Tuesday, June 12, 2012

25. The Drought: Sanctuary at Perissos Vineyards (and Inks Lake State Park)

25. The Drought: Sanctuary at Perissos Vineyards (and Inks Lake State Park)
Crafted by sunshine:
grasses and trees pull away
leaving only rocks.

The oasis runs through it:
sparkling lakes feeding grape vines.

Day two of our Northern Hill Country wine trip started at Perissos Vineyards. While we were there, things got busy. When we arrived, there was labeling going on, but not much else (even visitor wise). Before we were half way through our tastings, three more groups had arrived and were enjoying the wine too. And in the small tasting room, with two great big dogs lounging to escape the heat, it all seemed a bit snug. That didn't matter with such good wine to attract our attentions.

The shrinking lake at Lake Buchanan Dam

Inks Lake State Park

One of the rock faces at Inks Lake
Now before I get on to the visit, I want to talk a bit about an unplanned side trip we had just before reaching the winery. We had gotten a relatively early start and found ourselves with a few hours to kill. Our first stop was Lake Buchanan dam -- as we were coming from Burnet on 29. This didn't provide too much for us -- except for the quartz I scavenged for some future front yard landscaping. It did make things clear that water is an issue up here: the lake bed was there for all to see. What provided a great experience, though, was Perissos' neighbor, Inks Lake State Park. This treasure, just a few short minutes north on 4, was a natural wonder. The rock outcroppings we hiked -- some of the oldest rocks in Texas -- were magnificent. Their colors were a bold swash among the trees, red and orange streaked with black and a hazy, opalescent quartz. The formations were fascinating in their diversity, some jutted out from the landscape and other smoothed down an incline.

Rock outcropping with running water below
We decided to "climb" along these places to put the entire region into perspective. This is a harsh world that must be tended to carefully; in some areas the bare rock faces were radiating the glare of the late morning sun. But of course, the area was not all rock; the lake and its waters run through this scene. So just as I began to notice a trail of sweat forming and feel the sun beat down upon me, I caught a cool breeze right off of the water. The trees that hug the lake offered a respite from the sun drenched rock landscape. And the water itself provided a refreshment to ease my mind. This is an excellent example of the environment the grape growers struggle and relish here. My short hike to the Devil's Waterhole and through the vicinity put me in the best frame of mind for tasting wine. Next time, I am hoping to stay longer, and I would encourage others visit here too.

Tree lined lake front at Inks Lake

A row of my favorite, Makbec @ Perissos
From there, we drove the short trip down the road to the winery, missing it at first because we didn't realize it was so close. We still arrived early, so we wandered through the grapes. It was nice to spend time walking along the grapes. My favorite part was that they were clearly marked. Not only could I get up close to the vineyard, but I could learn which grapes were which. I wish I was visiting now, watching the darker grapes change color and take their full shape, but even seeing how they bunch and the vine grows was new knowledge I happily took in.

When we got to the door, we were ushered in by Baron. He trodded along with us, happy for our attention and the cool stone floor of the tasting room. As I mentioned early, labeling was the task for the day, and one of the vineyard's whites was getting tagged. But our attention was quickly on the wine as Ray helped us through our wine tasting. Ray's enthusiasm for the wines was wonderful; even as the room got busy and he was struggling to help four groups, he kept smiling and chatting away with pride. And Perissos has something to be proud of. They focus on growing their grapes themselves. The vineyard I had just walked through helped create most of the wines I tasted. Now, like most Texas wineries, their vineyard was not enough, but unlike many others, Ray proclaimed with pride that all of Perissos' grape were 100% Texan, getting some from other Texas vineyards.

Inside the tasting room looking towards the door, and Charlie
The wines are much more than their grapes. Among the whites, the Roussane and Viognier blends were standouts. These crisp wines were refreshing after our hike. The went down smooth and made me feel cool. The reds, though, were strong contenders. Anyone who has been reading the blog knows I, like so much of Texas, am fond of Tempranillo. At Perissos, the Temp blend (with a bit of Touriga) is a spicy, yet fruity character. The bold spice of the Tempranillo is there, but it is mellowed and smoothed out by the more fruity nature of the Touriga. I have slowly come to like Touriga, despite not being a big Port drinker (main grape used in traditional port), but I have come to respect its dry fuitiness that is often lacking in so many grapes. And paired with a Tempranillo, the blend becomes well rounded. But the prize winners are their sold out Petite Sirah (I am glad I still have a bottle) and the Syrah blend. And recently, I found a small stash for sale at Vinously Speaking in San Antonio (along with the Tempranillo). These reds are big and complex. The wines exude depth: the terroir comes through with its mineral strength, like my rock outcroppings, and lush flavors, like the lake fed hills. These are wines we had to savor and allow to sink into us.

Bottling paused at Perissos.
 As we sipped through these wines, we learned about the vineyard and the soul of the winery, as much as Ray could squeeze in between pouring and explaining wines for four different groups. The folks here chose their name carefully; Perissos is a Greek term referring to getting what you want, maybe even getting the ideal. At Perissos, we found the ideal. The wines were perfect, matching the lands they came from. The company was wonderful; Ray was friendly, informative, and fun, but Baron, and later Charlie, stole my heart. They are top on my list for a repeat visit. I think I may make a whole day of the park and the winery.

The grapes at Perissos, mid-May 2012

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