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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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

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.