The Birth Of A New Family Wine Label: Inception From Newsom Family Vineyards And Llano Estacado

The 2013 wine grape harvest in the Texas High Plains was so abysmal, it was enough to make a grown man cry. Even a tough Texan.

Newsom Family Vineyard Inception
Newsom Family Vineyard Inception

 

“2013 was a complete crop failure,” says High Plains grape grower, Neal Newsom. “We had a good winter and into spring. But then, five weeks after bud break we had a terrible hard freeze in May. That has never happened before. The vines were almost through bloom, and most were in full bloom. They were as tender as they could be at that time of year. It was so cold for most of the night, that we had a lot of permanent wood damage. We lost almost everything. Eighty percent of our Cabernet froze to the ground.”

Newsom, and his wife, Janice, have been growing grapes in the West Texas community of Plains on the New Mexico state line since 1986. Newsom Family Vineyards are situated on a high desert plateau at 3,700 feet in elevation and gets plenty of high-quality sunlight. The area has long, hot days and it cools down quickly at night during the growing season. The Newsom vineyards have seen its share of trying weather, but nothing like this.

The entire harvest from his 125 acre vineyards amounted to just a little over 800 pounds of grapes. That’s not even enough to fill a grape bin. In a normal year they average 2.5 to 3 tons of grapes per acre. That’s about 750,000 pounds of grapes annually. In other words, 800 pounds is pretty close to 0.

“It was a hopeless situation,” said Newsom. “We put it all in one bin to get an official weight for insurance purposes. We took it to Llano and thought they would make rosé or dump it into a blend.”

Perhaps out of sheer sympathy, Llano Estacado assistant winemakers, Jason Centanni, and Chris Hull, decided to make wine with that paltry parcel of grapes.

“I’ve never had these things until I moved to Texas,” says Greg Bruni, Llano Estacado’s VP of Winemaking. “In California, we’d have a frost event, but it just reduces the tonnage. When it happens here, it can wipe you out. The production of the vineyard was almost non-existent. It’s really emotional.”

Bruni discussed the possibility of making wine from the Newsom’s grapes with Llano Estacado president and C.E.O., Mark Hyman, who agreed it was a good idea to make the wine. While the 2013 vintage certainly wouldn’t make any money, the Llano execs realized that the Newsom family were eager to start their own wine label. This was a great way to put a toe in the water and get ready for a bigger vintage in 2014.

Newsom recounted, “A couple months after I dropped off the grapes, Greg called me and told me, ‘You’ve got to come taste this. You’re not going to believe this.’ He’s right. It has great tannin and bright acid. We didn’t pick the grapes until almost November, so they had lots of hang-time, which is what winemakers like.”

“It came out tasting great,” says Bruni.

In late January, Llano Estacado and Newsom Family Vineyards introduced their joint collaboration, Inception. In its first release, there was only 25 cases, or 300 bottles, of Inception made. This unique Texas blend, will only be available to select restaurants in Lubbock and to wine club members.

“This is the rise of the phoenix from the ashes,” says Newsom. “That really can happen. This is the inception of our family label, and how we’re getting started. Here we go.”

2013 Inception, Newsom Vineyards

The wine is made from a field blend of 59% Cabernet Sauvignon, 26% Sangiovese and 9% Tempranillo and the balance is Malbec. Brambly blackberry pie, ripe plum, black cherry, dust, and aged leather greet the nose. It smells like hard-fought victory. Sun-kissed black currant, baked blackberries, tobacco leaf, coffee and dark chocolate coat the palate in pleasingly medium bodied wine. It tastes like the comfort of a friend who has your back. It’s well-structured with just enough acidity to keep the fruit bright, just enough tannin to remind you it’s no push-over, and enough alcohol (12.2%) to give it a satisfying mouthfeel.

This wine is good enough to make even a tough Texan smile.

It’s priced around $28 to $34 and for sale only in restaurants in Lubbock, and maybe a few others around the state. The distinctive hand applied labels, and accompanying hand-tied leather strap holding a metal Newsom Vineyards brand is a nice touch.

If you are not fortunate enough to find one of the 300 bottles made, don’t fret. Newsom reports that the 2014 vintage Inception is looking really good. The blend of Tempranillo, Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah will be, “Friggin nice,” according to Newsom. The 2015 Inception red blend will be predominantly Tempranillo and Syrah with other red grape varieties. Ratios will change each year.

Both Newsom and Llano Estacado report that this is likely going to be a long term engagement with Llano making private label Inception for Newsom. That’s great news for Texas wine drinkers.

This story was originally published on Texas Wine & Trail Magazine.

Disclosure: I was provided a sample of this wine for review at no charge. 

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Armadillo’s Leap wine tasting room opens in Fredericksburg

Armadillos Leap Tasting Room
Armadillos Leap Tasting Room

 

There are dozens of wineries in the Texas Hill country, with many of them congregated along the 30 mile stretch between Johnson City and Fredericksburg on or near Highway 290. In a sign that the booming growth of the Texas wine industry isn’t slowing down, the folks behind Pedernales Cellars are opening a new tasting room for its second label, Armadillo’s Leap wines on Tuesday, December 8.

The Kuhlken-Osterberg family, who opened the Pedernales Cellars tasting room in Stonewall on December 8, 2008, are celebrating the winery’s seventh anniversary with the opening of Armadillo’s leap. The new tasting room is just a leap west from the current winery, located at 6258 Highway 290 in Fredericksburg. The quaint stone and log building used to be home to the Pink Pig restaurant and is well-situated in the high-traffic winery crawl.

The wines, made by Pedernales winemaker, David Kuhlken, are more value oriented than the Pedernales line-up with price from $14.99 to $29.99 per bottle. The accessible, playful wines include a Sparkling Moscato, a Viognier-Roussanne blend, a red blend, a Viognier, and a Muscat. They are offered as part of a six-wine tasting menu for $10 a person.

“We’re delighted to be opening this new tasting room directly on the 290 Wine Trail,” said Julie Kuhlken, co-owner of Armadillo’s Leap. “We’ve enjoyed launching Armadillo’s Leap and creating this brand of wines, and we felt the time was right to give them a higher profile with their own tasting room. We look forward to more people discovering how fun they are, starting with a label that pays homage, albeit tongue-in-cheek, to a truly Texas animal.”

