Jack Allen’s Kitchen: heroes in support of Texas wine

I had the pleasure of meeting Jack Gilmore at the Wine and Food Foundation of Texas event Cowboys and Gauchos, and pretend to be the head on his decapitated cabrito as it slowly roasted in the pit.  Then the honor to interview he and his beverage guru, David Toby about Texas wines the following week.  And I learned, as fun as Toby and Gilmore are, they take buying and supporting local seriously.

Gilmore is involved in the selection process of everything for his restaurants, but he turned the majority of interview over to Toby, saying he had massive respect for his work and saw him as an encyclopedia of knowledge.  And he was right.  Toby works hard to keep his finger on the pulse of local wine and spirits and was a wealth of information about the industry and his choices for the establishment.

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Toby explained how, from the beginning, the beverage program and restaurant were designed for buying local and dedicated to quality.  He said he’ll drop everything to consider a local product someone brings him: “I try to accommodate everyone here who’s passionate.”  And quality is paramount in his decisions.  If it’s great, he’ll put in on the shelves.  If he feels it needs more time or development, he is honest with the producer and asks them to return later.  His passion and consideration have resulted in shelves full of local spirits, all beer taps flowing with local beer, and lots of Texas wine in the cooler.

And how serious is Jack Gilmore about Texas wine?  When he served his James Beard dinner in New York, he featured only Texas wines paired with dishes made by he and his son, Bryce Gilmore of Barely Swine.  And when he brings Texas wines into the restaurant, he pushes them, educating his staff and educating the consumers.  “I don’t care how I get it.  Bring it to me.  Our job is to promote it.”  They learn all they can about the wine and the establishment that makes it, then encourage servers to share those stories at the tables and to offer pairing ideas.  He even threw a restaurant-wide contest and took all the winning servers to Flat Creek Estates for a tour and tasting.  They have hosted several dinners with Texas winemakers where, as Gilmore says, “I talk about the food and they talk about juice.”  He said he has serious respect for what they do and for the farmers that grow the fruit for those bottles.

They rotate their list and offer special features regularly.  On the list when I went in were the below selections, chosen for their quality:

~ McPherson Cellars Rosé

~ Fall Creek Vineyards Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay

~ Messina Hof Winery Cabernet Franc

~ Becker Vineyards Viognier

~ Brennan Vineyards Buffalo Rhone

~ Pedernales Cellars Tempranillo

~ Driftwood Estate Longhorn Blend

~ Flat Creek Super Tuscan and Pinot Grigio

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Cheers, David Toby and Jack Gilmore for your great work with the Texas wine industry!

– Margaret Shugart

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Tannat in Texas vs. the World

So, yes, I am a little obsessed with Tannat.  Oh and this link too.  And this one.  A little French varietal named for its massive tannic structure, this grape fills in a lot of gaps in the Texas wine demand.

Here’s what I mean by that: most Texas (and American in general) wine drinkers are trained on California wine, and continue their explorations at home with those expectations in mind.  Working in a tasting room and talking to many winemakers and attendants, it was evident that customers were in search for wines like the big, bold, fruity Cabernet Sauvignons of Napa.  Although there are some fine examples of those here in the state, truth is we grow much more European-style wines with restrained fruit and solid minerality.  And lighter reds.  Sun and heat bleach tannins on the vine and it’s difficult to develop very tannic grapes in our terroir.  Although light reds are fabulous reds, and I personally adore the complexities of a less tannic mouth-experience, winemakers still feel the pressure to produce bigger wines to satisfy those palates.

Enter Tannat.  Mr. Tannin.  In Madiran, the region where it’s grown most in France, winemakers treat the grape to a series of practices to soften those tannins, like micro-oxygenation and shortened exposure to the skins and numerous pips.  The same is true for Harriague, the name for Tannat in Uruguay.  Here in Texas, the grape sees opposite treatment.  It often experiences extended maceration and extra time on the skins, to help those tannins really shine forth.  Winemakers can then use it to boost other wines in a blend, or show it off by itself and gather lots of attention.  It is sold out in many tasting rooms across the state.  See why I’m excited?  This grape has so much potential.

