Sunday, July 29, 2012

33. Bending Branch Part 1: Visiting

33. Visiting
Up, the hill proceeds,
reaching for the sky and clouds
with each vine and root.

When I look out, my eyes see
the joys and dreams of heaven.
Looking out over the vineyards

A number of articles recently, even this past week, have been highlighting Comfort, TX area winery Bending Branch. It seems everyone is enamored with their Tannat wines. In June, they made quite a showing at the Lone Star International Wine Competition, fetching some key awards, particularly the Best in Show award for the International Red Wine Category with the 2009 Silver Tannat. This past Saturday (July 28) they decided to celebrate with a party -- live jazz from Phil Grota and friends, comfort food from San Antonio's Mars Mobile Kitchen, and special tastings of the two award winning Tannats -- the Silver Tannat and the now unavailable EM Tannat (brought out of the library for the event). Sean and I took this opportunity to pay a return visit. Founders Bob and Brenda Young invited us to learn about and experience their winery firsthand. The day ended up being an incredible one.
Up close and personal with the Lone Star awards

This visit was one of my all-time favorite wine experiences. It was so nice to be welcomed into the winery; even before we met with Jennifer Beckmann-- who set up the visit with the Young's and winemaker John Rivenburgh (Bob and Brenda's son-in-law) -- we enjoyed a tasting with the always pleasant and friendly stewardesses in the tasting room. Jennifer greeted us as soon as she had a chance, and before long, we were getting to know Bending Branch better thanks to Bob and Brenda. This delightful day turned into one of the most informative and eye-opening experiences I have yet had. I left with so much information -- about Bending Branch and wine making -- that I knew it would take awhile to sort it all out. And so, I have decided to breakdown what I learned and share it over multiple posts.

The Wines

This relatively new winery is on the verge of truly exciting things. For wine drinkers, the most important is the wine itself.

Bob Young informing me about Bending Branch's bottling

 In the tasting room

During our tasting, we learned that there will be an estate Picpoul Blanc soon (they harvested their first block last year, and it is currently in the barrels). This year's Picpoul harvest is already done, so we can expect more Texas Picpoul in the future. Next, this year's 2010 High Plains Rose' has been developing in the bottle. During the tasting, I noticed that it was growing smoother, and the reds that make it up are starting to show through nicely, creating a fuller wine. The other treat in the tasting room right now is the Chloe Cuvee (named for the Rivenburgh's daughter). We happily paid the $3 for a taste and the nearly $18 for a glass, but we stopped short of the $75 for a bottle of this limited edition wine (only 50 cases). This red blend brings together Petite Sirah, Tannat, and Souzao in a bright and bold wine. The dark flavors are subtle and captivating. I lingered over my glass, so I could appreciate the warmth and depth hidden within.

On the horizon

Bob took Sean and I back into the vineyard. As he drove us up the hill from the tasting room, we looked out into the rolling hills and were eager to find out about what was next for this winery. Bob had already told us that, before the year is out, they will have eighteen different wines. My appetite was whet. Of course the soon-to-be-harvested Tannat sample that Bob shared helped.
Tannat just about ready to harrvest

Upcoming releases at Bending Branch will include their first forays into Texas' current favorite, Tempranillo (and if the press is right, they are ahead of the next curve with their already established Tannat). This High Plains Tempranillo comes from great vineyards; I noticed some Tempranillo barrels labeled Newsom in the barrel room. They will also bring out a High Plains Cabernet Sauvignon; their last Cab has been sold out for awhile, and this will take its place. There is another vintage of the Texas Tannat, 2010, due out soon. And the Tannat will also see new life as a port-style wine (Sean is ready for that).