The tasting room will be open 11-6 every day, except for major holidays.

This story was originally published on Texas Wine and Trail Magazine.

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Texas Hill Country lands major event with 2016 Wine Tourism Conference

Perissos Vineyard

Here is a shot in the arm that is sorely needed for the Texas wine industry. The organizers of the 2016 Wine Tourism Conference selected Fredericksburg and the Texas Hill Country as the hosts for next year’s shindig. This is just the second time that the conference will be held outside the West Coast and the first time it will be held in the southern U.S.

I recently wrote about the need for a more concerted effort in Texas wine tourism in my article, “I’m Embarrassed to be Texan,” and this is a great step in the right direction.

The 2016 Wine Tourism Conference will take place November 8-10, 2016 in Fredericksburg, TX, with seminars, discussions, and business information about growing and improving wine tourism.

Wine Tourism Conference Director, Allan Wright, said, “The Wine Tourism Conference will bring wine tourism industry leaders from throughout the country and world to Texas. This is not only a great opportunity for Texans to meet and learn from top wine tourism experts but also a showcase for the booming wine tourism industry in the state.”

The Texas Hill Country Wineries‘ successful bid to land the conference was in no-doubt aided by the regions recent national recognition and its growing reputation for both quality wine and as an excellent tourism destination.  The Texas Hill Country wine industry was named one of the “ten best wine travel destinations in the world for 2014” by Wine Enthusiast and one of the “10 Best Wine Destinations” by USA Today.

Fredericksburg is home to more than 30 wineries and tasting rooms, making it a major concentration of the more than 350 wineries in Texas. Its located smack in the Texas Hill Country American Viticultural Area (AVA), which is the third largest AVA in the nation.

“Texas Hill Country Wineries is thrilled to host the 2016 Wine Tourism Conference in the heart of Texas Wine Country,” says January Wiese, executive director of the Texas Hill Country Wineries. “We are ready to welcome our colleagues from all over the world and have planned a number of excellent events to really share what the thriving Texas wine industry has to offer.”

The conference will be organized by Zephyr Adventures, with sponsorship coming from the Texas Hill Country Wineries Association, the Fredericksburg Convention and Visitor Bureau, and the GOTEXAN program of the Texas Department of Agriculture.

Time to get organized to show the world just how great Texas wine really is. To really make hay with this, the Texas wine industry would be well served to seek broader public and private funding for longer-term wine tourism and marketing programs. It would be a shame for this event to come and go with out long-lasting plans to make the most of the effort.

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The reinvention of Texas’ oldest winery: Llano Estacado

The first winery in Texas since Prohibition is in the midst of a revival. Founded in 1976 in Lubbock by Texas Tech professors Clinton “Doc” McPherson and Bob Reed, Llano Estacado has built a strong following and has become one of the state’s largest wineries – it’s number two in sales behind Ste. Genevieve.

The new Llano Estacado Tasting Room
The new Llano Estacado Tasting Room

 

Under the direction of president and CEO, Mark Hyman, Texas’ oldest winery has grown from producing 3,800 cases when he started in 1994 to more than 165,000 cases today. Much of that growth has been through the sales of inexpensive wines that elbow for space in the grocery store with the likes of Barefoot Wine and Cupcake Wines. Llano Estacado intends to keep a strong hold on its sales in grocery stores with the “Harvest” line of wines developed specifically for H.E.B., the largest wine retailer in the state.

Llano Estacado CEO Mark Hyman
Llano Estacado CEO Mark Hyman

 

Hyman is proud of the winery’s growth, but he’s not satisfied with only being known only for grocery store wine. Along with executive winemaker, Greg Bruni, Hyman is engineering a massive makeover with a substantial facelift of the winery, a revamp of the wine portfolio, and a change in where the wines are sold.

Llano Estacado Exec Winemaker Greg Bruni
Llano Estacado Exec Winemaker Greg Bruni

 

“It is time to recreate ourselves, both physically with our facilities and with our portfolio. We just completed our fifth expansion since 2000. The first three expansions were all production oriented. Now we’ve created the ambiance to go along with our production. We have a new modern tasting room, events center, conference room and outdoor patio overlooking our new estate vineyard.”

With the recent promotion of Bruni to executive winemaker, and Jason Centanni to winemaker, Llano Estacado is breathing new life into its wines. The winery has introduced innovative winemaking techniques, added new varieties, and has greatly expanded its lineup of wines with an increased emphasis on fine wines.

Llano Estacado Wines
Llano Estacado Wines

 

Llano Estacado is eager to shed its reputation for making only cheap wines by introducing new families of fine wines such as 1836, Mont Sec and T.H.P. in addition to its Viviano in a fine wine portfolio. The winery makes more than 163,000 cases of its Llano Estacado brand and only 2,000 cases of its fine wines. Hyman is bullish about the changes.

Llano Estacado THP
Llano Estacado THP

 

“Everybody knows our Llano Estacado brand. We sometimes have the connotation that we are just inexpensive, sweet wines. We’re not. We have a beautiful, emerging wine club portfolio that is growing by leaps and bounds. We’re making a lot of newer styles that we weren’t doing 5 years ago even. We want to make wines that are different from the wines you will find in the grocery stores. Wines that are special.”

It hopes to further change its image with a leap from the Randall’s aisles to the sommelier’s list. Landing on the table of fine restaurants like Lonesome DoveMonument Café and The Scarlett Rabbit in Austin; Stampede 66, Y.O. Ranch, Gilleys, and Gaylord Texan in Dallas; La Perla Negra and Lonesome Dove in Fort Worth; Good Dog, Coppa Osteria, Texas Borders, The Empty Glass, The Cellar Door, Bob’s Steak & Chop, and South Shore Harbour in Houston, is part of its reinvention.

Llano Estacado went so far to get a spot on the Stephan Pyles’ restaurants wine lists that it made a completely new line of wines, called T.H.P., explicitly for Stampeded 66 in Dallas. It is a lighter Bordeaux style wine intended to invite a second glass, or even a second bottle.

The multi-pronged approach to grocery store sales, boutique wines and special wines for restaurants is Bruni’s way of taking on the big wine companies outside of Texas.

“We’re the big guy in the Texas wine industry, but we compete against the international giants. In that way, we are an ant. There are wineries out there that are either boutique or big. We’re trying to pave a new path and do it all.”