And here comes the great news: all these examples of Tannat are available to taste, all at the same place, with guidance and education from trained sommeliers.

GUSTO Tastings is showcasing Tannat in their Texas vs. The World tasting here in Austin this Tuesday, March 26th, starting 7:30pm at Malaga Tapas and Bar.  The planned flights are listed below and include 16 wines (with rumors of a few bonus bottles as well), plus cheese plates and tapas for snacks.  There are just a few tickets left and I recommend registering now. It will be an incredible opportunity to try a wide variety of examples of the grape and get yourself educated on the next big thing in Texas!

– Margaret Shugart

Old World- Flight 1

  1. Chateau Barrejat, Madiran, 2009
  2. Domaine du Moulie, Madiran, 2009

New World (South & North America)- Flight 2 & 3

  1. Pueblo del Sol, Juanico, Tannat Rose, 2011
  2. Don Pascual, Juanico, ‘Roble’ Tannat, 2007
  3. Bodegas Carrau, Cerro Chapeu, Amat, Tannat, 2005
  4. Bouza, Montevideo, Tannat, 2009
  5. Giménez Méndez, Canelones, Tannat, ‘Las Brujas’, 2010
  6. Pisano, Progreso, Arretxea, Grand Reserve, Tannat Blend, 2006
  7. Intipalka, Ica Valley, Tannat, 2009
  8. Fin Del Mundo, Patagonia, Tannat, 2009
  9. Rock Wall Wine Co., California, Tannat, ‘The Palindrome’, 2010

Texas – Flight 4

  1. Brushy Creek Vineyards, Texas, Tannat Rose, 2011
  2. Westcave Cellars, Texas Hill Country, Tannat, 2010
  3. Brushy Creek Vineyards, Texas, Tannat, 2010
  4. Brushy Creek Vintage, Texas, Tannat, ‘Rachel’s Reserve’, 2009

Bending Branch Winery – Flight 5

  1. Bending Branch Winery, Texas, Tannat Rose, 2012- Tank Sample
  2. Bending Branch Winery, Texas, Tannat, NV
  3. Bending Branch Winery, Texas Hill Country, Tannat Reserve, 2010
  4. Bending Branch Winery, California, Tannat Port, 2009

TWGGA Legislative Session

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Last Tuesday members of the Texas Wine and Grape Growers Association met in Austin to talk with their legislators about matters closest to them and to the Texas wine industry.  I visited the educational tasting room in the evening to hug friends and catch up on some important happenings in the business.  It was a joy to see Betty and Cliff Bingham and to chat with Bobby Cox, all down from Lubbock.  I also had the opportunity to meet some legends face-to-face, like Carl Money of Pontotoc Vineyards and Ed Hellman, a professor of viticulture for Texas Tech and Texas A&M programs.  And I learned a few great things:

1) The Department of Plant and Soil Science at Texas Tech University and Texas AgriLife Extension are working together to devleop a Texas Viticulture Certificate Program based in Fredericksburg.  It is a two year curriculum covering grapevine biology, site assessment and vineyard development, vine nutrition and water management, disease, insect and weed management, and canopy and crop load management.  There will be hands-on vineyard practices, including planting the first test vineyard in April of this year.  Classes will be held in the ACC building just east of Fredricksburg and are now accepting students for courses starting in June: http://winegrapes.ttu.edu/viticulturecertificate.html.

2) The Binghams will be opening their own custom-crush and wine making facility.  They’ve dedicated the site and Betty received news that evening that plans to lay cement were underway.  It will be a way for the family to use any overflow of harvest and also to provide higher quality product to wineries outside of the High Plains.  They will be able to immediately select, destem and press grapes on site, then send refrigerated juice to buyers.  Much like Texas Custom Wine Works, a crush facility designed by Dusty Timmons, Mike Sipowicz, Jet Wilmeth, and Steve Talcott, the facility will be paired with a wine making operation as well.  (As a kicker- Bobby Cox will be their wine maker!)  And much like Texas Custom Wine Works, people are excited about the prospect of pressing and refrigerating juice before fermentation begins, and a fresh base for higher quality wine.  With Bending Branch Winery discussing a mobile crush unit that would provide similar opportunities to growers around the state, it’s an exciting trend for the industry overall.

