Texas at TexSom

It has been over two weeks since TexSom came to a close and I am still basking in the afterglow. Thinking back over its highlights, I keep returning to the Taste Texas Wines hospitality suite, sponsored by Texas Monthly. It was the first of its kind in the nine years of TexSom and had an incredible turnout and reverberating buzz. As I moved between the other rooms, I heard people reminding their friends to visit the Texas room, or talking about the wines that surprised them the most… in a good way.

Texas Wins at TexSom. Photo courtesy of whatareyoudrinking.net

Texas Wins at TexSom. Photo courtesy of whatareyoudrinking.net

Texas wineries have been a part of TexSom since its inception, sending representatives, pouring their wines in the Grand Tasting and helping with the educational seminars, but this was the first opportunity for them to showcase their hard work all in one room and hold a place to interact with some serious wine enthusiasts. Fredrick Österberg of Pedernales Cellars was thrilled for the exposure: “We had at least a dozen Masters come and try our wines. The Texas-based ones know us and already support us. Masters from all over the country came too. Fred Dame walked up to me and we had a great conversation. And that means a lot from the somm community, to give them the chance to try our wines and show them Texas can do great things.”

Fredrik Österberg talking about Pedernales Cellars wine. Photo courtesy of whatareyoudrinking.net.

Fredrik Österberg talking about Pedernales Cellars wine. Photo courtesy of whatareyoudrinking.net.

TexSom is unfortunately scheduled at harvest time in Texas. This year harvest came later due to cooler weather in June and July, making it a little easier than years before, but there was still overlap. I spoke to several winemakers who said they harvested a few tons of grapes in the morning, took a shower and drove to Dallas for the conference, then rushed home to help process the crop. Perhaps future TexSom conferences will be on slightly different dates so more Texas wine industry professionals can be involved.

Due to that timing, this was the first year Pat Brennan was able to attend and he was happy about the success of the suite. He said in the days following he received emails, tweets and Facebook posts from people who were surprised by the Texas wine showing. He hopes to return next year and participate fully in the conference, attending seminars and holding a table at the Grand Tasting.

Four wineries poured their wines and only brought bottles made from 100% Texas grapes. A complete list of the wineries, wines and associated awards is below.

Cheers to Texas’ great showing at this prestigious event! And cheers to future years and increased involvement, showing the world what Texas can do.

Brennan Vineyards

−  2012 Viognier- Silver at San Francisco International Wine Competition

−  2012 LilyGold at Dallas Morning News and Texsom Wine Competition, Gold and Grand Star at Lone Star International Wine Competition

−  2011 Dark Horse- Chairman’s Award (unanimous gold) at Riverside International Wine Competition

−  2011 Tempranillo- Gold at Pacific Rim Wine Competition. Gold at San Francisco International Wine Competition, Silver at San Francisco International Wine Competition

−  2010 Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon

Duchman Family Winery

−  2011 Trebbiano- Silver at San Francisco International Wine Competition

−  2011 Viognier

−  2011 Dolcetto- Silver at San Francisco International Wine Competition

−  2011 Tempranillo- Silver at San Francisco International Wine Competition

McPherson Cellars

−   2012 Les Copains- Gold at Lone Star International Wine Competition

−   2011 La Herencia- Gold at San Francisco International Wine Competition

−   2012 Dry Rosé Vin Gris

−   2012 Dry Chenin- Gold and Best in Class at Pacific Rim Wine Competition

−   2010 Sangiovese

Pedernales Cellars

−  2012 Viognier- Gold at Dallas Morning News and Texsom Wine Competition, Double Gold, Top Texas Wine, Class Champion and Texas Class Champion at Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo International Wine Competition

−  2012 Viognier Reserve- Grand Gold at Lyon France International Wine Competition

−  2011 Texas Tempranillo

−  2010 Texas High Plains Tempranillo- Gold at Dallas Morning News and Texsom Wine Competition, Double Gold at Lone Star International Wine Competition, Gold at Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo International Wine Competition

−  2011 GSM- Silver at San Francisco International Wine Competition, Gold at Lone Star International Wine Competition

The Best Little Winehouse in Texas

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I have been searching for this trailer for months and am thrilled to finally share it with you. It’s a completely different take on Texas wine.

Wales Manor in McKinney, Texas is owned and run by John Wales, an American Airlines pilot and self-labeled entertainer. He wanted to make a reality television show based on his winery and this is the trailer he presented to networks to pique interest. You may or may not agree with his approach to the industry, but there’s no way to deny his penchant for entertainment.

Enjoy!

- Margaret Shugart

Fall Creek Vineyards Throws Rockstar Independence Celebration

There is no reason to make today your only for Independence Celebrations. This is a four day weekend and lots of opportunities to continue the party. Tops on my list is the Burgers n Blues feast at Fall Creek Vineyards.

