Sacramento, Wade, sitting along the sideline, about six weeks before being traded back to Miami, is asked who on the Cavs knows the most about wine. Without hesitation, he points at James, who stands across the court. "He knows a lot. It's just something he don't want to share," Wade says. "But when we go out, it's, Bron, what wine we getting? You ask most of the guys on the team who orders the wine, we leave it to him to order."

Indeed, among the Cavs, the legend of LeBron's oenophilia is large.

As Love says, when it comes to wine, "Bron has a supercomputer in his brain."

"LeBron," Griffin says, "has instant recall. If he's driving on vacation and he passes a field that has lavender and seven other scents in it, LeBron can literally put his nose in a glass of wine three years later and say, 'I smell lavender.'"

And now, as James begins shooting around the 3-point arc, drawing conspicuously within earshot, he halts his routine to look toward Wade. "See," Wade says, "he heard 'wine,' so that's why he stopped."

James laughs. Wade is right. LeBron was creeping on us. He's also right that when it comes to wine, the world's greatest player is as tightly corked as a bottle of Château Latour. One need only peruse James' Instagram account to see how deep his passion for wine runs. But ask LeBron today about his favorite wine? Not going there. A specific region? Producer? Not going there either. Who knows the most on his team? No comment. Around the league? He'd rather not say. Was there a specific wine he was looking forward to trying on his pre-birthday Napa trip? "Yeah," James says, finally. "Every last one of them."

He'll admit he believes in wine's purported physical benefits: "I've heard it's good for the heart. Listen, I'm playing the best basketball of my life, and I'm drinking some wine pretty much every day. Whatever it is, I'll take it." Still, James knows he's a Worldwide Brand. And surrendering certain details will affect The Brand. ("I know how genuine I am about it," James says, "I just don't talk about it.") But he is willing to spill a few drops of his origin story.

As recently as a few years ago, James, by his own admission, "was not a wine guy. I didn't drink wine at all." But as he neared 30, his curiosity piqued -- and it helped that business partner Maverick Carter was a wine aficionado.

So he began sampling wines, learning more about vines, regions, reds, whites, blends. During a visit to a Napa winery with Chris Paul last August, James squeezed his frame into the back of a 1980s Toyota Land Cruiser, retrofitted to look like a safari buggy, and they explored the property, asking about what makes Napa unique, about the soil, sunlight, how to know which grapes to plant and where. James was especially interested in the business elements. How much does it all cost? How much time does it all take?

At one point, he let his now-3-year-old daughter, Zhuri, sip a high-end label. "Ooh, it tastes like rocks!" she told him. "It's nasty." (Although rocks, let it be known, are a tasting note, so perhaps Zhuri James was actually right on the nose.)

On another recent visit to a Napa winery, James wandered the vines, tasting grapes, asking about the business side. He tried two cabernet sauvignons, grown in different areas but made by the same producer. "I really want to know why they're different," he said. He was shown the dirt each was grown in -- one featured more gravel, the other more iron. Smell that, he was told, then go smell the wine. He did, and understood.

That, at least, is part of his origin story. But there exists another chapter -- and one that involves a famously fruity inflatable form of flotation.

Now on Dwyane Wade's table: his own wine, with notes of cured tobacco, dark chocolate and blueberry pie. Bob Metelus

HERE IS THE dilemma: They have rented a yacht, and they have ordered food for said yacht, but they do not yet have wine to pair with said food on said yacht. It is the very definition of a First World quandary, and it is taking place in the Bahamas during a July 2015 vacation. LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony, Chris Paul and Dwyane Wade must decide on a wine.

In the weeks, months and years to follow, this afternoon will be remembered for an altogether different thing: A photo of James, Wade and Paul perched atop a banana boat, along with Union, will go viral, and nothing thereafter will ever be the same. Never mind that the idea was Union's. And never mind that Anthony himself wasn't there. Wade, James, Anthony and Paul will become known as Team Banana Boat, a foursome as iconic as history will ever know.

But in the backdrop of this now-hallowed gathering, another photo will emerge, a photo that shows all four players on a yacht toasting with glasses of red wine. This photo was snapped on the yacht's top level, just hours after the banana boat excursion, as sunshine fell into night. It remains unclear what wine they imbibed all Anthony remembers is telling his friends that he'd bring his own he didn't trust, at this point, their palates. Wade remembers ordering Pahlmeyer as he broke the news to his friends that he'd agreed to partner with the winery. But attendees agree that this marked the moment when their personal wine journeys truly intertwined.

"That was, like, the beginning for them," Anthony recalls of that day's bottles. "They would [dabble], have a glass here, have a glass there. But that was the beginning of really starting to open up."

"It started there and went from there," Wade says.

The Banana Boat Tasting Group had set sail.

IT'S NEARLY MIDNIGHT on Oct. 25 when James, Wade and Isaiah Thomas enter a cozy restaurant in New York City's Greenwich Village after a five-point loss to the Nets. Brick walls constitute one side of the eatery, along with midcentury decor and turquoise tile -- a subtle tropical vibe with vintage glassware lining the bar's back wall. Though this restaurant comfortably seats only about 14, close to 25 will fill it tonight, thanks to friends and associates.

James, Wade and Thomas are sitting together, and soon heavy portions of red-sauced Italian dishes -- spicy rigatoni, chicken Parmesan -- sit before them. And to drink? Well, the establishment is known for its craft cocktails, so one staffer expects that they'll bring out Don Julio 1942 and that will be that. But no. Oregon pinot noir is ordered off the menu, and one member of their party unveils bottles of old Barolo from his private cellar. Over the next three hours, perhaps half a dozen bottles are opened, and each time, the mood turns serious: Players swirl the glasses, taking in whiffs, sipping the wine, discussing. Out come the phones, as they snap away at the labels -- and log on to something called Vivino.

Launched in 2011, the Danish application was created to help non-wine experts navigate the intimidating universe, largely by allowing users to snap a picture of a label and be fed instant insight: tasting notes, food pairings, average retail price. Billing itself as the world's largest wine community, Vivino allows users to buy wine -- and if you enjoy a bottle, offers recommendations for others you might also like.

"Shoutout to my Vivino app," Curry says. As Love says, "It's like Netflix for wine." For Blazers guard CJ McCollum? "It's life-changing."

One need only hold a phone 6 inches from a bottle and snap away, then Vivino shoots back a rating based on thousands of user opinions. It organizes scanned wines, creating pie charts that show users' taste profile. Users can follow their friends and study their wine selections -- friends like, say, the Banana Boat Tasting Group. But if those users happen to play in the NBA, they can find so many more.

Hawks swingman Kent Bazemore credits his wife first for introducing him to reds, namely pinot noir, but also praises veterans he has teamed with: Korver, Paul Millsap, Richard Jefferson. "It's smooth, hangovers aren't there," he says. "It helps you settle down before bed."

Rockets forward Ryan Anderson and his wife honeymooned in New Zealand last August just because he enjoys the local sauvignon blanc so much.

For Lakers forward Luol Deng, it started in 2013 when the Bulls were playing a preseason game in Brazil. He went out with Butler, Nazr Mohammed and Joakim Noah, and they enjoyed Argentine malbec.

Shaun Livingston wasn't into wine before he joined the NBA but spent his early years with the Clippers, around veteran forward Elton Brand and guard Cuttino Mobley -- "big wine connoisseurs," Livingston says -- and today professes a love for cabernet. "More fruity, more bold, a little aged," he says. He's hardly alone on the NBA team that resides less than an hour from one of the great winemaking regions of the world Livingston, Curry, Durant, Nick Young and Draymond Green also indulge.

Philadelphia 76ers guard J.J. Redick started drinking wine early in his NBA career, dabbling with cabernet and chardonnay. Now he prefers Barolos and burgundies, and for his birthdays, Redick's wife procures him a bottle of Domaine de la Romanée-Conti, "DRC" as the sky-high-priced wine is known. On a recent 76ers road trip, Redick looked around the team plane. Back when Redick was drafted in 2006, he often saw, say, a bottle of vodka, Hennessey, or a 12-pack of Coors Light on team flights -- and that was basically it. Now? Says Redick: "It's pretty much exclusively wine."

Then there's McCollum, who today likes pinot noir ("We're going to have a lot of pinot tonight!" he declared after a 50-point performance in January) and has a cellar that holds 500 bottles. His backcourt mate Damian Lillard enjoys a good riesling. Forward Evan Turner is such a fan that, McCollum says, Turner spends his off-days going to local wineries. "I didn't even know," McCollum says. "He told me, and I was like, 'You've been doing this all year and you didn't tell me?' I was a little upset."

Gregg Popovich, it must be said, is revered in the world of wine, with a reported 3,000-bottle cellar highlighted in Wine Spectator. But Pop has a head start on many players who are new to the gilded grape so who among them now knows the most? Answers vary, unless you ask Anthony. "I'd probably be that guy," he says, proudly and without hesitation.

But what of Kobe "Vino" Bryant? The Lakers icon doesn't live up to the sobriquet he embraced in 2013 after hearing that his game aged as such. "I've heard that red is better with steak," Bryant says with a laugh. "That's about as far as I know."

So when Bryant and Anthony go out to dinner, Bryant slides the wine list across the table: "Melo," he says. "Do your thing."

Jimmy Butler brought bottles of pinot noir to the 2016 Olympics in his wine case. Dwight Eschliman for ESPN

IT'S JULY 2015, and Chris Miller is at his day job, working at a tech firm inside a downtown Los Angeles warehouse where it so happens that a charity commercial starring Chris Paul is being shot.

Someone mentions to Paul's wife that Miller is also a master sommelier -- a remarkably exclusive title. (Consider that 279 coaches and players have been inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame 236 human beings are master sommeliers.) "Oh my god, Chris loves wine," she tells Miller, explaining that they had a very good bottle just the night before. She turns to her husband. "Show him your app." Paul opens Vivino and shows Miller a photo of wine.

