Escape F1 madness with a Hill Country getaway to the Texas Fall Fest & Wine Auction

The Horseshoe Bay Resort MarriottThis weekend the exotic Formula 1 racing cars will roar into Austin for the first time ever. Out of the crush of traffic and blare of the lights, another elegant event is happening in Central Texas. The 8th Annual Texas Fall Fest & Wine Auction brings together 18 wineries and 14 chefs from the Hill Country on Nov. 16 – 17 at the Horseshoe Bay Yacht Club.

Texas wine pioneer and co-owner of Fall Creek Vineyards, Susan Auler, helped start the Fall Fest as a way to focus attention exclusively on Hill Country food and wine.

“The beverage director of the Horseshoe Bay Resort Marriott asked me to create a festival to raise the profile of Texas wine,” Auler explains. “I was chosen because of my work to start and run the larger Texas Hill Country Wine and Food Festival in Austin (the precursor to the Austin Food & Wine Festival). We wanted a more intimate event that didn’t compete with the larger festival, and was easier for the winemakers to attend.”

Susan and Ed AulerNot only did the event help shine a spotlight on Texas wine, but it also played a role in putting the industry on the map. Literally. Auler says, “At the time we started the festival, we were working on gaining an official American Viticultural Area (AVA) designation for the Texas Hill Country wineries. One of criteria to establish an AVA was to have a region known as having a wine culture. Holding an event right in the heart of the Hill Country and focused the importance of Texas wine and food by bringing together some of the best wines, foods, chefs and restaurants in the Hill country did just that.”

Fall Fest has a decidedly different format and feel than its sister festival held in tents in a park in Austin. Spread over two days, Fall Fest has three main events taking place at the Horseshoe Bay and in the city of Marble Falls.

The casual Sunset Stroll Farm to Market Wine Fair will be held on Friday, Nov. 16, featuring wine and food tastings in a marketplace of Hill Country wineries and Central Texas restaurants. Nibbles from restaurants like Cabernet Grill, Café Josie, Jack Allen’s Kitchen, Navajo Grill, Quality Seafood Market, River City Grille and Siena Restaurant Toscana will be served with wine from local vineyards such as 4.0 Cellars, Cap-Rock Winery, Inwood Estates Vineyards, and many more. For the second year, specialty food and merchandise from 17 artisans will be available for purchase.

Chef Josh WatkinsFall Fest resumes on Saturday afternoon with the Formula 1: Texas Wine & Food Trail on Historic Main Street in Marble Falls with appetizers paired with a selection of Texas wines poured by a dozen winemakers. This event started as a nod to the trailer food craze with food served at five various shops in a three block stretch of Main Street. This year the stroll has been turned into a mobile F1 watch party, with the race being shown in the participating shops.

For those of us that want to sit down and enjoy an elegant meal, the event has a Wine Dinner and Auction with four-courses prepared by Chef Josh Watkins of the Carillon and Chef Gilbert Moore of the Horseshoe Bay Marriott on Saturday night. Between main course and dessert there will be a short and sweet live auction with several wine-themed lots.

“I’m excited for the dinner. We have a wonderful menu planned, and the auction is always fun. We hold the auction to raise money for CASA of the Highland Lakes area, which supports child foster care, and Texas wine and grape research,” says Auler.

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Tickets for the Texas Fall Fest are available for the full weekend for $110 or sold separately for each event. Sunset Stroll Farm to Market Wine Fair tickets are $40; Formula 1: Texas Wine & Food Trail down Old Main Street is $25; Reception, Dinner and Live Wine Auction and the Saturday afternoon trail package is $75.

This article was previously published on CultureMap.

Celebrating two years of What Are You Drinking?

I love any excuse to throw a party and the second anniversary of this blog was a good enough one to gather a group of friends at the Red Room Lounge. Dear friends, winemakers, distillers, wine shop owners, beverage PR people, sommeliers and wine drinkers shared a few laughs and many bottles of wine to celebrate the friendships fostered over a drink. Many of the people in the room I have met only because of this blog. Its fitting, because that’s one of the things I’ve enjoyed most about this blog – making new friends.

In the past two years I have written 153 articles about wine, beer, spirits and cocktails. The blog has changed a bit over time, and I keep trying to improve it based on your suggestions. The blog has led to other writing opportunities as a contributor to CultureMap, The Digital Texan, 12Most and now Austin Man magazine. Each article is another chance to talk to fascinating people in the beverage industry and another opportunity to taste something new. I love that.

