Thursday, May 31, 2012

22. Siesta: A Visit to Fiesta Winery

22. Siesta
Summer's glaring sun:
hindered by the wine's cool breath,
lessened by a hint of sweet fruit.

I will relax here awhile.

Entrance to Fiesta Winery

The end of my first day in the Northern Hill Country took my husband and I to Fiesta Winery. We were told to expect something different. In fact, this region is very happy that the wineries are all a bit special, a bit different from one another. Fiesta, expect to settle in and relax. From the setting to the wines, this is a place to just sit back and take it easy.

When we arrived, we were encouraged to find a table. Only one other table was occupied, a group that had just finished their tasting and was having lunch. We skimmed over a menu of the wines, trying to decide which ones to taste. We were also supplied a score sheet of sorts. On the sheets, we listed our choices (to help the person serving us) and later used them for comments.  I have to admit, I like when wineries give guests something with the wine names and places for comments; it helps to make informed purchasing decisions. We meandered through the wine list and chose an eclectic lot – as the wines here are not the normal fair). From them on, we strolled through the wines, drinking at our own pace. And of course, seated at a table provided a chance to privately share our thoughts and easily take notes.
Inside Fiesta Winery

All that being said, I have noticed a drawback to this sort of set-up. At first glance, the seated and served tasting seems relaxed and nice, but after the visit here, and later at Woodrose Winery the next week, I am beginning to wonder. I always look for a memorable wine experience; I hope to get involved with the wine or the winery – a good example is our chat with Jim Johnson just before our visit to Fiesta (see A Northern Hill Country Landscape -- Visiting Alamosa). I want to take a way something special. This special experience  can be hard in more service-like setting. The person serving the wine has to work harder. It is easy to strike up a conversation and socialize at a bar; there is a natural sense of camaraderie while both parties saddle up at the bar, gaining crucial eye-to-eye contact. At a table, this can be achieved only one of two ways: either sitting down at the table with the guests or just hanging around the table (like many top wait-staff do). Unfortunately, most times I visit wineries like this, no matter how well meaning the folks are, something seems to draw their attention way and keep them from crossing the barrier created by the table. At Fiesta, I realize it was a lazy Saturday afternoon without much going on, and I also realize that Sally was probably busy increasing the presence of Fiesta online, but it wasn’t the homey, welcoming experience I expected (an expectation created by visiting their website).

So, with the tasting underway, the focus quickly turned to the wine. The wines here are almost entirely blends (which can be a VERY good thing), and not the traditional sort. Most of the wines are blended with fruit. This is interesting when it works. The Rhinestone Cowgirl is one of these. This blend of Pinot Gris and Malbec (that single word always piques my interest) is blended with cranberry and prickly pear. The resulting blush is a gentle, sweet fair that is more like a pleasant fruit drink or cocktail. The drawback here is that it isn’t much like wine.

The vineyard just outside the tasting room
That isn’t to say that there aren’t good wines. Fiesta has followed the new Texas tradition and has a solid Tempranillo. This one feels very Spanish, spicy and earthy, the taste of tobacco and leather is powerful; the spice though adds a depth that doesn’t weigh down the drinker. We were told this was the winemaker’s favorite, which is no surprise. This Tempranillo didn’t taste like the Fall Creek one we had the night before (that one was subtle and smooth) or like the Tempranillo blends at Alamosa. Instead, it was robust and swarthy. I could almost imagine a Spaniard, straight from the vineyard, sweat beading on his sun-darkened, resting under a large tree sipping at this wine.

In the end, we lazily moved through our selections, both happy to end with the robust Tempranillo. Inside the cozy ranch-house like tasting room, we watched the sun blaze down on the grounds around us. This little stop is a nice place for escaping the summer heat, from the seating to the wines.

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

21. At Attention: Visting Fall Creek

21. At Attention: Visiting Fall Creek
Each branch, a sword,
each leaf a tasseled honor:
these trees stand ready.  

I dared not touch any grapes
for fear the trees would take me.

Drive up the tree lined path

Fall Creek was the first winery on my Northern Hill Countrylist. I have seen them around for years, as they often dominate the shelves whereTexas wines are sold. I also got my first real taste of the vineyard at theTexas Hill Country Wine and Music Festival. The wines hinted at solidwine making, so I was curious. I had high hopes for the first stop on myNorthern Hill Country tour.