It takes a lot of grapes to make all of that wine. Most of the by Llano Estacado wines are produced using Texas-grown grapes from the High Plains – where the majority of wine grapes are grown in the state. The grapes for Llano Estacado are sourced from long-time vineyard partners in such as Newsome Vineyards and Reddy Vineyards.

Vijay Reddy and his wife Subata farm 30 varieties of grapes on the 310 acre Reddy Vineyard, just outside Brownfield, Texas.  Neal Newsom and his wife Janice farm 92 acres which produce nearly 400 tons of 12 varieties of grapes a year on Newsom Vineyards outside of Plains, Texas, which is just 15 miles from the New Mexico border. Both vineyards are at relatively high elevations of 3,500 to 3,900 feet, which supports ideal growing climates with hot days and cool nights.

Winemakers Bruni and Centanni regularly kick the dirt in the vineyards with Reddy and Newsom frequently.

Centanni says, “We visit the vineyards several times in the season. We know when the grapes should be ripening and check the chemistry and condition of the grapes to determine whether to drop crops. We come out in the spring and then heavily in July through harvest. We take samples back to the lab to test the grapes’ flavor and maturity.”

The vineyards and the winery enjoy a tight working relationship. The long-term commitment to shared success has led to a unique working relationship.

As Newsom explains it, “Most of our contracts with wineries are for five years: except Llano. It’s evergreen. We don’t have to worry about it.”

Bruni added, “Contracts are for when you can’t get along. They are the referee. We essentially have a verbal contract. We trust each other to do the work we need to do.”

Centanni, Reddy, Bruni and Newsom
Centanni, Reddy, Bruni and Newsom

 

Wines to Try

  • 2014 Viognier Mont Sec Vineyards: made with Viognier grapes planted in the 1990s in the Chihuahuan Desert south east of El Paso at 4,080 ft in elevation, this wine has a broad texture, with bright lemon and fleshy peach flavors. It pairs well with chicken fajitas or pan-seared scallops.
  • 2013 Montepulciano: a dead ringer for an Italian wine made with a blend of Montepulciano, Aglianico and Barbera. This is a standout wine that will change how you think about Texas wines. Crisp cranberry, juicy cherry and tobacco leaf flavors are delicious with pasta and arrabbiata sauce.
  • 2013 Mont Sec Viviano Cabernet Sauvignon: a “Super Tuscan” style wine that blends Cabernet Sauvignon and Sangiovese grapes grown in Texas High Plains. It’s bold and rustic with loads of blackberry flavors and goes great with grilled steak or pizza.

A version of this article was originally published on CultureMap.

Disclosure: Llano Estacado provided transportation to Lubbock and wine tastings at no charge. 

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Texas Winemakers Hold “The Sip” to Announce Stellar 2015 Harvest

The best wine growing regions of the world such as Burgundy, Bordeaux, Piedmont and Napa Valley have significantly cooler climates than Texas. Conventional wisdom says that it’s just too dang hot in Texas to grow grapes for world class wines. Not so, say a group of prominent Texas winemakers. The searing heat in Texas is actually a perfect climate for growing vinifera grape vines.

Representatives from Stone House Cellars, Fall Creek Vineyards, Spicewood Vineyards and Inwood Estates host The Sip
Representatives from Stone House Cellars, Fall Creek Vineyards, Spicewood Vineyards and Inwood Estates host The Sip

 

Winery owners and winemakers from Fall Creek Vineyards, Inwood Estates, Spicewood Vineyards and Stone House Vineyards celebrated Texas Wine Month by sharing the results of their respective 2015 harvest at a tasting event dubbed, The Sip, Season Two (Season One, was held last year). The winery representatives confidently proclaimed 2015 to be a great growing season in a state with an ever improving wine industry.

The evening started with Ron Yates, owner of Spicewood Vineyards, taking a group of sommeliers and journalists to visit the Spicewood Estate Vineyard where 25 year old Sauvignon Blanc vines grow. Yates explained his vineyard management practices focus on producing low yields. It might seem counter-intuitive to get fewer grapes per acre when you are making wine, but the grapes that remain get all of the nutrients and energy of the vine. The resulting wine is so much better. To underline that point, Yates poured a tank sample of the newly made 2015 Spicewood Vineyards Sauvignon Blanc, which even in its infancy shows great promise.

The Sip Season 2
Ron Yates discusses the Spicewood Vineyards harvest among the vines

 

“It’s astonishing to see the changes in the Texas wine industry in the past several years,” says Yates. “The home-grown talent, the talent that is returning to Texas and the new-comer talent is impressive. The state has plenty of winemakers with the knowledge and know-how to make excellent wine. Now we are working on improving the grape growing in the state.”

Fall Creek Vineyards winemaker, Sergio Cuadra, and Inwood Estates Vineyards owner and winemaker, Dan Gatlin, echoed Yate’s sentiments that crops with lower yield is a key to success. Stringent vineyard management practices with vigorous canopy management, new trellising techniques, better irrigation practices and putting the right grapes in the right places have all led to vastly improved crop quality in recent years.

“We’ve made mistakes in our grape growing in the past in Texas,” says Gatlin. “Growing grapes the right way is within human control. We know how to manage the variables of climate and land. But a cotton farmer in the High Planes can’t just switch to grape growing using the same farming techniques and expect to have a great grape crop. We don’t need vineyards that produce 20 tons an acre. We need them to produce two to four tons of grapes per acre.”

Anyone who has met Gatlin knows that he isn’t shy about expressing his views. He got down-right testy when discussing what he considers misconceptions of better growing conditions spread by winemakers in California and France. He asserts that it’s just not true that you have to have a cool climate to grow great Cabernet Sauvignon.

“The myth of climate persists,” says Gatlin. “We still have Cabernet in the field in Texas. Mouton has already picked its grapes in Bordeaux. We’ve let our grapes hang as late as October.”

Fire gave way to data. Professor Gatlin broke out a whiteboard to draw a graph of the importance of the development of polyphenols and tannins in grape maturation. He blinded me with science. He contends that as a grape develops there is a cross-over point when tannins decrease and phenols increase. It’s just past the point when there are more phenols in the grape than tannins when the grapes are ready for harvest.