Thanks to everyone that shares their time to tell their stories. Thanks to the PR people who help make the connections. And most importantly, thanks to you for staying with me, reading my stories, commenting and making suggestions. Cheers!

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Fall Creek Vineyards making wine in the right place at the right time

Suzan and Ed Auler

Sometimes things just feel right. As a wine drinker things feel just right when I am sharing wine with friends and telling stories over appropriately paired food. When is it just right for a wine maker?

To answer that question, I recently had lunch at the home of Texas wine pioneers, Ed and Susan Auler, the owners of Fall Creek Vineyards. The Aulers opened four of their newly released wines and shared stories about the right place to grow the grapes and make each of the wines.

Ed Auler started our lunch by introducing the 2011 Fall Creek Vineyards Chardonnay. “Some people say that Chardonnay doesn’t belong in Texas. We disagree. Grapes grown in the right vineyard, with the right treatment, have a significant place here.” Fall Creek makes its Chardonnay with grapes grown by Alphonse and Martha Dotson of Certenberg Vineyard in Voca, Texas. The grapes are cold fermented to let the fruit flavor shine through and aged in just a touch of oak and partial malolactic fermentation to round it out with a little creaminess without giving it an oaky flavor.

An important part of what makes a wine taste right is the food you serve with it. A moderately oaked Chardonnay like the Fall Creek goes really well with rich and slightly fatty food that brings out the bright acidity of the wine.

Try bacon-wrapped figs stuffed with goat cheese as a delicious nibble. The creaminess of the cheese loves the smooth body of the wine and brings out the green apple and pineapple flavors. The fig delights in the wine’s tropical flavors and the smokiness of the bacon resonates with the smooth vanilla finish.

Summer is a perfect time for a picnic on the lake. What better wine at a picnic than a chilled, off-dry (slightly sweet) white wine. Auler is excited by the new white blend, 2010 Fall Creek Vineyards Cache, Texas. “This is the reason I like being in the wine business. I like doing something that hasn’t been done. This is an out of the box white blend that is drier than Conundrum.”

Fall Creek has blended 90 percent Chardonnay, nine percent Muscat Canelli and one percent Sauvignon Blanc to make a wine that is versatile enough to be served at an elegant meal or a picnic. Auler described it as, “Fruit forward and finishes dry. It has a blend of Chardonnay and Muscat flavors on the front and crisp Sauvignon Blanc on the finish.”

Picnics are all about ease. Grab some carry-out spicy Indian, Thai or Mexican food from your favorite restaurant or grocery store to go with this fruity wine. The ever so sweet honeysuckle, honeydew, and peach flavors will dance on your tongue with the hot peppers. While it’s not bone dry, it has enough acidity to balance it out.

In only its second vintage, this is a limited production wine with 225 cases made. The 2010 Fall Creek Vineyards Cache, Texas is available only in the Fall Creek Vineyards tasting room, to wine club members and in select restaurants in Texas for $15 a bottle.Picnics are all about ease. Grab some carry-out spicy Indian, Thai or Mexican food from your favorite restaurant or grocery store to go with this fruity wine.

One picnic wine is never enough. Next on the agenda, Auler served the 2010 Fall Creek Vineyards Chenin Blanc, Texas. Chenin Blanc is famously produced in Vouvray in the Loire Valley or France and is known as a cold climate grape.

How does it fare in Texas? Auler explained, “We don’t match up exactly with any other wine region geographically. I’ve never felt a Mediterranean climate in Texas in all my years on Earth. The Chenin Blanc grape grows well in warm climates like South Africa, just as much as it does in cool climates. To me the proof in the pudding is in the eatin’. It loves growing in Texas. We think our Chenin Blanc tastes very similar to the off dry wines from Vouvray.”

Fall Creek first started making Chenin Blanc 1982 and hasn’t changed the way it’s made since. They use arrested fermentation to leave a little residual sugar for sweetness and gave it a kiss of oak for a smooth body. Whether you have an older vintage hiding in your closet that has gotten darker and more honeyed, or if you have a fresh new release, try it with a rich fish dish. Cold poached trout with dill has the oil and heft to bring out the best of the pear, peach skin, fig and honey flavors of the Chenin Blanc.

