Pontotoc, a picture story

There is a new cordon of the Texas wine country developing in the northern Hill Country, based around the tiny town of Pontotoc.

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Over ten years ago, Carl Money bought the 1800’s buildings in downtown Pontotoc, as well as an old German farmhouse behind the strip.  He envisioned it as the place for a family he didn’t have yet.  Now that he and his wife, Frances Money, are expecting their third child, that dream is taking flight.

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His uncle, Ronnie Money, has been meticulously tending their acres of Tempranillo and maintaining the property for all those years, producing incredible fruit for their wines.  IMG_3304

Carl now plans to convert the downtown strip into three tasting rooms and an active theater for movies, live music and theatrical performances.

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By gracious invitation, a few of us had the opportunity to tour the property, meet the people, and spend an incredible weekend in this place.  I traveled out with three wine women of the Austin wine scene, Alissa LeenherJessica Dupuy and Denise Clarke.

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We made a few stops along the way at William Chris Vineyards,

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Hilmy Cellars, 4.0 Cellars

4.0smalland Sandstone Cellars in Mason, Texas where Don Pullum, winemaker at Pontotoc Vineyards also spins his craft.

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We met with owners of Sandstone Cellars, Scott and Manny, tasted through the wines and visited their new wine bar, next to the winery.

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Upon arriving in Pontotoc, we were warmly welcomed by Don, Ronnie, Carl, his beautiful wife Frances and their two children,

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and were joined by San Antonio Express writer Jennifer McInnis, her partner and two Texas State theater professors.  After sipping some 2011 Estate Tempranillo out of mason jars and munching on appetizers, we began a tour.  We saw each of the future tasting rooms.  One will be for for Pontotoc Vineyards.  One is slotted for Akashic Vineyard Winery, soon to be pouring wine made from grapes of Don Pullum’s Akashic Vineyard and other nearby growers.  He will be the winemaker there too, of course.  I asked where the word Akashic originated and he said it is the Buddhist term for “nature’s memory” and the perfect metaphor for wine.

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The third tasting room is for Alphonse Dotson and Martha Cervantes of Certenberg Vineyards.  The winery will be named Dotson and Cervantes.

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On our tour, Ronnie explained the vineyards to us,

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Carl showed the buildings and shared his plans for their future

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and Don let us taste from the barrels and tanks, explaining each vintages characteristics and blending wine on the spot.

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We learned that Carl’s dream for the property was one of celebration and education.  The house is naturally designed for entertainment and the firepit in the yard calls for camaraderie.  He said his vision is for people to come and thoroughly enjoy themselves.  If they’ve had too much to drink, they can grab a Mexican blanket from the theater and curl up on the tasting room floor for the night, or go pitch a tent in the vineyards.  He wants people to enjoy the vibe and atmosphere as much as he does.  Not a hard thing to do.

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He also wants Pontotoc to be a center for education, true to the town’s roots.  Out of the handful of streets in town, one is named College, for the crumbled university that faces the downtown strip.

universitysmallCarl hopes to revive that tradition with viticulture and enology classes.  He is currently working with Ed Hellman on curriculum for the Texas Viticulture Certificate Program based out of Fredericksburg and wants to extend some of those opportunities into Pontotoc.

After our touring, Don Pullum created an incredible seafood stew, shared with side dishes brought by all.

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We sat at a long table in the middle of soon-to-be Pontotoc Winery tasting room saying grace, sharing stories, making friends and giving cheers.  The possibility off the place rang off its earthen walls.

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I was so moved by the town, the idea and the spirit, I returned a day later to learn how to filter wine with Don, Ronnie and the cellar helper Justin.  But that’s another story.

Best of luck to you, Pontotoc!  Your future is bright.

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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

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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top blogs talking about Texas wine

After a hiatus from the blog, we are back in business.  Returning from a summer and fall leading cycling tours in France, I’ve been slowly reacquainting myself with the Texas wine world and have stumbled across some fantastic blogs writing about the subject.  To kick-off our restart, I would like to give a shout-out to my recent top 5 favorite online publications helping to push the Texas wine world forward.  Thanks for all you are doing out there to keep conversation flowing about this exciting industry!

1) http://whatareyoudrinking.net by blogger Matt McGinnis.  The blog delves often into the subject of Texas wine and with his thorough coverage of events and tastings, quality photos and fun banter, it is always a pleasure to read.  In addition to What Are You Drinking, McGinnis is a contributing writer to Culture Map Austin, Austin Man and several other publications.

2) http://texaswinegal.tumblr.com by PR specialist Denise Clarke.  Clarke is an avid promoter of Texas wines and the industry and her blog is a fun follow to find what’s new and hot in the local scene.

3) http://vintagetexas.com/blog by author of The Wine Slinger Chronicles, Russ Kane.  Kane has been in the industry for a long time and now travels all over the state exploring its wines and talking to the people behind them.  He is definitely an active name in the biz.

4) http://sahmmelier.wordpress.com by Alissa Fehr Leenher.  A new discovery for me, thanks to Twitter.  She writes on a variety of subjects and does some nice work with Texas wines and pairings.  She will be a definite follow from now on.

5) http://txwinelover.com/about by Jeff Cope and his fiance Gloria, also a new find thanks to Twitter.  These two have done a fantastic job traveling around the state, visiting Texas wineries and writing about their experiences.  In addition to their explorations, they are keeping an online database of current wineries (a nice find after the GoTexas database halted its information upkeep).