Miller says this sort of thing happens to him from time to time, typically to poor effect. Imagine you were a chess grandmaster and the passenger next to you in coach wanted to talk chess strategy. It's like that. But then CP3's photo loads -- and it's a Domaine Marquis d'Angerville Volnay Taillepieds.

Miller pauses. The premier cru red Burgundy is smooth and graceful but hard to find, made by a small producer that isn't exactly a household name, a wine some sommeliers Miller knows don't even know. But it's excellent, a wine you'd be drinking only if you really knew what you were doing.

"Nobody talks about cars or jewelry. It's who can bring the best bottle of wine."

- Actress Gabrielle Union on husband Dwyane Wade's new obsession

There exists in the oenophile world a class of wealthy drinkers who can best be classified as "trophy hunters" -- those who pursue only break-the-bank bottles such as Domaine de la Romanée-Conti or Screaming Eagle but aren't really interested, otherwise, in understanding wine. But as Miller says of Paul's bottle: "It's not a trophy. It's something a knowledgeable wine lover drinks because it's delicious, not because they're showing off."

If Miller is impressed by Paul, Paul is all the more impressed by Miller. ("You ever seen Somm?" Paul at one point asks of a documentary on four sommeliers' near-crippling effort to pass the notoriously brutal master sommelier exam, with a pass rate of lower than 10 percent. "That was one of the craziest things I've ever seen.") So Paul scrolls through the app, allowing Miller to see the Banana Boat Tasting Group's selections, each one delicious and well-thought-out.

Over the next year, Paul and Miller stay in touch. Miller helps arrange an anniversary wine-tasting trip to Santa Barbara for Paul and his wife. Then Paul calls Miller in the fall of 2016. "Hey, are you in Napa this weekend?" he asks.

"Oh, I'm supposed to go up tonight," lies Miller, who is in the midst of waxing bottle tops at a winery where he works in Marina.

"Why don't you come have dinner with us?" Paul asks. Miller, naturally, drops everything and makes the three-hour drive from Marina to meet Paul at the Press Restaurant in St. Helena, where the general manager greets him at the door.

"What are you doing here? I haven't seen you in a year."

"Oh, just meeting some friends for dinner."

The general manager searches Miller's face, trying to read whether he's part of a private party or not, but not wanting to give away who is attending that party. Soon in walks Paul . and LeBron James. They head to the restaurant's private back room, about eight people, including James and Paul and their wives.

Over the next few hours of a lavish dinner, they open about six bottles, ranging from $50 to $1,000, each one discussed and savored. "I was kind of blown away," Miller says. "I mean, their breadth of knowledge and comfort with the wines was greater than I've seen from some major wine collectors."

Because you are, after all, the company you keep .

"I KNOW YOU don't know me," the phone call begins, "but I've got a group of guys that I'm taking around the country, and your name has come up, and we'd like to have a dinner in your wine cellar."

Devinder Bhatia, a Houston-based heart surgeon, isn't surprised. He has received calls like this one before. His cellar -- featured in Wine Spectator -- boasts 7,500 high-end bottles, worth well into seven figures, with wines dating to 1898. Such is the cellar's notoriety that he has hosted two Texas governors, former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani, Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, NFL legends Jim Brown and Ronnie Lott, acclaimed chef Wolfgang Puck and rapper Ludacris. On the other end of this July 2016 phone call is Kamal Hotchandani, CEO of Haute Living, a luxury media platform and the point of contact for several NBA stars for luxury goods, including wines, watches, exotic cars and more.

And so a month later, on Aug. 1, at 9:30 p.m., Kevin Durant, DeAndre Jordan and Carmelo Anthony arrive at Bhatia's Victorian redbrick home in Houston's Museum District.

All three are with Team USA, which on this night trounced Nigeria to complete a 5-0 exhibition record. In a few days, the team will head to the Rio Olympics, but first Anthony wants to visit Bhatia's cellar.

Wine became Bhatia's passion in 1990, when a 1989 Châteauneuf-du-Pape paired perfectly with his steak. It started a fixation that would help serve as a respite, a way to decompress after work, where, he says, "if you miss by a millimeter, someone dies."

No one will die tonight. In fact, not long into the night, Durant, Jordan and Anthony enter a pool house, descend a wooden staircase, duck through a curved stone entryway and feel the chill of 55-degree air -- the temperature and humidity controlled by an app on Bhatia's phone. Inside the 30-by-35-foot space are wall-to-wall, two-bottle-deep, handmade stained mahogany racks that can hold up to 14,000 bottles. Through another stone entryway, Anthony admires the 200-plus bottles of Domaine de la Romanée-Conti -- considered among the world's most sought-after wines -- in various vintages, a collection worth more than half a million on its own.

Over the next several hours, during a five-course meal with two wines per course for a party of about 20, the players discuss characteristics of each wine. Durant and Jordan, relatively new to wine, favor California wines, but Anthony professes his love for old-world bottles, Burgundies and Bordeaux, among other more esoteric wines. "He gets it," Bhatia says. "He really gets it."

The players stay until well into the early morning, shooting hoops on Bhatia's driveway goal with his 14-year-old son, Drake, around 3 a.m. And the next time the Knicks are in Houston, for a New Year's Eve matchup against the Rockets, Bhatia is in his usual spot -- center court, behind the Rockets' owner, a few rows from the floor, where he has four season tickets. As Anthony runs out for warm-ups, he stops and heads over to Bhatia.

"Hey! I'm coming over after the game," Anthony tells him. "We're gonna drink some wine."

After the game, Anthony leaves not with the Knicks but with one of Texas' most acclaimed wine collectors.

THE MORNING AFTER the Cavs' wine-filled tour through Napa Valley, they gather for practice at nearby St. Helena High School before heading to Salt Lake City. Sitting to the side of the gym court, James is jovial. "We had one heck of a time," he tells a small group of reporters. He thanks local wineries for their hospitality -- for "literally opening their bottles for this organization, for myself." In mid-October, when the fires had burned, James had posted a video with his condolences and prayers to those affected in the area. Mention the NBA to Napa winemakers these days and that video will come up. "That meant a lot," Paul Roberts says, "to all of us."

Roberts, a master sommelier, is the COO of Colgin Cellars in St. Helena, and though the winery isn't open for public tours, James visited with friends last summer. When he arrived, James was studying clips of Michael Jordan on his phone. Roberts tucked the image away: the greatest basketball player on earth, not satisfied, still focused on becoming greater by watching the player who held that title before him.

Throughout a two-hour visit, James sought to understand every element of what was before him, how it all translated into the bottle. And Roberts reached an epiphany of sorts. James reminded him of others at the top of their fields -- all fascinated, if not obsessed, with high performance. "When you look at LeBron and Chris Paul and a lot of these other guys," Roberts says, "they've spent thousands of hours not only honing their body but also their mind. And this is why the wine world to them, I think, is fascinating."

And so, at Colgin, they can look out from the hillside property at 20 acres of cabernet sauvignon vineyards, so meticulously farmed they look like a bonsai garden. They can gaze from the patio where tastings occur at the sweeping views across Lake Hennessey. They can savor Napa's picturesque blue sky. They can admire its saturated light, all the better to grow some of the world's premier grapes. They can pace through the vines, picking the grapes, asking about the sunlight and soil, probing ever deeper, perhaps understanding better than most the quest to grow and create something beautiful.

Tech Town: Austin’s Thriving Entrepreneurial Scene

With the hustle and bustle of SXSW ® rumbling through town every year and bringing with it some of the brightest minds in technology today, Austin remains a melting pot of innovative new ideas often shared over breakfast tacos and between songs at late-night music shows.

Its easy lifestyle appeals to both young upstarts with big ambitions and seasoned pros who want to enjoy their weekends off. As a result, it’s nearly impossible to walk a block downtown without running into a handful of industry luminaries, all enjoying the place they call home.

Over the last two decades, Austin’s foothold as a tech hub has grown at a steady pace, and lately, that growth has sped up exponentially. In fact, in 2015 Forbes named Austin the No. 1 city for tech growth in the U.S., beating out Raleigh, North Carolina and even Silicon Valley.

Austin’s tech startups raised $993 million in funding in 2015, while 31 of them collectively made $437 million from their exits — 29 through acquisitions and two through IPOs. The funding increase alone marked a 134 percent increase over the year prior, leaving behind no doubt that the city’s tech scene is booming at an unprecedented rate.

With companies like Bigcommerce, Mozido, Silvercar, Spiceworks, Spredfast, Volusionਊnd Oracle on the rise, developers and other tech professionals are flocking to the city in droves — more than 150 new residents per day, to be precise.

Dell, the computer company that famously got its start in Michael Dell’s University of Texas at Austin dorm room, went private in 2013 and still employs more than 100,000 people, raking in more than $57 billion last year.

As for the continued presence of other tech giants, household names like Facebook, Google, Samsung and IBM aren’t going anywhere either in particular, new Google offices are taking up residence in a development currently under construction in the Seaholm District downtown. Exciting start-ups generating 2016 buzz include Trago, the world’s first smart water bottle, Kasita, who is revolutionizing urban living, and Silvercar’s luxury car rental app.

Jack Burke Jr. Wants to Bring Great Golf to Houston

On a rainy Monday in December, 97-year-old Jack Burke Jr. offered 25-year-old A Lim Kim a membership to Champions Golf Club. Without context, the transaction occurring 23 miles north of downtown Houston might not seem important, but this was historic: Burke, the oldest living winner of the famed Masters tournament, was giving the young Korean player who had just taken the 2020 U.S. Women’s Open the highest honor he can bestow.

The tournament had been unlike any other. It was delayed for six months because of Covid-19, so there were no crowds or cameras as Kim, sporting a face mask, made a furious final-day push to the top ranking. Still, despite the face masks and the lack of spectators, the 2020 U.S. Women’s Open was a banner weekend for Champions, but its co-founder, the godfather of modern Houston golf who’d spent decades building to this moment, was already thinking about what would come next.