I’m headed to Spain this summer for a wine tasting tour disguised as a family vacation, so when Auler introduced the 2010 Fall Creek Vineyards Tempranillo, Salt Lick Cellars, Texas Hill Country, my wine senses started to tingle. “I’m pretty excited about this grape. Tempranillo loves Texas and we hope Texas learns to love Tempranillo.”

While the Aulers planted the first Tempranillo grapes in Texas in 1988, they lost the vines in a devastating freeze. The 2010 Tempranillo is the third vintage Fall Creek has made with grapes grown by Scott Roberts in the Salt Lick Vineyards in Driftwood, Texas.

In the Rioja region of Spain, Tempranillo wines are required to be aged for two years, with a minimum one year in oak. Similarly, Fall Creek ages its Tempranillo in a mix of 50 percent new and 50 percent old American oak barrels. Auler is insistent monitoring vineyard conditions to ensure the harvested fruit is not overly tannic, reducing the likelihood of making an overly astringent wine. The grapes are then cold soaked and the final wine is bottle aged to let the tannins dissipate. Auler adds just a touch of Cabernet to the Tempranillo to give the wine a little punch.

I took the rest of the bottle home with me after lunch and tasted it alongside a 2007 Tempranillo from Rioja, Spain that had been aged in French and American Oak for 18 months. I was curious to see the stylistic similarities and differences.

The dark garnet color and viscosity of the two wines looked very similar. The aroma of the Spanish wine was greener with scents of dill and basil. The smell of cherry was secondary to the herbs. The strawberry, stewed fruit, leather and chocolate scents were more pronounced in the Fall Creek. The Spanish wine had zippy acidity and tasted of ripe cherry, raspberry, tobacco and vanilla flavors. The Fall Creek had richer, rounder raspberry, dried cherry and chocolate flavors balanced with red licorice, smooth vanilla and caramel on the finish. This wine goes particularly well with chilled beef tenderloin.

While there are differences in the Spanish and Texas Tempranillos, they are definitely brothers; the cherry flavors and oak influences belie their shared genealogy. My wife tasted them blind and preferred the rounder, full-flavor of Fall Creek.

Like the Cache, the Tempranillo is also a small batch, with only 200 cases made of the 2010 vintage. It is available only in the Fall Creek Vineyards tasting room, to wine club members and in select restaurants in Texas.

Sometimes in winemaking, the time isn’t quite right. Fall Creek has a couple more new releases that aren’t quite ready yet. The Fall Creek Vineyards Rosé Lenoir will be ready in about six weeks — just in time for the heat of summer to send us crawling to our fridge in search of a cold bottle of rosé.

This year, Fall Creek will introduce its flagship MERITUS as a Port, rather than as a Bordeaux-style wine. Auler explained, “I’ve always been picky about MERITUS. I want it just like I want it or I don’t want it. This one wants to be a Port so I said, OK, you’re going to be a Port.” The MERITUS Port will be released within the next six months.

The Aulers believe they are producing wines with grapes grown in the right places and only releasing new wines at the right time. I’m happy to enjoy them just about any place and any time with the right friends and the right food.

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“Brontosaurus ribs” by local chef win the Greenling Fan Favorite award at Live Fire! meat-cooking competition

In Forrest Gump, Bubba rattles off over 20 different ways to prepare shrimp. It turns out that beef is pretty damn versatile too. On a beautiful April night at the rustic Salt Lick Pavilion, roughly 550 people gathered to grub on beef prepared in creative ways by 16 chefs at Live Fire.Iron and fire and Live Fire

In its second year, the celebration of Texas cuisine hosted by the Austin Food & Wine Alliance hit its stride with hot chefs, inventive dishes, delicious drinks and entertainment; The Elana James Trio had people dancing to western-swing in the pavilion while fire dancers mesmerized the crowd on the lawn — even the bugs lit up in the waning light of dusk.

Alliance executive director, Mariam Parker says, “It’s a really fun event that lets people sample the great flavors of Texas and a twist of the red-hot culinary scene.”

Live Fire started as part of the Texas Hill Country Wine & Food Festival and continues as a legacy event held on the eve of the new Austin Food & Wine Festival. This year, chefs were given  leeway to come up with their own recipes as long as they used beef as the main ingredient. After all, the Texas Beef Council was one of the primary sponsors.

While most of the participating chefs were from Austin, the event also drew chefs from culinary destinations like Portland and San Antonio, where commitment to local ingredients and innovative culinary trends is a shared passion.