View at Lake Buchanan Dam
First, I was in store for a trip I did not expect. Going to Fall Creek (from the South) is a journey, one that provides a lot to view. We drove up along Lake Buchanan, which provided a majestic view for most of the trip. However, it was only its former glory; at closer inspection, the lake is obviously the victim of the drought. At Lake Buchanan Dam, this is most apparent. We walked out where once the lake stood, shuffling through rocks,shells, and sandy grasses. Despite the low water levels, the lake was just off to the right most of the time.

 Also, as we drove, we realized that even late May has its share of wildflowers, at least up here. The road was lined with blankets of yellow; dispersed in the yellow was a bold red and clusters of startling purple. This wonder of fauna led us straight to a tree lined path. This spectacular sight greeted us and shaded us all the way up the winery. The canopy of large trees felt more like driving up an English country lane rather than a path to a Texas winery. The vineyards, flanking the trees, did match though. At the end of the path, the visitor is aware of arrival: one of the winery buildings is centered perfectly at the head of this trail, welcoming the guest in.

Fall Creek grapes as of May 20
On our arrival, we wandered around outside a bit. Right now,the grapes are starting to grow, small, green, and tightly clustered; we saw bunches hanging from the leafy vines. Honestly, it was nice to get up that close. From most of my experience, the vineyards are off a bit, a sight to view from a distance. Here began a trend I saw through most of this region, the vineyards are right there – the parking lot is sandwiched between the tasting room and the vineyard. This closeness was a nice touch and allowed me to see just how far along the 2012 crop was.

Looking on to the patio area
As for the winery, it is a welcoming place, open and yet not empty. The outside patio is a great touch, harkening to patios in great Spanish and Italian homes. Despite the strengthening sun, shade fills the space in a most pleasing way. But of course, the tasting room stands out. The tasting room is a shrine to Fall Creek’s success. Their many ribbons are out for viewing, as well as awards hidden on shelves and accolades lining the walls. This is a place that has been working hard with wine, and they have earned their praise;it is no wonder they want to show it off.

And that leads right to the wine. This wine here is solid;every taste is catered to in some fashion, and everyone should be able to find a wine that really pleases. The best part is the price. This winery has been around for a while (late seventies), and so they have had time to build up;this allows them to have wines within every price range – they start at around6 and head into the 30s. We spanned the gap, making sure to take home their 2009Tempranillo; it wasn’t available for tasting, but we had some the night before where we were staying and really enjoyed it. We also took home a new wine, a Muscat with a hint of Chardonnay. The blend softens the Muscat sugars and makes a smoother sweet wine.

The wine was a stronger pleaser – the whites provide crisp refreshment and the reds are smooth and deep. However, I guess I caught the folks at Fall Creek off guard. We arrived at opening on a Saturday and were the only people there (not something I am at all used to, as Saturdays get going early along 290). Most of the staff seemed preoccupied with various chores, and so we were left to one of three people there. Our steward for the tasting was a friendly and affable sort but was limited on his knowledge of wine (and even to some extent, Fall Creek); I am a red drinker, and he admitted he really didn’t know much about the reds. In the end, there was little to talk about, something I ama bit disappointed by. Unfortunately, this was similar to the experience I had at the festival. The Fall Creek representatives were approachable and polite, but they didn’t see eager to chat. I hope this is not a common occurrence, as Iwould love to really enjoy a winery like this – it has history (to see, checkout Spectaculars Wineries of Texas and The Wineslinger Chronicles), it is beautiful (and I didn’t even get to see the fabled Fall Creek falls), and the wine is good. If anyone has other experiences, I would love to hear about them and who I need to contact.

I left Fall Creek a bit torn. When I drove up, I felt like I was entering a magical place where wine came to life, a place that was a swath of heaven in a drought ridden landscape. The wines were as good as I was promised. I knew these were wines I would pour for friends that were just starting to get into Texas wine (the wines are pleasing, welcoming, and inexpensive). I happily bought one of the most expensive wines available. However,I didn’t feel as welcomed as I do at so many other Texas wineries. At so many,visitors, new and old, are greeted as if they were always friends. If it isn’t too busy, there is always time for a history lesson or an exploration of what wine is to this winery. I just didn’t get that, and I was a bit disappointed. I hope that will change on my next visit.

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.

19. Forgetting the Heat (Hilmy Cellars Release Party)

19. Forgetting the Heat
Funky tunes; smooth wine;
Salty, sweet summer pairings:
I forget the heat.

I know I have tons to write about -- in the last week, Sean & I visited 10 new wineries. But the most recent stop, Hilmy Cellars' first release party, is front and center. As always, there was some cool jazz playing (thanks to my favorite online music site Pandora) and the crowd slowly grew (it go so busy that winemaker Erik Hilmy had to pour tastings).

