Fall Creek Vineyards Throws Rockstar Independence Celebration

There is no reason to make today your only for Independence Celebrations. This is a four day weekend and lots of opportunities to continue the party. Tops on my list is the Burgers n Blues feast at Fall Creek Vineyards.

There is a lot packed into the six hour event- music by Bill Rives, art by acclaimed artist Daniel Adams– but I’m most excited for the food (and wine, of course). Chef Paul Petersen from Auguste Escoffier Culinary School in Austin will be spinning his rockstar magic on the grill and if you haven’t seen this yet, you are missing one of the best true-Texas chefs in the state.

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Some lifetimes ago I worked under Chef Paul as a server at the Gage Hotel in Marathon, Texas  and my concept of wine and food was forever elevated. We were a hodge-podge staff with mixed experience and enthusiasm for the job. Paul, a CIA Chef with training in Manhattan and one wildly successful restaurant in Buda under his belt, entered the scene and lit a fire under our feet and in our minds. He taught us to taste wines like professionals, how to think and talk about food pairings, how to describe his creations with flourish and pride, how to polish our service and deliver the fine dining experience. With rockstar attitude. Our uniforms consisted of jeans, black and silver studded belts and Converse shoes. And Chef ran that kitchen like a rock show, music loud, pausing on the grill to play air drums with the tongs. Passion poured out of him and into us and I took that into all my future restaurant and tasting experiences. Chef Paul is the reason I really paid attention to wine and he gave me the basis for my culinary understandings. And I still wear that belt sometimes, when I need a little extra attitude. I have a lot to thank him for.

One of the first things Chef Paul did when he took ahold of the Gage wine program was make Fall Creek Vineyards our house pour. He wanted Texas wine in as many glasses as possible. I didn’t realize at the time how progressive this really was and had the chance to talk to him today about his connection to the winery and the people.

He said he was introduced to Fall Creek Vineyards through a blind tasting with a wine sales guy. The rep put a rich red wine in his glass and asked him to identify its origin. “I called it Bordeaux. Straight up. Not sure the producer or the exact region, but I knew it was Bordeaux.” The rep said, nope, it’s Texas. Fall Creek Meritus. Paul was amazed, impressed and became a loyal fan, then a close friend of Susan and Ed Auler, owners of Fall Creek.

Chef told me how he requested to hold a bottle of Meritus during many of his publicity and magazine shoots. I asked why and he said quite simply, “It’s the best wine in Texas. I am a Texas chef and this is my favorite Texas wine product.” He respects the care and attention Ed Auler puts into every vintage, and how it’s not made every year. Like Dominus Estate in Napa Valley, it has to be a stellar year to create the bottle.

You will have the chance to taste the new release of the 2010 Meritus at the winery on Saturday. It is 97% Cabernet Sauvignon, 3% Merlot from Certenberg Vineyards in Mason County. It has won a Double Gold from the Tasters Guild International Wine Competition. Opaque in the glass, it shows layers of complexity from black fruit and dark cherries to mocha and leather; the tannins grip all over your mouth- a wine worth aging.

I asked Chef Paul if he would pair the Meritus with his burgers on Saturday and he laughed and said it might be too big of a wine. His recommendation for this weekend, and for every day drinking from Fall Creek is their Merlot. He said it’s always solid.

I’d also like to recommend their 2011 Tempranillo. It was aged in 1/3 neutral oak, 1/3 partially used oak, and 1/3 new American oak for a total of 14 months, and has cherry and cassis all over it with hints of leather in the finish. It was made for beef.

I had the opportunity to taste all these wines by invitation of Susan and Ed Auler last month and with Certified Sommelier, Matt McGinnis, including some preview barrel samples (get excited for the 2012 Tempranillo now! It’ll be in oak until 2014, but it’s already showing its steely berry fruits and herbaceous, floral notes). For Matt’s total tasting notes, visit his blog What Are You Drinking? I will add my own later on.

In the meantime, go make your own tasting notes. If not at Fall Creek Vineyards, then at a Texas winery near you. Explore all their offerings, buy a glass and enjoy it in some beautiful surroundings. For Chef Paul, I’d release the surprises he has in store this Saturday, but the Aulers don’t even know his plans yet. If you miss him this week, he’ll be cooking again in August for their Grape Stomp Festival.

Happy Red, White, Blue and Burgers to you.

– 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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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