Tannat straight from the barrel

What is best about all the upcoming releases is that much more of this wine is Texas grown and Texas made. In the past, a large number of Bending Branch's wines came from California grapes, from vineyards Bob and Johnathan had relationships with (all California grown grapes are labeled with the vineyard name on the bottle). But now, the Texas grapes will be making more of a showing. The last few years have finally seen the estate grapes come into their own, as well as increase in number. And to increase the production, Bending Branch has formed partnerships with High Plains growers, working with growers like Vijay Reddy, who has been supplying them with some of their Tannat, as well as the Newsoms who are taking part in a cooperative planting of Petite Sirah and Tannat with Bending Branch. This was exciting news.
Souzao in the barrel
 Other wines and grapes are making their way into the Bending Branch menu. The sold out Souzao, primarily from California grower Silvaspoons Vineyard in Alta Mesa, will be back. For now, it is one of the few reds mainly from California, but in a few years, some of that Souzao will be Texas grown (they planted some onsite this year). For me, I am glad to see the return of this unique wine. When I first tasted it, I enjoyed its darkness, and I can't wait till the next vintage.

Getting to hand crush Malbec during one of its three daily crushes

The vineyard and production provided insight to other varietals and blend possibilities for the future, including Mourvedre, Malbec, and Anglianico. They are testing Bonarda (a grape originally found in Italy but is now a rising star, and mainly found, in Argentina). I can personally attest to the Malbec, as I had a chance to work with the fermentation of some, but I'll save that for another post. It is clear that a lot is in store at Bending Branch.

Things to come

Not only did we learn about the new wines about to make a showing at Bending Branch, but we were told about future plans for events and fundraisers. Brenda Young enlightened us to what the winery has planned.

September will see a new event that Brenda hopes will be among their annual events (joining the Derby Party in May). A tennis pro-am fundraiser will take place to help the local Boys and Girls Club. Five pros have been invited to compete, and a number of amateurs will get a chance to play. This multi-day event will also include more than just matches; a young, local tennis player will showcase her skills, and children from the Boys and Girls Club will get to participate in tennis clinics and act as ball girls and ball boys at the matches. Helping the kids is the top priority here, but Bob is excited to enjoy one of his favorite sports. Also, the much admired tennis court (which no one can miss as they park) will get some great use.

Dining space on the porch; overlooking the tasting room

In addition to the tournament, there will be a dinner at the Young's residence. Bob and Brenda gave us a tour of their beautiful home, and we saw where the dinner will likely take place. They have an outdoor kitchen and seating area that looks down on to the tasking room. There is also a large courtyard. These areas will be able to provide ample seating for this additional fundraiser, not to mention provide beautiful views of the nearby rolling hills.

Final Thoughts

Brenda Young sharing stories in her kitchen

I cannot say how appreciative I am to have had this wonderful experience. What I learned touring the vineyard, the crush pad, the lab, and the offices provided me a much greater understanding of wine making, making it very clear this is science and art at its best. I will forever be indebted to Bob for teaching me so much and providing this great experience.

The personal touch that Brenda brought to the visit added to the impact of this visit. She and Bob were kind enough to give us a tour of their home. The modern villa -- as I see it -- stretched out along a rise in the hill. Inside, the joys and loves of the Youngs' are enshrined. Bob pointed out their prized Italian oven painted at the Ferrari plant and the wood floor from Colorado; Brenda shared the history behind the checkered tiles in their hallway. Personal joys, such as the French Laundry (alluding to the restaurant) that is tucked behind the kitchen with everything a person needs to care for clothes and a beautiful screened in porch looking out into the yard where the Youngs can watch their grandchildren play, make up this wonderful home.
The Ferrari painted oven

Tile floor moved from the Youngs' last home in Atlanta, GA

We even enjoyed lunch down among the trees (provided by Mars Mobile Kitchen). Here we had the chance to really get to know the Bending Branch family, to visit as my grandmother likes to say. We even learned that not just Bending Branch is ready to expand, but so is Comfort. Brenda told us all about the new opportunities happening in Comfort. This growth is great for Comfort and its surrounding communities.

All of this is just the beginning. Bending Branch is poised for something big. The additional deck being built next to the tasting room is sign of great things to come. I am eager to see. I hope to see everyone there as this winery makes it mark in the history of Texas wine.

NOTE: I learned so much from this visit that this is only the beginning. In the VERY near future, I will write about what Bob taught me about Bending Branch's growing and wine making  processes, as well as the lessons learned on the organic approach used at Bending Branch (thanks to Jonathan).

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