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.

backpontodowntown

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.

IMG_3308

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.

small

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.

alissasmall

denisejesssmall

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

chrisglassmall

Hilmy Cellars, 4.0 Cellars

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

sandstonebottlesmall

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

winebarsmall

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

childsmall

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.

donsmall

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

Alphonse and Martha Dotson

On our tour, Ronnie explained the vineyards to us,

IMG_3307

Carl showed the buildings and shared his plans for their future

Carldowntownsmall

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

donblends

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.

houseyarddarksmall

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.

veggiessmall

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.

hallsmall

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.

ronniesmall

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.

Image

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

Image

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

– Margaret Shugart

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

Image

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.

IMG_3066

sustainability in Texas Wineries: Red Caboose Winery and Vineyards

This is the first of a series highlighting sustainable practices in Texas wineries and vineyards.

In addition to be centers for locavore culture and community awareness, many Texas wineries are dedicated to being environmentally conscious and practicing sustainability in creative ways.  With wine as both a farming and production venture, these practices have a multi-level impact and deserve a little applause.

We start with Red Caboose Winery and Vineyards because owner Gary McKibben has had an expansive influence on the industry, and he and his son Evan McKibben (winemaker), have taken sustainable practices very seriously in their own winery and vineyards.

Image

In addition to owning Red Caboose Wineries in Meridian and Clifton, Gary is an architect for a Dallas firm specializing in sustainable design.  The firm designed both Red Caboose buildings, as well as the buildings for Flat Creek Estate, Pedernales Cellars, Brennan Vineyards, Retreat Hill Winery and Vineyard, Texas Legato Winery, and La Bodega in Terminal D at DFW Airport.

special sustainable corks at Red Caboose 2

In their winery and vineyard at Meridian, they are using a variety of green technologies.  In the building, they source all their energy from solar panels (and actually generate enough energy to give back to the grid) and use geothermal cooling  for all their refrigeration and chilling needs.  They use sustainable building materials and recycle everything possible from both locations.  And for their corks, they buy composite with caps. The ends are solid and the middle cylinders are pieced together recycled corks.  They work just as well and make good use of what would be otherwise wasted materials.

Evan’s winemaking reflects a similar sentiment and dedication to the natural process: no ionization, no filtration, no computerized gadgets.  The wine is racked and moved through hoses and gravity.  This is in part to cut down on electricity use, and in part a commitment to original wine making practices. They are dedicated to quality over quantity and let the wine develop naturally from its vineyard beginnings, aging it in barrel and bottle as long as it needs.

In their vineyards, they source irrigation water from a rainwater catchment system and do not use pesticides.  They prune clusters to allow the remaining grapes to develop their own natural intensity and quality, and all fruit is hand-havested.  As Evan says, “We grow wine.” The same principles apply to any fruit they buy from outside sources.

How does all of this show in the bottle?  Splendidly.  Their 2008 Tempranillo/ Cabernet Sauvignon blend was one of the 22 Jefferson Cup winners (out of 499 entries) in 2011.  Their Red Ranger Tempranillo blend, 2010 Syrah/Malbec, non-vintage Syrah/Cabernet Sauvignon, and Blanc du Bois have also picked up awards as well.  You can find these, and their other stellar wines at these restaurants and retail outlets.

For more information on Red Caboose Winery and Vineyards sustainable design, visit their webpage or visit them in person at their Meridian and Clifton locations.

– Margaret Shugart

Red Caboose sign

 

Best Texas Wines of 2012

This year I had the opportunity to taste through some of Texas’s best wines in preparation for the next edition of The Wine Roads of Texas. The good news is, the state of the art is getting better each year.

I would describe about 10-15% of our wineries as capable of competing on the world stage, and if that sounds stingy, I would say the same thing about California. Even better, virtually every winery had at least one good wine. The best news for folks traveling in Texas is we are there are so many terrific wineries, including, of course, all three of my picks. The wines of 2012 included these three clear winners.

White Wine: Duchman Family Winery’s Vermentino – Cliff Bingham Vineyards. Start with some of the best organic grapes in the wine business from Bingham’s high plains farms and then add the perfect winemaker, Dave Reilly. He is making as good a Vermentino as you will find anywhere on earth.

Image

Red Wine: Becker Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve – Canada Vineyard. I first tasted this wine along with a large group (two busloads!) of KLRU subscribers and was nearly speechless. When I recovered, I made sure the crowd understood they were tasting a benchmark. Given all the great newish wineries like William Chris, Pedernales, Inwood, etc. I have to admit being surprised that Becker, after 20 vintages, is still setting the standard.

Image

Dessert Wine: Dotson Cervantes Gotas de Oro. Restaurateur/Chef Damian Mandola called me a few months ago and asked me to come to lunch to meet the first Texas winemakers that would be represented in all Mandola’s markets. I was happy to come because Damian is a lot of fun and the people he wanted me to meet are two of my favorite folks in the Texas wine business, Alphonse Dotson and Martha Cervantes. We had a great time telling tall tales and tasting the wines with a few of Damian’s dishes. Not only did the Gotas de Oro have the unctuous sweetness you find in almost every sweet wine, it also had perfect acidity, something very few Texas dessert wines have.

Image

So there you have it. I wish I had the time and space to mention all the wonderful Texas wines I tasted this year. The important takeaway is, it is time to start visiting the many (25+) wineries within a two hour drive of Austin. All have a decent wine and many have wines that compare favorably with other U.S. wines. Then you’ll be able to discover the 10%-15% that really are world class. In the meantime, congratulations to Duchman, Becker, and Dotson Cervantes.

Wes Marshall

Bill Blackman of William Chris Winery

Video

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.