There is a lot packed into the six hour event- music by Bill Rives, art by acclaimed artist Daniel Adams- but I’m most excited for the food (and wine, of course). Chef Paul Petersen from Auguste Escoffier Culinary School in Austin will be spinning his rockstar magic on the grill and if you haven’t seen this yet, you are missing one of the best true-Texas chefs in the state.

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Some lifetimes ago I worked under Chef Paul as a server at the Gage Hotel in Marathon, Texas  and my concept of wine and food was forever elevated. We were a hodge-podge staff with mixed experience and enthusiasm for the job. Paul, a CIA Chef with training in Manhattan and one wildly successful restaurant in Buda under his belt, entered the scene and lit a fire under our feet and in our minds. He taught us to taste wines like professionals, how to think and talk about food pairings, how to describe his creations with flourish and pride, how to polish our service and deliver the fine dining experience. With rockstar attitude. Our uniforms consisted of jeans, black and silver studded belts and Converse shoes. And Chef ran that kitchen like a rock show, music loud, pausing on the grill to play air drums with the tongs. Passion poured out of him and into us and I took that into all my future restaurant and tasting experiences. Chef Paul is the reason I really paid attention to wine and he gave me the basis for my culinary understandings. And I still wear that belt sometimes, when I need a little extra attitude. I have a lot to thank him for.

One of the first things Chef Paul did when he took ahold of the Gage wine program was make Fall Creek Vineyards our house pour. He wanted Texas wine in as many glasses as possible. I didn’t realize at the time how progressive this really was and had the chance to talk to him today about his connection to the winery and the people.

He said he was introduced to Fall Creek Vineyards through a blind tasting with a wine sales guy. The rep put a rich red wine in his glass and asked him to identify its origin. “I called it Bordeaux. Straight up. Not sure the producer or the exact region, but I knew it was Bordeaux.” The rep said, nope, it’s Texas. Fall Creek Meritus. Paul was amazed, impressed and became a loyal fan, then a close friend of Susan and Ed Auler, owners of Fall Creek.

Chef told me how he requested to hold a bottle of Meritus during many of his publicity and magazine shoots. I asked why and he said quite simply, “It’s the best wine in Texas. I am a Texas chef and this is my favorite Texas wine product.” He respects the care and attention Ed Auler puts into every vintage, and how it’s not made every year. Like Dominus Estate in Napa Valley, it has to be a stellar year to create the bottle.

You will have the chance to taste the new release of the 2010 Meritus at the winery on Saturday. It is 97% Cabernet Sauvignon, 3% Merlot from Certenberg Vineyards in Mason County. It has won a Double Gold from the Tasters Guild International Wine Competition. Opaque in the glass, it shows layers of complexity from black fruit and dark cherries to mocha and leather; the tannins grip all over your mouth- a wine worth aging.

I asked Chef Paul if he would pair the Meritus with his burgers on Saturday and he laughed and said it might be too big of a wine. His recommendation for this weekend, and for every day drinking from Fall Creek is their Merlot. He said it’s always solid.

I’d also like to recommend their 2011 Tempranillo. It was aged in 1/3 neutral oak, 1/3 partially used oak, and 1/3 new American oak for a total of 14 months, and has cherry and cassis all over it with hints of leather in the finish. It was made for beef.

I had the opportunity to taste all these wines by invitation of Susan and Ed Auler last month and with Certified Sommelier, Matt McGinnis, including some preview barrel samples (get excited for the 2012 Tempranillo now! It’ll be in oak until 2014, but it’s already showing its steely berry fruits and herbaceous, floral notes). For Matt’s total tasting notes, visit his blog What Are You Drinking? I will add my own later on.

In the meantime, go make your own tasting notes. If not at Fall Creek Vineyards, then at a Texas winery near you. Explore all their offerings, buy a glass and enjoy it in some beautiful surroundings. For Chef Paul, I’d release the surprises he has in store this Saturday, but the Aulers don’t even know his plans yet. If you miss him this week, he’ll be cooking again in August for their Grape Stomp Festival.

Happy Red, White, Blue and Burgers to you.

- Margaret Shugart

Working on the book

I am really happy to report we are in last push to finish the book.  It’s such a joy and a pleasure to go through all of last year’s experiences on the road, meeting these incredible people, and we look forward to sharing that with you soon.  Our hope is to submit the material by the beginning of July for an October publication.  This means we won’t be doing anything else until we are finished, including the blog.  As soon as this portion is off our plates, we’ll start updating here again.

 Thank you so much for checking in and we look forward to writing more here soon.

Pontotoc, a picture story

There is a new cordon of the Texas wine country developing in the northern Hill Country, based around the tiny town of Pontotoc.

