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

Cowboys and Gauchos

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The Wine & Food Foundation of Texas is gearing up for their annual Cowboys and Gauchos event at the Salt Lick in Driftwood this Sunday, February 24th.  It’s bound to be a great party celebrating the overlap between South American and Texan food and wine.  Foundation board member Howard Kells was so inspired by Francis Mallmann’s book, The Seven Fires: Grilling the Argentinian Way, he started the event as a way to taste Texas and South American grilling styles and wines side by side, and celebrate their unique cultures.  It is the Foundation’s top event for supporting Texas wines.

Chefs from restaurants around the Austin area including Jack Allen’s Kitchen, Fore, Live Oak BarbecueEstancia Churrascaria, Sentelli’s Sweets, Cafe Josie, El Alma and El Chile, will be cooking local meat using a wide variety of barbeque techniques like iron rig, iron crosses and parrilla.  Since it’s difficult to marinate or brine large animals, the Foundation and chefs search for an beast that will bring flavor and sweetness to the table after being cooked on a live fire.  This year, under the guidance of Jack Gilmore from Jack Allen’s Kitchen, they chose a Nilgai Antelope from a Hill Country ranch and will be offering samples after its long roast.

Alongside this incredible smorgasbord will be wines from all over South America and Texas.  Distributors specializing in South American wines will pour samples from their wineries, and winemakers and representatives from Texas will be on site talking about their bottles.  Participating local wineries include Pedernales Cellars, Becker Vineyards, Fall Creek Vineyards, Flat Creek Estate, McPherson Cellars, Spicewood Vineyards, Duchman Family Winery, William Chris Vineyards, and Cap*Rock Winery.  It will be an incredible opportunity to compare varietals like Tannat (the national wine of Uruguay and my favorite red varietal in Texas), Merlot, and Cabernet Sauvignon from the different regions, paired with barbecued game meat and other culinary specialties like homemade chorizo, beef tongue, wild boar tacos and bison chile.

In addition to all this tasting goodness, there will be a dance floor and live band for some twirling, and a raffle with a grand prize tour of the Hill Country valued at $3000.

Tickets are on sale now through The Wine and Food Foundation of Texas site and entry gets you into the best party around this weekend.

We’ll see you there!

Margaret Shugart

TWGGA Conference 2013

The Texas Wine and Grape Growers Association meeting is coming up again next week, held in San Marcos at the Embassy Suites Conference Center and Spa.  From 8am February 14th until 11:30pm (although probably later…) on February 16th, wine makers, grape growers and interested parties are getting together to enjoy meals, discuss the industry and listen to panelists on marketing, legal issues, viticulture techniques and wine production.  It’s a meeting of the minds, but also a meeting of friends.

Last year I attended the Becker Vineyards wine dinner and was so inspired by the relationships between grape growers and wine makers.  A repost of the event and sentiment are below.

Tickets are still available.  Come join us as we enjoy what president Bobby Cox and all others involved have in store for the conference this year.

For more information, follow this link.

Annual Texas Wine and Grape Growers Associate Meeting 2013

Embassy Suites Conference Center and Spa, San Marcos

February 14-16th

Margaret Shugart

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.

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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.

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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.

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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

relationships

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.