A view of the Hill Country vineyards (from the porch)

The first thing to say is that this event was Hilmy's first release party. The staff here was excited; Mark Hilmy seemed to be everywhere . It was clear as soon as someone walks in. As always, we were warmly greeted and enjoyed great conversation with the staff. The flock members -- those in the wine club -- were getting set up for extra goodies later, but the first time visitors were able to enjoy the same atmosphere (many joined the flock on the porch). exact same treatment. I can't stress this enough, here, the folks are personable and friendly. At the release party, with the excitement in the air, they are beaming.

Entrance to Hilmy
One of the local Guinea Fowl

The release party moved outside. Until the band -- Someone Like You -- started, the Guinea Fowl entertained us. Then the band began to play, a cool, jazzy, funky rock that melded well with the environment (their cover of Billie Jean was amazing).

Those in the flock got a treat besides the wine and music. The folks at Hilmy shared with us some homemade bar-b-que. Pulled pork sliders in mango chutney, red potato salad, and Asian slaw with pears went well with the Doo-Zwa-Zo in the first shipment. This particular wine is light and easy to drink; I can keep drinking it all day (especially on a hot day like this one). In fact, it's lightness is such that even the food eaten seems lighter, which allows for more complexity of flavors to come out.

And for traditionalists, baked beans and brisket was also to be had. And let me say, the brisket was juicy, flavorful and nearly melt in your mouth. It paired well with the decanted Tempranillo. This wine is served decanted at the winery -- adding to its smooth character. This wine is wonderfully balanced and warm; it is soft
and comforting as it subtlety rests on the palate. Again, a great match for beef.

For a new winery celebrating their first shipment, this was very nice. Though I didn't get a chance to speak with Erik, I finally got an introduction and a promise for a later sit down (that should provide great material). I will be eagerly awaiting the fall.

Monday, May 21, 2012

Winery Adventure Day Two

On Sunday, my husband Sean and I visited the rest of the Northern Hill Country wineries: Perissos, Pillar Bluff, and Texas Legato. It was a magnificent day full of surprises.

Surprise one wasn't wine related. We had about an hour and a half to find something to do, so we thought we would stop by Inks Lake State Park. Upon entering, the first person we met actually used to live close to where we do. We chatted about home for a bit; our area of San Antonio has changed rapidly over the last twenty years (something both Sean and I have seen). And for me, a resident of over 30 years, it has REALLY changed. After that, we went out to the Devil's Waterhole to hike. This spot along the the lake is extraordinary. The rock formations and views were breathtaking. And the crazy lizards along the rocks were fun as well. I wish we had been better prepared and had more time; this place is well worth an extended visit (and it is just down the road from Perissos).

At Perissos, we met Ray who walked us through a terrific tasting. I have to say that I am always impressed by wineries that focus on their own grapes, or have close relationships with the vineyards they buy from. Ray was very nice and knowledgeable about the wines and the grapes, always a serious plus. Of course, the wines were great; it was easy to tell that the entirety of Perissos is truly invested in each bottle. The few whites they had were nice, but the reds were "knock your socks off" good. While there, we attracted quite a crowd -- there were three other tasting groups that showed up just after us at opening on a Sunday. We also watched some of the labeling of new bottles. And the visit wasn't complete without the attention of two of the largest, friendliest, most laid back wine dogs I ever met -- Charlie and Baron.

We moved on to the two twin wineries -- Pillar Bluff and Texas Legato. Each owned by one of a pair of identical twins, these wineries provided a great diversity and selection of wines (more on them in a later post, as their story reminds me of the Drops of God twins). It is a MUST to visit both.

We started at Pillar Bluff where we met Heather. Now, this is when coincidence catches up with us. Heather, like Sean and I, was an English major at the University of Texas at San Antonio, and we were all there at the same time. It was nice to chat with a fellow Runner, and it was great to talk about classes and professors (especially since I have since joined the ranks). Heather also told us all about Bill -- the owner at Pillar Bluff -- and Gill -- the owner at Texas Legato. Suffice it to say, we lingered quite awhile chatting and learning about an owner who is invested heart and soul into his wine -- no wonder some family friends are close to the folks at Pillar Bluff. Oh, and the '09 Double Gold Merlot is absolutely incredible; these folks have crafted a great Merlot.

