Thursday, March 29, 2012

4. Vineyard Residents

4. Vineyard Residents
Spring showers’ weeds swell,
screeches drift through swaying stalks,
Guinea Fowl bug hunting.

This past weekend I was lucky enough to visit the newest winery on Highway 290 between Fredericksburg and Johnson City, Hilmy Wine. I have been waiting for them to open and was rewarded for my patience. This newest installment along the busiest wine road in Texas is a good addition to the neighborhood.

The first quality to look at, when judging a winery’s potential, is the wine. Hilmy’s wines are engaging and tasty. Most often, when I visit new wineries, their wines seem to be weak. This is natural, as the winemaker is still experimenting with the grapes to craft a quality product. The best wineries show potential from the start – like William+Chris – and some take awhile. Hilmy is already past potential and is on track. And as I found out,thanks to the folks at William+Chris and PedernalesCellars (two of my favorite wineries). So what do they have going for them? Muscat Canelli. This white can easily go wrong. Sometimes it doesn’t have the required “bubbly feel” fond in Muscats. Some are way too sweet and are hard to drink. Others are too dry and lose the sweet quality. Hilmy’s Muscat is not plagues by these issues. The sparkle is there, the sweetness is present, and it has a nice balancing dryness. In fact, for a red drinker like me, it is nice. I am easily overpowered by sweet wines; a family member of mine seems to like wines that I find to be almost syrupy sweet. This wine is crisp and refreshing. The dryness that the sweetness seems to rest upon allows the sweetness to be mild. When I drink it I am reminded by lighter fruits, especially dry, cool apples or even cucumbers. I cannot wait till summer, when I feel this wine may be my sipping wine.

Now that isn’t to say the other wines are worth writing about. Their Tempranillo belongs with the other great Texas Temps – Pedernales Cellars is the leader here (and they were even mentioned on the Today Show). It is bold and flavor. It also harkens to Spanish Temps with its spicy, robust flavor. When I was at Hilmy, I shared a glass of the Muscat and Temp with my husband. These two very different wines proved to be a tasty match. In addition, two unreleased wines show promise. The blend that makes up Persephone stands to be quite a treat; I’ll just have to go back and see.

As the poem suggests, the environment was wonderful. As we sat in the shade on Hilmy’s back porch, we looked out past a field of weeds –right now they are generally inescapable due to the mild, wet winter and regular spring rains we’ve had – into the vineyard. So few wineries have the vineyard so close and a direct part of the view – Grape Creek is one that comes to mind. At the far end of the vineyard, we saw an  interesting group of whitish specks milling about. I later found out that these were goats; they are used to keep the weeds around the vineyard under control. That is my type of herbicide. In fact, that is a part of their greater philosophy; they use animals to decrease the use of harsh methods. The Guinea Fowl of the poem are the pesticide; they roam the grounds munching on bugs. On my visit, they kept wandering past the porch, so we got a great look at them. And their crazy calls called over the music and spurred conversation.The winery also keeps two dogs for deer control and a cat to curb rodent infestation. Honestly, I am a huge animal lover, so this won me over. It also gave me something to watch and enjoy while sipping wine.
I’ll end on the tasting room itself. The tasting rooms in Texas strive for their own personality – at least the best ones do. Hilmy is striving for a relaxed sophistication. Their large wooden door swings out in an odd way; something I found a surprising delight. The tasting room has a comfy area – nice couches and chairs for relaxing. The tasting bar feels like it belongs in a nice restaurant, especially one with a homier feel. The entirety is decorated with diverse, bright, bold artwork that matches well with the wine. But the best part of the tasting room was the staff. They were all very friendly and knowledgeable. Before I left, I had the chance to chat with all of them, sharing stories and experiences. This is definitely a place you can spend a day in – as their site suggests.

