Raising a glass to fight cancer, LIVESTRONG!

There is nothing light-hearted about cancer. However, even the most serious subjects deserve a serious party. Sometimes gathering like-minded souls together to fight a shared villain is the right thing to do. This weekend we hosted our third annual Mellow Yellow Benefit to raise a glass, and raise money and awareness for the LIVESTRONG Challenge for the Lance Armstrong Foundation.

We set out to raise $5,000 by inviting people to attend our party and make a donation to LIVESTRONG as their ticket to entry. We asked for donations of services and food and beverages to keep our costs down and to be able to donate all proceeds to the Foundation. I am moved by the outpouring of generosity I found every time I asked. To date we have raised $6,000!

Three Texas spirits companies — Republic Tequila, Tito’s Handmade Vodka and Treaty Oak Distilling Company —  gladly donated for a third year in a row. Heck, Republic Tequila also sent two beautiful bartenders and Republic Spirit Blends to set up and staff a margarita bar! They made Twisted Margaritas. Here is the recipe:

Twisted Margarita

  • 1 ½ ounces Republic Tequila
  • 1 ½ ounces Republic Jalapeño-Lime Spirit Blend
  • 1 ½ ounces Republic Prickly Pear Spirit Blend
  • Combine all ingredients in a cocktail shaker filled with ice Shake and pour into a rocks glass

Josh Hare, brewer at Hops & Grain, sent over 10 cases of beer on the eve of his brewery’s first anniversary.

Ed and Susan Auler of Fall Creek Vineyards donated wine for a second year in a row and came to the party to wish us well and enjoy the fun. Miguel Lecuona of Fredericksburg Wine Road 290 was a tour de force gathering four cases of donated wine from seven Texas wineries and delivered them with a smile.

The house and yard looked glamorous and the food fast fantastic thanks to Suzanne Court Catering & Events, who hustled favors to get donations of goods and services. Our photography sponsor, Steve Rogers Photography, donated his time and talent to capture the fun in our LIVESTRONG photo booth (the well lit photo booth pictures below are from Steve and the candids are fom me). Chris Brewer from the Lance Armstrong Foundation made the photo booth look official by loaning us an amazing LIVESTRONG backdrop.
I appreciate the help of Stephen Moser spreading the word about the Mellow Yellow Benefit in the Austin Chronicle and Michael Barnes for sharing the love in the Austin American Statesman.
Much of the thanks for creating a memorable event yet again this year goes to Beautiful Wife. She was instrumental in converting our home in to a fun event venue.
Thank you to everyone who donated to the cause and who came to the event. You are making a difference in the lives of the more than 28 million people living with cancer. THANK YOU! 

Special thanks to all of our beverage sponsors:

William Chris Vineyards Winemakers Dream Big

Winemakers Chris and Bill behind William Chris Current rose

When William “Bill” Blackmon and Chris Brundrett first looked across the fields and at the 100 year old dilapidated house on a plot of land on Highway 290 in Hye, Texas, they didn’t see fallow farmland, they saw the perfect spot for William Chris Vineyards. They converted that old house to a rustic tasting room, built production and storage facilities and planted their main vineyard is Granite Hill near Fredericksburg. William Chris Vineyards has come a long way since its opening in 2009, but their dreams are still bigger.

Bill and Chris intend the winery to be a destination for wine tourism, events and food and wine education. Their regular “Hye Society Wine Club” events are just one way to expose guests to these elements, and they do it up with style. I attended one of events Hye Society this month — The Watermelon Thump and Chef Throw Down — which did a great job of showing off the winery, food and wine pairings and gave us a glimpse into the winery’s future.

The winery has enjoyed steady growth in production of its 13 varieties of wine. In the first year William Chris produced 800 cases using 100 percent Texas-grown grapes, doubled that production in the second year doubled and are now making about 6,500 cases.  That’s just the start. The two winemakers led Hye Society guests on a tour of the property to show us its growth.

William Chris Current rose and Texas watermelon

The event featured a vineyard tour that was influenced by similar tours in California wineries, helping guests to connect with the land where the wine is born. We started in the gorgeous Oak Grove, a focal point of the estate vineyards and a future home to weddings and other celebrations. We were treated to a taste of the 2010 William Chris Current rosé with fresh watermelon under the broad oak canopy. With that fresh summer pairing in hand, we toured the newly planted vineyards. William Chris has more than 40 acres of vineyards under management in the Hill Country and High Plains of Texas. The new Malbec, Tannat, and Petite Verdot vines will produce fruit ready for wine in about three years to keep the pace of growth going.

On to the food and wine pairings. William Chris Vineyards regularly features the artisanal cheeses from Brazos Valley Cheese, a Waco-based family venture. A representative of the company brought a selection of cheese made from raw cow’s milk sourced in a 25 mile radius. Each of the cheeses paired well with the 2010 William Chris, Blanc du Bois, a refreshing tart and citrusy white wine. The award winning cheeses are available in Austin at Whole Foods Market, Antonelli’s Cheese Shop as well as Greenling organic delivery.

