It’s one thing, says Bob Cottle, when wine professionals give his product an award. It’s something else entirely when wine drinkers do it.

“It’s very, very important to us,” says Cottle, who owns the 7-year-old Pleasant Hill Winery in Brenham. “People who drink our wine are voting with their taste buds. When we can tell people we won the People’s Choice award, that’s incredible.”

That’s because Pleasant Hill’s Blanc du Bois won the gold medal for best non-vintage white wine at Grapefest’s People’s Choice awards in 2003. Cottle hopes for the same result at this year’s 18th annual event, which runs Sept. 9-12 in Grapevine. This year, 29 Texas wineries have entered 123 wines in the competition, which is one of the largest — and most unique — wine contests in the . The judges include anyone who pays the $15 registration fee. That entitles them to taste the wines at eight sessions (starting on Friday), casting their votes for the best varieties in 10 categories.

The People’s Choice awards give wineries such as Pleasant Hill , which has almost no marketing budget and limited distribution, a chance to get some serious attention in one of the best wine markets in the country. The Blanc du Bois, for example, is normally available in just three stores in North Texas, none in Dallas County . But at Grapefest, some 10,000 people could taste the wine in one weekend, which could bring a lot of business, if they like it.

And consumers do seem to like the wine, made from a hybrid grape (a cross between a French-style and a native American grape) called the blanc du bois that thrives in the hot, humid weather in and around Brenham. It makes a slightly sweet wine and, like all hybrids, doesn’t taste quite like anything most wine drinkers have had before.

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