When we went around the corner to Texas Legato, we were in store for a real treat. It was packed, but only because the staff and friends were there helping with bottling. We were treated to a quick lesson in small production bottling -- from cleaning out the bottles, filling them, corking them, and sealing them. Squishing into the small and packed back room was wonderful. But so were the wines. They won me over with their Malbec -- one of my favorite varietals -- but the Family Reunion and the port were also big winners. My husband is an avid port drinker, but me, not so much. Occasionally, I find a port I can sip at some. Well, the port at Texas Legato was so smooth and light compared to most; I found it very delightful.

This day was one full of fun and new friends -- the very reason I got so into wine and started this blog. And despite the distance, I will definitely be making future visits. The wine is worth it, but the new friends were even better.

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Winery Adventure Day One

This next week, I will get to have more than my share of wine as I visit a large number of Texas Hill Country wineries. The first leg was a trip to the northern hill country. My husband Sean and I decided to split it into two days. Day one is now in the books.

We started at Fall Creek, one of the best known and most commercial wineries in the hill country. When I go check out wine at my local grocery store -- HEB -- they dominate the shelves with their Fall Creek label, the Ed's label, and the Twin Springs label. This beautiful place -- stunning actually -- provides a great entry point into Texas wine. The wines here are solid and nice, and best of all, they are very affordable.

Next we traveled on to the best spot of the day: Alamosa Wine Cellars. Winemaker Jim Johnson saw to our tasting -- of really great Texas wines -- and our education. We stuck around for awhile, chatting with Jim and then his wife Karen. I have to say this is a friendly place and reminds me of my favorite 290 wineries. This is a MUST visit, and I recommend a visit to the winery if possible (they also have a conveniently located tasting room in Lampasas). And best of all, we can thank Jim for the next big Texas wine, Tempranillo.

We ended at Fiesta.Winery. This quaint winery was one that challenges convention. Much of their selection is not just wine but wine blended with fruit. There are some interesting flavors to be found, but it isn't just wine. Their strictly wine options are very typical of reds, and the stand out is their Tempranillo.

What vast diversity met us on day one. It was a lot of driving and sight seeing along the way, but the drive provided nice breaks between the wineries. It was a great way to start my week.

NOTE: I will provide more extensive posts on all the wineries, especially Alamosa, so check back soon.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

18. Muscat Mom

18. Muscat Mom

She is never sure
what she likes: his white, my red,
sweet or dry. Which wine

will appease her taste
buds? She nervously samples:
she chooses Muscat.

I was lucky enough to spend the Saturday before Mother's day with my mother and mother-in-law. My husband Sean and I decided that they deserved a bit of an adventure -- each for different reasons. With Spring returned -- we had a day that barely reached 80 with a refreshing North breeze (a BIG departure from the weekend before) -- we set off for Wimberely and Driftwood. What I came to find out is that my mom prefers Muscat.

Mom walking towards the tasting room @ Driftwood
Our first stop was Driftwood Estate Winery. This Hill Country Winery is a sight to behold, and that was the first thing that the moms took an interest in. Fearing oncoming crowds, we herded them into the tasting room. Mario -- the tasting room manager -- got us started and eased the moms rights into the tasting. Now, with my mother-in-law, there are no worries. She was born in the Napa area -- she lived near where a winery is now -- and often joins my husband and I on trips to the 290 wine trail (and yes, I get along well with my mother-in-law). She went right to it, exploring the diverse menu at Driftwood. My mother, on the other hand, is always over cautious. Part of her problem is she doesn't know what she likes -- my dad's penchant for whites is not exactly her thing, and my love for reds is interesting and confusing to her. With that in mind, my goal was to figure out what she liked. I helped guide her through the selections, helping her choose a variety so she could get a clear idea. Her top two were the 2010 Cuvee Blanc and the 2011 Muscat Canelli.

Her number one favorite at Driftwood was the Muscat. This had a strong taste of stone fruit -- especially peaches (one of my mother's favorite fruits). This was a fruit forward sweet wine without being too sweet (it had 2% residual sugar). This was a soft wine, delicate and flavorful. Now, it was still strong, so I didn't need too much. In fact, my mom asked which I would recommend to have with lunch. I had to steer her away from this one -- it wouldn't  pair well with sandwiches and it might take her out for the rest of the day.
Mom by the vineyard at Duchman.