One of my goals this year is to go to new (at least to me)wineries. Hilmy gave me a completely new winery. I am eager to see where they go, as well as eager to go back and see the dogs and the cat and try the unreleased wines.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

3. Malbec (William+Chris Wines)

3. Malbec

Oozing ripe berries
full, strong, about past their prime:
tangy, sweet darkness.

In early March, I attended the William+Chris Hye Society Malbec release party and vine planting. It is experiences like this that have provided me new insight into wine, in this case my favorite wine. I love Malbec; it is my favorite varietal. When I first really tried it, I fell in love. This once forgotten wine is having an extraordinary comeback, and I am happy to sing the praises of the Texas born Malbecs.

First things first, an introduction to the varietal. This French grape had a rough time. When the big attack on wine occurred -- one that was saved by the Americans -- Malbec took a hit, especially in Bordeaux. It didn't do well when American vines were brought into help (Wesley 44). But, a few decades back, Argentina decided to cultivate the grape. It has had great success and put Argentina on the wine map. Mendoza Valley Malbecs aren't hard to come by -- and at reasonable prices -- and they provide a great wine. Since then, it has been growing in popularity.

But what makes this wine popular? It's diverse. It has the fruit and sweetness found in lighter reds. In fact, berries are the predominant flavor associated with this. Many experts will say dark colored berries -- blues and blacks -- but I have come to think of it was a wine of darkened berries; in the best Malbec's I am reminded of my two favorite foods, blackberries and strawberries. The catch, to me, is that the wine reminds me of really ripe berries, berries that if they are not eaten now they'll be bad tomorrow. I love those berries because they are rich and taste of the darkness; it adds depth to the berries' sweetness. I see this in Malbecs. In addition to sweetness, Malbec's are strong. Like other full body reds, their tannins are noticeable. Here I agree with experts who say that the tannins provide weight for the sweetness (Wesley 51). The tannins aren't as strong as Cabernet Sauvignon, but they are there. I guess that's why I love Malbecs: the tannins are enough to create a wonderful balance to the fruit with out overpowering said fruit. In the end, this wine is great for pairing, and as is often my case, drinking on its own.

My introduction to Malbec was not through Argentina -- though I work hard for an Argentine education -- but from Texas. My first Malbec was from Becker Vineyards. Since then, I have gone out of my way to sample other Texas Malbecs. I do have to say that I will happily drink a Becker Malbec any day. But how is it that a grape, currently growing in the foothills of the Andes, is successful here? Malbec is a malleable grape. It can do well in most climes and is very adaptable. Specifically, it is a grape that can take on the worst that Texas can throw at it -- heat waves and droughts (Wesley 44). So its recent adaptation to the Texas Hill Country -- known for its colder winters (freezes are not uncommon, but we are talking cold for Texas), drought stricken lands (we are just coming out of one of our worst recorded droughts), and heat waves -- is no surprise. And just this month, I was happy that one of my favorite wineries, William+Chris, had decided to take a shot at it.

First let me preface this with the fact that William+Chris' current bottling of Malbec may be gone -- they had only a 120+ cases. But they have said that it will be back, so I hope next year's quantity will be much higher. For now we will talk about what sits before me, the first Malbec.

As the poem and the experts say, there is a level of sweetness to Malbec, and this one embodies that. When I first started this post I had just eaten really ripe strawberries, and this afternoon I enjoyed really ripe blackberries and raspberries. The wine shares the berries' qualities. This wine is a sweet, berry-ish wine. The first full taste is that of berries that are almost too ripe. They are a dark, deep sweetness, not the lighter vibrant sweetness we generally think of with strawberries. At the tip of my tongue, the sweetness is subtle, light, but most definitely there. But as the wine washes back just a little, the dark richness takes hold. The sweetness has depth; it is detailed. It slowly oozes out and saturates my taste buds. It fills my mouth and coats my tongue in a richness, also similar to a sweeter dark chocolate. In fact, at this point, I most reminded of dark chocolate strawberries that are almost no good. Both the strawberries and the wine cannot hold the sweetness back or keep it safe; the sweetness muscles its way through. The taste is bold and strong.