“I want to build on this national event,” he says. “Houston is a good golf town, and it needs to have more events like this.”

As always, Burke, a living legend in “the royal and ancient game,” is focused on the win. And a victory for Champions is a victory for him. “I always play to try to win,” he explains. That’s how he’s come this far, after all.

The Burke family have been fixtures on both the Houston and the national golf scene for roughly a century. Burke’s father, Jack Burke Sr., was a successful golfer in his own right who turned professional around 1907 and finished second in the 1920 U.S. Open. Burke was born in 1923 in Fort Worth, and a couple of years later the family moved to Houston, where his father settled in as the club pro at River Oaks Country Club shortly after the club opened. Back then golf was still a sport for the Bayou City’s moneyed denizens. “It was only Hermann Park and Houston Country Club where there were wealthy people,” Burke says. “When River Oaks went up there would be a competitive thing with them, but on the money side.”

From an early age, though, Burke felt there was more to the sport than a game played while businessmen made deals. Burke started at 9, happy to be outdoors learning the game his dad loved so much.

After graduating from St. Thomas High School, he went pro in 1941. His career was paused during World War II—in 1942 he joined the Marine Corps and spent the war serving as a combat trainer in San Diego—but he was back on the links by 1946 and won his first PGA Tour event in 1950. Over the decade he quickly became one of U.S. golf’s most accomplished players, notching victories at multiple tournaments, including the 1952 Houston Open at Memorial Park. After winning his iconic green jacket at the Augusta National Golf Club in 1956 (the same year he took the PGA Championship, another of the four major tournaments in the men’s game), he was a star in golfing circles. But after noting on tour how the U.S. Open and PGA Championship were always played on northern courses like Merion and Oakmont in Pennsylvania—never in Houston—Burke was inspired to come home and start a new project.

Growing up, Burke had watched his father attempt to raise the popularity of golf at River Oaks, “but they went into building a tennis court.” What Burke wanted was a club for golf alone, a place that would serve as a training ground for top golfers and host major tournaments. While the Houston Open had already become a popular local competition, Burke was intent on building a club that would further draw the national spotlight.

There were obstacles, of course. For one, only two of the men’s and women’s majors are hosted at different American courses annually, and the competition for those slots is fierce. Typically, the PGA and LPGA favor courses with an established track record, plenty of space for fans and media, and nearby accommodations. It takes money, a reputation, and commitment even to be a serious contender for one of those spots.

With all that in mind, in 1957 Burke partnered with his dad’s old assistant Jimmy Demaret, a Houston native and three-time Masters champion himself, and founded Champions Golf Club. The first course, Cypress Creek, opened in 1959, and the second, Jackrabbit, came in 1964.

Jack Burke Jr. hits a shot on the second fairway during a round of the Masters Golf Tournament in Augusta, Ga., April 3, 1959. Burke, who plays out of Kiamesha Lake, N.Y., carded a 71 yesterday for a tie for second place.

In the decades since, Burke has worked doggedly to promote the club, which is dedicated solely to golf—no tennis courts or other distractions from the game, he notes proudly. So far Champions has hosted the Tour Championship of the PGA Tour (in 1997, ’99, 2001, and ’03) the 1993 U.S. Amateur Championship the 1998 and 2017 U.S. Women’s Mid-Amateur Championship and both the 1967 Ryder Cup and the 1969 U.S. Open, along with the 2020 U.S. Women’s Open.

Hosting smaller tournaments helps set the stage for major play if they hadn’t taken on the Women’s Mid-Amateur, the U.S. Women’s Open might not ever have come to Champions, Burke explains. But hosting majors has been elusive for Texas clubs, with the last men’s major being that ’69 U.S. Open. Why? Mainly because the PGA prefers the historic northern clubs and picture-perfect Florida and California courses like TPC Sawgrass and Pebble Beach Golf Links, respectively, but change may be afoot. PGA of America’s national headquarters will move to Frisco in 2022. That means more eyes will be on Texas courses, and Champions aims to be at the front of the queue, Burke says.

Champions has a leg up because it’s where some of the greatest golfers already come to play with, and learn from, Burke. Tiger Woods won a Tour Championship here, and Ben Crenshaw, Ben Hogan, David Duval, and Arnold Palmer all took their hacks at Champions. Phil Mickelson came to Champions just for putting lessons from Burke.

With the reputation it’s carved out for itself, the club has a good future ahead. Its founder, who is approaching his 100th birthday, envisions even bigger successes on the horizon. The Women’s Open went well, despite the pandemic he’s hoping Champions will score another women’s major, or that the PGA will give Burke’s club renewed attention. There’s still work to do to bring great golf to Houston, but it’s an endeavor Burke says is well worth the effort. Nobody can doubt that in Burke’s presence. He talks about his love of the sport—he still gets out on the green to hit a little to this day—in tones that make it seem like he’s talking about life itself.

“I know I’m going to hit good shots and bad shots,” he says. “They’re going to put you in a grind with anybody else, so I just try to run this thing and make sure we don’t go broke.”

Why Austin's mayor doesn't see San Francisco as a rival

With so much talk about California-to-Texas migration, I&rsquove been in the Texas capital for the past week to check out the situation for myself.

It&rsquos a boomtown, with packed bars and barbecue joints, scooter riders whizzing around downtown, music blaring on the streets and energy levels that I haven&rsquot witnessed since before the pandemic.

Many of the cranes throughout the city are building for Bay Area companies &mdash Google, Apple and Tesla all have major expansions in the works.

Despite a flood of California companies and residents coming to his city, Mayor Steve Adler, a Democrat, doesn&rsquot see his city in competition with other regions.

&ldquoI don't think about the movement between cities as rivalries at all. San Francisco is a city that I really love, from my favorite restaurants in San Francisco. And it's a city I've always liked to visit. I think that, you know, Austin is a different kind of place,&rdquo he told me.

What other cities can provide are lessons, said Adler, who visited Los Angeles and Seattle in 2019 and talked to officials about homelessness and transit.

Austin is grappling with similar challenges. Homelessness has become a preeminent issue, with City Hall surrounded by tents this week as a protest, after voters passed Proposition B earlier this month to make camping illegal on the city's public areas. In a sight reminiscent of the Bay Area, there are also tents in the waterfront park across the street from a massive, partially built office tower leased by Google.

&ldquoIt was readily apparent that unless we did something substantially different than what we were doing, then we were going to end up where Seattle and San Francisco and L.A. and Portland all had gotten to, especially as our housing costs continue to rise,&rdquo Adler said. &ldquoIf you're going to actually do something about homelessness, you need to start doing it before it reaches crisis proportions.&rdquo

Austin is now working to house 3,000 people over the next three years. (Austin has around 2,700 homeless people, while San Francisco, which has about 70,000 fewer total people, has around 8,000 unhoused people.)

How Texas Hunting Went Exotic

Sprawling ranches. Rare animals. Rich folks with guns. Welcome to the state’s booming business of stalking wildlife from around the globe.

The main entrance to the Ox Ranch, about two hours west of San Antonio, has the look and feel of many entryways to grand Texas spreads. There’s a coyote fence made of cedar posts, a big metal gate controlled by a keypad, and, atop the arch you pass under, a black-steel tableau of wildlife, including two bucks with impressive racks and a wild turkey trotting by a patch of prickly pear cactus. It screams native Texas. But go beyond the gate, as I did one hot and hazy afternoon last summer, and you’ll soon come face-to-face with strange and majestic creatures transplanted from other worlds.

The first critter I spotted was a red stag, one of the planet’s largest deer species, native to Europe and Central Asia, with velvety antlers that branched toward the sky. He was contentedly chewing his cud as he lay next to a tall fence enclosing the 18,000-acre property—a jarring sight that just began to prepare me for the mile-long drive to the ranch headquarters.

From the front gate, I drove past a private airstrip and a large herd of dama gazelles, a slender kind of antelope that’s critically endangered in its native Sahara. Behind a row of guest cabins, several European fallow deer loitered beside the basketball and tennis courts. I slowed down to gawk at some especially strange-looking deer with matted fur and unusually long tails that were munching aquatic plants in a pair of shallow lakes. Called Père David’s deer, I later learned, these animals were extirpated from China more than a century ago, but the species held on in European zoos and royal menageries. The ones at the Ox Ranch seemed to be doing fine, just standing around, indifferent to my presence. When I parked my car at the palatial main lodge of limestone and wood, a kangaroo roused itself from the shade of a live oak and lazily bounded to a slightly safer distance.

“So what’s on our agenda today?” asked my assigned guide, an affable twenty-year-old named Dylan Sivells, who wore a camouflage shirt, a pair of shorts, and flip-flops. “We huntin’?”

I wasn’t sure. Hunting at Ox is not cheap. Roaming the ranch are game animals from every continent but Antarctica—about ninety species, including white-tailed bucks artificially bred for supersized antlers and an orange-hued antelope from Africa called the bongo, with spiraling horns and pencil-thin white stripes, which often weighs in at six hundred pounds and goes for $35,000 a kill. Emus are a relative bargain at $1,000, while nilgais (another monster antelope, this one from India) and impalas cost $5,500 each. Zebras: $5,500. Addaxes: $6,500. Kudu: $17,500. White-tailed bucks are $2,500 to $20,000, based on the size of the antlers. If you’re the kind of person who enjoys killing kangaroos, that’ll set you back $7,000 a pop.

Guests can also partake of less lethal activities, such as photo safaris and torching stuff with flamethrowers or driving around in Soviet, German, and American tanks from the World War II era. Some use the tanks to crush old cars. Others prefer to navigate a “war zone” obstacle course in the decommissioned military vehicles. Guests can also fire off live rounds from mortars and machine guns, race supercharged jet skis on one of several lakes, explore caves, hunt for arrowheads, or take private yoga classes beside a waterfall (though it might be hard to meditate amid the gunfire).

