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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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

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Hilmy Cellars, 4.0 Cellars

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

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

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

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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.

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

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On our tour, Ronnie explained the vineyards to us,

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Carl showed the buildings and shared his plans for their future

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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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