Wednesday, June 20, 2012

26. The "Twin" Wineries: Pillar Bluff and Texas Legato

26. The "Twin" Wineries
Pure Hill Country
Grape vines wrap around,
cradle a humble refuge:
effortless, wine flows.

Hill Country Song
Carefully they move,
crisp, light shifts to deep and dark:
a wine symphony. 

A word of warning: This is a long entry. I was compelled to write about the two wineries -- Pillar Bluff and Texas Legato -- together. This was due to the strange and fascinating connections the two share.

The last day of our wine trip in the Northern Hill Country found us visiting two distinct wineries with a common heritage. Pillar Bluff and Texas Legato present a different take on wine, from the wine to the bottle. Despite such differences, the two wineries (around the corner and within sight distance of one another) are owned by twins. This provided a unique and exciting wine experience.

The vineyards at Pillar Bluff
Texas Legato

The Twins' Shop: Drops of God, Vol. 2
I first want to talk about the twin thing. Heather, at Pillar Bluff, made it clear that these were very different men. Gill Bledsoe (at Pillar Bluff) spends as much of his time as possible tending the grapes and making the wine. He lives and breathes the whole thing. Bill Bledsoe (Texas Legato) is equally in love with this endeavor; when we were there he was intimately involved. However, this is his weekend job. During the week, he knows the professional world like most of us (I could easily relate). I think their philosophies -- simplicity and complexity -- derive from this. But for me, the most interesting part of this all is the connection to my current favorite comic, Drops of God. 

The Twins: Drops of God, Vol. 2
 One of the main characters, Miyabi, grew up with a pair of twins, Kenya and Junya Ishikawa. Their father owns a wine store that is to passed down to the both of them. Like Gill and Bill, they approach wine differently. One brother is more sophisticated; his appearance is sharp, crisp, and professional, and he focuses on premium wines. The other brother is a former bosozoku -- a biker gang member -- that still retains a bit of that style, the more denim themed clothes and a bit of a 50s throwback (even a pompadour). He wants to find the best wine at the best price, to make it available and enjoyable for all. Though their appearances didn't match, the idea of twins with different takes on wine piqued my interest.

 We started at Pillar Bluff, owned by Gill, after a supportive recommendation from family friends Steve and Kathy Feinstein (see there music work with Fein Tuned and The Tim and Bob Show). We arrived to a small and cozy tasting room; I was grateful, due to size, that we were the only ones there. Heather, who works the tasting room during summer break, greeted us as we entered and welcomed us to taste and chat. We felt very welcome here and enjoyed the conversation as much as the wine. We were told us about Gill but also Bill. We gained insight into the the history of the winery and Gill's philosophy. Then we found the most interesting news of the day: we all attended the same college and studied the same degree for at the same time. Well, that lead to a lot of reminiscing too.

As for the wines, they are simple. Gill seems to be a bare bones sort of guy. He dedicates himself to every aspect of the wine, from the grapes to the wine. The dedication shines through the wine. The MOST perfect example is their 2009 Double Gold Merlot. This wine is deep and complex, more akin to a Cabernet Sauvignon than a Merlot. The color is deep, and the aroma drifts up and hints at the wines subtle flavor. And that is just how it starts; there is a subtle development of flavors until a penultimate point is reached. Here the wine plateaus, and the flavor is rich with fruit that doesn't have much of a sugary feel. The undertone is earthy, but it doesn't get taken over by the mineral nature of most Texas wines. It ends smooth. When I opened my bottle after a bad day about a week back, it seemed to sink in and relax everyone of my muscles. Another stand out was the Tyler, a Rhone style blend. This wine, named for a family member, was more luxurious and closely resembled its French counterpart.

Outside at Pillar Bluff
Before leaving, we did take a bit of time to explore the grounds. Now, despite the small tasting room, the outside had a beautiful open pavilion in a circular form. This area had both an air of classicism and local flavor. It was classy and comforting. Too bad the sun was high in the sky and starting to bare down on us, otherwise sipping on a glass of wine in this peaceful landscape would have been wonderful.

After leaving, we drove around the corner to Texas Legato. This tasting room was homey, obviously made to be a home away from home for the owners. The inside seemed a bit kitschy or over-the-top at first glance, but the friendly greeting and the rapport of everyone there made it seem natural. Now I have to admit that it felt a bit tight and anxious during our visit, but that was because they were bottling when we arrived. The tasting room had a section that was stacked high with newly bottled wine, as well as the extra seating area over taken by labeling. Many of the folks at Texas Legato were running around between the back -- where they were bottling -- and the front. Despite all the activity, time was made to sit down and welcome us. We were even invited to the back to see the bottling firsthand.
At the tasting bar at Texas Legato

It was made clear that this was an example of a small winery bottling. The process was simple. One person took the bottles, usually two at a time, and placed them on a rod that shot water up into the bottle; this effectively cleaned the bottles. This, on occasion, often resulted in the person getting wet. Then the bottles moved through the makeshift assembly line to be filled. Wine was passed through a large steel container into the bottles. Though it seemed the machine knew what it was doing, Bill, who was operating it at the time, often had to check to make sure that enough was put in. Then the bottles had a cork inserted into them. After that, a covering was placed over the cork. The final step looked like placing the lengthwise portion of a hair dryer over this top. This strangely familiar looking tool sealed the material to the bottle. From there, bottles were boxed for labeling, and unlike at Perissos earlier in the day, they did this by hand. NOTE: if you want to see a larger wineries production in the hill country, I would suggest Duchman in Dripping Springs.

Blurry picture of bottling at Texas Legato

As for the wines, these were a more complex array. Blends and less common varietals (compared to the nearby wineries) were the offering. It seems that Texas Legato likes to provide a more complex wine. This is very easy to see in the more complicated and detailed labels (as compared to Pillar Bluff). The blends, such as the Family Reunion, and the ports were the standouts here. The Family Reunion was a bold complex blend that matches the larger wineries (especially the HWY 290 ones) similar red blends. It was rich and bold. As for the ports, well, they are a delight. I am not a port drinker; I often find them too sweet. My husband loves port; he would fit into the traditional formal meals found in Regency and Victorian England (you can also get a feel for it by watching Downton Abbey). The ports here were drier, mellowing the sweetness. But by doing that, other richer flavors came out. Instead of a strong sugary taste, I tasted other flavors, the berry and more earthy flavors. And with Texas Legato's port sippers, those flavors came bursting through.

After these last two visits, we were quite sated, and it was both easy and hard to make the long drive home. We had found two wonderful little gems. The wineries provided some of the most exciting wine and visiting experiences. We knew we had found the great time we had been looking for, and so felt comfortable heading home. On the other hand, these were wines we want more of; these are wineries we want to visit more. This made it very hard to leave. And of course, we are definitely planning on going back.

1 comment:

  1. Been wanting to visit these twin wineries for awhile... thanks for the read, cheers!