On to the highlight of the evening, the Chef Throw Down. Four area chefs were tasked with creating two courses for the competition. The first course had to feature fresh Go Texan watermelon and the second reflected the cuisine of their respective restaurants. Here’s what we had:

  • William Chris Cheff Throw Down Contestants

    Chef Ben Huselton of Paggi House prepared compressed watermelon with mascarpone, black salt, micro-mint, extra virgin olive oil. The dish let the watermelon speak for itself. His second course was Black tea brined duck breast, with quinoa salad, and orange gremolata dressed with natural au jus made with the duck bones. The duck paired well with the 2010 William Chris Enchante Bordeaux blend.

  • Chef Shane Stark of Kenichi prepared a fresh summer salad of sweet and sour watermelon with cucumbers, arugula, and goat feta. His second course was a delightfully light watermelon carpaccio with tuna crudo, wasabi granita garnished with water cress. He compressed the watermelon with plum wine and yuzu juice. This dish paired well with slightly sweet William Chris Current rosé.
  •  Chef Rich Taylor of Quality Seafood created a watermelon ceviche lettuce wrap, lobster, shrimp, scallop, orange, mint ginger and hint of lime. Man that was good. His second course was an amazing Texas Bouillabaisse made with Texas Gulf shrimp, Gulf oysters, mussels and clams cooked with William Chris wine in the clam juice and fish stock. The fruity 2010 William Chris Emotion red blend went well with this fish stew.
  •  Chef Joseph Bannister of Rose Hill Manor, whipped up a light appetizer of seared scallop and watermelon kohlrabi salad with watermelon ketchup served with an icy watermelon mint sorbet. His second course was smoked duck ham with fresh black eyed pea salad, goat cheese aioli with crunchy house-made puff rice. The 2010 William Chris Hunter Merlot and Cabernet blend made a good bedfellow with the salty, bold duck.

The voting was tight as each contestant had fantastic food that went well with the wines. Chef Stark took the prize for his watermelon summer salad. Chef Taylor wowed the crowd with his Texas Bouillabaisse winning the fan favorite for the second course.

The evening was capped off by Chris blending wine from barrels of the 2011 vintage. It was a great way to get everyone excited for the upcoming bottling. Events like the The Watermelon Thump and Chef Throw Down are a great way for the winery to achieve their dream of becoming a destination for all things Texas food and wine. It’s a far cry from the desolate farmland they found just three years ago.

Disclosure: William Chris Vineyards hosted the event at no charge to area journalists and bloggers. Free transportation from Austin to Hye was provided by Heart of Texas Wine Tours.

A version of this story ran previously on CultureMap.

What are you drinking?

Texas wine for Texas cowboys at Rodeo Austin’s Off the Vine

Nothing represents the archetypal spirit of Texas better than a cowboy; rugged, hard-driven, dependable and connected with the land. Rodeo Austin has brought some of the nation’s best cowboys to town to compete for 75 years. Now for the second year they are gathering another group of daring adventurous rebels steadfastly working the land in harsh conditions; Texas winemakers. On Thursday, January 12, 2012, Rodeo Austin hosted the second annual Off the Vine wine and food tasting, mixing the attitude of the Texas cowboy with the harvest of the Texas winemaker.

The event was inspired by the strong tie between the wine industry and agriculture. The wine industry has grown significantly since its humble start in the 1970s and has really come on strong in the past decade. Jennifer Paladino, marketing coordinator for Rodeo Austin, describes the event as “a great way to help promote one of Texas’ finest agricultural assets. Also, we pride ourselves on providing unique events to the diverse community we live in and a wine event seemed like the perfect fit for Austin.”

The wine tasting event, along with other Rodeo Austin events, raises money for its scholarship fund. In 2011, Rodeo Austin awarded 46 students $442,000 in college scholarships, and a total of $1.9 million to the youth of Texas through scholarships and the Youth Auction. This year’s Off the Vine is expected to net several thousand dollars — a fat sack more than last year — through ticket sales and a silent auction.

Event vice chairman, Drew DeBerry, who is also the Texas Deputy Commissioner of Agriculture, says, “Rodeo Austin is one of the top five economic drivers in Austin, contributing north of $68 million annually, drawing more than 300,000 visitors.” DeBerry is thrilled to be a part of generating revenue to provide educational opportunities for kids in Texas. He also sees Off the Vine as one more way that the Rodeo connects people with the agricultural sources of food and drink. Texas wine makers are passionate about taking their crop all the way from the field to the bottle in one of the harsher climates for growing grapes. It was clear that people at the event were really glad they go to the trouble to do it.