The flavor doesn't stop there. As I said early, this is a full body red, so the tannins are there. And like most tannins, they appear as the wine finishes its journey to completely fill my mouth. Here the sweetness gets its edge. The sweetness mellows and mixes with the acidic taste to round out the wine. But unlike bigger reds, again Cabernet Sauvignon is the main one, it doesn't have a overpowering tannin. It doesn't bombard the drinker with that strong sense of tobacco or oak. It is softer, gentler. This allows the wine to blend the flavors well, creating a wonderful balance. And, like other Malbecs, makes it eminently drinkable.

But, it does differ from both Argentine Malbecs and other Texas Malbecs. Texas wines are interesting creatures. They seem to have a hint of mineral in them. At some point there is this rich, strong flavor, like that of other minerals we use in cooking. Too me, it is like some of the richer smoked salts, that sort of sensation but not salty. I am guessing this is a result of the terroir in Texas -- we have heavy mineral deposits in out soil, and those minerals are usually near the surface. Growing up, I didn't get far with my digging before I reached a solid layer of caliche. This rock, often a major element in cement, is very common. Add to that the extensive limestone, quartz, clay, etc. found in the soil, and you can easily see where that mineral taste comes from. In Texas wines, it usually blends well with the reds' tannins, and blends best when the wine is aged in oak. It adds a new layer to the tannins, a turn or detail I haven't found in other wines. In the William+Chris Malbec, it is there but not strong. There is just enough there to notice it with a careful taste. In fact, I find it a great bridge for the fruit to reach the tannins. But unlikely other Texas Malbec's, like Becker, it is barely there. It is a hint that blends fluidly. I have to admit I have come to appreciate the mineral quality of Texas wines, but sometimes, it can be overpowering, especially once you have had several glasses. William+Chris controls the mineral well, not letting it take over. They do this in ALL of their wines (a testament to their carefully and thoughtful wine making), and it is at its best here (the current Hunter and Enchante are also great examples of this as well). In the end, I can drink this wine, glass after glass.

The William+Chris Malbec ranks with the best of this varietal. It is a great work of Texas wine making, but it is also a great Malbec. It is a delight. And like all Malbecs, the environment speaks in this wine. On the day I first enjoyed the wine, it was early Spring, a sunny Sunday afternoon.

The day was warming nicely. The sunshine danced among new green leaves in the small collection of shade tress on the property. The wine went well with this. The color shone brightly and was a nice match for the new green growths all around. The taste was as warm as the sunshine, and like the sun, slowly sunk in (I only needed one glass!). Of course, it was that warmth from the sunshine and the Malbec that made me not realize I was being bitten by an unknown bug -- the remnants of the bite just a trace several weeks later. I can't recommend this Malbec enough, and I can't recommend any decent Malbec enough.

Works Cited
Wesley, Nathan. "Aging Malbec." Wine Spectator 15 Dec. 2011: 51.
Wesley, Nathan. "Southern Siren." Wine Spectator 15 Dec. 2011: 38-41.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

2. And the vine begins to grow

2. New Growth                                                             
The vine’s white nubs grow
Downy, fragile buds breaking
Free from the vine’s bark

Recently, I was lucky enough to attend a vine planting clinic at William+Chris Winery in Hye, Texas. I was lucky enough to learn a little about grape growing from Chris Brundrett (Chris of William+Chris). The short session under the sun gave me food for thought. Particularly, I realized why so many poets have a thing for gardening, farming, and growing. The link between the two is obvious.

Grapes are temperamental from the start. First, they are not fond of oxygen. When the vines re planted, they are packed down tight so as to make sure the air doesn’t reach their roots. They like to be snuggled into the earth, surrounded by the dark, soft soil. I suppose poetry is not so different. A good poem is temperamental, as it wants just the right words packed in it. The feelings a poem expresses are nestled in a blanket of words, and if the blanket doesn’t grasp it just right, the meaning is muddled and unclear.