With so much to do, and so much to shoot, some enthusiasts describe the Ox Ranch as Disneyland for exotic game hunters, a kind of magic kingdom for hypermasculine wish fulfillment. For Ted Nugent—the rock guitarist, avid hunter, and political provocateur—the resort is “proof positive that God is real.” The ostriches and zebras are fair game, although I learned that hunters are not allowed to kill the long-necked giraffes, which peacefully nibble the leaves of the ranch’s live oaks. There are no big cats at the Ox Ranch—no second coming of the Tiger King. It’s illegal in Texas to hunt so-called “dangerous” exotic animals, including elephants, lions, rhinoceroses, and tigers. (Native mountain lions can be hunted anytime, anywhere in Texas.) But hunters at Ox can opt to shoot a number of other species that are rare, endangered, or even extinct in the wild.

Read Next:

Where to Hunt, or Photograph, Exotic Animals in Texas

Instead of hunting, I planned to enjoy the spectacle of the rarified world of high-end hunting ranches, which I’d previously glimpsed only through the tall game fences that line many a rural Texas roadway. “I just want to ride around and look at cool animals,” I told Sivells. More than happy to oblige, he cranked up his custom hunting Jeep, and our tour began.

Latest From Wildlife

A Brief History of Tigers on the Loose in Texas, 2021 Edition

A DNA Zoo Maps the Mysteries of All Creatures Great and Small

How the Elephants at the Houston Zoo Helped an Austin Author

The Ballad of Boots and Stumpy, the Bad Boys of the Birding Center

Do Thousands of Bat Deaths Mean Texans Will Face a Mosquito-Ridden Summer?

Axis Deer Had Overrun the Hill Country. The Winter Storm Devastated Them.

Sivells navigated along miles of trails, up and down hills through what looked like a free-range zoo, then over to check out the tanks and military-grade weapons. We drove up a limestone ledge to view a few dinosaur tracks and to the rim of a cave that neither of us felt like climbing into. Beside the shore of a small lake, we stopped to say hi to Buttercup, a giraffe. At the “big blind,” an air-conditioned tower on top of a hill, guests can play cards and drink bottomless complimentary booze while they wait for a surveillance system to sound an alarm when it’s hunting time. Then the hunters can throw open a window and use thermal scopes to shoot feral hogs—our future overlords—at one of eight feeders situated around the hill’s base.

Sivells grew up hunting relatively common exotics such as blackbuck antelope and axis deer on his family’s land, west of Fredericksburg. “We’ve got a lot better options out here,” he said of Ox. The abundance of game is a big draw for big names. In Sivells’s one year of working at the ranch, his clients have included a Major League baseball player and the owner of an NBA team.

Christa Kuretsch lines up her shot from a blind. Photograph by Jeff Wilson

Although some guests choose to hunt from blinds or stalk game on foot, most prefer to hunt “safari-style,” with Sivells driving them into position to fire away from the comfort of the Jeep’s passenger seat or from an elevated bench mounted to the back of the vehicle. Exotic hunting takes place year-round and is popular even outside the usual hunting seasons. And unlike native deer, which typically shed their antlers by the end of February, most species of non-native antelope, sheep, and bovine never lose their horns axis bucks can drop their antlers any time of year. In the warm weather, most of the game animals that Sivells and I saw were languidly standing or sitting beside bales of hay, grain feeders, and watering stations. We spotted one of those $35,000 bongos. Many of the critters had ginormous racks that would have wowed on a wall mount, but they were accustomed to being fed by humans every day and seemed about as wild as Hereford cattle.

Shooting an animal so tame it doesn’t try to escape is often derided as “canned” hunting, a term also used to describe shooting animals in enclosed spaces, a relatively common yet highly controversial practice for trophy collectors. You might remember the worldwide outrage sparked in 2014 over photos of Texas Tech cheerleader Kendall Jones posing with the lion, elephant, hippo, and other animals she killed during African safaris. The following year, relatives of Matthew McConaughey received death threats over reports that they offered canned deer hunts on their 22,000-acre ranch west of San Angelo. The accusations were baseless, but amid the fallout, McConaughey’s name and photo were scrubbed from the ranch’s website.

Brent Oxley, the owner of the Ox Ranch, brushes off claims that they offer canned hunts, a term that isn’t defined in federal law. “Everyone has different skill sets and physical abilities,” Oxley wrote on the ranch’s website in 2019, noting that he would someday take his then-four-year-old daughter to Ox for her first hunt. “I guarantee it’s going to be a hunt of a lifetime for her, but if it was me doing this same hunt, I’d easily consider it a canned hunt.”

Ox’s animals range freely across thousands of acres, he frequently notes, and while many guests prefer to hunt easy prey from roadways, anyone seeking a stiffer challenge can target more elusive “monsters” that haven’t been seen in years, including the reclusive and remarkably well-camouflaged nyala antelope. And yet ranch management is so confident that it promises a free trip to hunters who don’t get an opportunity to shoot their desired animal, a courtesy that has never had to be offered.

Visitors can drive around in vintage tanks.

Photograph by Jeff Wilson

Ox Ranch CEO Jason Molitor sits among taxidermy at the palatial ranch lodge.

Photograph by Jeff Wilson

Whether on a Texas ranch or an African safari, shooting a rare animal is controversial. The prospect thrills some trophy hunters while outraging animal lovers whose introduction to the sport often comes through viral photos of wealthy elites in head-to-toe camouflage, proudly kneeling beside the carcass of a beast that’s been felled for its horns or rarity. In an article about the Ox Ranch in 2017, the New York Times labeled the resort a “breeding and killing ground” for non-native species.

“Captive hunting is an egregious form of animal cruelty,” Lauren Loney, the Texas state director of the Humane Society of the United States, told me. “The line between wild animal and livestock is very much blurred here. These animals are essentially raised in captivity and have lost their natural fear of people. Even if a hunting ranch is huge, with thousands of acres, these animals will come to the same place the same time every day to be fed, so a shooter can be there, waiting and ready. That’s why we see these captive hunts offering a one-hundred-percent success guarantee—and that’s not part of traditional, ethical hunting.”

Canned or not, most of the hunting at Ox didn’t really appeal to me. Though I hunted ducks, hogs, and squirrels to put food on the table while I was writing my first book a decade ago, I hadn’t been hunting much in years and had no interest in shooting a semidomesticated animal. But then Sivells and I came over a hill, and I saw something very different: slender, fleet, athletic deer scampering away from our approaching Jeep. They were axis, an attractive, reddish deer with white spots. Native to India and some neighboring countries, they are also known as chital. Each time we came within sight of a herd, they flushed away and bounded for cover in the juniper scrub. “The axis are probably the most skittish game we have out here,” Sivells said, “other than the addax,” an antelope from the Sahara with elegant twisted horns.

Aside from feral hogs, axis deer are perhaps the most common non-native game species in Texas. Adept at leaping over fences and wriggling underneath them, they regularly escape from properties where they’ve been stocked herds of several hundred roam ranches where they were never stocked. They reproduce rapidly and thrive in Central and South Texas, which resemble their native habitat in Asia and where self-sustaining herds have been counted in 27 counties.

They’re also among the tastiest of the exotics. Of deer species, “axis is the best eating, by far. A lot of people eat axis, and they won’t ever eat whitetail again,” Sivells told me. “I like it chicken-fried.”

The flash of those axis deer rekindled some half-forgotten feeling inside me, the thrill of the hunt and the reward of meat obtained by my own hand. But at $3,500, the cost to hunt an axis buck was beyond my means then again, I had never been a trophy hunter. An axis doe would provide delicious venison for my freezer and was significantly more affordable. I called my wife, Laura. “Can I spend six hundred dollars to shoot an axis doe?” I asked. She didn’t miss a beat. “Absolutely not.” Next, I emailed my editors. To my pleasant surprise, Texas Monthly would foot the bill. The editors agreed with me: to better understand a place like the Ox Ranch, I needed to go huntin’.

In 1929 a prominent San Antonio business owner named Richard Friedrich purchased 2,500 acres in the Hill Country near Hunt and began to stock his ranch with “surplus” foreign animals bred by the San Antonio Zoo. Friedrich, who also happened to be president of the San Antonio Zoological Society, was not the first Texan to introduce non-native game to private lands. During the twenties, King Ranch foreman Caesar Kleberg brought nilgai antelope to the state, some of which he’d purchased from the San Diego Zoo. But it was Friedrich’s innovation to put up tall fences around a portion of his “breeding farm.” The ranch’s next owner, the famous fighter pilot and Eastern Airlines general manager Eddie Rickenbacker, was the first to offer commercial hunts of exotic animals. The property, which was later sold to the owner of Patio Foods, a frozen-dinner manufacturer, is in operation today as the Patio Ranch, which still touts its bona fides as Texas’s first exotic game ranch.

With its subtropical, savanna-like terrain, lax regulations, and abundance of private land, Texas has become the epicenter of the exotic game industry in the United States. The Kerrville-based Exotic Wildlife Association, founded in 1967, estimates that five thousand ranches across nearly all of rural Texas are home to two million non-native animals from 130 different species, pumping 14,000 jobs and $2 billion into rural areas—up from $1.3 billion in 2007. That’s a big deal in parts of the state where ranching and farming are in decline.

For decades, many of Texas’s biggest ranches have stocked exotic game animals such as blackbuck antelope and aoudad sheep, most famously at the Y. O. Ranch Headquarters, near Kerrville. The breeding, selling, and hunting of exotic game in the state is so lucrative and so widespread that the industry has its own nickname: Texotics.

And although novelty and commerce were the industry’s original driving forces, conservation of threatened species has also become an important goal for exotic game breeders and owners as well as many of their clients. Over time, Texas has become an important refuge for a plethora of animals threatened by habitat loss and poaching in their native lands. Incredibly, the Lone Star State is home to an estimated 90 percent of the worldwide population of addaxes, dama gazelles, and scimitar-horned oryx, species once found in abundance in North Africa. In recent years, conservation groups have been reintroducing Texas-bred oryx to Chad, the African nation from which they disappeared three decades ago. “If it wasn’t for ranches in Texas, that animal would be extinct,” said Ox Ranch CEO Jason Molitor. Plans are also underway to begin moving critically endangered addaxes from Texas to Chad and Morocco.

