Friday, June 21, 2013

Lewis Wiines

For months, I had been trying to finally visit Lewis Wines. I had known about it as early as last Spring, and then late in 2012, Chris Brundrett (of William Chris Wines) mentioned he was headed out there for a pre-opening tasting. Due to a snafu, Sean and I didn't get to tag along. Flash forward to Spring 2013, and everyone is eagerly awaiting the official opening; that is when I heard they were doing appointment only tastings. I tried to arrange one, but they weren't available. I tried again, only to not make contact. Finally, on a Saturday evening, I called owner Doug Lewis to finally make my appointment.

I'll admit, it has been nearly a month since that visit. I have had a hard time to writing this up; getting to this post was difficult. The visit was not the problem; the tasting and visit was great. The problem was with what happened later in the day. A difficult family situation got out of hand and became a real mess. It's been hard to write about something so great with the shadow of what came later hanging over it. Now, I'm ready to move on and finally get to one of the most inspiring winery visits I have ever had.

Doug Lewis (to the back in the cap) and Duncan McNabb (red shirt) providing a group tasting

When Sean and I arrived, Duncan McNabb, Doug's partner, met us at the door. His partner, Doug Lewis soon joined us. I was surprised as I looked at these two new Texas winemakers: they were young. Now I have gotten used to the Texas wine industry getting younger, but younger meant closer to my age -- thirities. When I looked at these two, I realized they were old enough to have been my students. I was right; Doug admitted to being only 26. This took me back for a moment, but when I put it into perspective, I realized this was a good thing. Our next generation of Texas winemakers are starting out, trying to master their craft and experiment. This is a sign of a robust industry, one with a future. And after what I tasted, I knew the future holds great promise.

During my tasting, I talked to Doug, trying to get an idea how he came to wine. I don't care what people say about the Millennials getting into wine; I don't see the numbers to support the idea. When I am visiting wineries and wine club events, the visitors are getting younger, but most are still older. And when I talk to my older students -- those in their twenties -- most don't even drink wine. So, Doug had to have acquired a taste for wine somewhere, and I was curious where. As I found out, it was one of my favorite places, Pedernales Cellars. Doug got his hands dirty helping out manager Jim Brown and winemaker David Kuhlken. While Doug was there, he began to experiment with wine. Before long, Pedernales Cellars was giving him the connections and knowledge he needed to start his own winery.

The future of Texas wine: barrels at Lewis Wines

And one of the most valuable connections Doug got was Texas grape growers. Doug knew who were the top grape producers in the state, and even knew how to get a hold of him. It even gave him direct lines to highly sought grapes. Doug recounted one time when one High Plains grower was a bit leery of selling his grapes to a new winemaker. Luckily, Doug had the best references he could get and scored himself incredible grapes. His connections have also allowed him to get some of the limited and prized Touriga. After a recent visit to Spicewood Vineyards, Brad Dixon told me how hard it is to get Touriga. When I heard that, I knew Doug's supply was a rare commodity.

And the work Doug and Dave are doing on their little slice of 290 is something to behold. To be honest, Sean and I are on a VERY tight budget. We went telling ourselves we really shouldn't buy any wine, for now. That rule didn't hold; we left with three bottles, buying three of the five wines available. Doug and Duncan are producing wines that suit Sean's and my pallets quite well. These wines show a growing mastery of the grapes but also a great playfulness. In fact, that playfulness is what stands out with these wines. I found many of the wines we tasted to have something unique about them, setting them apart from similar wines produced throughout the state.

Where the whites were at the time of our visit

As of our tasting, the whites were still in the barrel, growing and maturing. The whites are excellent examples of Texas Viognier. The 100% Viognier made from Binghman Vineyard grapes was a crisp white with a nice hint of acid. The nose and the taste was smooth: a consistent, a bouquet of citrus tones with an emphasis on pineapple. Take this same great varietal and make it 52% Viognier and 48% Chenin Blanc, and the bright crisp wine becomes one that is soft and cooler, a easy sipping dry white. This second white was more subtle, but it also highlighted the sweetness inherent in the citrus. The 100% Viognier would make a great pairing wine, bright and clear. The second, with its more laid back character, makes for a great end of the day sipping wine.

When we moved on to the reds, I knew something wonderful was coming up. Viognier is one of those whites for red drinkers; well done Viogniers often translate into strong reds. That was again the case here. I beamed from ear-to-ear when I saw the Texas Malbec. The grapes from this terrific wine came from Neal Newsom. When Doug went up to get the grapes, we had to hand pick them. Well, he was in luck. A family of Mennonites aided in the harvest; they actually picked more than Doug and the others with him. As for the wine, it was rich, earthy full bodied Malbec -- aided by a hint of Petite Verdot. The wine made my think of the darker Argentinian Malbecs. Of course, this was one of the bottles we brought home.