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Over ten years ago, Carl Money bought the 1800’s buildings in downtown Pontotoc, as well as an old German farmhouse behind the strip.  He envisioned it as the place for a family he didn’t have yet.  Now that he and his wife, Frances Money, are expecting their third child, that dream is taking flight.

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His uncle, Ronnie Money, has been meticulously tending their acres of Tempranillo and maintaining the property for all those years, producing incredible fruit for their wines.  IMG_3304

Carl now plans to convert the downtown strip into three tasting rooms and an active theater for movies, live music and theatrical performances.

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By gracious invitation, a few of us had the opportunity to tour the property, meet the people, and spend an incredible weekend in this place.  I traveled out with three wine women of the Austin wine scene, Alissa LeenherJessica Dupuy and Denise Clarke.

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We made a few stops along the way at William Chris Vineyards,

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Hilmy Cellars, 4.0 Cellars

4.0smalland Sandstone Cellars in Mason, Texas where Don Pullum, winemaker at Pontotoc Vineyards also spins his craft.

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We met with owners of Sandstone Cellars, Scott and Manny, tasted through the wines and visited their new wine bar, next to the winery.

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Upon arriving in Pontotoc, we were warmly welcomed by Don, Ronnie, Carl, his beautiful wife Frances and their two children,

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and were joined by San Antonio Express writer Jennifer McInnis, her partner and two Texas State theater professors.  After sipping some 2011 Estate Tempranillo out of mason jars and munching on appetizers, we began a tour.  We saw each of the future tasting rooms.  One will be for for Pontotoc Vineyards.  One is slotted for Akashic Vineyard Winery, soon to be pouring wine made from grapes of Don Pullum’s Akashic Vineyard and other nearby growers.  He will be the winemaker there too, of course.  I asked where the word Akashic originated and he said it is the Buddhist term for “nature’s memory” and the perfect metaphor for wine.

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The third tasting room is for Alphonse Dotson and Martha Cervantes of Certenberg Vineyards.  The winery will be named Dotson and Cervantes.

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On our tour, Ronnie explained the vineyards to us,

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Carl showed the buildings and shared his plans for their future

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and Don let us taste from the barrels and tanks, explaining each vintages characteristics and blending wine on the spot.

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We learned that Carl’s dream for the property was one of celebration and education.  The house is naturally designed for entertainment and the firepit in the yard calls for camaraderie.  He said his vision is for people to come and thoroughly enjoy themselves.  If they’ve had too much to drink, they can grab a Mexican blanket from the theater and curl up on the tasting room floor for the night, or go pitch a tent in the vineyards.  He wants people to enjoy the vibe and atmosphere as much as he does.  Not a hard thing to do.

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He also wants Pontotoc to be a center for education, true to the town’s roots.  Out of the handful of streets in town, one is named College, for the crumbled university that faces the downtown strip.

universitysmallCarl hopes to revive that tradition with viticulture and enology classes.  He is currently working with Ed Hellman on curriculum for the Texas Viticulture Certificate Program based out of Fredericksburg and wants to extend some of those opportunities into Pontotoc.

After our touring, Don Pullum created an incredible seafood stew, shared with side dishes brought by all.

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We sat at a long table in the middle of soon-to-be Pontotoc Winery tasting room saying grace, sharing stories, making friends and giving cheers.  The possibility off the place rang off its earthen walls.

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I was so moved by the town, the idea and the spirit, I returned a day later to learn how to filter wine with Don, Ronnie and the cellar helper Justin.  But that’s another story.

Best of luck to you, Pontotoc!  Your future is bright.

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Satellite of Love: Texas wineries make the movies

“The most important question we had to ask them was, ‘Can a girl in a bikini ride through the vines on a motorcycle?’  That’s what we needed to know.  Although, in the end, it was really a guy wearing a wig,” said Will Moore, when asked about his selection process for Texas vineyards as sets for his film.  In the end, he picked William Chris Vineyards in Hye, Texas for their incredible tasting room, and Duchman Family Vineyards in Driftwood, because they would allow the motorcycle.

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Satellite of Love, an independent, locally shot film, just celebrated their Video on Demand release on Mar. 5.  Screened in twelve festivals around the nation including The Austin Film Festival and The Hill Country Film Festival, the movie is now available for download.  I met with director Will Moore, producer John Michael Measells, and music director Jonathan Case to discuss their experience with Texas wine during the filming.  The movie was shot all around the Hill Country and Austin, featuring locations like Justine’s, Apache Shores off Lake Austin.

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Shooting at Justine’s restaurant

Roughly based on the 1960’s French film, “La Collectionneuse,” the story revolves around two couples meeting for a weekend in the California (but really Texas) wine country.  Opening scenes in the movie show that the men were best friends, one now married to the other’s ex-lover.  When they all arrive for their vacation, a sexy DJ from Barcelona is thrown into the mix, now dating the still-single friend.  Add wine, beautiful countryside, music and yes, girls on motorcycles (and bicycles), and the film plays around the questions of monogamy and the delicate messiness of the human heart.