Katy Palfrey, the CEO of Austin-based Conservation Centers for Species Survival, a nonprofit that works to increase the number of rare and endangered species both on private lands and in the wild, told me that conservation-minded ranches in Texas are an important part of restoring species. “If we want to build populations up to levels they need to be at—sometimes thousands of animals—you may not be able to do that in their native habitat,” she said. Most zoos don’t have the space for sustainable herds of endangered species. Texas ranches do.

The income from exotic wildlife sales and commercial hunts can also help Texas families keep their ranches intact, said Charly Seale, the executive director of the Exotic Wildlife Association. When Seale inherited his family ranch, in the eighties, he wasn’t all that interested in cattle. “I learned very early to have a pasture with exotics. I doubled my income off that, primarily axis and blackbuck.” Because the Texas government classifies exotic animals as livestock, keeping them can also result in significant agricultural tax breaks.

Despite their economic and conservation benefits, some exotic game animals have caused problems in Texas. Aoudad sheep, introduced from North Africa eighty years ago, outcompete native desert bighorns for water and forage in the arid mountains of the Big Bend region. There are just eleven free-ranging herds of desert bighorns in the Texas wild, totaling about 1,500 animals, despite continued restocking efforts that date back to the fifties. Compare that to an estimated 25,000 or more aoudads. (Experts stress that the aoudad count is unreliable.)

Though there has been very little research into the effects of exotic ungulates on the Texas landscape, ranchers and wildlife experts say they’ve seen no evidence that some popular species of exotics, such as blackbuck antelope and oryx, are degrading habitat. Those delicious axis, though, are another story. In some areas of the Hill Country, they are severely overgrazing, leading to soil erosion, harming water quality, and damaging native plants, particularly in the South Llano and Pedernales watersheds. Although no one really knows how many axis deer live in Texas, Seale and others say the population in the Hill Country has exploded in recent years, and the number most often cited, 125,000, is likely a vast undercount. The Texas Parks and Wildlife Department does not survey exotic animals, which are nominally regulated by a different state agency, the Texas Animal Health Commission, which typically oversees the livestock industry.

In ideal conditions, native white-tailed deer and axis don’t compete much. Whitetail tend to browse on forbs such as flowers and weeds as well as brush and small trees. Axis and many other exotics prefer to graze on grass. That dynamic can change in a hurry, though, when animals get too crowded or a drought hits. “An axis can turn to grass to survive, but whitetail simply can’t efficiently digest enough grass to stay alive,” said Mike Miller, a TPWD biologist based in Kerrville. “For every axis deer that you add, that’s one less white-tailed deer you’re going to raise out there. Something’s got to give, and usually our native deer are going to suffer first when there are too many browsing animals.”

That makes axis unpopular with some landowners. Hill Country rancher Roy Leslie is a self-described “sworn enemy of exotics and invasives,” or at least those that don’t stay confined to their owners’ private property. He and his family have killed nearly five hundred axis deer on the Hillingdon Ranch, between Fredericksburg and Comfort, most of them in the past five years.

“We shoot every one we see,” Leslie said. “I had four in the cooler last week. I don’t leave the house without my rifle.” Leslie claims that axis have thoroughly overrun some of his neighbors’ ranches, eating through much of the understory habitat that would have nurtured native wildlife, such as ringtail cats. Once axis eat all the tree leaves within reach, he adds, they can chew through the bark, killing the tree. Leslie advocates treating axis as destructive pests akin to feral hogs. “We’ve done such a good job demonizing feral hogs that no one has a problem nailing them,” he said. “But something like an axis deer—they look like Bambi, and they’ve got long eyelashes and Disney spots, and shit hits the fan if you start nailing a lot of axis in a public place.”

The Ox Ranch’s owner, Brent Oxley, is best known as the founder of HostGator, a web-hosting provider. Oxley started HostGator in his Florida Atlantic University dorm room in 2002, later moved the business to Houston, and sold it in 2012 for $300 million. Then just 29 years old, he celebrated his newfound riches the same way many Texans do: he went west and bought a ranch.

Oxley’s spread, previously named Four Aces, sprawls across 28 square miles where the rugged hills of the Edwards Plateau converge with the Chihuahuan Desert and the brush country of South Texas. Part of the property was once a fishing camp owned by the late governor Dolph Briscoe. As Oxley explored the ranch, he soon discovered the presence of ungulates, such as aoudads, axis, blackbuck, red sheep, and scimitar-horned oryx, introduced by previous owners. Oxley, who grew up a city kid in Boca Raton, Florida, had never been hunting until a professional guide took him out to shoot varmints on his own land. Tearing through bushes in the back of a Jeep on a pitch-black night, Oxley missed several shots before hitting his first feral hog. He followed the blood trail on foot, wondering if the injured boar would charge and attack. Instead, he found the animal dead. It was, he said, one of the most exciting nights of his life.

Oxley liked the exotics, so he bought a few more. Then more still. Eight years later, he lives in a mansion near a creek on the ranch. Today, the Ox Ranch offers safaris complete with luxury cabins and gourmet cuisine. Soon, it’ll have glamping tents with private hot tubs, Oxley wrote me in an email, declining my request for an in-person or phone interview. “It’s never been done before in America,” he said.

Oxley, now 37, courts controversy, believing that all publicity is good publicity. “We unfortunately cannot do business without offending people,” he told the San Antonio Express-News last March, after the Ox Ranch shared a video of an employee using flamethrowers to incinerate several boxes of toilet paper during the toilet paper shortage.

He has claimed that he loses more than $2 million annually on the ranch, although Molitor, Ox’s CEO, said they hope to break even in the next couple of years. While I would have expected the Ox Ranch’s rarest animals to be top draws, Molitor said the typical hunter comes to the resort to hunt more common (and less expensive) animals such as axis, blackbuck, and native white-tailed bucks. Of the roughly 1,400 animals hunted on the property in 2019, axis accounted for 235 and whitetail for 150. Although Texas hunters are allowed to shoot exotics anytime they please, the busiest season for the Ox Ranch is still the traditional hunting season, in late fall and early winter.

Why go to an exotic game ranch to hunt plain old white-tailed deer you can see almost anywhere in Texas? Because the whitetail at the Ox Ranch are also exotics, of a sort. They are selectively bred, at a facility thirty miles away, for massive antlers. “For most guys, the biggest they’re ever gonna see hunting in their life is one hundred and forty inches,” said Molitor, referring to a common measurement of a trophy buck that incorporates the antler spread, antler circumference, and length of points. “I have deer that top three hundred inches”—a rack that could measure about two feet across the inside spread, perhaps with twenty or more points.

Unlike exotic species, which the state considers private property, native whitetail are held in the public trust. Even those located on private land are owned by all Texans and are managed by TPWD. In October the Texas Supreme Court upheld a ruling against deer breeders who’d been hoping to overturn this doctrine. Leslie, the rancher and enemy of exotics, also condemns the practice of breeding native deer in captivity. “Most of these whitetails that make up the deer porn photographs, I don’t think they can survive on their own,” he said. “They probably can’t jump a damn fence. They’ve been fed out of a protein feeder their whole life. They’ve had all the adaptability and survivability bred out of them.”

A springbok, native to Southwestern Africa. Photograph by Jeff Wilson

Another criticism is that exotic ranches don’t offer a “fair chase” hunt, a common term for spotting and stalking a creature that has a decent chance of escape. Instead, some exotic ranches allow gun-toting customers to execute a relatively tame livestock animal. Beef tastes good, but we don’t plug away at cattle in the pasture. Is a docile eland antelope any different?

“I’m not interested in shooting something that has been placed there for me to plug. That’s not hunting,” said David Yeates, the CEO of the Texas Wildlife Association, a nonprofit that promotes hunting and conservation of private lands. “People will go through mental gymnastics to justify their chosen business practice, and there’s plenty of that going on in the hunting space.”

Molitor and Oxley have heard all of these arguments and seem eager to knock them down. In their native habitat, of course, many of these creatures would have been killed by apex predators. “I guarantee it’s a lot more humane to be shot by a bullet than eaten alive by a lion!” Oxley recently wrote on the ranch’s website. Molitor told me that fees from high-end trophy hunters are the only way the ranch can afford to provide for so many animals. “Hunting for us is really a means to an end,” said Molitor. “There’s no way we can afford to have this ranch and raise these animals if we don’t have the hunting income.”

However, other Texas-based operations, such as the nonprofit Fossil Rim Wildlife Center, in Glen Rose, south of Fort Worth, and the for-profit Natural Bridge Wildlife Ranch, north of San Antonio, each home to about fifty animal species, have operated for decades without allowing hunts. Instead, they charge admission to those looking for a close encounter with wildlife and, in the case of Fossil Rim, accept tax-deductible contributions. (Oxley notes that his operation dwarfs theirs.)

“A legitimate conservation effort would be to ensure these animals can survive in the wild by supporting the many organizations that are working to address habitat degradation and poaching,” said Loney, the official from the Humane Society of the United States, who notes that poaching in Africa and Asia continues to devastate a number of threatened species. “Trophy hunting of captive animals only furthers the normalization of killing these animals.”

Molitor argues, counterintuitively perhaps, that encouraging the hunting of animals would secure the survival of their species—at least on private property, and in some cases through repopulation of their native lands—by making them valuable to hunters. Income from hunting—especially if it’s shared with locals—can provide an incentive to preserve the animals and their habitat and encourages more robust policing of poachers. “In ten years, you would see their populations explode because they have value all of a sudden,” he said. “We live in a world today where if something doesn’t have a monetary value, it eventually ceases to exist.”

