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

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.