Margaret Shugart

Bill Blackman of William Chris Winery

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The first in a series of many videos aimed at outlining some of the vivid history of Texas wine. Whenever we get a chance to film the winemakers, farmers and other folks who have been important to this business we love so much, we’ll do it, hopefully creating some primary source historical records, or at least some damn good tall tales.

Here, we talk to Bill (William) Blackman of William Chris Winery. The winery resides in tiny Hye, Texas, about halfway between Johnson City and Stonewall. There, long time grape growers Bill Blackman and Chris Brundrett decided to build their dream winery and show the world that they had talents beyond farming.The conversation is far reaching, from which of Joe Ely’s bands rocked the hardest to the correct temperature for drinking a Texas red wine.

Certenberg Vineyards

For my last stop to vineyards and wineries in Texas before leaving for France, I took the good advice of Wes and met Alphonse and Martha Dotson of Certenberg Vineyard in Voca, Texas.  And good advice it was indeed.

Martha met me by my car with her big, beautiful smile and after a few minutes of chatting, asked if I might be interested in a traditional Guadalajara beef stew she planned to heat up for lunch.  Absolutely and without a doubt.

She welcomed me into their house and Alphonse came to the kitchen.  I was struck first by his charm, then his laid back, centered presence.  He called me “young lady” and offered me a seat.  I took furious notes as they shared the story of how life took them to their present location, grape varieties and the making of their first wine, Dotson-Cervantes “Gotas de Oro”, meaning “Drops of Gold.”  (More on this wine later).

While I can’t share their entire story here- you’ll find it in the book- I will say I was most struck by their faith- in God, and in a higher wisdom to guide them.  They, like just about all vine growers in Texas, have experienced some rough times.  I do believe grape growing in this state is one of the greatest gambles a person can take.  But instead of seeing those trials in a negative light, they both spend their energy looking for lessons, ways to grow and benefit from the challenges.  And continue to tune into their intuitions and blessings for direction.  As we lingered over Martha’s delicious stew: broth cooked from the bone and filled with root vegetables, greens, spices, chunks of tender meat and whole corn on the cob, all topped with fresh cilantro, sliced avocado and squeezed lime, I just enjoyed watching them interact, clearly still in love after 29 years together.  They affirmed each other across the table, helping one another complete stories and laughing at the times they’ve had together.  In all my experience, I’ve learned this kind of love always leads to good things.

And that brings us to “Gotas de Oro”.  They wanted a sweet wine that could expand past just dessert, and decided on a muscat canneli with a little chardonnay blended in.  Many people told them that you don’t blend chardonnay into anything; you blend other varieties into chardonnay.  But Ed Auler, the winemaker, agreed and their collaboration produced a very well balanced bottle.  I tried it at Fall Creek Vineyards the week before and was carried away with its citrus sweetness, finished off with a touch of cream, the malolactic brought by the chardonnay.  Its balanced acidity held up to our tiramisu and the finish was long and delightful.  It was perfect for dessert, but if given the chance, I could’ve easily enjoyed the whole bottle by itself.

Interested in trying it yourself?  It will be featured Mother’s Day through July 4th at all Mandola’s Markets around Austin, and their Trattoria Lisina in Driftwood, Texas.  Test the tiramisu pairing, drink it after the meal, or enjoy throughout the experience.

Or head out to Fall Creek Vineyards in Tow, Texas where you can try and buy “Gotas de Oro”, as well as several other wines made from Certenberg Vineyard grapes.

Margaret Shugart

faces of the next generation

Some faces of the new generation of Texas Wine:

Nolan Newsom in his new Mouvedre vineyard, 2 acres and 1/4 mile long. Poised to take on the tradition of beautiful High Plains fruit. Today he will help host and educate at Newsom Grape Day in Plains, Texas, one of the biggest gatherings of grape growers in the state.

J.P. St. Charles, barista at Times Ten Cellars, understudy at Inwood Estates Winery, determined future winemaker. Just planted his first vines in east Texas. His response to a question about the next generation of Texas wine?- “Oh look out, it’s coming.”

Grayson Davies of Arché. First graduate of Texas Tech University's four year viticulture and enology program and new winemaker with his family's vineyard and winery.

Evan McKibben and his father Gary McKibben (and Buddy the dog) at Red Caboose Winery and Vineyard. Evan won one of the precious few awards at the Jefferson Cup last year, the only winery in Texas to do so.

Rachel Cook with her mentor, winemaker and nuclear physicist, Les Constable at Brushy Creek Vineyards where she is now winemaker and vineyard manager. Two great minds pushing the envelope on Texas wine.

On right: John Rivenburgh (director of wine and vine ninja) with his father-in-law, Robert Young at Bending Branch Winery. Two great experimenters dedicated to growing organic grapes and building a sustainable family business based on clean, quality, serious Texas wines.

Dave Reilly, winemaker at Duchman Family Winery, smiling as usual. Ask him about his craft though, and it's no joke. He is set to blow the doors off Texas wine.

Miles Elsey, cellar hand and assistant winemaker at Duchman Family Winery, passionate student of the industry.

Craig Pinkley relaxing in one of the many beautiful spots at his Pilot Knob Vineyards and Winery. Craig believes in running a family friendly winery, dedicated to bringing people together to enjoy the place and each other.