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


Old Settlers Music Festival

Old Settlers Music Festival opens this weekend out at The Salt Lick BBQ in Driftwood, Texas.  What could be a more beautiful place to host a weekend of music, dancing and revelry?

And the man working hard to set it up (as if he doesn’t work hard enough already) is Jay Knepp, vineyard manager, wine maker and the star of Salt Lick Cellars.  And who could be a better person to help run such an amazing event?

Jay is this intelligent, hilarious, kind positive presence.  He’s kind in that grounded way that lowers your guard and creates for seamless interaction.  And he has one of those continual smirks that makes you feel as though there is always a joke just underneath the surface, and whether you understand it or not, you can’t help but smile along.

Jay grew up in California and fell in love with vineyards before he even tasted wine.  He used to watch them streak by the car window as child, then would sneak onto winery and vineyards tours as a teenager, just to hear the information (and got kicked off the tours a few times for being underage).   He worked in the restaurant industry to put himself through school, and then after as well, and learned about wine in that realm and really learned to appreciate quality.

He strives for that in every aspect of his involvement at The Salt Lick.  In the vineyards, he is focused on growing strong, healthy vines (and a lot of them!), using as many sustainable practices as possible; and in the winery, he is working on making and bringing in wines that pair well with BBQ, so you can do a tasting on site, and take a bottle to dinner (or lunch).  (Or, better, yet, buy a case and take the other eleven… or ten bottles home with you).  That concept is, to me, quite brilliant: pairing one of the icons of Texas food with WINE, of all things.  Like Bill Elsey said, Texas terroir is perhaps less about the soil and more about the culture, making wines that go with local cuisine and atmosphere.  In that arena, The Salt Lick, and Jay Knepp, are at the front of the pack.

The Old Settlers Music Festival line-up includes:

Thursday: SHEL, Slim Richey’s Jitterbug Vipers, Steep Canyon Rangers, Ha Ha Tonka, Frank Solivan & Dirty Kitchen
Friday: Amos Lee, Railroad Earth, Lissie, Psychograss, James McMurtry, Steep Canyon Rangers, Ha Ha Tonka, The Wheeler Brothers, Pine Leaf Boys, Frank Solivan & Dirty Kitchen, Youth Competition Winner Grace London
Saturday: Iron & Wine, JJ Grey & Mofro, Doyle Lawson & Quicksilver, Bob Schneider, Sarah Jarosz, Jason Isbell & the 400 Unit, Gaelic Storm, Marshall Crenshaw, The Bottle Rockets, Dale Ann Bradley, Audie Blaylock & Redline, Flounders without Eyes, The Blue Hit, Psychograss (Darol Anger, Mike Marshall, Tony Trischka, David Grier, Todd Phillips), New Country Rehab, Greensky Bluegrass
Sunday: Sam Baker, Eilen Jewell, New Country Rehab, Greensky Bluegrass, Doyle Lawson & Quicksilver

If you aren’t going, you can join me in being jealous.  If you are, consider yourself a very lucky one, and if you see Jay, give him a wave and thank him for all he does.  I guarantee he’ll leave you smiling.


Yes, growing grapes is farming, and most people I have met farmed other crops before they took up a vineyard.  But there’s something very different about this sort of agriculture and its product, and certainly something special about it in Texas.  In one word: relationships.

I recently attended a grape growers meal held by Becker Vineyards.  They invited all the people who grow their grapes to dinner, then paired single vineyard wines with each course.  As the food came to the table, the grape growers from that specific vineyard were asked to stand and share something about that year’s harvest, or about that particular grape, or a story.  It was so intimate.

Jet Wilmeth with his single vineyard Lone Oak cabernet

Touring the different vineyards in Lubbock, it began to dawn on me how different growing wine grapes is from growing, say, cucumbers, which many of the farmers in that region have done.  For one, as Jet Wilmeth of Diamante Doble Vineyards described with his previous cucumbers, much of the crop (the “imperfect” fruit) is left to rot or thrown away.  The farmer has very little say in his harvest.  And second, those cucumbers (or pumpkins or cotton) go into the market and the farmer seldom sees the final product, and certainly does not receive credit for it.

But with grapes, and especially in Texas, it is very different.  The farmer, in essence, creates a paint of sorts and turns it over to the winemaker/ artist.  The winemaker then creates a piece of art and hands it back to the farmer (and sells it en masse) in the form of a bottle.  Oftentimes the vineyard is placed on the label, giving the farmer direct credit.  This became clear sharing a lunch with the Bingham Family as they served wines made soley from their grapes.  Or at a dinner with the Newsoms, Canadas and Wilmeths, each family providing a bottle of wine from their soil.  The relationships between the drink and the earth, and between the farmer and the winemaker, were clear as day.

VJ Reddy and Bobby Cox standing in front of Reddy Vineyards

My favorite moment of this Becker dinner came when VJ Reddy stood to explain the Viognier made from his grapes.  He talked about how old the vines were and how, this whole time, he had hoped for someone to make the grapes into their true expression of wine.  And how the Beckers had finally done this.  He expressed his gratitude and thanked the Beckers directly, to which they quickly and emphatically replied, “No, thank YOU.”

This doesn’t happen with peanuts or pumpkins.  I’d dare to say it’s something better.

Wes Marshall in the Hill Country

Click here to read what Wes Marshall has to say about William Chris Vineyards, Pedernales Cellars, Woodrose Winery, the new Messina Hof Hill Country tasting room and Spicewood Vineyards, all making “Sancerre-ly Impressive Texas Wine.”