The Sip Season 2 tasting of 13 Texas wines
The Sip Season 2 tasting of 13 Texas wines

 

“The most important element in winemaking is having the right levels of polyphenols,” says Gatlin. “It is the right stuff in your wine. The mistake some winemakers make in Texas is to pick when sugar levels are there, but before the tannins and phenols have developed. Picking at the right time and having smaller the crop loads lead to exponential growth in phenolics.”

Beyond improved Viticultural techniques, the winemakers agree that the growing conditions in Texas this season were ideal for a strong 2015 vintage. Our 7 year drought came to an end and Lake Travis and Lake Buchanan lakes rebounded from historic low water levels. In fact the rainy spring, including the wettest May month on record, sounded an alarm for a challenging year, but the tapering of rain in June and dusty dry July and August made for an idyllic grape growing climate.

Grapevines need rain early in the season to expand their shoots and develop the grape clusters. After that, during veraison, the period when the grapes start to ripen, vines stop growing and divert photosynthesis production to the grapes. At this stage it’s preferable to have drier conditions for better ripening, which is exactly what we had.

The college lesson continued with Professor Cuadra dropping knowledge among the barrels in the Spicewood cellar. With the intoxicating and fully awake smell of new-born wine freshly fermenting in open vats setting the mood, he showed charts comparing the temperature progression in Iran with central Texas. It turns out we have the exact same heat profile as the Middle East. Why is that important? Because that’s where it is widely believed vinifera grapevines originated. If vines can flourish there, they can certainly flourish here.

Susan Auler and Sergio Cuadra of Fall Creek Vineyards
Susan Auler and Sergio Cuadra of Fall Creek Vineyards

 

Anyone who has tasted the delicious wines from Chateau Musar in Lebanon knows that it’s completely possible to make excellent wines in the Middle East.

Cuadra explained that the grapevines in Texas are well adjusted to our heat. They don’t suffer the same type of damage as vines in cooler regions when the heat spikes. We don’t see the same type of sunburn.

In addition, while we have higher overall temperatures than many wine regions, when evaluating what’s called “Growing Degree Days”, or the summation of daily average temperatures minus 50ºF for a period of 7 months, Texas Hill Country grape growers harvested at an equivalent heat accumulation index as compared to other cooler regions. More important than the growing season length is the actual number of Degree Days accumulated.

Tasting in the Spicewood Vineyards cellar
Tasting in the Spicewood Vineyards cellar

 

Texas grapevines also have an advantage of prolonged warm weather beyond harvest. After grapes are picked, our vines don’t go dormant as they do in colder regions. Instead, the roots of the vines in Texas continue to grow deeper where they can access water even in arid summers.

With the improved understanding of viticulture best suited for the Texas climate, improved wine making techniques and a fantastic harvest, the winemakers from Fall Creek Vineyards, Inwood Estates, Spicewood Vineyards and Stone House Vineyards agree that the 2015 vintage could be one of the best on record for Texas wines. What a fantastic thing to hear as we celebrate Texas Wine Month.

This story was originally published on October 12, 2015 in the Texas Wine News section of Texas Wine & Trail Magazine.

Barrel tasting among the barrels
Barrel tasting among the barrels

 

Disclosure: the author’s marketing communications agency, Pen & Tell Us, was hired to organize and promote “The Sip, Season 2.”

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I’m Embarrassed to be Texan

I actively support the Texas wine industry as a consumer, in my marketing communications business and as a wine writer. We have fantastic wineries making delicious wine in Texas. However after visiting the Finger Lakes wine region in upstate New York for the 8th Annual Wine Bloggers Conference, I’m embarrassed to be a Texan.

I said it. I’m embarrassed to be a Texan.

Why? The Texas wine industry can’t hold a candle to New York.

Rainbow over Lake Seneca in the Finger Lakes wine region
Rainbow over Lake Seneca in the Finger Lakes wine region

 

Sure, Texas has excellent wines that win national and international awards. I’m confident Texas wines could go toe-to-toe with those from the Finger Lakes. It’s not about the quality of the wine.

Its all about the cohesion

It is about the cohesiveness of the industry. The Finger Lakes wine region has its stuff together. It’s more than a geographic region marked by 11 long, deep lakes gouged out of the earth by glaciers 10,000 years ago. It’s more than just an American Viticultural Area (AVA). It’s more than wine trails connecting the 129 wineries that grow cool climate vinifera grapes like Riesling and Cabernet Franc in Finger Lakes AVA (there are 428 wineries statewide). It is a tight knit community of wineries, farms, restaurants, tourism boards, chambers of commerce and businesses all with a shared mission of promoting the beautiful region as a top-notch wine and tourism destination. The biggest driver of this unity is the largest tourism board east of the Mississippi, the Finger Lakes Wine Country.

It’s working. The Finger Lakes wine region has been recognized as a “Top 10 Worldwide Wine Destination,” by Wine Enthusiast and a “Top Wine Destination in the U.S.,” by TripAdvisor.com. It also landed the challenge to host the 2015 Wine Bloggers Conference, a coveted marketing opportunity for any wine region looking to wine and dine around 270 wine writers. The folks of the Finger Lakes certainly made the most of that opportunity. They rolled out the red carpet for the bloggers.

A wine tourism board that works

The Finger Lakes Wine Country, founded in 2000, has a lot to do with that success. The group began conversations to bring the Wine Bloggers Conference to the Finger Lakes in 2011. That lobbying and the great press the region has enjoyed helped it win the RFP process to host the conference.

“It is a pretty big undertaking,” says Laury Ellen Poland, president of the Finger Lakes Wine Country Tourism Marketing Association. “There aren’t a whole lot of wine regions that have the infrastructure to support this kind of undertaking. It took all of our energy for more than a year.”

This whole concept of having a wine tourism board came about when Corning Enterprise, the economic development arm of Corning, commissioned a research study to determine the best ways to attract quality engineers and scientists to rural Upstate New York. The research firm determined the big draw is wine. Duh! I could have told them that.

Since then, four counties have signed on to support the Finger Lakes Wine Country by providing a portion of hotel room tax revenue. Private companies chip in too and Corning matches the public dollars. The group collaborates with organizations like Finger Lakes Wine Alliance and the New York wine and Grape Association for broader reach.