Of course, it’s much harder to put a price tag on a wild animal in its native habitat. What do we lose when the only wild Asian buffalo live on private ranches for the wealthy trophy hunter to kill? Such questions were nagging at me, so I called Jesse Griffiths, an author, hunter, and chef and co-owner of Dai Due Butcher Shop and Supper Club, in Austin.

“Killing something because of its species is a little weird to me, but also, it’s a free country, and you can do whatever you want to do,” said Griffiths, who also teaches hunting and butchery at his New School of Traditional Cookery. “I think we can get wrapped up in negatives about how we feel about the high fence or the canned hunt, but at the end of the day, what we see is stewardship of land that is precious. If it’s preserved in one way or the other, I think that can be considered a win.”

Despite his taste for axis venison, which Griffiths describes as his favorite hoofed game in Texas for its fine-grained texture and intrinsic tenderness, he prefers to hunt native whitetail does. “To me, a trophy would be a big, mature doe, because I just think they eat better,” he told me. “I won’t even really shoot a buck. I tend to leave that to somebody who cares” about rack size.

I’m in Griffiths’s camp. As an occasional hunter, a grandson and nephew of ranchers, and a human who very much enjoys eating meat, I tend to shrug off anti-hunting sentiments. But my rural background is steeped in a different hunting culture than that of the high-end world of Texas game ranches.

My dad, a soft-spoken man named John Ferguson, was a lifelong hunter who, in 1986, gave me an air rifle for my seventh birthday. I don’t remember him pining for big bucks with enormous antlers. He prized game animals for meat, not trophies, and never even belonged to any group with a lease on deer-hunting property. Instead, while driving on remote petroleum leases for his job in the East Texas oil patch, he kept a rifle and shotgun racked inside the rear window of his Ford pickup truck in preparation for opportunities to inevitably present themselves. Other times, he stalked game on land owned by relatives. And he knew what he was doing. To hear my mom tell it, they survived the winter of their senior year of college on venison from whitetail he killed on his uncle’s cattle ranch. Later, I remember my dad occasionally coming home with a few squirrels for the stew pot. My own hauls from our frequent father-son “hunting” trips were, more often than not, limited to a few pellet-riddled Dr Pepper cans rattling around in the bed of his truck. The turtles in the ponds and the cardinals that sang in the pine trees had nothing to fear from our potshots because we had no interest in eating reptiles or songbirds.

When I was thirteen, a kindly man from our church invited me to my first dove hunt. My dad had died about a year and a half earlier. During that first idyllic afternoon stalking birds in a Hill Country field near Johnson City, a five-hour drive from our homes in the Piney Woods, I killed twice as many doves as anybody else. My extreme case of beginner’s luck drew surprise and consternation from the other hunters, most of them well-to-do East Texas oilmen. While cleaning my bounty afterward, I bragged that it was easy enough to shoot birds when I spotted them in the trees before they could fly away. The adults hooted and hollered. “They have to fly first, son! You gotta shoot ’em in the air!”

Hunting was a sport, these men explained. While I hadn’t broken any laws, I hadn’t given my prey a fair chance to escape. I had taken the doves in unsportsmanlike fashion. Truly, I’d never heard of such a thing. Those birds were for dinner! Even later, once I had grown up, the nights and mornings I spent hunting East Texas game—typically mallards and wood ducks, squirrels and feral hogs—had more to do with feeding myself and escaping into the outdoors than anything I would have called a sport. I also raised chickens, turkeys, and goats for a while and taught myself to butcher them. Then I moved away from East Texas, finding a different sort of life in the city. Except for the rare winter morning in an old friend’s duck blind, opportunities to hunt have all but fallen by the wayside. Despite repeated attempts as a young man, I had never even shot a deer, which struck me as a rite of passage that, as a native Texan, I had missed.

Two days after my tour of the Ox Ranch, I went back for my hunt. On an overcast July morning, I asked Sivells, my guide, if we’d be shooting animals at feeders. “All the animals do go to the feeders, but we do a lot more safari-style hunting out here. You’ll see a lot more deer from driving around. We’ll see them on the top of a hill and take off after them.”

Ox Ranch provided the rifle and the ammo: a .300 Winchester Magnum with a Zeiss scope. At the firing range, I adapted quickly to the borrowed weapon and hit the bull’s-eye from a hundred yards. Good to go. Sivells got behind the wheel of his Jeep, and I clambered onto the bench on the platform mounted to the back of the vehicle, three steps up. We began to cruise. The Jeep was surprisingly quiet, although the tires crunched the gravel on the trails.

Guide Dylan Sivells holds an aoudad head and pelt at the Ox Ranch in October 2020. Photograph by Jeff Wilson

We drove about a mile and a half and parked near the top of a hill, with a great view of the flatlands below. “Most of the time, you’ll have a couple of seconds and then they’re gone,” Sivells advised. “It’s fast.” He put the Jeep back in gear, with me perched on the bench up top. As we crept up the steep trail I was laser-focused. I hadn’t felt so alive in months, tuned into every flash of movement in the distance. But the axis we saw were on the road—too close—and instantly scattered. Before long, my attention waned. My mind wandered. I’ve always been susceptible to getting lost in my thoughts it’s why I was never a good deer hunter, why I was a sorry hand when I was in the oil field and such an incompetent bouncer when I worked at a bar. I’m in la-la land while tables are flipping and glass is breaking and dudes are pummeling each other. “Do you see them?” Sivells asked. I looked, in a sudden panic. There they were. “Those are a little small,” Sivells said. “Let’s put you on a bigger one.” We moved on.

We kept spotting them on hills up to half a mile away—too far for this inexperienced marksman. Finally, we came across a small group that bounded away and then stopped halfway up a hill. “Do you see that big doe beside those cedar trees?” Sivells asked from behind his binoculars. The deer had frozen in its tracks about 130 yards away, on a steep incline. Its long, white-spotted body was angled away from us, but her head turned back in our direction. She seemed to think she was out of our view.

I clicked the safety off and aimed where Sivells had instructed—just behind the shoulder—and, without allowing myself a moment to reconsider, pulled the trigger. “Got her!” Sivells said. He’d heard the bullet hit the deer and had seen her jerk up her front legs, a telltale sign of a solid hit, before she stumbled a bit, then bolted behind the cedar bushes. I had heard many hunters talk about the thrill of the hunt, the excitement of the first kill, but also the twinge of remorse that comes from taking the life of a beautiful creature. I had a sense of urgency this was an important job that I had yet to finish. There was just one problem. Sivells and I had lost sight of the deer.

Sivells threw his rifle over his shoulder, and we scrambled up the hill, crunching the loose limestone gravel underfoot, to the spot where the deer had fallen. But it wasn’t there. Nor did we see any blood. Not a drop. That’s when I began to worry. An absence of blood meant that I might have “gut shot” the deer, hitting her digestive organs rather than her lungs or heart, causing a slow and agonizing death and potentially releasing fluids that could taint the meat.

Sivells radioed one of his fellow hunting guides, Sam Morrow, who’d been training Doc, his Blue Lacy, to track game. In less than a minute, the radio collar alerted us that Doc was sitting down—often a sign that he had located a deer or other animal. We found him beside the deer, who’d been hidden in a patch of shin oaks about forty yards up the hill. My shot had, in fact, punctured her stomach. However, because I had fired at an angle, the bullet had managed to pass through her heart and lungs before exiting the opposite shoulder. She had died relatively quickly.

“Perfect shot,” Sivells pronounced. Against my better judgment, I chose to believe him. “You got everything,” he said. “Congratulations.”

I will admit to feeling a wave of relief, although a hint of doubt has stuck with me: that I should have taken a better shot and spared the deer some pain in its final moments. Sivells dragged the carcass down the hill and, rather than field-dressing the deer, strapped it to the front of his Jeep and hauled it to a skinning shed on the ranch. It weighed 110 pounds. I left the deer with him and, a week later, drove to Uvalde Meat Market and Processing to pick up a box of forty, maybe fifty, pounds of venison.

Did shooting that doe count as “exotic” hunting? As culling a species now overpopulating swaths of Texas? Did my guided hunt count as “fair chase”? I still can’t say. But I can tell you this: The axis meat was a deep wine-red color, like elk. The backstrap was tender and mild. The ground meat was perfect in bowls of chili, and a leg cut, pounded and floured, was the best chicken-fried steak I’d ever made.

This article originally appeared in the February 2021 issue of Texas Monthly with the headline “Aoudads and Bongos and Zebras, Oh My!” Subscribe today.


The Dallas State Fair & Exposition, to which the present State Fair of Texas traces its origin, was chartered as a private corporation on Jan. 30, 1886, by a group of Dallas businessmen including W.H. Gaston, John S. Armstrong, and Thomas L. Marsalis. James B. Simpson was elected president of the association, and Sidney Smith was appointed as the first secretary.

Differences arose among the directors over where to build the new fairgrounds. Gaston proposed property in East Dallas, an 80-acre tract located within the modern boundaries of Fair Park. Strong opposition was voiced by C.A. Keating, speaking for the farm implement dealers. When no compromise could be reached, Keating and his supporters secured a charter for a separate event, the Texas State Fair & Exposition, which they announced would open just north of town on Oct. 25 – one day ahead of the Dallas State Fair.

Exhibit facilities and a racetrack were built at each location, and both events attracted sizable crowds that fall. Attendance at the Dallas State Fair was estimated in excess of 100,000. But revenues for the fairs failed to meet expenses. The rival associations merged in 1887 becoming the Texas State Fair & Dallas Exposition. Despite indebtedness of more than $100,000, the directors voted to expand the fairgrounds by purchasing 37 acres adjacent to the East Dallas site.

