Sunday, March 1, 2015

A Preview of Spring: New Wine in the Texas Hill Country.

Spring hides behind the winter clouds, waiting for just the right moment to emerge and breath new life into bare trees and, for the Texas wine industry, the dormant vines. This bright new year is already upon us, at least for the wineries of the Texas Hill Country. Even though the vines sleep, new wines signal a new year. And this year has already started out exceptionally well.

Lost Draw Celllars

The first major beginning unfolded on a cool, sunny Saturday in January. Many of us gathered in a small courtyard not far from Main Street in Fredericksburg. That afternoon, the ribbon was cut, welcoming Lost Draw Cellars to the Hill Country. Many who had gathered already knew the winery's portfolio, as they opened for tastings in November 2014; however, now the winery's opening was official.
The Lost Draw Family with the representatives for the City of Fredericksburg
Lost Draw Cellars started in the High Plains. Andy Timmons, owner of Lost Draw Vineyards in the Texas High Plains, his nephew Andrew Sides, and Andrew's father-in-law Troy Ottmers came together to offer Texas another great winery. The winery boasts wines made from Lost Draw Vineyards fruit, as well as grapes from other Texas vineyards. At the moment, out of state fruit is used to bring depth and variety to the Lost Draw portfolio; that is until they can make 100% Texas wine.

The two Texas standouts are the Reserve Sangiovese and the Tempranillo. These rich, complex reds do not just join the growing lists of Texas Sangioveses and Tempranillo but take their well deserved place. The Sangiovese has rich fruit flavors and earthiness, much like its Italian counterpart. The Tempranillo is round, accentuated by rich fruit and notes of the High Plains' terroir. The diverse collection of whites and the three blends provide striking contrast to the dusty Texas High Plains reds.

Bending Branch

Just down the highway from Lost Draw, Bending Branch Winery offers some new Texas reds. After a year of firsts, including the use of the first flash detante' in Texas, a new Tempranillo and Tannat have finally seen light. Three Texas whites, Picpoul Blanc, Vermintino, and a Roussane and Viognier blend will deepen Bending Branch's Texas roots.

For now, the 2012 Tempranillo, from Newsom Vineyards on the High Plains, offers a taste of Rioja. The subtle red drinks smooth, a velvety wine with dark red berry notes. After closer inspection, the dusty soil of the High Plains takes over, resembling the dusty flavors of a Spanish Rioja. But Texas predominates, as hints of limestone and more nuanced darker fruit flavors seep in. This wine is a hot day, the sun the only object in the sky; and of course, it could be Spain or Texas. The careful aging produces soft oak flavors that build with the tannins.

William Chris

And as usual, new experiments at William Chris Wines bring new delights to Texas wine. Looking for other ways to produce sparkling wine, they turned to traditional sparkling methods. Instead of using méthode traditionnelle, they decided upon Pétillant naturel.

Also called Pet-nat, a term bandy about at the winery these days, this method completes primary fermentation in the bottle. The bottle fermentation creates natural CO2 as the yeast eats away at the grapes' sugars. This is not any wine drinkers wine. This opaque wine is not filtered, which leaves the lees behind. William Chris's recent Cinsualt Rosé Pet-nat is a creamy dark pink with a lightly frothy head, punctuated by the normal rose fruits and a beer-like flavor from the yeast. However, do not expect a lot of wines like this because this method needs lots of attention as the wine ferments in the bottle; do expect other experiments with this unique French method.

The view of 2015's horizon stretches out into a multi-hued Texas sunset. Old favorites will draw us in, and the new ones will surprise and inspire us. It won't be long, Spring will arrive and the wildflowers will flood the Texas Hill Country. Now is the time dare to try something new.

Sunday, February 8, 2015


Very soon, the blog will be three years old. In that time, my Texas wine experience has been extensive. I have learned so much and continue to learn. I have met so many great people and made lots of friends. And I finally put my MFA to use; I began to write professionally (besides the blog). As it is the new year, I engaged in retrospection, specifically, what got me here. The answer was easy: Becker Vineyard's Iconoclast Cabernet Sauvignon.

I never really drank wine. I tried to do so during college, but I never found anything that really appealed to me -- I likely made some BAD choices. After I finished grad school and Sean and I moved back to San Antonio, we started having regular dinners at his grandparent's house. At dinner, Sean's grandmother would pour a glass of wine (or two, or three), but only she partook. So she didn't have to indulge alone, she tried to convince Sean and I to join her; we gave in. One of the first wines she shared with us was the Becker Iconoclast. She liked to support local businesses, and Becker vineyards was relatively local. Well, as the wine opened up and we proceeded to finish the bottle, we all decided that we were new fans. After that, Sean and I bought the wine quite regularly (we were on a tight budget and the normally under $10 price tag meet our requirements).