The Finger Lakes wine region screams community

Beyond the tourism board, everything about the Finger Lakes wine region screams community. Our first taste of this community during the conference was a tasty welcome dinner with dozens of restaurants and wineries hosted in a park in the middle of picturesque Corning, NY. That incredible level of hospitality was on also display with lovely receptions at the Rockwell Museum of Art and the Corning Museum of Glass.

Community was front and center in an excellent educational session put on by fruit crop physiologist Alan Lakso, a professor emeritus from Cornell University, who has researched grapes for 45 years, along with Fred Merwarth, owner, winemaker and vineyard manager of Hermann J. Wiemer Vineyard and Master Sommelier, chef and winemaker Christopher Bates. These guys shared deep insight into the history, geology, climate, grapes and winemaking techniques. It was clear that academia, viticulture, winemaking, wine sales and culinary arts are inextricably linked in the Finger Lakes. How else could the region produce quality wines from an area with extreme weather, crazy variations in soil and short growing seasons?

Merwarth of Hermann J. Wiemer Vineyard described the growing conditions saying, “Cold winters are a defining character. It can vary from minus 6 to minus 13 degrees Fahrenheit at the same time in the same winery. That kind of deep cold impacts vine health for up to 2 years. We don’t think of it as just a growing season. It’s a 12 month cycle.”

Master Sommelier, Bates, noted that the big challenge for the region is that it sells all of its wine to the millions of tourists that visit the areas each summer and the masses in New York City, a stone’s throw across the state. “If we’re not thinking about the future and real growth, people can be happy selling all the wine here. But we want our wine on a national stage. We need to get people excited about wine outside of New York. We have no interest in comparing our Riesling to the Riesling from Rheingau, Germany or our Cabernet Franc to what’s made in Loire, France. We make good Finger Lakes wine.”

Paul Scotto at sunset
Paul Scotto at sunset

 

Where the cohesiveness of the Finger Lakes wine community really shined was in the wineries visits that they arranged for the bloggers. These were incredibly well orchestrated to show off the interrelationships between the wineries, the interconnectivity between farmers, chefs, winemakers and the land itself. Each excursion along wine trails featured multiple wineries gathered in one location. We tasted fantastic wines from places like Glenora Wine Cellars, Zugibe Vineyards, Knapp Winery, Dr. Frank’s Wine Cellars, Fox Run Vineyards, Goose Watch Cellars, Wagner Vineyards Estate Winery and more. Can you imagine a Napa winery hosting other wineries on its property for group tastings? Would that happen in Bordeaux, Rioja, Mendoza, Barossa Valley or the Mosel? Well it happens in the Finger Lakes.

I’m not saying these people are nicer than Texans, but they sure can give us a run for our money.

What a treat to have a vegetable farmer, grain farmer, beef farmer, cheese maker, chef and winemaker describe what they grew, made and why they are great together. I was blown away by the camaraderie they shared not only with each other, but with those of us who were there eager to learn about it. Hospitality.

Texas isn’t ready

Texas, I don’t think you could pull off hosting the Wine Bloggers Conference. Yet. I don’t think you are ready. Texas has some great cities. It has some great wineries. It has some great wine trails. It has hospitality in spades. But, the Texas wine industry lacks the cohesion to really make it on the world stage. Maybe the state is just too dang big. After all, it is bigger than France. But, it is lacking a serious organizing body to unify the wine industry.

It can be done. It requires that a significant number of winery owners get on board. That’s tough. Established wineries may not feel the time and monetary investment is needed to advance their own business. That’s true in New York too, but they’ve gotten enough wineries on board to make it happen. It takes funding and that is definitely a challenge. The New York model of funding a concerted marketing campaign to promote economic development and regional tourism with a blend of private and public sector money may not work in exactly the same way in Texas. We may need state dollars to pull together our huge region.

Lake Seneca
Lake Seneca

 

It is worth the investment. The full economic impact of New York grapes, grape juice, and wine in 2012 was $4.8 billion in state and local taxes for New York State, according to a study conducted by Stonebridge Research Group for the New York Wine & Grape Foundation. This compares with a full economic impact of wine and wine grapes of $1.83 billion on the Texas economy in 2011 according to a study by Frank, Rimerman + Co. LLP commissioned by the Texas Wine and Grape Growers Association.

The words of Christopher Bates are ringing in my ears, “If we’re not thinking about the future and real growth, people can be happy selling all the wine here.” Does that sound familiar Texas? The 2016 Wine Bloggers Conference already has a home in Lodi, CA. What do you think Texas? Can we be ready to host in 2017? I know we can.

Related stories from the 2015 Wine Bloggers Conference:

Disclosure: I was provided with the Rodney Strong Scholarship which covered the costs of my participation in the 2015 Wine Bloggers Conference where this interview took place.

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Pedernales Cellars introduces Texas Viognier Reserve 2014

Texas Viognier Reserve 2014

Pedernales Cellars just introduced its Texas Viognier Reserve 2014, a lovely white wine made from grapes grown near Lubbock, Texas. This is the third year that Pedernales has made this wine and it has big shoes to fill to meet the expectations set by its older sibling. Huge shoes.

“The 2012 Reserve Viognier put us on the map,” says Fredrik Osterberg, co-founder and president of Pedernales Cellars.

It put Pedernales on the map by winning big at a prestigious international wine competition. The Texas Viognier Reserve 2012 scored a Grand Gold at the 2013 Lyon International Wine Competition, beating the French on its home turf. Will the 2014 vintage be as good?

What is it?

Viognier (pronounced VEE-ohn-yay) is best known for famed wines made in the appellations of Condrieu and Château Grillet in the Northern Rhône valley of France, and it’s widely grown in the United States —particularly in California and Texas. It makes wines with huge perfumey floral aromas of honeysuckle and violets, with a viscous body laden with ripe peaches and apricots.

Where is it grown?

Pedernales Cellars didn’t make this wine in 2013 because of spring freezes in the High Planes. Spring freezes hit again 2014, and some blocks like the Reddy Vineyard Viognier, which was used in the 2012 vintage, were completely iced. Fruit from theBingham Vineyards of the Texas High Plains made it through the nasty weather and into the bottles of the Viognier Reserve 2014.

How is it made?