Turn of the century troubles

The finest racing stock, cattle sales, concerts, balloon ascents, displays of farm machinery, contests for the ladies, and appearances by such notables as John Philip Sousa, William Jennings Bryan, Carrie Nation and Booker T. Washington brought thousands of Texans to the Fair each year. But the popular success of the exposition was shadowed by repeated fires, mishaps and mounting debt. A grandstand collapsed during a fireworks show in 1900, and the main exhibit building burned to the ground two years later. When the Texas Legislature banned gambling on horse races in 1903, thereby eliminating the Fair’s main source of income, the association faced a financial crisis. To protect this valuable community asset, the Texas State Fair spurned offers from developers and sold its property to the City of Dallas in 1904 under an agreement that set aside a period each fall to hold the annual exposition.

The reorganized State Fair of Texas prospered immediately, establishing new records for receipts and attendance as 300,000 people streamed through the gates in 1905. President William Howard Taft visited the Fair in 1909, and Woodrow Wilson delivered a speech in 1911. Automobile races and stunt flying exhibitions became the top attractions. Attendance topped the 1 million mark in 1916. World War I caused the 1918 State Fair to be canceled, and Fair Park was converted into a temporary army encampment.

The 1920s brought significant development and increased activity to the fairgrounds. A magnificent auditorium – which eventually would be known as the Music Hall – was completed in 1925, and outstanding New York shows were presented to Texas audiences for the first time. The Texas-OU football game was established as an annual fairtime event in 1929. And in 1930, the race track complex was razed to permit construction of 46,000-seat Fair Park Stadium – later renamed the Cotton Bowl.

In 1934, largely through the efforts of civic leader R.L. Thornton, Fair Park was selected as the central exposition site for the proposed Texas Centennial celebration. No state fair was scheduled in 1935, and construction began on a $25 million project that transformed the existing fairgrounds into a masterpiece of art and imagination. The 1936 Texas Centennial Exposition attracted more than 6 million people during its six-month run. A similar but smaller-scaled event, the Pan American Exposition, was presented in 1937. No fairs were held from 1942-1945. Following World War II, under the leadership of R.L. Thornton, the State Fair of Texas entered an era of unprecedented growth. Attendance reached the 2 million visitor level in 1949.

Highlights of the 1950s included the development of an international livestock show, installation of a monorail system, a Cotton Bowl concert by Elvis Presley, a visit from Vice President Richard Nixon and the first appearance of Big Tex, a 52-foot cowboy figure erected in the center of the grounds.

Since 1960, each exposition has been keyed to a theme. In 1968, the total number of fairgoers exceeded 3 million for the first time. Major renovation of the Cotton Bowl and Music Hall was accomplished during the 12 years that Robert B. Cullum served as State Fair president.

Tragic midway accidents in 1979 and 1983 led to the adoption of a ride safety program that is considered a model for the amusement industry. Opening Saturday of 1985 was designated as “Eddie Robinson Day.” The legendary coach of the Grambling University Tigers led his team to victory over Prairie View in the Cotton Bowl to become the winningest coach in college football. In 1986, Fair Park was designated a National Historic Landmark, and the State Fair of Texas hosted a 31-day exposition celebrating both the Texas Sesquicentennial and the Fair’s own 100th anniversary.

As the Fair moved into its second century of operation, new leadership assumed command. In 1988, Errol W. McKoy was named president with responsibility for the organization’s daily operation. The traditional fair season was extended from 17 to 24 days, and corporate sponsorship began to play an increasingly important role in programming. Involvement by major companies made it possible for the State Fair of Texas to offer its visitors a range of exhibits, entertainment, and services that are unmatched by any annual exposition in North America.

On the final Friday of the 2012 State Fair – October 19, 2012 – a fire due to an electrical short started in the base of the beloved icon, Big Tex. Dallas Fire Rescue rushed to the scene, but it was too late, the structure was destroyed. But, like any tall, proud Texan would do, this cowboy showed up for work in 2013. Big Tex returned to the State Fair in grand fashion with a Texas-sized welcome back celebration held on September 27, 2013. As he had done for many years, Tex breathed in a breath of fresh Texas air and said, “Howdy, Folks!,” to the world.

The State Fair board elected a new president in the spring of 2014 as Errol McKoy hung up his cowboy hat for retirement. Mitchell Glieber, who had served the Fair since 1999 in marketing roles, took over and first on his to-do list was to refresh the mission statement of the 128-year nonprofit organization. Not only did he want to continue putting on a world class event every year, he also wanted the State Fair of Texas organization to be known as a great community partner.

The State Fair of Texas celebrates all things Texan by promoting agriculture, education, and community involvement through quality entertainment in a family-friendly environment.

As a celebration of Texas heritage, the State Fair aims to embody all aspects of Lone Star culture. Although much has changed since its humble beginnings as a local fair and exposition, the State Fair of Texas embraces its historical roots and strives to preserve the traditions upon which it was built.

Become a Big Tex Insider

and get early access to event info, ticket discounts, exclusive Big Tex store promos, and more!

New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc Has a Fresh History

There’s something unmistakable and inherently likable about New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc. Its zingy acidity and heady aromas of grapefruit, pineapple and lime zest, freshly mowed grass and bell pepper can be hard to resist, and even harder to forget.

For many a wine geek, Kiwi Sauvignon Blanc was their gateway wine. The style reeled them in and made them take notice of what was in their glass. New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc remains a predictable fridge staple, supremely enjoyable during hot summer days.

So what is it about New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc that sets it apart from Old World brethren like Sancerre, Pouilly-Fumé or white Bordeaux? Why is it being emulated in wine regions around the globe? To answer those questions, you need to start at the beginning.

Although wine has been made in New Zealand since the 19th century, its modern wine industry wasn’t born until the 1970s. The first Sauvignon Blanc of note was made by Montana (now Brancott Estate). In 1973, the winery looked to expand beyond its Hawke’s Bay vineyards in the North Island by planting 2,900 acres of vines in the then-unheralded Marlborough region, on the northeast tip of the South Island.

Tea break for vine-planters in 1973 / Photo courtesy Brancott Estate

Montana recognized the potential of Marlborough’s climate: long, warm days and cool nights, acidity-enhancing maritime influence, minimum rainfall at harvest and free-draining soil.

At the time, Sauvignon Blanc was still overshadowed by varieties like Müller-Thurgau and Chenin Blanc, Marlborough’s more commonly planted varieties. But then two major events in the mid-1980s altered the course of New Zealand’s winegrowing future.

Thank You! We've received your email address, and soon you will start getting exclusive offers and news from Wine Enthusiast.

The first occurred when, due to a wine glut, the New Zealand government paid growers to rip up their vines. Many used the cash to uproot their less desirable varieties and replaced them with more profitable ones like Sauvignon Blanc.

The second event was an outbreak of phylloxera. While this dealt a blow to the industry, it gave growers another opportunity to replace their old varieties with the likes of Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay, this time on phylloxera-tolerant rootstock.

Photo by Stefan Schurr / Getty

New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc Producers and Regions to Explore

Arguably, no brand has played a greater role in the success of New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc than Cloudy Bay. Established in 1985 by David Hohnen, founder of Cape Mentelle in Australia’s Margaret River region, Cloudy Bay was the first to produce premium Sauvignon Blanc in the distinctive New Zealand style we know today.

The brand’s global reach helped put Marlborough, and to some extent all of New Zealand wine, on the map. In 2003, Cloudy Bay was bought by multinational luxury brand group LVHM. Despite founding winemaker Kevin Judd leaving in 2009 and production increasing dramatically in recent years, the name is still synonymous with both Sauvignon Blanc and New Zealand wine.

The Marlborough region also looks very different today than it did in the 1980s. A flight into the region’s main town of Blenheim reveals how wine has reshaped this part of the world. Bird’s-eye views of the long, straight Wairau Valley, where the majority of grapes are planted, reveal mile upon mile of flatlands blanketed in neat rows of grapevines. There’s very little land left to develop in either of the region’s two main valleys, the Wairau and the Awatere.

Amidst a sea of wine labels, large-scale producers like Villa Maria, Kim Crawford, Giesen, Saint Clair and Nautilus produce solid, wallet-friendly examples of Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc. Smaller-scale producers, including Jules Taylor, Huia, Loveblock, Zephyr, Greywacke and Seresin make classically styled, yet often complex, site-expressive wines.

There’s life beyond Marlborough, however. Sauvignon Blanc is produced in the majority of New Zealand’s wine growing regions.

Mahana Estates in Nelson / Photo by Chocolate Dog Studio

Just 70 miles west of Marlborough at the northern tip of the South Island, lies the region of Nelson. It produces Sauvignon Blanc that’s crisp and herbaceous, but often with a little more fleshy fruit and complexity, thanks to its sheltered seaside location and abundant sunshine. Seifried and Neudorf are two longstanding producers to try.

Across the Cook Strait at the bottom of the North Island, Sauvignon Blanc from the Wairarapa region often expresses itself with chalky minerality, prickly acidity and fragrant stone fruit characters. Ata Rangi, Craggy Range, Schubert, Martinborough Vineyards, Palliser and Urlar all produce excellent examples.

In Hawke’s Bay, on the eastern edges of the North Island, the warmer, milder growing conditions are often likened to being somewhere between Burgundy and Bordeaux. The stony soils of the famed Gimblett Gravels district in Hawke’s Bay produce highly mineral and long-lived Bordeaux blends. There, Sauvignon Blanc is unsurprisingly riper and richer than in Marlborough, with fruit characters sitting firmly in the tropical spectrum.

Lime Rock Wines in Hawke’s Bay / Photo courtesy Lime Rock Wines

Producers in these parts often like to ferment and/or age portions of their Sauvignon Blanc in oak to add texture and complexity. Great examples can be found via Te Mata and Trinity Hill.

The regions of Central Otago, Canterbury, Gisborne, Auckland, and Waikato-The Bay of Plenty also produce their own versions of the grape, although less of these wines make it to our shores.

Wherever it’s from, you can’t deny the hold that New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc has on the world. Decades after it exploded onto the scene, the unabashedly extroverted white wine is going stronger than ever. Even amid the fickle and fast-paced times we live in, New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc is here to stay.