Next we headed over to Duchman Family Winery. After a stroll through the grounds, we started a tasting. And I should have known that my mother would prefer the 2009 Orange Muscat. This strong wine -- over 16% alcohol -- is a burst of citrus, especially the orange in the name. It is sweet, but it doesn't overpower the drinker. There is a mildness in the wine that helps to soften the sweetness; in the end, the drinker doesn't just have a sugary taste overpowering and sticking around. Well of course my mom bought a bottle and made sure to pair it with chocolate birthday cake the next day (it was my sister-in-law's birthday). She must have really liked the wine, as she was not quick to share -- my sister-in-law had to stop everything and ask for a glass. And I can say, this wine goes well with chocolate. While at the tasting room, I enjoyed it my favorite dark chocolate -- Chocolat's (from Fredericksburg) Sweet Dreams.

My big lesson of the day was simple: my mom likes Muscat, especially Orange Muscat. She likes wines that hint at being sweet too, but generally are not (like the Cuvee). So, she throws a  kink into everything; we have yet another variant on what wine to drink. I am thankful that Texas wines provides so much choice; no mater where we go, we can all find something to make us happy.

*NOTE: For more insights on the wines and the wineries, check out my next blogs: Literary Visions (about Driftwood) and Blending (Duchman).

Tuesday, May 15, 2012


I have succumbed. I am now on Twitter.

I think it will be a great platform for when I am off visiting wineries. I will use Twitter to post live tweets from winery visits. I will also use it to spread Texas Hill Country winery news.

So, if you are interested, look for VitisPoema at Twitter.

Monday, May 14, 2012

A little less wine: Childhood Poems Blog Carnival

One of my colleagues at UTSA -- Karen Jensen -- decided to take part in a "blog carnival." Everyone involved is writing about childhood poems. And since this is also a poetry blog, at least somewhat, I decided to join in on the fun.

I have to admit that I came to poetry late. My parents were not particularly invested in my education -- they were struggling with one of my older brothers -- so I sort of got left to my own devices. I read what I could, and as my parents aren't much for poetry, I didn't get a lot of exposure until I was well into school. So until my teachers started bringing me poetry, I read a lot of fiction and non-fiction.

Then, in middle school, poetry started to come alive. One teacher introduced me to haiku. I fell in love. There was something about the intimate focus that drew me in. Of course, at that stage in my life, I also liked boundaries. I was a bit of a science and math nerd at that point -- I still had hopes of either being an aerospace engineer and/or astronaut -- so the 5-7-5 syllables were just what I needed. Unfortunately, like most children, I didn't see beyond the rules, and I never quite understood the poems my teacher provided us.

One of those poems was Basho's famous frog poem:

The old pond --
a frog jumps in,
sound of water.

For me, as a child, this was intriguing. I spent many a lazy days at my neighborhood pond. I enjoyed watching the so-called wildlife -- the ducks, the minnows, and the frogs -- enjoy the unkempt pond. It was always fun to play around the pond, and so I quickly connected to the idea of the old pond. When you are as young as I was, the pond, which I had visited for well over six years, felt old to me. On top of that, tThe pond was my get-away. It was a sanctuary where I could dream and play. In fact, much of my youth was spent playing make believe games around the pond's edge and in the undergrowth nearby. My pond experience was poetic.

And of course, I loved frogs. Despite being a girl, I enjoyed frogs. I grew up playing with boys more than girls, and so found interest in more typically boy pursuits. We loved catching the small frogs that made it into our yards after a good rain. And often, we would take those frogs down to the pond. I may have been a tomboy, but there was always a wildlife rescuer within me. When I first read the poem, the many re-locations came to mind: carrying the frog in a shoebox up to the pond and releasing it at the water's edge.

However, the last part alluded me when I was younger. I would think, "Sure, you hear the water splash, but what is so great about that?" I had not learned what haiku was about, and so the last line was lost on me.

Despite that disconnect, I was still intrigued. I decided to re-visit the form in graduate school -- while pursuing an MFA in poetry. During my undergraduate years I came to learn a bit about the form, that it is the essence of a moment and may not carry any deep meaning. I was also told it was Zen; the moment encapsulates a greater understanding on life. This was not enough, so I sought to learn more. I learned about the seasonal nature of the poems, the personal nature of them (which meant they can have greater meaning or a simple, personal one), and the immediacy of them (most are written on the spot). I learned they take many forms -- they can be part of a group of poems by one person or a group, which would dictate the goal of the poems. I also learned the rules; I only had the vaguest ideas of the rules.