Rodeo Austin executive committee member Hap Feuerbacher says, they started Off the Vine “to reach people that the rodeo might not ordinarily reach.” He’s probably right. The event attracted an enthusiastic, eye-catching crowd of people wearing a mix of evening wear and cowboy hats who are really interested in wine.

The eager and engaged crowd enticed many of the participating wineries to come back again this year. The event featured 31 wineries, 24 of which were from Texas. It’s a unique event with iconic California wineries like Silver Oak and Caymus Vineyards standing shoulder-to-shoulder with small up-and-coming Texas wineries like William Chris Vineyards and Torre di Pietra. It was a great way to try new wines from small wineries that don’t have broad distribution, and take home a few bottles of the new discoveries.

Stand-out wines from small Texas wineries included:

Perissos Vineyard 2009 Tempranillo Blend
This wine had luscious flavors of raspberry, and chocolate with a silky texture. It sells for $25 a bottle and can be found at the winery and at Specs. Proprietor, grower and winemaker, Seth Martin, started the winery in 2006 with the first bottling in 2007. They now produce 3,200 cases a year using 100 percent Texas grown grapes and practicing organic methods.

William Chris Vineyards 2011 Blanc du Bois
Crisp, floral with a hint of honeysuckle, this wine would pair well with Texas BBQ on a hot summer day. Jack Gilmore selected it as one of the wines he will serve in the James Beard Award dinner in New York. Bottles sell for $28 online and at select restaurants in the Austin area. Winemaker, grower and owner William (Bill) Blackmon has been making wine for two years, but growing grapes since 1983. The winery makes about 1,800 cases with all Texas grapes and will make about 4,000 cases of the 2011 vintage.

Dotson-Cervantes 2010 Gotas de Oro
A blend of 61% Muscat Canelli and 39% Chardonnay, this wine had a smoky nose and flavors of lychee fruit and tangerine. Its big, smooth and slightly sweet; a perfect wine for desert. It goes for $28 a bottle at Austin Wine Merchant and Specs. Former NFL star, Alphonse Dotson, father of NFL star Santana Dotson, and his wife, Martha Cervantes, made about 1,000 cases of this wine in its second bottling. They made 800 cases of the 2009 vintage.

Sandstone Cellars 2009 VII
This wine is made of 100 percent Touriga, the primary grape in Port. It has bold flavors of blueberries, sassafras tea and black bark. It’s available at Specs on Brodie Lane for $30. Master Sommelier, Drew Hendricks, has selected Sandstone Cellars VII for his wine list at Pappas Bros. Steakhouse in Houston. Winemaker, Don Pullum, was the first person to plant grapes in Mason County, TX ten years ago. He now makes about 500 cases of wine with fruit grown in the county.

It wasn’t just wine. Eleven local restaurants served scrumptious nibbles including the award winning Steiner Ranch Steakhouse lobster mac and cheese. Dzintra Dzenis (pronounced like Sentra, but with a Z), owner of Plate by Dzintra and a contestant on Season 6 of Food Network Star, served Kobe beef sausage in blankets. Jack Gilmore of Jack Allen’s Kitchen wowed the crowd with his farm to table magic.

Guests at the event were able to vote for their favorite red wines, white wines and restaurants. Fan favorites taking home the coveted trophy are:

Organizers of Off the Vine plan to showcase the talents of local winemakers and chefs in an even bigger event next year. Watch for it.

This article also appeared on CultureMap.

What are you drinking?

Participating wineries included:

  • Becker Vineyards, TX
  • Bogle Winery
  • Braman Winery, TX
  • Cap Rock Winery, TX
  • Dancing Bee Winery, TX
  • E&J Gallo
  • Fairhaven Vineyards, TX
  • Fall Creek Vineyards, TX
  • Fiesta Winery, TX
  • Fredericksburg Winery, TX
  • Freixenent USA
  • Georgetown Winery, TX
  • Homestead Winery, TX
  • Landon Winery, TX
  • Mandola’s Italian Market, TX
  • Messina Hof Winery, TX
  • Nice Winery, TX
  • Perissos Vineyards, TX
  • Pillar Bluff Vineyards, TX
  • Pleasant Hill Winery, TX
  • Precept Wine
  • Salado Creek Winery & Vineyard, TX
  • Sandstone Cellars, TX
  • Solaro Estate Winery, TX
  • Spicewood Vineyards, TX
  • Texas Legato Winery, TX
  • The Vineyard at Florence, TX
  • Torre di Pietra Vineyards, TX
  • Westcave Cellars, TX
  • William Chris Vineyards, TX
  • Wines of Dotson – Cervantes, TX

Participating restaurants included:

  • Carmela’s Ristorante Italiano
  • Carmelo’s Ristorants
  • Gumbos
  • III Forks
  • Jack Allen’s Kitchen
  • Mandola’s Italian Market
  • Plate by Dzintra
  • Quality Seafood Market
  • Ranch 616
  • Steiner Ranch Steakhouse
  • Vivo Tex Mex