3) Carl Money, owner of a series of buildings in downtown Mason, will be re-appropriating several spaces for wineries: his Pontotoc Vineyards, Don Pullum’s Sandstone Cellars, and a winery by Alphonse and Martha Dotson of Certenberg Vineyards.  That’s three great wineries in the heart of the “Sonoma of Texas,” sure to draw visitors to the area.

4) And in the vein of combining wineries, another facility is set to open in the 290 corridor.  Called Six Shooter Cellars, it is a collaboration of Cross Timbers Winery out of Grapevine, Texas, Yepez Vineyard out of southeast Texas, and four others that remain a secret.  (Could one be Arché since the man who makes ceramics from their grapevine ashes, Michael Obranovich, will be represented at Six Shooter…?)  Final approval for the business just went through, and the facility could be up and running by the end of next month.

Four very exciting announcements for the industry!  And I am happy to report that all were optimistic about their legislative visits, saying the representatives listened well and understood the proposals, a far cry from the way such meetings used to go.  A great sign as the Texas wine trail barrels on.

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On Way to the Port

Dear Reader,

Today I took a trip out to Stone House Vineyards and Winery to pick up some Scheming Beagle, my favorite Texas port-style wine.  Made from estate Norton grapes using the traditional solera method of blending, it is a serious competitor with other tawnies… from all over the world.  I mean, it’s phenomenal.  And for around $20 a bottle, it’s a helluva deal for the quality.

Being in the neighborhood, I headed over to a part-time residence of mine from last year’s research trips, Krause Springs.  They have an enchanting little butterfly garden, sonically decorated by huge wind chimes, dripping off of the trees.  And under one of these is stretched a rope hammock.  You can lay on it in the late afternoon and be bathed in gentle sun while six 7-foot chimes reverberated over your head like Tibetan bells.  Fountain water and birds from the nearby trees sing back up harmonies.  Say what you want about my hippy nature, but I swear there are few places more peaceful on this planet.

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On the way between these two stops, I passed 26612 Haynie Flat Road and spotted signs for fresh organic tomatoes, homemade salsa, bread and local jams, all just demanding a u-turn.

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Soon after I entered the gate, an SUV followed and Kathleen Henderson popped out, saying she had been delivering a pie.  Her farm stand was organized like a small outdoor grocery store with pastas, oils and vinegars from The Spicewood Food Company, little garden supplies and canned goods.  Kathleen was extremely welcoming, answering all my questions and explaining the origins of her products.  She was passionate about the heirloom tomatoes, passionate about the organic garden she was preparing, passionate about her pies.  I got swept up in her excitement and checked onions, cucumbers, tomatoes, salsa, and jam off of my grocery list while she bagged my purchases in little paper lunch sacks ($20 even).  We chatted a little longer about last weeks’ wind and I felt all my tight city-muscles relax, breathing that country air and enjoying a simple conversation.

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And I write you now from this hammock, encouraging you to head out on your own Texas wine country adventure, even if just for the afternoon.  There are unique opportunities all over the state.  In East Dallas?  Head over to Tara Winery in Athens.  If it’s a Wednesday or a Saturday, check out the Athens Farmers Market.  I hear it’s stellar.  In West Dallas, take a short trip out to Arché and Blue Ostrich Winery and catch a meal in the little down of St. Jo.  Or maybe take a whole week to learn how to make your own cowboy boots at Chappell Boot Shop in town.  Houston?  Head south to Haak Winery for Blanc du Bois Madeira made in the resident estufa, or to the coast to watch the sunset from Lavaca Bluffs Vineyard’s porch.  If you’re into incredible architecture or spiritual traditions, be sure to visit  the BAPS Shri Swaminarayan Mandir Temple on the way down, an incredible structure made out of hand-whittled Italian marble and Turkish limestone.

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Wherever you’re coming from, find your own form of farm stand and discover your personal peaceful hammock.  Because, as today reminded me– yes,Texas wine is about what’s in the bottle, but it’s also about the journey and the roads in between.

Margaret Shugart