Winemaker, David Kuhlken, made 960 cases starting by pressing the grapes near the vineyard to limit skin contact. Most of the fermentation took place in stainless steel, while some of it finished fermentation in new French Allier barrels. That portion was aged in barrel four months and blended with the rest of the Viognier which was aged in stainless to add complexity and to the fresh fruit flavors.

What does it taste like?

This new release is just beginning to open, but could use another month or so to fully come alive. It has a rich floral and citrus scent with honey, and bright white peach, grapefruit, lemon zest, vanilla, caramel and toast flavors coming alive on the palate.

This wine could almost be mistaken for a Northern Rhone. In fact, the Pedernales staff held a tasting with nine Viogniers from around the world, including one from France. The French wine was a bit more restrained that the Pedernales, but the two had similar pithy bitterness and fragrance. Wines from California had more prominent violet scents and milder flavors in general.

This very well could be as good as the 2012 vintage.

Despite the age difference, it is clear that the 2014 and 2012 share the same heritage. The Texas Viognier Reserve 2012 now with a little age has honeysuckle, over ripe peach, stewed pear, apricot, butterscotch and baked lemon flavors. It’s flat out delicious.

What goes well with it?

With its lush body, floral aromatics and bold fruit Viognier is well matched with complimentary flavors like sweet and fruity, as well as contrasting foods like spicy and creamy. Try it with dried fruit, like apricots and creamy, pungent cheese like Camembert. Thai food, curries, spicy chicken dishes and wings all go great with the aromatics of Viognier. For desert, pair with with tart and sweet yummies like lemon macarons or candied lemons.

Where to buy it?

The Pedernales Cellars Texas Viognier Reserve 2014 is available at the winery and at t select stores, in Austin, Dallas, Houston, and San Antonio, as well as select locations in West Texas and the Hill Country for ($40). Drink this wine now with the late evening summer sun warming your neck. Better yet, buy a bunch of bottles so you can save some for next summer and a couple for summer 2017.

Fredrik Osterberg and Julie Kuhlken
Fredrik Osterberg and Julie Kuhlken

PEDERNALES CELLARS

2916 Upper Albert Road
Stonewall, TX 78671
Tasting Room: 830-644-2037
Website www.pedernalescellars.com

This story was originally written for and published by Texas Wine & Trail Magazine.

Sample disclaimer: Pedernales Cellars provided a comparative tasting of the 2012 and 2014 Texas Reserve Viognier at no charge. 

What are you drinking? 

The Right Wines for Summer Grilling

Flowers Vineyard & Winery Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir 2013
Flowers Vineyard & Winery Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir 2013

Summer grilling season is in full swing, which is a perfect opportunity for us to try different food and wine pairings. Wine as a whole goes better with food than any other beverage and with so many varieties to choose from, there are numerous pairing options with grilled food. The naturally occurring sugar, acidity and alcohol in wine to complement almost anything cooked with flames.

The general principles for selecting a wine for summer grilling is the same for any wine and food pairing. The goal of the pairing is that both the food and the wine taste better when properly harmonized. Start by matching the weight of food with weight of wine. The delicate flavors of vegetables, seafood and chicken are lovely with lighter wines. Fattier and denser varieties of fish, like salmon and swordfish, pair well with a medium-bodied wines like Merlot. The flavors in most types of hefty meat, like burgers, steaks, lamb and barbeque are enhanced by intense, full-bodied red wines.

The good news is that we have a long summer in Texas that gives us plenty of time to try numerous wine and grilled food pairings.

YOUR GUIDE TO WINE AND GRILLED FOOD PAIRINGS

Grilled Veggies

Summer is the perfect time for grilling a bounty of seasonal vegetables like asparagus, mushrooms, zucchini, summer squash, eggplant and corn. Whether veggies are your main course or a side dish, picking the right wine can turn it into the star of the show.

A wide variety of vegetables allows for a wide selection of wine pairing options.

Lighter style and green grilled vegetable call for white wines like unoaked Chardonnay, Chablis, dry Riesling, Grüner Veltliner, Sauvignon Blanc and dry rosé. The fire-roasted char and caramelization of grilled vegetables beg for fuller-bodied whites, dry rosé and even lighter reds, particularly those with mild tannins. For the other dark vegetables like squash, Portobello mushrooms or eggplant, reach for light style reds like Pinot Noir and Barbera.

Rosé to try: Commanderie de Peyrassol Côtes de Provence 2014, France ($20). A classic rosé with a delicate lilac, strawberry, lemon zest nose and fresh biscuit, strawberries and crisp lemon flavors and good minerality.

Chardonnay to try: Cambria Estate Winery Katherine’s Vineyard Chardonnay Santa Maria Valley 2013, California ($22). The dynamic fruit flavors of lime, cantaloupe, and pineapple make this wine an excellent accompaniment with eggplant or grilled zucchini.

Cambria Estate Winery Katherine’s Vineyard Chardonnay Santa Maria Valley 2013
Cambria Estate Winery Katherine’s Vineyard Chardonnay Santa Maria Valley 2013

Grilled Fish  

Selecting the right wine to pair well with grilled seafood is probably easier than grilling the fish itself. A range of wines with high acid are great with grilled seafood. Think of the kind of wines that make you pucker a little bit like lemony Pinot Gris, briny Albariño, vibrant Sauvignon Blanc, ripe fruit Chardonnay, or minerally dry rosé. These types of wines go well with any type of seafood that you normally squeeze a little lemon onto.

Don’t shy away from a fruity red wine with a smoky oily fish.  Meatier or fatty fish like swordfish and salmon love Pinot Noir from the Willamette Valley of Oregon.

Pinot Gris to try: Kendall-Jackson Vintner’s Reserve Pinot Gris 2014, California ($15). Made with a blend of grapes grown in the cool climate of Monterey, including Roussane, Viognier, Grüner Veltliner and Albariño, this wine has a lively blend of citrus and mineral flavors. Its tropical fruit, melon and peach flavors love sea bass.

Kendall-Jackson Vintner’s Reserve Pinot Gris 2014
Kendall-Jackson Vintner’s Reserve Pinot Gris 2014

 

Albariño to try: Wedding Oak Winery Albariño 2013, Texas/California fruit ($23). This fresh, dry and versatile Albariño has distinctive aromas of peach and apricot along with bracing sea spray, lemon and mango flavors. The unoaked wine pairs with incredibly well with shellfish.