Now that you’ve got the history, explore New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc outside the box. Boundary-pushing producers are changing the face of New Zealand’s most famous white wine.


The term lean refers to "abusers' propensity of having difficulty in standing up straight." [2] "Purple drank" references its typically purple hue, as the cough syrups employed are often purple in color, and an African-American Vernacular English term for an alcoholic beverage or intoxicating drink. Other names include sizzurp, [3] syrup, [3] drank, [3] barre, [3] purple jelly, [3] wok, [4] Texas tea, [5] and dirty Sprite. [6]


Typically, the base for lean has been prescription cold medicine, specifically cough syrup, one that contains both promethazine and codeine, but over-the-counter cold medicine that lists dextromethorphan as the active ingredient has also been used, as it can produce similar effects and eliminate the need for a doctor's visit. [7] [8] To create a drinkable mixture, the cough syrup is combined with Sprite, Mountain Dew, or grape-flavored Fanta and is typically served in a foam cup. [9] [10] A hard candy, usually a Jolly Rancher, may be added to give the mixture a sweeter flavor. [1]

The physiological effects of lean on the user is to produce mild "euphoric side effects", which are accompanied by "motor-skill impairment, lethargy, drowsiness, and a dissociative feeling from all other parts of the body." [10] It has been suggested that the super-sweet combination of soda, cough syrup, and Jolly Ranchers provides a flavor and mouthfeel, which stays on the tongue for an extended duration. This phenomenon is often appealing to first-time users. [11] Lean is often used in combination with alcohol and/or other drugs. [10]


When taken in prescribed quantities, cough syrup is quite safe [12] but dangers arise in higher doses since promethazine is a depressant of the central nervous system (CNS), and codeine is a respiratory depressant. When codeine is taken in very large amounts, it can cause one to stop breathing. [12] Using alcohol and other drugs alongside lean increases the chance of respiratory depression. [12] Fallieras stated that the concoction does not cause seizures itself, but increases their likelihood in those susceptible to them. [12] The drink includes a massive amount of the opiate codeine, which can be addictive in high doses, and Fallieras states that "promethazine has at least anecdotally been noted to intensify the euphoric effects of codeine in the brain." [12]

The addictive nature of the drink means that trying to discontinue regular usage can bring about symptoms of withdrawal. [12] In a 2008 interview with MTV News, Lil Wayne described the withdrawal as feeling "like death in your stomach when you stop. Everybody wants me to stop all this and all that. It ain't that easy." [13]

Lean is confirmed or suspected to have caused the deaths of several prominent users. Respiratory depression is a potentially serious or fatal adverse drug reaction associated with the use of codeine, but mainly the danger lies in the much more potent and CNS-depressing phenothiazine-related antihistamine promethazine. This depression is dose-related and is the mechanism for the potentially fatal consequences of overdose: respiratory or cardiac arrest. As with most CNS depressants, mixing with alcohol greatly increases the risk of respiratory failure and other complications. [14]

Lean is thought to have developed in Houston around the 1960s when blues musicians would take Robitussin and cut it with beer. Later when wine coolers came onto the market, they substituted for beer. [11] These blues musicians lived in Houston's Fifth Ward, Third Ward, and South Park neighborhoods and the practice was taken up by the generation of rappers growing up in the same parts of the city. [11] In the 1980s and 1990s the formula changed to using codeine promethazine cough syrup, somewhat like the Glutethimide and codeine combination that was popular from the seventies up to the early nineties. [11]

Lean remained a local Houston phenomenon until the 1990s rapper DJ Screw released several tunes mentioning the drink in his mixtapes, which were extremely popular in the Houston area. [11]

DJ Screw's music was particularly appropriate for Houston's climate. Due to the heat and expanse of the Houston area residents spent long drives in their cars, "the music that most appropriately complements that has always been the music of DJ Screw, it's slowed down—and when I say slowed down I mean he would record sessions in his apartment with rappers freestyling over beats and he would make these big mixtapes and then he would actually slow them down even further on his cassette recorder." [11] DJ Screw's invoking lean in his lyrics and his use of slow tempos had caused his style to be characterized "[a]s if the song itself has taken too much codeine promethazine". [11] Rappers outside of Houston soon adopted aspects of his style. [11]

Lean had never been stigmatized in Houston, but with the apparently lean-related early death of DJ Screw, the concoction became the focus of law enforcement in the Houston area with felony charges being applied for some aspects surrounding it. [11]


Houston producer DJ Screw popularized the concoction, which is widely attributed as a source of inspiration for the chopped-and-screwed style of hip hop music. [15] [16] The promethazine and codeine concoction first gained popularity in the underground hip hop scene in Houston, [16] where musician Big Hawk said it was consumed as early as the 1960s and 1970s, becoming more widely used in the early 1990s. [17] Because of usage by rap artists in Houston, it became more popular in the 1990s. [18] Its use later spread to other southern states. [15] In June 2000, Three 6 Mafia's single "Sippin' on Some Syrup", featuring UGK, brought the term purple drank to a nationwide audience. [19]

In 2004, the University of Texas found that 8.3% of secondary school students in Texas had taken codeine syrup to get high. [15] The Drug Enforcement Administration reports busts involving syrup across the southern United States, particularly in Texas and Florida. [15] As of 2011, the price of lean in Houston is twice the price as it is in Los Angeles. [18]

In a 2019 interview, American rapper Future spoke about quitting lean and stated that he was afraid that his fans would believe his music has changed if he had publicly admitted to quitting earlier. [20] Future expressed disappointment after American rapper Juice Wrld told him that he was influenced by his music to try lean when he was young. Future stated "It’s like, ‘Oh shit.’ How many other sixth-graders did I influence to drink lean?" [20] The two artists had released a collaborative mixtape titled Wrld on Drugs in October 2018. [20] Lil Nas X's hit song "Old Town Road" includes the line "Lean all in my bladder", though Lil Nas X has stated he does not endorse the drug. [21]

Notable incidents of use

DJ Screw, who popularized the codeine-based drink, died of a codeine–promethazine-alcohol overdose on November 16, 2000, several months after the video of Three 6 Mafia's single debuted. [22]

Big Moe, a DJ Screw protégé whose albums City of Syrup and Purple World were based on the drink and who has been described as having "rapped obsessively about the drug", [23] died at age 33 on October 14, 2007, after suffering a heart attack one week earlier that left him in a coma. [24] There was speculation that lean may have contributed to his death. [25] [26]

Pimp C, widely influential Port Arthur, Texas, rapper and a member of rap duo UGK, was found dead on December 4, 2007, at the Mondrian Hotel in West Hollywood, California. The Los Angeles County Coroner's Office reported that the rapper's death was "due to promethazine-codeine effects and other unestablished factors." Ed Winter, assistant chief of the Coroner's Office, said the levels of the medication were elevated, but not enough to deem the death an overdose. However, Pimp C had a history of sleep apnea, a condition that causes one to stop breathing for short periods during sleep. A spokesman for the coroner's office said that the combination of sleep apnea and cough medication probably suppressed Pimp C's breathing long enough to bring on his death. [27] [23]

Fredo Santana, an American rapper who frequently made references to the drink in his music, died of a seizure on January 19, 2018. According to TMZ, he had been suffering from liver and kidney problems, which were believed to be the result of his addiction. [28]

In September 2006, Terrence Kiel, a San Diego Chargers player, was arrested during practice for the possession with intent to sell prescription cough syrup for use in making the drink. [15] Kiel was caught trying to ship a case of syrup to a friend via FedEx. Kiel was charged with two felony counts of transporting a controlled substance and three counts of possession for sale of a controlled substance. [29]

On July 8, 2008, Johnny Jolly, a Green Bay Packers player, was pulled over in his car by the police for playing excessively loud music in a nightclub parking lot. The officers found a Dr Pepper bottle in a holder next to two Styrofoam cups containing soda and ice. The officers said the cups and the bottle all emitted "strong odors of codeine" [30] even though the codeine is odorless according to National Institutes of Health. [31] The case was dismissed, [32] but charges were refiled in December 2009 after the Houston Police Department acquired new equipment that allowed the police to test the evidence again. Jolly faced a possible maximum sentence of up to 20 years in jail, but as a first time offender he would be eligible for probation. [33]

On July 5, 2010, former Oakland Raiders quarterback JaMarcus Russell was arrested at his home in Mobile, Alabama, for possession of codeine syrup without a prescription. He was arrested as part of an undercover narcotics investigation. Russell was booked into city jail and released soon afterwards after making his bail. [34]

On June 11, 2013, just days after being robbed at gunpoint in San Francisco, rapper 2 Chainz was arrested at Los Angeles International Airport on charges of possessing promethazine and codeine (the primary ingredients of lean) along with marijuana. [35]

Mac Miller, who died of a drug overdose not involving lean, spoke openly of his addiction to lean. [36]

Several legal commercial products loosely based on the concept of "purple drank" are marketed in the United States. In June 2008, Innovative Beverage Group, a Houston, Texas-based company, released a beverage called "Drank". The commercial product contains no codeine or promethazine, but claims to "Slow Your Roll" with a combination of herbal ingredients such as valerian root and rose hips as well as the hormone melatonin. [37] [38] Similar "anti-energy" or relaxation drinks on the commercial market use the names "Purple Stuff", "Sippin Syrup", and "Lean". [39] [40] [41]


These commercial products have been criticized for their potential to serve as gateways to the dangerous illegal concoction. [40] [41] [42] The marketing push has been described as akin to the making of candy cigarettes. [42]


Whiskey is another of the more versatile cocktail bases. With so many styles, there is the opportunity for great diversity in flavor profiles. It mixes well with other liquors to create complex drinks, and it pairs well with many fruits, particularly the darker fruits. Warm drinks are also very popular with whiskey.

Watch the video: Μ. Παγώνη Εμβολιαστείτε για να σωθείτε! Ισραήλ: Χάνονται τα αντισώματα στους εμβολιασμένους (May 2022).