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The cast members are professionals, coming from productions like “The O.C.,” “True Blood,” and “Snakes on a Plane.”  They even found Patrick Bauchau an original leading man in La Collectionneuse and flew him over from France to play the role of vineyard owner and resident sage.  Their videography is stunning and highlights the beauty of the Texas Hill Country.

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Will Moore and his wife spent six months location scouting, which, he says, primarily consisted of staying in Fredericksburg, going to wineries, drinking wine and hanging out.  In the process, they joined a handful of wine clubs that now ship wines to their home several times a year, an added bonus to the research.

There were two features Moore searched for when scouting out a perfect Texas winery: proximity to Austin for ease of travel, and permission for a girl in a bikini to ride a motorcycle through the vineyards.  Their initial choice was Becker Vineyards, but after talking to Duchman Family Winery, they decided it was better for its proximity to Austin.

They chose William Chris Vineyards for a different reason: the tasting room.  “It looks like someone’s home in the middle of nowhere,” Will Moore explained.  “The inside is so unique.”  It is crafted out of a farmhouse from the early 1900’s, refurbished by wine makers Bill Blackmon and Chris Brundrett.

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One of its most defining features is the ceiling, covered in colorful barn doors and the film does a beautiful job showing it off in one, long shot.  Moore said they did not close the tasting room on the day of the shooting, but just moved the sample wines outside.  People were crammed in the windows, trying to catch a glimpse of the filming.  They only shot for a half day, but Moore, Measells, and Case all confirmed that everyone had at least one bottle of wine a piece before continuing on the day. Their favorite William Chris wine was the 2008 Enchanté, and a bottle of it is featured in one of the shots.  Producer Measells said he particularly enjoyed drinking it with his corn nuts on site.

Duchman Family Winery proved to be a great adventure.  They started the day by getting one of the equipment trucks stuck in the mud.  An employee of the Salt Lick BBQ and Tasting Room came over to free them.  The day was spent filming in the beautiful vineyards, riding bikes and motorcycles through the vines.  The cast, again, drank a lot of wine on site and tried most of the varieties and blends available.  They bought several cases of the Duchman Sangiovese 2010 and Moore, again, joined the wine club.

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To see footage of our beautiful Hill Country and of these wineries, and to see an shining example of a thought-provoking, locally written and directed film, download a copy of Satellite of Love from iTunes.

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- Margaret Shugart

Snow on the High Plains

There are late freezes, and there are late Freezes.  Unfortunately, the High Plains experienced the latter this week, with temperatures in the 20’s and snow on the vines.  Its impact is still unknown, but it could mean a challenging year for Texas grapes and Texas wine.  According to Betty Bingham of Bingham Family Vineyards, the extent of damage is related to the location of the vineyard, the variety, timing of pruning, and even the rootstock.  There’s a wide range of estimates for crop damage across all High Plains vineyards, from 0% to 80%, dependent on all these variables, but truth is these are just estimates.  Still-tight buds can be unaffected and many vines see a secondary budding.  Several other wine regions around the world like Burgundy, all throughout Germany and even Australia fear the frost and look secondary and tertiary budbreak for a good crop replacement.  As Betty says, “We really won’t know for two more weeks. Then again we won’t ‘really’ know till next August and September.”

This news reminded me of one of my first interviews with a Texas winemaker while working on a different project.  He told me that every month of the growing season he is on his knees for something different: please no late frost in April, please no hail in May, please no drought in June, please no rain at harvest.  Growing grapes in Texas is one of the most difficult agricultural endeavors one can undertake, and it requires a lot of monitoring, experimenting, collaborating and intelligence to be successful.  As we sit here, there are people all over the world researching how to delay budbreak, how to fight or prevent Pierce’s disease, how to optimize a variety’s potential through rootstock, how to prepare for and recover from Mother Nature’s whims.

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Photo courtesy of Dusty Timmons.

Texas is very much like Europe, constantly reconsidering strategy and looking for ways to maximize the elements.  That’s the reason vintages are so important for world class wines like Burgundy, Bordeaux, Champagne and Port: every year is so different.  California, for the most part, sees relatively stable weather conditions and is at less risk for extremes, but our wine growers are always on their toes, readjusting, learning new techniques, trying new approaches.  Several vineyard owners told me how they would be out the middle of the night, just walking through the vines, measuring, observing, worrying.  One winemaker and vineyard manager in the Hill Country told me he had a late night vision of setting a small grass fire under the vines, just to keep them warm.  I have no doubt they will find ways to make the best of this freeze as well and will come out of this season even more prepared for the next.

So “Thank you” to these obsessed, intelligent, passionate folks- for working so hard to put good wine in our cups.  Cheers!  And blessings.

- Margaret Shugart