Wedding Oak Winery Albariño 2013
Wedding Oak Winery Albariño 2013

Sauvignon Blanc to try: Matanzas Creek Winery Helena Bench Sauvignon Blanc 2013, California ($40). This Knights Valley wine has floral and minty aromas and bouncy flavors of white peach, nectarine, grapefruit and lemon zest. It’s an excellent match with Gulf black drum.

Matanzas Creek Sauvignon Blanc
Matanzas Creek Sauvignon Blanc

Pinot Noir to try: Vineyard 29 Cru Willamette Valley Pinot Noir 2013, Oregon ($54). This Old World style Pinot has delicate floral fragrance and spicy earthiness with lush flavors of wild strawberry, cherry, dark plum, nutmeg and vanilla. The velvety texture and smooth tannins make it a classic pairing with salmon.

Vineyard 29 Cru Willamette Valley Pinot Noir 2013
Vineyard 29 Cru Willamette Valley Pinot Noir 2013

Grilled Chicken

Grilled chicken always makes me think of carefree days and picnics by the lake. The hot coals bring out the best in this bird. The sweet caramelization and bitter char from the grill make it an excellent partner with buoyant white wines. Citrusy Sauvignon Blanc, aromatic peachy Viognier and tart, tropical Chardonnay are all excellent choices to pair with grilled chicken.

Sauvignon Blanc to try: Vineyard 29 Cru Napa Valley Sauvignon Blanc 2013, California ($54). This limited production wine aged in a combination of French oak, concrete and stainless steel is an absolute delight. True to the Sauvignon Blanc style, it has zingy citrus flavors of lemon and green apple and layers in luscious toffee and butterscotch. The bright acidity is excellent with chicken thighs.

Vineyard 29 Cru Napa Valley Sauvignon Blanc 2013
Vineyard 29 Cru Napa Valley Sauvignon Blanc 2013

Viognier to try: Pedernales Cellars Texas Viognier Reserve 2014, Texas ($40). Floral scent with honey, and bright white peach, citrus, vanilla and toast flavors coming alive on the palate. This is an amazing wine that is versatile enough to pair with almost any style of grilled chicken.

Pedernales Cellars Viognier
Pedernales Cellars Viognier

Chardonnay to try: Flowers Vineyards & Winery Sonoma Coast Chardonnay 2013, California ($50). Bliss.  The barrel aging in mostly neutral French oak gives this wine roundness without letting the oak obscure the fruit. Lemon zest and white flower scents mingle with pear, green apple and melon flavors with a solid structure of minerality and acidity.

Flowers Sonoma Coast Chardonnay
Flowers Sonoma Coast Chardonnay

Steak and Burgers

It’s hard not to have a beer in hand when you are standing over the grill, but once the meat is done, pick full-bodied wines with dark berry fruit and some tannin to pair with grilled beef. It’s a tried and true practice to pair red wine with steak because the fat and protein in beef lowers the impact of tannin. It’s simple chemistry. Don’t mess with a good thing.

Lightly seasoning any steak or burger and grilling it to a rare to medium temperature lets beef sing. The char on the meat goes well with the tannins in red wines such Cabernet Sauvignon and other red Bordeaux varieties. Meat with a heavier char and cooked medium-well to well-done pairs better with softer, less tannic red Rhone grape varieties like Syrah and Grenache, or Pinot Noir.  If you prefer to keep it local, grab a delicious Texas Tempranillo. The bright fruit and high acidity cut right through that fatty beef.

Pinot Noir to try: Flowers Vineyard & Winery Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir 2013, California ($50). This luscious wine has vivacious scents of wild strawberry, cranberries and herbs layered with black cherry, raspberry and thyme flavors. It is an elegant and refined wine that will dress up any meal.

Grenache to try: Yangarra Estate Vineyard McLaren Vale Old Vine Grenache 2012, Australia ($32). The old vine Grenache was planted in 1946 and produces wine with powerful raspberry, cherry and red plum fruit flavors with peppery spice, licorice and chocolate. It is excellent with grilled lamb.

Yangarra Estate Vineyard McLaren Vale Old Vine Grenache 2012
Yangarra Estate Vineyard McLaren Vale Old Vine Grenache 2012

Petite Sirah to try: Edmeades Mendocino County 2012, California ($35). This limited release wine is absolutely perfect with grilled beef. Its smoky and spicy nose with loads of blackberry, plum, vanilla and coffee flavors and firm tannins will have you taking a drink with every bite of steak.

Edmeades Petite Sirah Mendocino County 2012
Edmeades Petite Sirah Mendocino County 2012

Tempranillo to try: Spicewood Vineyards Estate Tempranillo 2012, Texas ($45). This wine has bright acidity and firm tannins along with tart cherry, leather and tobacco flavors making it a perfect pair with grilled beef.

Cabernet Sauvignon to try: Trapiche Broquel Cabernet Sauvignon 2012, Argentina ($15). This is a perfect backyard wine; easy on the wallet and big on flavor. Bold bouquet of blackberry jam and smoke accompanies a bounty of blackberry, raspberry, fig, chocolate and herbal flavors that are great with a burger.

Trapiche Broquel Cabernet Sauvignon 2012
Trapiche Broquel Cabernet Sauvignon 2012

Cabernet Sauvignon to try: Melka CJ Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley 2012, California ($65). Indulgent as a velvet smoking jacket, the Melka Cab is packed with ripe plum, black cherry, cassis and mocha with baking spice and tobacco. The silky tannins are soft as a kitten purring for another bite of your steak.

Melka CJ Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley 2012
Melka CJ Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley 2012

Barbeque

Sure it’s easier to grab a beer to go with the smoky, rich flavors of saucy slow-cooked meats like ribs, brisket, pork shoulder, but it’s not impossible to have stellar wine pairings with barbeque too. A rule of thumb is big, intense flavors go well with big wines.

Dry rubbed barbeque can sometimes be salty. That style loves Champagne and sparkling wine. A sip of bubbly after savory barbeque makes the salt pop and lowers the tartness of the wine. Sparkling wine tastes less tart with salt than it does by itself. It’s best to avoid big tannic red wines with this style of barbeque, as salt makes tannins taste more bitter and intensifies the alcohol.