Neal Newsom provided grapes for the Lewis Wines' Cabernet Sauvignon. I had, for awhile, turned away from this perennial red. However, I began to think twice when I had the Newsom Cab from Becker vineyards. And then came the Bending Branch Newsom Cab (San Francisco award winning Cab by the way), and on and on and on. I came back to Cab because there is something about those Newsom grapes. And this recent addition to that tradition is another great example. This wine had a smokiness that is so often lost in smooth Cabs; this less fruity tone makes it stand out.

As I mentioned earlier, Lewis Wines has scored a major coup. They have Mason County Touriga Nacional (they have now gotten the grapes from Round Mountain, whom I am guessing had once been Spicewood's provider). Touriga is such an exciting grape. Every Texas wine I have had it in --- most blends -- have remained favorites. From my first taste with Sandstone, to my growing appreciation with Persissos, and now all of my recent forays -- Fly Gap, Spicewood -- I am enamored. The 2010 Texas red wine is a blend of 50% Touriga, 33% Tempranillo, and 17% Tinto Cao. This unique blend  has a complex nose that contrasts from flavor of the wine; the nose is strong with a powerful sense of dark berries and fruit, but the taste is less so. The flavors are currently muddled in the wine. The beginning is a light, gentle taste that grows. By the middle, the wine struggles to bring forth the three grapes. And at the end, the wine smoothes out and and becomes a harmony of flavors that leaves one glad they took the journey.  We bought a bottle to let it age a bit, as I think the wine has great potential but needs to mature a bit.

Lewis Wines had two top red blends from 2010 grapes. The other is more Tempranillo (55%) paired with 35% Mourvedre, 8% Syrah, and 2% Grenache. This wine provided a bold, fruit flavor that makes great use of the non-Temp grapes. In addition to this Temp blend, there was a 100% Tempranillo sourced from Kuhlken family vineyards and Bingham vineyards. I expected an earthy Temp, like what is normally found from Pedernales Cellars, but was happily surprised to taste a more nuanced one, one with more fruit, a softer touch on the earth and spice and brighter with the fruit. Of course, it is with the touch that brings out the softer side of Tempranillo that can create the blend.

A field of wildflowers on the road from the winery back to 290
New Wine
Red, yellow, with hints
of purple stretch out above
tall grasses, age old dirt.

All I can see: a fresh look 
springing forward to tomorrow.

I enjoyed the visit to Lewis Wines. Duncan and Doug are so friendly and welcoming. And their wines feel just the same. These aren't the powerhouse red wines coming from some of the Texas wineries. These wines are welcoming ones; ones that younger wine drinkers can be introduced to and find their way. And for we more experienced wine drinkers, they are a "Howdy" and a smile that allows us to sit back and relax into the wine. This is a bright new future for Texas wine.

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Making a Splash at Culinaria

In mid-May, San Antonio foodies and beverage connoisseurs come together to celebrate the best the city has to offer. Culinaria -- San Antonio's wine and culinary arts festival -- provides a number of opportunities to taste some of the finest food and drinks the city has to offer. From the best food trucks, to burgers and beer at the Pearl, to the famed Becker luncheon in the Lavender Haus, and everything in between, there is something for everyone. Sean and I finally got a chance to go this year, but we just couldn't do everything, so we chose wisely. We waited till the end of the week and attended the Grand Tasting in the Grotto at the Henry B. Gonzales Convention Center. With the Riverwalk floating by us, we sipped on great wines and nibbled on great food. Best of all, five Texas wineries came out with some great wines to showcase some of the best of Texas.

Texas Wineries

 Pedernales Cellars

When we got there, we scanned the room for friendly faces. It didn't take long to see three such people, all of them from Pedernales Cellars. Owners Fredrik Osterberg and Julie Kuhlken were there -- proving to be two of the best dressed of the evening -- with wine club and events manager Shannon Brown. In fact, Frederik sported one of the few tuxedos of the evening; the event is billed as black tie, but few made the effort. Of course, the attention was on the selection of wines. I started the evening with the most recent Viognier. This is a light and soft wines with hints at fruit; a subtler version compared to the Reserve that won Double Gold in the international competition in Lyon. This crisp wine prepared me for the many wines ahead, including one of the Tempranillos. I was glad that Pedernales brought two wines that are quickly becoming iconic Texas wines.

Flat Creek

Around the tables from Pedernales (They had two squares of tables, one on each side of the room) was another Texas Hill Country winery, Flat Creek. They brought one of the evening's showstoppers, their Bronze winning Viognier (also from the same competition that Pedernales won Double Gold). This Viognier emphasized the sweeter characteristics of the fruit -- without being sweet -- compared to Pedernales crisper one. It was a nice contrast. They also brought one of their top sellers, their Super Texan. This Sangiovese based blend was one of the richer Texas wines for the evening. They rounded out their tasting with a fine Muscat.