As I have learned in the last week, since planting my vine, grapes take their time. For over a week, my husband kept fretting that we had killed our vine (after the vine clinic we took home our own vine of Cabernet Sauvignon). Every day, I reminded him to be patient. Well, in just over a week, we are seeing our first signs. Two of the four possible nubs on our vine are clearly growing.

One other looks like it is about to grow as well. These growths are small, only a mere fraction of what the vine may look like if we stick to this. This is a careful waiting game we are planning. Over the last few years, that has been my relationship to poetry. I keep waiting to see my nubs grow. I think I have some ideas, something to write, but somehow, I can’t get anything to start. I guess I didn’t quite have the inspiration. Now I have a clear topic, something to channel my ideas through. As of this posting, my nubs are finally growing and the words are starting flow. Hopefully, if I am patient, they will get better and there will be more of them.

In both, grapes/wine and poetry, it is all about care. I guess that can be said of all gardening, and I definitely believe poetry is reminiscent of the work put in to grow something. In both cases, we have to be willing to dig deep and make a hole, create a place for the grapes or words to grow from. Then, we nurture as it grows. In time, I will have to prune my grape vine, no different than the revising one must do to any good poem (or any writing for that matter). But in the end, we hope for the same thing, a wondrous elixir that feeds the soul.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

1. Planting

1. Planting
With care, place letters.
Compact down the heart, mind, soul
Airtight to keep safe.

Fruit will bud, ripen, and grow:
Take care to harvest each word.

Today I planted a new grape: Vitis Poema. I hope to cultivate this plant to make wine, a wine of words. Some of my varietals will be words for words, others will be for wine. Will I plant more? Only time will tell. But like vineyard tenders and vintners, I'll start with a few and see what comes of my crop.

Poetry and wine share a common birth. Poems are born from care and craft, much like any good wine. Both, first, must see its main ingredient, its essence, planted. Poets must grow words to shape a poem, as a winemaker must grow his grapes to make wine. So begins my newest endeavor.

Poetry and wine also share a common link for me; my experience with both are parallel. When I first started to read poetry, I read whatever I could easily come across (which often meant what my teachers in middle and high school provided). In that experience I read a lot of material that had no impact or no life (at least for me). And well, my writing is not something I am proud of, but it was necessary to work through the junk to appreciate the good work that was yet to come. The same goes for wine. I drank what I was given, not thinking much about what I liked. I nearly stopped drinking wine because of that. But, like poetry, I had to get through the junk first.

In my early years, I did find a few gems; as a high school senior I came across John Donne's "Valediction: Forbidding Mourning." That work has stayed with me; it grew to be more powerful as I experienced more of poetry and life. It is a work of pure love; one I hope I can one day write myself. As for wine, an early gem was Becker Vineyard's Cabernet Sauvignon Iconoclast. It is my standard; all good wines must be at least as good as that one.

But I wouldn't be writing today if things hadn't changed. In college, I found myself introduced to more and more poetry. However, I was encouraged  to seek out what I liked, to discover. More than that, I was aided in this quest. Finally, people started recommending poets. I have since found many I love. One of my favorite recommendations was Ikkyu. His poetry is raw and elegant. It showcases a greater beauty in the most normal and the most human; basically, he can take what many would find profane or lowly and give it humanity. The same goes for wine. Several years ago, after the wine discovery, I had the chance to go to Becker. While I was there, I was directed through my tasting; they helped me to find the Becker wines I would like. To this day, one of my all time favorites is their Malbec, a wine I came across on that first visit.

I have had many teachers for both my verse and my wine. All have helped me see more. All have helped me develop my love. To them, this blog is dedicated. So, today my vine is planted. Tomorrow, my fruit will grow.