Texas Wine with Italian Flair, Duchman Family Winery

Before I moved to Texas I grew glorious vegetable gardens in Oregon and in the mid-west before that. My corn stalks and tomato plants reached the sky. My first few attempts to grow vegetables in Texas with my mid-western approach failed miserably. I was lucky to get one ripe tomato before the vines shriveled and died. What I learned first-hand is that I need to cultivate plants that grow well in Texas during Texan growing seasons.

This is something that isn’t lost on the folks at Duchman Family Winery. In 2004 Drs. Lisa and Stan Duchman planted six Italian grape varietals in Driftwood, Texas. The Vermentino, Muscato, Sangiovese, Montepulciano, Aglianico and Nero d‘Avolo are all warm weather grapes that do incredibly well in the Texas climate. They are Italian varietal pioneers in the state as the first to plant Montepulciano and the first to start making Vermentino wine.  Like the Texas Longhorn, these grapes have a bent for survival in a sometimes unforgiving setting. With these Italian varietals, Duchman is making truly Texas wine.

Back in aught-four, the winery was named Mandola Estate Winery. This Tuscan-styled winery in the Hill Country southwest of Austin was co-founded by restaurateur Damian Mandola, who also has a deep passion for things Italian. The estate changed primary ownership and names to Duchman Family Winery in July 2010 to circumvent TABC concerns with Mr. Mandola holding liquor licenses for Trattoria Lisina, the restaurant next door to the winery. Never fear, winemakers Dave Reilly and Mark Penna stayed through the transition.

Where can you find Duchman Wines?

Duchman is a boutique winery, producing about 20,000 cases annually. While it isn’t the biggest winery, it is one of the largest that uses 100% Texas-grown grapes – sourced both from the estate and from vineyards in the Texas High Plains AVA (American Viticultural Area). It currently doesn’t have distribution out of Texas, but it’s relatively easy to find in wine shops and restaurants in Austin, Dallas and Houston. I’ve picked up bottles at Specs and have had a glass of Vermentino at happy hour at TRIO in the Four Seasons in Austin.

A great place to have a glass of Duchman wine is at Bar Lamar at the Whole Foods located at 525 N. Lamar Blvd., where they serve Vermentino and Montepulciano on tap. Duchman is the only Texas winery to offer wine on tap. To keep each glass as fresh as a newly opened bottled, they use stainless steel connections on the keg and pump food-grade Argon gas into the keg to keep oxygen out and to push the wine out. Whole Foods goes through the 24-bottle capacity kegs fast enough that they haven’t tested the longevity, but it should stay fresh for months.  It’s also environmentally friendly.  Kegged wine means there is very little waste on packaging – no bottles, no labels, no cork – and the kegs are recycled. It weighs half as much as the equivalent amount of bottled wine which saves fossil fuels in shipping.

The winery is also an excellent place to appreciate the wines. The estate is located just down the road from the Salt Lick BBQ in Driftwood. The limestone buildings topped with terra cotta tile roofs set a romantic, Tuscan mood.  It has a gracious tasting room with plenty of space for you and your friends to spread out your wine glasses on the bar. You could spend all day there with a tour, a meal at the Trattoria or even a romp on the play scape. While the facilities are stylish, the real star is the wine. Here is what you can expect from three of their top selling wines.

2009 Duchman Family Vineyard Bianco

If you like slightly sweet white wine, this one is for you. The Bianco is 100 percent Vermentino made with arrested fermentation to retain a little bit of residual sugar and slight effervescence. The grapes are grown by renowned viticulturist, Cliff Bingham in the High Plains on six year old vines.

Look The Bianco shines light blonde and sunny as a Texas afternoon.
Smell It has fruity scents of delicate pear and lively green apple.
Taste This is a fruit forward wine with ample pear and honeyed apple. The sweetness is balanced with crisp acidity. It’s a light, easy drinking wine without any fussiness.
Price $9


2009 Duchman Family Vineyard Vermentino

This is a light, crisp wine that you can drink throughout the hot summer and right on into the holidays. It’s versatile and food friendly, at home on a picnic or paired with grilled seafood.

Look It shimmers with great clarity piercing the soft golden hues.
Smell The Vermentino has a nose of perfumed citrus and pear.
Taste This wine is lively with fruity pear and ruby red grapefruit flavors, with jasmine and herbaceous tones and pert acidity in the finish.
Price Sold out at the winery, but still available at retail locations.


2009 Duchman Family Winery Dolcetto

The Dolcetto is one of the first wines produced by Duchman. It carries a single vineyard designation from the Bingham Family Vineyard in the High Plains AVA. Outside of Texas, Dolcetto grows in Piedmont in North West Italy and thrives in a slightly cooler climate. Planting this vigorous varietal in the High Plains was an experiment that worked well. The Dolcetto is a light bodied, fruit forward wine with low acidity that sees no oak aging to let its true flavors shine through. I like it served slightly chilled with pasta or pizza.