After awhile of regular indulgence, my parents decided to take us on a winery day trip to Fredericksburg. We were both a bit skeptical; mainly, we still thought of Fredericksburg as an antique town. Once there, we found ourselves in a vibrant local community. And we found our way to the wineries. Becker, Grape Creek, and Pedernales Cellars became the first wineries he visited. Every trip after, we returned to Becker (this was when they only had the front bar). Before long, we found ourselves making regular sojourns to the Hill Country.

As we became exposed to more and more wines, and the increasing number of wineries, we moved beyond our Iconoclast. Like many wine drinkers, we enjoyed the full body Cabernet, but we started to crave something a bit more complex. Sean quickly moved on to the Becker Claret and I to the Becker Malbec. We also moved out of our comfort zone. At Pedernales Cellars we became enamored of Viognier (the first white we really took a liking to). At this time, our budget expanded, and these new wines, though a bit more costly than our Iconoclast, became our new go to wines. But when we needed to, we turned back to our old favorite.

In addition to drinking more wine and adventuring into new wine territory, we started to learn about wine, wine making, and grape growing. It did not take long to learn the truth about Texas wine. If we looked, the numbers were everywhere: Texas bought more wine than the state could produce, and even more wine than our vineyards could even keep up with. About this time, I took up the blog and dove headlong into the Texas wine industry.

How wineries operated, how wine is made were early lessons. But I had to understand the source, so I started to learn about the vineyards. I found out where most were located and who tended those vineyards. I learned about the grapes and the obstacles these brave farmers faced. And then I learned about the outsourcing.

Most wineries buy grapes from vineyards other than their own; they just cannot make enough for the demand. For many, these grapes only come from other Texas vineyards. Due to the limited quality -- and in some years, limited quantity -- the wineries can only produce so much wine. For many, that works, as they would prefer to remain a boutique winery. For others, Texas grapes just can't cut it.

To make up for the demand and limited supply, many wineries look to out of state vineyards. Some wineries due this, especially in their early years, to make sure to have enough product as they develop their own vineyards and vineyard contracts. Others source from out of state because they wish to experiment and explore other avenues for their grape growing and wine making. For these sorts of wineries, they hope to change from out of state to state grapes, but vineyards are expensive and generally take 3-5 years before the grapes can make wine (and then add on another 1-2 years for the reds). These dedicated Texas wineries work to achieve their goal, but they need a help to get there.

And other wineries buy out of state fruit and juice for financial reasons. Often done by larger, more commercial wineries, the out of state grapes and juice lead to more wine. These numbers allow for many things. One, the money helps to build Texas wine and all its aspects, as well as pay for workers at the wineries -- in the vineyards, in the winery, in the tasting room. This large production allows the wineries to sell to distributors; as they do that, the wine finds its way into more retail locations and restaurants.

These large operations spread Texas wine. The wine gets to people who do not live in the wine communities. The wine gets to people who would never think Texas made wine, let alone stellar wine. The wine reaches people who are curious but do not want to spend a lot on an experiment. The wine gets to people on a budget. In the end, the wine made from out of state grapes and juice introduces new drinkers to Texas wine. And once, that has begun, those new converts cannot turn back. Becker Iconoclast is one such wine.

And I am grateful for Becker Iconoclast. When I did not know much and had little disposal income, the wine started a spark. Even though the wine generally has no Texas grapes, it still made an impact. If I never had that wine, would I have taken my parents up on the offer to visit the burgeoning Hill Country? Would I have ever joined my first wine club (which was Becker by the way)? Would I have started drinking more and more Texas wine from more and more wineries? Would I have started writing about wine (and got back to my other dormant writing)? Would I have met all the wonderful people I now know? I'm not sure, but I am here now and I started with that singular wine.

Even one of our cat's approves!

Though I started with the Becker Iconoclast, I rarely drink it today. Recently, when deciding to go back and see what began this journey, I began a journey back to my early wine days. With every sip, I relived a past that means so much to me. I also remembered that this wine is actually pretty good. Yes, I have had far better wines, and yes, I have even had worse. Also, I drink more 100% or close to 100% Texas wines, but I drink ones that have nothing to do with Texas too. That doesn't make the Becker Iconoclast less special for me.That one simple little wine opened a door I hope never closes.
I am thankful that #IamanIconoclast.