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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Satellite of Love: Texas wineries make the movies

“The most important question we had to ask them was, ‘Can a girl in a bikini ride through the vines on a motorcycle?’  That’s what we needed to know.  Although, in the end, it was really a guy wearing a wig,” said Will Moore, when asked about his selection process for Texas vineyards as sets for his film.  In the end, he picked William Chris Vineyards in Hye, Texas for their incredible tasting room, and Duchman Family Vineyards in Driftwood, because they would allow the motorcycle.

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Satellite of Love, an independent, locally shot film, just celebrated their Video on Demand release on Mar. 5.  Screened in twelve festivals around the nation including The Austin Film Festival and The Hill Country Film Festival, the movie is now available for download.  I met with director Will Moore, producer John Michael Measells, and music director Jonathan Case to discuss their experience with Texas wine during the filming.  The movie was shot all around the Hill Country and Austin, featuring locations like Justine’s, Apache Shores off Lake Austin.

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Shooting at Justine’s restaurant

Roughly based on the 1960’s French film, “La Collectionneuse,” the story revolves around two couples meeting for a weekend in the California (but really Texas) wine country.  Opening scenes in the movie show that the men were best friends, one now married to the other’s ex-lover.  When they all arrive for their vacation, a sexy DJ from Barcelona is thrown into the mix, now dating the still-single friend.  Add wine, beautiful countryside, music and yes, girls on motorcycles (and bicycles), and the film plays around the questions of monogamy and the delicate messiness of the human heart.

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The cast members are professionals, coming from productions like “The O.C.,” “True Blood,” and “Snakes on a Plane.”  They even found Patrick Bauchau an original leading man in La Collectionneuse and flew him over from France to play the role of vineyard owner and resident sage.  Their videography is stunning and highlights the beauty of the Texas Hill Country.

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Will Moore and his wife spent six months location scouting, which, he says, primarily consisted of staying in Fredericksburg, going to wineries, drinking wine and hanging out.  In the process, they joined a handful of wine clubs that now ship wines to their home several times a year, an added bonus to the research.

There were two features Moore searched for when scouting out a perfect Texas winery: proximity to Austin for ease of travel, and permission for a girl in a bikini to ride a motorcycle through the vineyards.  Their initial choice was Becker Vineyards, but after talking to Duchman Family Winery, they decided it was better for its proximity to Austin.

They chose William Chris Vineyards for a different reason: the tasting room.  “It looks like someone’s home in the middle of nowhere,” Will Moore explained.  “The inside is so unique.”  It is crafted out of a farmhouse from the early 1900’s, refurbished by wine makers Bill Blackmon and Chris Brundrett.

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One of its most defining features is the ceiling, covered in colorful barn doors and the film does a beautiful job showing it off in one, long shot.  Moore said they did not close the tasting room on the day of the shooting, but just moved the sample wines outside.  People were crammed in the windows, trying to catch a glimpse of the filming.  They only shot for a half day, but Moore, Measells, and Case all confirmed that everyone had at least one bottle of wine a piece before continuing on the day. Their favorite William Chris wine was the 2008 Enchanté, and a bottle of it is featured in one of the shots.  Producer Measells said he particularly enjoyed drinking it with his corn nuts on site.

Duchman Family Winery proved to be a great adventure.  They started the day by getting one of the equipment trucks stuck in the mud.  An employee of the Salt Lick BBQ and Tasting Room came over to free them.  The day was spent filming in the beautiful vineyards, riding bikes and motorcycles through the vines.  The cast, again, drank a lot of wine on site and tried most of the varieties and blends available.  They bought several cases of the Duchman Sangiovese 2010 and Moore, again, joined the wine club.

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To see footage of our beautiful Hill Country and of these wineries, and to see an shining example of a thought-provoking, locally written and directed film, download a copy of Satellite of Love from iTunes.

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– 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

Bill Blackman of William Chris Winery

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The first in a series of many videos aimed at outlining some of the vivid history of Texas wine. Whenever we get a chance to film the winemakers, farmers and other folks who have been important to this business we love so much, we’ll do it, hopefully creating some primary source historical records, or at least some damn good tall tales.

Here, we talk to Bill (William) Blackman of William Chris Winery. The winery resides in tiny Hye, Texas, about halfway between Johnson City and Stonewall. There, long time grape growers Bill Blackman and Chris Brundrett decided to build their dream winery and show the world that they had talents beyond farming.The conversation is far reaching, from which of Joe Ely’s bands rocked the hardest to the correct temperature for drinking a Texas red wine.

Wes Marshall in the Hill Country

Click here to read what Wes Marshall has to say about William Chris Vineyards, Pedernales Cellars, Woodrose Winery, the new Messina Hof Hill Country tasting room and Spicewood Vineyards, all making “Sancerre-ly Impressive Texas Wine.”