The longest line at the event was unsurprisingly for Franklin Barbecue. People in Austin are accustomed to waiting for hours on end for a helping of the barbecue that Aaron Franklin serves at his East Side eatery.

Inspired by local cocktail scenester, David Alan, Franklin presented a sumptuous sandwich with chopped brisket and sausage, purple coleslaw and pickles spilling over a slider bun called the Tipsy Texan. Franklin explained why he participated in the event, “The people putting on Live Fire are so awesome. I can’t imagine not doing this event. It’s for a great cause.”

Not shying away from the exotic, Andrew Wiseheart of Contigo prepared cured beef heart with chicory salad. Why beef heart? Wiseheart quipped, “Because the lungs were already taken. That, and we wanted something unexpected that people would enjoy.”

I was instantly drawn to Beast for the name alone, but when I saw what chef Naomi Pomeroy created, I wanted to set up camp. A rare Texas waygu strip loin roast with wild ramp butter (ramps are in season in Oregon right now) was paired with bone marrow and caramelized tomato tarts. “Bone marrow is the foie gras of beef.”

Her sentiment was shared by meat aficionado and butcher blogger, Reece Lagunas of Whole Foods Market, who made barbacoa with bone marrow butter. “Barbacoa is a staple in Texas. What’s not to like about something that has twenty-five percent fat that cooks down. It’s bound to be good.” Sliced avocado slid over the top gave it extra silkiness.

In one of the most visually stunning displays, John Bullington of Alamo Drafthouse, roasted a 407 pound half cow over an open fire pit and served it with corn mescal pudding. The hulking beast cooked for 20 hours on a specially made rack before it was carved up and served to the crowd.

In his second year making the trip from Portland for Live Fire, Adam Sappington of The Country Cat, created grilled beef shanks tossed in roasted garlic and sherry vinegar with (again) bone marrow butter and Maker’s Mark sauce. “I love beef shank. We do all-around butchery at the restaurant, and I fell in love with the shank because it has a great gelatinous texture. It’s a hidden gem in the cow.”

Local tail-to-snout enthusiast, Ned Elliott of Foreign & Domestic, created a Reuben-like sandwich of beef tongue pastrami on rye with chicken liver mousse and Maker’s Mark onion jam. Maker’s Mark was a sponsor for a second year in a row, which explains why it shows up in multiple recipes.

Drawing on his Hawaiian and Californian roots, Jonathan Gelman of The Driskill served fire-grilled and smoked beef tri tip along with cast-iron cornbread puree. “Tri tip isn’t a very popular cut in Texas. I wanted to introduce it to a broader audience. It’s touchy to cook. If you over cook it, it gets tough. If you under cook it, it gets tough. I cooked this for 12 hours before the event and then finished it on the grill.”

Participants were able to choose their favorite dish in a text-vote. The winner of this year’s Greenling Fan Favorite was Josh Watkins of The Carillon. Watkins prepared two dishes, fried beef cheeks and beef ribs served with corn pudding and pickled vegetables. He braised the beef cheeks ahead of time and then fried them on-site to and served them with Brussels sprouts. The monstrous ribs, which Watkins called “brontosaurus ribs,” were smoked for 48 hours before the event.

There were plenty of good cocktails, local beer and fine wines to wash all of that cow down the gullet with 19 wine and spirit makers and four local craft breweries participating. Texas wine pioneers, Ed and Susan Auler, who were the original founders of the Texas Hill Country Wine & Food Festival, were on hand to pour Fall Creek Vineyards wines. Always affable up-and-coming craft brewer, Josh Hare, had cans of his Hops and Grain brews at the ready. The Pale Dog ale went particularly well with Franklin Barbeque. April Collins poured a selection from wines from her portfolio flanked by her hubby, Master Sommelier, Craig Collins.

Proceeds from Live Fire will let Austin Food & Wine Alliance support the local culinary community through a vibrant Culinary Grant Program for chefs, farmers, artisan producers and nonprofits. The Alliance, which is dedicated to fostering awareness and innovation in the Central Texas food and beverage community, plans to raise enough money with Live Fire to award two to four grants of $5,000 each.

“A grant of that size makes an impact to the beneficiary, allowing them to do things like buy equipment,” says Parker.

Awards will likely be announced around the time of the Alliance’s next big event, a pig roast, in the fall. I may be hungry again by then.

This story was first published on CultureMap.

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