Look The Dolcetto is light brick red, without a lot of concentration and good clarity. It looks like hearty cranberry juice.
Smell It has bright aromas of cedar and ripe raspberries hanging in the sun.
Taste Perky tastes of black cherry, blueberry and cola play on the tongue it eases into a brief finish. It lacks the heft and tannins of bolder varietals, making it a pleasant wine for easy drinking.
Price $14


If you are interested in enjoying a quality Texas wine, try one made from grapes that thrive in our climate. The Mediterranean, Spanish and Italian varietals seem to do as well as the native Bluebonnet. The Duchman Family has a knack for producing well-made Texas wines at appealing prices. Give them a try when you’re out on the town, in the mood for a winery visit or on your back porch.

Duchman Family Winery provided samples for this review. In addition, Duchman was a sponsor of my 2011 Mellow Yellow Benefit with proceeds supporting the Lance Armstrong Foundation to continue its fight against cancer.

This article also appears on CultureMap Austin.

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Bill Elsey’s Fast Track to Wine Success

What happens when you are a rising star in the wine world and recently crowned Texas’ Best Sommelier 2011 at TexSomm? You get asked to host videos, host a VIP reception at Chef’s Under Fire, host #SommChat, host elegant wine dinners and you get job offers. That’s right, Wines.com and the soon to be opened Red Room Wine Lounge lured Bill Elsey way from Duchman Family Winery to be their new Sales Manager and Sommelier.

Bill at Chefs Under Fire

This is a big win for Alexander Andrawes and the folks at Wines.com and a big loss for Duchman. Not only is Bill exquisitely knowledgeable about wine and the beverage industry, but he’s also a delightful conversationalist who puts people at ease. His customer service skills seem innate and he says, “My philosophy is to make people feel comfortable and welcome first and foremost.”

Here is a young guy that has been on a fast track to success. He started from ground zero and has worked hard to be one of the top wine experts in the state – he won the Best Sommelier title five years to the day after starting in the wine industry.

Bill got started in the wine industry by joining Duchman Family Winery right out of college. He grew up in nearby Wimberly, Texas in a foodie home that prized cooking and gardening and cooking, but wasn’t wine-centric. Once he joined the winery as a part-time tasting room grunt, he fell in love with the industry right away. He soon started working full time and began studying wine, and in particular Italian He soon became the bar manager Trattoria Lisina, the Italian restaurant on the Duchman property, and  learned more about wine and food pairings.

His experience at the restaurant stirred a desire to become a certified sommelier through the Court of Master Sommeliers. He took the introductory course and realized he was woefully under prepared. While he passed, he vowed to never be that under-prepared again. He hit the books and took the certified exam a year later and passed it as well. He also joined the Society of Wine Educators, to continue learning and tasting because being a normal somm isn’t enough for this guy. Through the second program he also became a Certified Specialist in Spirits as well as a Champagne and Cork Specialist. Up next, in November he will take the final exam to become a Certified Sommelier. He is self admittedly obsessed with learning. His roommate recently commented that Bill hadn’t left the table for 10 hours on a Saturday because he studying. Come on Bill. . .

All of this hard work has led to the next step in his career. He shared a little bit with me about the job change. “Deciding to change jobs didn’t come easily. I had really grown into my role with the Duchman Winery and felt a strong sense of connection to the owners, winemaker, and the wines. Working there for the past 5 years has been the single greatest influence on my wine career thus far. That being said, I think I reached a point where I wanted to challenge myself in a new environment and allow my knowledge of wine to grow. Working for Alex not only allows me to be in a role as a wine buyer and sommelier for Wines.com, but I will also be working in a wine ‘lounge’ setting when we open the Red Room. Having the ability to be around some of the best wines in world on a regular basis was a big reason I decided to take the position.”

Bill is looking forward to expanding the reach of Wines.com. He is excited about The Red Room Lounge concept and bringing the wine bar-come- lounge to life. Oh, and he’s also hosting a Wines.com Iberian wine cruise next May that sails from Barcelona, Spain to Southampton, England. Sounds like a tough assignment.

How do I get that job? Bill has some advice for aspiring sommeliers. Spend $100 to get a membership to the Guild of Master Sommeliers website. It has a massive database of study guides and review quizzes to help you study. Also join a study group of similarly determined wine enthusiasts.

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Some things get better with time: Treaty Oak Aged Rum

It sucks getting older. My knees hurt after every bike ride. One too many comes one too soon; and the mornings after are always less forgiving. What’s worse is that my dream of becoming an NBA star slips further and further into implausibility. Getting old only leads in one direction. It’s not like I’m crying about it, but I’m faced with daily cues of my slow decay and finite morality.

