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

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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

Tasting at Salt Lick Cellars

The Texas Wine and Grape Growers Association is headed to the Salt Lick in Driftwood for a winery dinner tonight.  And what a perfect place to explore different personalities of wine in the bottle.

I like to think of Salt Lick Cellars as an art gallery of sorts.  Jay Knepp, the Salt Lick vineyard manager, grows near 40 acres of grapes on the property in Driftwood, then sends those grapes to different winemakers around the region to craft into wine.  So if you don’t have time travel around to several different wineries in a day, you can make one stop here and explore the styles of a variety of winemakers, all creating art from the same grapes.

At this moment, there are five different wines in this category produced by three different wine makers, all done with Salt Lick fruit:Image

1) Salt Lick Cellars Mourvèdre by Bill Blackman and Chris Brundrett of William Chris Vineyards and Winery.  It carries the signature flavors of William Chris’ coal toasted South Armenian Oak.  The wine is rich with prominent oak flavors of cooking spices and vanilla, the fruit rounded by its time in the barrels.

2) Salt Lick Cellars GSM by Dave Reilly at Duchman Family Winery.  A grenache, syrah, mourvèdre blend aged in neutral and French oak barrels.  True to Reilly’s style, the fruit expresses itself in bright flavors with a clean and lingering finish.

3) Hill Country Blend by Dave Reilly at Duchman Family Winery.  A blend of grapes from different vintages: sangiovese from 2010, syrah from 2009 and cabernet sauvignon from 2010.  All the fruit is from Salt Lick vineyards, except for the cabernet sauvignon from Limestone Terrace, Reilly’s first vineyard (now otherwise owned/managed) in Wimberley.  Aged in American and neutral oak, it has pleasant hints of vanilla.  The finish is tight with good acidity that is sure to cut through your BBQ lunch, er, dinner.

4) Salt Lick Sangiovese by Dave Reilly at Duchman Family Winery, the newest addition to the tasting room selection.  The fruit is from 7 year vines at Salt Lick and was picked in the middle of a 6 1/2 inch rainstorm, then aged in neutral French barrels.  The rain apparently didn’t affect the grapes and the wine is still all the things I love in a sangiovese: beautiful color, bright, red fruit, again, great acidity.

5) Fall Creek Tempranillo by Ed Auler at Fall Creek Vineyards.  100% Salt Lick fruit bottled under the Fall Creek label.  Aged in American, French and neutral French barrels, this wine is a full-bodied gem.  The fruit is prominent with creamy vanilla notes and the complex sweet/sour play that comes from good American oak.  The finish is long and lingering, even after a few sips of water.  Stellar meat pairing wine.

Tonight should offer an amazing experience to all TWGGA participants.

And all others over these next few months, as long as the wine lasts!  Cheers to the chance to witness so many artists in one place.  Image

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