Tuesday, May 29, 2012

20. Northern Hill Country Landscape -- Visiting Alamosa Wine Cellars

Purple horsemint in the Northern Hill Country
20. Northern Hill Country Landscape
Purple horsemint fills
a blanket of wild yellow
broken by cacti hills:

A horny toad greets me here
with stubborn, bold swirls of wine.

I have to say that I am very glad I made the trip to Alamosa Wine Cellars. This out of the way place – part of the Hill Country wine trail and the Way Out Wineries trail – is a gem hidden in the northern hill country. In fact, this was everything I want in a winery: great wine, neat set-up, and great company.

Alamosa Cellars
When Sean and I first stepped in, we were greeted by the winery dog. He welcomed us in quickly – offering a belly to scratch. A little bit of time with a friendly pet passes the time well, which we needed because the small tasting room (with only winemaker Jim Johnson at the bar) was packed. A calm friendly welcome was a good sign. We relaxed until the crowd moved out, and we were rewarded with a long, meandering tasting and chat with winemaker Jim Johnson. He is a fount of wine knowledge, especially Texas wine knowledge.

Looking at the front of the tasting room.
On the side of the tasting room

First, the wines are great. I tasted much of the selections and was pleased with everything. The reds here are a BIG score. The El Guapo is an exciting blend that is held together well by Tempranillo – a neat tidbit learned is that Alamosa pioneered this grape in Texas, which is quickly becoming one of Texas’ best grapes. The other grapes used add complexity to the wine, a trait many of the wines share, especially the 2006 Port. These blends really matched the landscape. The odd collection of plant life seems to blend and mix seamlessly here – wildflower, prairie grasses, and cacti bundled together in waist high fields that stretch along the hills. As far as the eye can see in the northern Hill Country (in spring), one can see a variety of colors and textures that create a distinctive and complex landscape.
A Northern Hill Country landscape
Beyond the complexity of the landscape is the various nature of it. Depending on the direction one looks, the same elements – hills, rock outcrops, wild flowers, and sun – combine in different ways to create different views.  If I look one way, I may see rolling hills and soft wildflowers, another way may be jutting rocks with sparse flowers peeking out of a few spots, and then there are the spots that are parched from the heat of the Texas sun. The same goes for the blends at Alamosa. Most of the blends rely on the same sorts of grapes, but the proportion and technique used to fashion them from grape to wine creates variety of flavors. And with summer’s heat creeping back, I recommend the blush – Mouverdre never tasted so smooth.
Views of the vineyard.

What was best about the winery was the company. Jim had great insight – he warned me that my grape vine will likely be struck by Pierce’s  disease – as many vines here are. He then encouraged me not to give up growing, suggesting Touriga or Blanc du Bois, as they are rather hearty and easy to grow in Texas. Besides great wine lessons, especially about what will grow well here in Texas, he had great stories. I had already heard some funny tales about Dr. Becker (from Becker vineyards), but now I was getting it from one of the former Becker winemakers – the staff there never knows what Dr. Becker gets into (he is very hands on) until they find the mess later. This is both a frustrating story and a charming one.

Views of the vineyard.
The best of the stories was about the raccoon. They were unloading Grenache recently brought in from Mason when the grapes got loose and fell. Well, they salvaged what they could, but had to leave some behind – no one wants gravel with their wine. The grapes began to ferment under the late August sun, being one of the hottest times of the year. Then one night, Jim found a ball of fur where the grapes should be. He went up and discovered a very drunk raccoon. The raccoon had been feasting on the fermented grapes and looked up at Jim with that relaxed stare we all get from time to time. So, even Texas wildlife likes Alamosa wine. And if anyone’s interested, this wine can be found in the 2002 port.

Before leaving, we also got to meet Karen, Jim’s wife and an active member of the Texas wine world. She encouraged us to come back out for the WOW (Way Out Wineries) event at the end of June. The details were intriguing – a sample of wine (in a WOW stemless glass keepsake), a sample of each wineries’ chosen cuisine, and judging. Her enthusiasm was contagious, which makes the drive out to Alamosa worth it.

In fact, if Alamosa was the only place I visited, I would have left happy. I felt welcome at Alamosa, but I also learned so much. And the best thing I learned, I was missing out on some great wines.Even as I write this, I am enjoying my bottle of Texacaia. This wine, labeled as their Super Texan, is a smooth and balanced blend of Sangiovese, Tannat, and Petite Verdot. This wine is the late evening warmth, the heat of day waning in the summer dark. It is rich and full, deep and dark like the promise of the night. The warmth and spice of the day hints just above the rich flavor that saturates everything. I am so glad that the sun is setting, but another day for Alamosa is just past the horizon.

No comments:

Post a Comment