The other day I entered a place that reminded me that many things get better over time. I entered a place where aging is not only encouraged, but demanded. I entered a place where paradoxically silver ages to mellow amber. I entered the fragrant, warm and pragmatic Treaty Oak Distilling Co. where Chris Lamb, the lead distiller, gave me a ride in a time machine to see what is in store for those who look forward to maturity.

It all started a handful of years ago. In 2005 an entrepreneurially spirited Sommelier, Daniel Barnes, started experimenting with 200 recipes of rum. He established Graham Barnes Distilling (recently renamed Treaty Oak Distilling Co.) in Austin, Texas with a passion for drink, a copper pot still with a column, and a bent on refining his rum recipe to find the taste he was looking for. Treaty Oak Rum was introduced in in 2007.

Actually the inspiration started before that. Not far from the center of downtown Austin stands a majestic Live Oak. Treaty Oak is reportedly been alive for more than 500 years. Treaty Oak is the legendary meeting place where Stephen F. Austin met local Native Americans to negotiate the first boundary for Texas in the 1830s. Treaty Oak is the namesake for Treaty Oak Rum.

Actually it started before that. Not far from the border with Mexico in the Rio Grande Valley, the last sugar mill in Texas boils off sugar cane juice to make molasses as dark and sticky as tar. Molasses is older than my knees, it’s older than the United States with roots dating to the 1500s. Molasses made in Santa Rosa, TX is the main ingredient in Treaty Oak Rum.

Armed with Daniel’s time-tested recipe, Chris brews rum beer made of molasses and yeast in an initial fermentation that takes four days. He then distills the embryonic rum in a custom made pot and column still that has a unique distillation process that produces the equivalent of six to eight standard pot distillations per run. In the Treaty Oak still, the beer is boiled in the pot releasing vapors into the column where it cools and drips back down into the pot. It then begins the process all over again. The rum is then filtered twice for a smooth, round flavor.

Chris explained the process with the casual ease of Yoda. Despite his proficiency, he’s only been at this for a couple of years and he learned distilling on the job through trial and error. Oh and he has a story about a doozey of an error. Chris, can I tell them about the time you imploded the brand-new still?

As he talked, we dipped our fingers into the run-off from the still to test the alcohol to sugar balance in the flavor. Daniel and Chris have a very specific flavor profile they are striving for consistently in each batch. For the Treaty Oak Platinum they want rum that is not as sweet as some others. The molasses from Santa Rosa is bitter sweet to start and the double filtration cuts down the black strap molasses flavors and leaves behind the desired dark chocolate and vanilla flavors.

The Platinum Rum is delicious, but for those who are willing to wait, we will be treated to Treaty Oak Aged Rum, which is slated for a December 2011 release. The genesis of the Aged Rum is an experiment Daniel and Chris did with a one gallon barrel of platinum and aged it for 2 years. The aging brought out an amazing up-front sweetness that they knew they had to bring to market.

They decided to expand it to 60 gallon new American white oak barrels with a custom select char that results in soft buttery, vanilla blends in the production runs of the Aged Rum. They chose a heavy char on the barrels to get more natural filtration and tannins from a new barrel. Initially Treaty Oak Aged Rum will be produced in small batches aged for about 8 months; just enough aging to bring out fantastic qualities.

The guys at Treaty Oak have great recipes for the Platinum Rum. Not so for the Aged Rum. This rum should be enjoyed chilled, served in a snifter. Don’t mess with it. No ice, no juice. Just enjoy the flavor.

Treaty Oak Aged Rum

Is it worth the wait? Hell yeah. Let me tell you what it’s like. When it’s introduced, the Aged Rum will be 40 percent alcohol, but the pre-release batch I tasted was a heart-warming 49 percent alcohol.

Look Like looking into deep amber eyes caught in the sun, glistening, bright and sleek, yet deep. The eyes of an old soul looking back unblinking and unashamed of the sticky tears slowly rolling down.
Smell A vibrant smell of brown sugar, sweet corn and an invigorating rush of alcohol vapors straight up the nostril (remember, I tasted the high-test).
Taste The aged rum has lush flavors of chocolate, cinnamon and vanilla. Oh and mine had lots of kick. Chris encouraged me to add a dash of water to get it closer to the alcohol levels that will be released at production. That did the trick. It was smooth and sweet as a lasting kiss from a lover. A kiss I wanted to experience again. A kiss that could linger for a long time.
Price $25

Some things are worth the wait. Sometimes it’s preferable to get old. Will Treaty Oak Aged Rum reverse the degeneration of my knees? I doubt it, but I might forget about my dreams of the NBA after a couple glasses.

Treaty Oak Aged Rum will be available at bars, restaurants and retailers in Austin and surrounding areas starting in December 2011.

Treaty Oak provided a sample of the Aged Rum for this review. This article also appeared on Austin CultureMap.

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