Slow cooked, straight forward brisket is excellent with a high acidity, low tannin Cabernet made with mountain grown fruit.

Sauces and glazes introduce sweet and spicy flavors that call for different styles of wines. Fruit forward, full bodied wine like big, jammy Zinfandels and bold Syrahs are an excellent complement to sweet sauces. Barbera, Beaujolais, Pinot Noir, Grenache and rosé are excellent with either sweet or spicy barbeque. The soft tannins and impression of sweetness keeps the wine from tasting sour with a heaping plate of barbeque.

Sparkling Wine to try: Domaine Carneros Brut Rosé 2011, California ($37). The vibrant, fruity and creamy sparkling wine dances with delicate strawberry and raspberry flavors with a hint of apricot. Made with a blend of 60 percent Pinot Noir and 40 percent Chardonnay grapes, this peppy, bubbly wine is an absolute stunner with barbeque.

Domaine Carneros Wines
Domaine Carneros Wines

 

Zinfandel to try: Quivira Vineyards Reserve Zinfandel 2013, California ($42) Stick your nose in the glass and fill it with the scent of blackberries ripening in the sun. The clean, bright wine has mild tannins that let the bold fruit shine through with red raspberry, black cherries and “that classic Dry Creek spice.” It’s a great accompaniment to ribs.

 

Pinot Noir to try: Kendall Jackson, Jackson Estate Anderson Valley Pinot Noir 2013, California, ($30). The coastal influences of the Anderson Valley creates wines with bright acidity to balance fruity black cherry, blueberry, chocolate and cola flavors. The silky tannins and lingering smoky, spicy flavors are a dream match with barbeque.

Kendall Jackson, Jackson Estate Anderson Valley Pinot Noir 2013
Kendall Jackson, Jackson Estate Anderson Valley Pinot Noir 2013

Cabernet Sauvignon to try: Mt. Brave Cabernet Sauvignon Mt. Veeder Napa Valley 2011, California ($75). When you order fancy BBQ, like the award winning brisket from Franklin Barbeque, you deserve a wine that is equally as good. A stand-out wine with energetic blueberry, black currants, anise violet and coffee flavors. This graceful Bordeaux blend has relatively soft tannins that will dress up any smoked brisket.

Mt. Brave Cabernet Sauvignon
Mt. Brave Cabernet Sauvignon
No matter what you choose to grill, use the opportunity to try a variety of wine pairings to discover which ones you like most.
This story was originally published in the Wine & Food Foundation of Texas newsletter, The Crush, “Jump Into Summer.”
Disclaimer: Several wine producers provided samples that were reviewed for this article at no charge. 

Texas wine takes on the world

Texas 2 SipTexas wine has impressed many wine drinkers and critics with its quality. Despite piles of recent awards and accolades, some people still wonder if it tastes as good as similar wine from other regions of the world. Food & Wine Magazine executive wine editor, Ray Isle, and Master Sommeliers, Craig Collins and Devon Broglie, led people through a blind tasting of wines in the “Texas Two Sip” session at the 2015 Austin Food & Wine Festival.

The session pitted four Texas wines against four similarly priced wines from elsewhere to see if the crowd could pick which was from Texas and to take an informal poll of which they preferred. The matchups included:

The crowd was typically divided on deciding which wine was from Texas and which wasn’t. Overall, Isle declared Texas the winner in this competition.

 

Related 2015 Austin Food & Wine Festival Articles: 

What are you drinking? 

Win tickets to Toast and Roast Texas wine event

toast and roast

Some of you love Texas wine. Some of you are skeptical about its quality. Here is your chance to taste the 20 Best Texas Wines all in one place and all for free. That’s right, What Are You Drinking is giving away a pair of tickets to the The Wine & Food Foundation of Texas‘s inaugural Toast & Roast event being held this Sunday, March 1, at Rancho Cuernavaca.

Why am I giving these away? Because its my birthday and this is my birthday party. You better be there.

This is going to be an incredibly fun party and the only place where you can taste all 20 of Texas Monthly Magazine Best Texas Wines of 2014 selected by wine editor, Jessica Dupuy. Whether you love Texas wine or are curious about it, Toast & Roast is the perfect opportunity to try some of Texas’ finest wines. From 2:00 to 3:00 pm you’ll be able to try 20 wines and learn more about them from  the winemakers themselves. Pretty damn cool.

TEXAS Wine at TEXSOM

After that, the festivities switch to the roast, with a feast of grilled pig, goat, and lamb prepared by Chef Bates of Noble Sandwich. Wines from Fall Creek Vineyards and Pedernales Cellars will be poured to go well with that roasty goodness. Rain or shine, it will be a ton of fun hanging out at the stunningly beautiful ranch while dancing to “brown-grass” music from the Austin-based band, Sour Bridges. I’ll save you a dance.

Its a party with a cause. Over the last 29 years, the Wine & Food Foundation of Texas has donated almost $2 million to charitable causes to support vineyard research, educational grants and scholarships, and other deserving causes. Beneficiaries include Austin Food for Life, Dell Children’s Medical Center of Central Texas, The Sustainable Food Center, The Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Viticulture & Fruit Lab, and Texas Sommelier Association (TEXSOM).

Tickets are $100 for non-members (on sale today for $80), but here is your chance to win a pair. All you have to do is answer the following question:

“What is one wine that has been recognized on the Texas Monthly 2014 Best Texas Wine list?”

Submit your answer in the comment section below. One winner will be chosen at random from all correct submissions at 6pm CT today.

Come out and celebrate my birthday, Texas Independence Day and Texas wine.

What Ya Need to Know:

  • When: Sunday, March 1st, 2015
  • Where: Rancho Cuernavaca, 1803 N. Cuernavaca Dr, Austin, TX
  • 2:00-3:00 p.m. — Toast with Texas Monthly’s Best Texas Wines of 2014
  • 3:00-5:00 p.m. — Roast by Chef John Bates, Music by Sour Bridges, and wine by the glass provided by Fall Creek Vineyards and Pedernales Cellars

___________

Updated Thursday, 2/26/2015 at 6:00 pm: Congratulations to Nancy Marr who correctly named Fall Creek Vineyards GSM, 2012 as one of the Best Texas Wines. Her comment was selected at random among 14 correct answers. We’re happy to have you at our event!

 What are you drinking?