Now, with my greater knowledge of this incredible form, I turn often to the haiku -- many posts on this blog are proof of that. In fact, writing about wine and writing haikus (and their predecessor the tanka) match so well together. As with all culinary delights, wine is a moment, the taste and smells one enjoys as the aromas reach up from the glass, pass the lips, soak the tongue, and slide down the throat are as fleeting as a haiku. And like haiku, there is a natural and seasonal aspect to wine. The two pair well:

1. Spring
Vibrant colors dance,
come to life in each bloom, bud,
and glasses of wine.

2. Summer
Watch: heat haze draws near,
wraps its sun drenched arms around:
I need chilled white wine.

3. Fall
Leaves swap their green coats
for yellow, orange, chocolate;
they want to be red wine.

4. Winter
Cinnamon, nutmeg
collected spices drift up
from my cup of mulled wine.

And so, I continue on this poetic journey, drinking one glass of wine at a time.

If you wish to enjoy more of the blog carnival, thoughts on childhood poetry, check out Professor J's Place. And then stop by Bluebird Blvd for a thoughtful take on the power of poetry.

And I keep forgetting to add: share your poems! What was your first poem? What about the first poem to really inspire you?

17. A Summer Day

Me and my hat.
17. A Summer Day

The wine bottle is
my twin: inside, a sense of cool
lingers but drips with sweat.

From our shady spot, looking towards the tents.
Saturday the fifth, I braved the already summer heat to join the festivities at Bending Branch Winery (see my live blog post Bending Branch Derby Party). My husband and co-conspirator Sean, from Wine and Savages (a role playing -- thinking D&D -- and wine blog), helped me blog the day away. When we arrived, a little before three, everything was in full swing: wine was flowing, food was available, and the jazz was swinging. People spread across the lawn at Bending Branch, collecting in every shady spot. Despite the heat, we were all set to have a good time.

And that is the thing: the heat. It was a bad Saturday afternoon. Temperatures soared into the 90s quickly, which might not have been as bad, but humidity went with it (we saw incredibly fierce thunderstorms about ten hours later that left several inches of rain throughout the area). The heat was oppressive, which left me with only one option: white wine. As a primarily red drinker, I am always a bit leery about drinking a lot of white, but things turned out well.

First was a bottle of Picpoul Blanc -- also covered at Wine and Savages with a picture of my hat. The "lip-stinger," as they refer to it at Bending Branch, was a good way to start. This dryish white was refreshing. It had enough fruitiness to make typical white wine drinkers happy -- the notes of ripe peaches and other softer stone fruits (like apricots). Of course, it also hints at apples -- especially the golden delicious and other lighter green varieties -- and pears. There is a subtle sugary taste that is very fruit forward. This flavor goes well with summer. In fact, early peaches are already coming up in the areas around Bending Branch -- many of Fredericksburg's and Stonewall's farms had fresh peaches for sale at roadside stands this weekend. But it isn't only fruit forward. This wine has a hint of acid -- hence the "lip-stinger" title -- that lessens the sugary tasting punch. The drinker is left with a more even flavor, one that doesn't just sit in the mouth (like sweeter whites do) or just slip by (like a dry white). A gentle, refreshing aftertaste is left. And in summer, this is much appreciated. The only problem, even with some cold help (the folks at Bending Branch provided cold packs for the whites), the wine warmed quickly. Luckily, this did not hurt the flavor; it became softer, which was refreshing in its own way.

Next was the Mint Juleps. No hard liquor here; this wine-based variety was light and airy. The single barrel Blanc used was subtle and soft. With crushed mint and ice added, the drink became even lighter. This is something a person could easily drink all day. The concoction was simple and light. It only hinted at sweetness; I feel the mint and ice diluted the sugar and made the drink more palatable for red drinkers. However, the mint added a zing not found in whites, something with a hint of complexity. The drinker had a bit more weight thanks to the mint, but not so much that it didn't go well on a summers day.

And yes, as a red drinker, I finished the day with the 2009 Tannat RF, 1840. This wine is smooth and silky. I would hate to say this, but it is a sexy red. The fruit is smooth and subtle, same as the rich tannins. One would think a wine named for tannins would be very heavy, but for some reason, these folks have a smooth wine. I had a feeling the smooth nature of the red would be okay for such a hot day, and I was right. The spicier Souzao would have been a bit problematic, but the Tannat was just right. Now I did consider the Texas Tannat -- Bending Branch uses California grapes for the Tannat I was drinking -- but it is not as smooth; it is rough like the landscape. And the landscape out there is a mess of hills -- up and down, and all around. But despite the un-eveness of everything, it is beautiful. The oncoming drought hasn't quite torched the area: soft green rolls dotted with the Spring's last wildflowers break up large canopied trees. It still feels lush, and that matches the Texas Tannat.

