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.|
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.|
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.|
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.