The winners. I lost to the lady on the far right.
Some of the crowd watching the Derby.
The day wound down with a hat contest -- I lost to the most incredible and over-the-top wine themed hat (mine was just too restrained and elegant) -- and the Kentucky Derby. Despite my loss, I am pleased with my hat, and so I have decided to make it my wine going hat. So, if you see the hat at a Texas winery, than you have found me (so come say hello). My husband Sean's hat was a fanciful creation -- he was the only adult male to participate. His hat was a tribute to the race and used generic My Little Pony cut outs -- see "My Stupid Hat". It was crazy and fun. Of course, we later found out that his strut was more popular -- while out on Sunday, he was congratulated for the walk. And the race, well it was fun. I do have to admit that they needed a large TV and more space; it was just too packed. Though I didn't win the big prize (there was a prize for the person[s] who called first, second, and third), I did choose I'll Have Another for the win; whom else should a wine blogger choose?

The Derby party at Bending Branch ended up being a good time -- people were slow to warm up to strangers (we felt a bit lost at first because we really didn't know anyone), but things got better as we got closer to race time. The wine worked well on a hot summer day, which, out here, is a big win. Now, I'll just have to wait till next year for the 3rd annual Derby Party.

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Driftwood Estate Winery

Today is a beautiful day in South Texas. After week of rain, the sun is out and a nice North breeze is blowing -- we expect a high of around 80 (after last weekend's mid-90s).

Right now, we are enjoying a glass of wine, lunch, and the scenery at Driftwood Estate Winery. For red drinkers, the Reserve Alamo Red is their best wine. For white drinkers, I recommend the crisp, smooth Cuvee Blanc. And, no matter who you are, enjoy the view outside.

Sunday, May 6, 2012

Hye Society -- Updated May 14, 2012

Today was another William-Chris Hye Society release. As always, they made their wine club members feel loved. Hugs were easy to come by, as well as lots of friendly conversation. When I come here, I always feel welcome and a part of a greater community. In this day and age, this feeling os one I cherish. This winery always does something special.

Today, we tasted the three wines that will make up the 2011 Enchante. Bill -- the William in the name -- treated us to barrel tastings of Merlot, Malbec, and Cabernet Sauvignon. Then, we tasted the the wines together. The 2011 Enchante will be a wine to remember: fruit forward for a red blend with lots of complex flavors. The 2011 drought made the grapes full of depth and flavor. I know I'll be buying extra bottles and storing them for years to come.

The May Hye Society shipment: Hunter 2010 & Cab Franc 2010.
Today also had a number of new surprises. The Hye Society Cabernet Franc is smooth and rich. Despite the heat, it hits the spot. A bit smoother and fruitier than a Sauvignon, a real delight. [Since the party: I opened one of my bottles this past week. I found the wine to be a bit wanting; I have no idea why it was so good at the party. It felt a bit unbalanced and lacked the depth flavor. I realized though, this red is VERY new. It needs some time to sit. I have my other bottles stored in my make-shift cellar. I'll take them out after the summer. I feel the wine will be better once it has time to age. It still has great potential. I suggest buying this one and letting it sit (much like a French, which it resembles).]

Current and Mary Ruth
Then there are the two new summer wines -- Current, a blush, and Mary Ruth, a Muscat blend. The Current (check out their video) is a great blend; as my mother-in-law would call it, a kook-aid wine. It is a great blush for summer. I am saving mine for a hot day. It has been good that the weather cooled dramatically, but that means I have kept the wine stashed away. I know the coming weeks will provide ample opportunity for drinking. On the other hand, the Mary Ruth is lighter than a typical Muscat, so it will be a great warm weather wine. This wine can be drunken in more situations -- compared to a traditional Muscat -- which will make it a great early evening sipping wine.

Good music, good food -- grilled shrimp, carrots, and corn made by the staff there. We also had a chance to meet new folks. We ran into a new acquaintance from the Bending Branch Derby party, as well as other Bending Branch attendees. And in William-Chris style, we met new people. In fact, we were introduced to a new member with the job of sharing our experiences. What a nice thing for a winery to do -- almost like a mentor program. This is definitely a place where they want their visitors, new and old, to feel a part of something. As always, a great day.

Saturday, May 5, 2012

Bending Branch Derby Party

I am enjoying some Picpoul Blanc and listening to smooth jazz. It is hot -- so South Texas-- but the biting white is refreshing. It may be hot, but the wine and jazz is cool. And, well, the hats are tame. A few over the top ones, but most of those are staff. In fact, most are simple. I'm glad mine is accessorized.

[POSTED 5/7] : When I posted this, most of the major hat wearers had not shown up. Just before the contest, they arrived in force. Too bad, because they made me look restrained. Oh well, it was fun while it lasted.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

16. A toast to new co-conspirators -- Updated with picture May 14, 2012

16. A toast to new co-conspirators

It only takes a drink,
a sip of wine, to cross the span
between two people.

Break the seal and pour: we form
new acquaintances each time.

I don't know what it is about wine, but somehow, I always find myself meeting and enjoying the company of new people when I am out somewhere wine related. Case in point: The Hill Country Wine and Music Festival. This past Saturday, I enjoyed several hours of trying new wines, learning about a few new wineries, and chatting with new people. It is nice to know that this interest of mine, this hobby, is one that builds bridges.

Wagon Train just south of Fredericksburg
Before I get to the wineries I wanted to share a crazy moment enroute. As we drove up 87, just before Fredericksburg, we saw a wagon train. This is what the area is all about to me: surprises. It is not uncommon to be surprised, in a good way. This was that Saturday morning's surprise.

First I'll talk about the new wineries. I was introduced to CapRock Winery in Lubbock, TX. This was a winery I was unfamiliar with. I got to their table early, so I had a chance to actually have a conversation with their representative. We chatted about their expansion, how they were getting into new markets like mine. We also talked about their wine, specifically their Tempranillo. This tangy wine is one they want to focus on; it seems Texas wineries are totally on the Tempranillo bandwagon.

Then we moved on to Sandstone Cellars in Mason, TX. The guys here were friendly and very informative. We found out that they use some of the oldest soil in Texas to grow a wide variety of less common -- like Touriga -- and more interesting varietals -- like Tempranillo. On top of great soil, they are also daring, as they are willing to make incredible blends.One of the most interesting was their new XI, a blend of  Syrah, Mourvedre, Touriga, and a hint of Voignier. This wine had complexity in its flavor; any red with a hint of Viognier will do that. They also made a great pitch for visiting. Though they aren't too far from Fredericksburg, they gave good reasons to opt for a real state and not a day trip: museums, historical sites, natural areas, and Sandstone's new wine bar. So of course, I am planning my first visit.

We finished up at Duchman Family Winery from Driftwood, TX. Now, I have visited there once before -- an odd Superbowl Sunday that was cold and rainy. When I was there, I didn't learn too much. I think the horrible weather had worn on the staff, so they weren't particularly friendly. Well, that wasn't the case on Saturday. I learned a little more about their new Vermentino; a white wine that will be quite the refreshing treat during the dog days of summer. I was also encouraged to come back out and really see the place. They have a great set-up, so I a more proper visit is on the horizon.

Wild Seed Farms
Besides wine folks, there were the other attendees. It is easy to just start chatting when wine flows. While sitting at a table enjoying a glass of wine and some Kerby Lane chips and queso, a group of middle-aged ladies joined us. We started sharing our wine experiences and other trivia. I even found out that one of the ladies' daughters lived only a few minute from me; it is such a small world. We shared some of our favorite wine notes as well, especially great places to visit. What I came to realize is that wine brings people together. And I shouldn't forget the wildflowers. Since this event was at Wildseed Farms, I had to take time to smell the flowers.

Courtyard at 4.0
Wild Seed Farms
This may seem normal to most people, but not for me. Honestly, me husband and I are relatively shy. We have to force ourselves to talk and meet new people. I'll admit I can turn it on when necessary, like at work, but it isn't easy. Now, when there is just a bit of wine around, everything changes. It just takes one sip to provide access. It seems that one drop is liquid inspiration. It provides a foundation for strangers to talk to one another. And let me say, we have started making friends of those strangers. My last two stops after the festival -- a second visit to Hilmy Cellars for the recently released Persephone and a first visit to the brand new 4.0 Cellars -- reminded me of what happens when you let wine bridge the gap. Upon my arrival at Hilmy, they welcomed me like a friend, asking about how things were and how the blog was going. At 4.0, I ran into my favorite wine guide; after a hug, we started sharing our newest wine stories. This is what wine does; it brings people together. How great is that.