Llano Estacado

There were two sides to the wine room. While Flat Creek and Pedernales held court on one side, Culinaria backers, Becker Vineyards, along with Llano Estacado and McPherson Cellars held sway on the other. I was very happy to see that Llano brought two of their best, the 2010 Cellar Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon and the 2010 Cellar Reserve Tempranillo -- one of the June Texas Wine Twitter Tuesday wines. I couldn't say no to either of these great reds. The Llano Tempranillo is one of my favorites; it has the rustic, earthy nature of a Rioja but is tempered with the fruitiness common in New World Tempranillo. It is that balance of New and Old World that I love in Texas wines.

Becker Vineyards

Becker Vineyards plays host to two Culinaria events. During the main week, the luncheon provides a getaway into the hill country to taste great food and great Texas wine. In August, just before Restaurant Week, Ramblin' Rose (check out my post on last year's event) takes center stage, providing delightful, refreshing Rose's to beat back the summer heat. With such an investment in Culinaria, it was no surprise to see Becker at the Grand Tasting. Like Pedernales, they opted to not bring their Lyon winning Viognier -- their Reserve took home the silver -- but another. I have to say it was the weakest of the three but still a nice choice (UPDATE: This Texas Viognier just won silver at the Lone Star International Wine Competition). However, they also brought the Reserve Tempranillo -- they have the fruitier one, Pedernales' is earthier, while Llano's is nestled in-between. They also had the newest Canada Family Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon. The grapes from this High Plains grower are a consistent favorite -- and a part of the May wine club shipment. Of course, they brought one of the crowd pleasers, Sean's favorite, the Claret. The reds were a big hit.

McPherson Cellars

Along with Llano was one of the wineries I have grown very fond of, McPherson Cellars. Since they joined forces with Brennan and Lost Oak to create 4.0 out on the 290 trail, I have ample opportunity to taste a large selection of their wines, and I am always pleased. And the selection of reds they brought -- can you tell what I was interested in -- including two of my all time favorites: Tre Colores and La Herencia. I was glad to see two incredible blends front and center.


 Other Great Finds

Yes, the evening had live music and a dance floor -- that filled up with dancers as the night wore on. Yes, there was plenty of great food from local restaurants. What was the funnest part of  night was one of the wine tables full of non-Texas. The table had the most interesting array of wines, not the typical ones. The one that caught my eye was a very familiar looking bottle of Montepulciano that is very popular at Vinously Speaking. This Italian import is one my favorites carried at the shop, and I was glad to see it next to La Pistola -- another top seller from the shop. It was great to see the shared appreciation for the wines, as they had both been apart of Vinously Speaking's Grand Tasting less than a month prior.

From Left: Steven Krueger, Fredrik Osterberg, Julie Kuhlken

Besides the wine and food, there was also the people. Among the mingling guests was Steven Krueger, the sommelier for Westin La Cantera. Steven is a strong supporter of Texas wine; he hosts a near daily Texas wine tasting at the resort (check out my post or Tanji Patton's video). Besides running into Steven again, we also met two aspiring wine bloggers. It was nice chatting with Sally and Julie; I was happily surprised to find Julia was another wine lover and lover of  Japanese anime and manga. I do have to admit that they were hesitant about Texas wines. And I understand. They had last had Texas wine well over five years ago and had limited experience. They didn't get a chance to taste the wines that were changing the face of Texas wine. I happily encouraged them to taste the wines inside -- so did Julie Kulkhen -- and also to jump online and start writing with the rest of us.

The Grand Tasting at Culinaria was a great experience, one I will repeat next year. Every year, more Texas wineries get involved. Five was a good number (only out done by the San Antonio Wine and Food Festival sponsored by KLRN [San Antonio's PBS station]). I do hope to see more Texas wineries among the crowd next year, making it clear that Texas wines are just as good as any other.

Friday, June 7, 2013

A Day at the Races: Third Annual Kentucky Derby Party

This year I was prepared. I knew exactly what to expect and what it would take to win. I plotted out my success, carefully planning what my newest wine hat would look like. I wanted to make sure I captured the most glorious of prizes: Best Wine Themed Hat at Bending Branch's Third Annual Kentucky Derby Party.

Me and my hat

I won't bore you with the details, the days it took to build my newest bare hat into a collage of wine and the Texas hill country. I will say that drilling holes through corks to make a hat band was tiresome, messy, and difficult. However, I am pleased with my end result -- a movable hat band showcasing corks from wineries throughout Texas. Then there were the nights I pondered what flowers to put on and where, what about the grapes and grape leaves. And with the final night, I made the final touches to make the hat over the top, wine crazy. And of course it was all worth it; I took the prize I sought.

But to say the hat contest is all the Kentucky Derby party is about just doesn't say much. This year saw a much larger, diverse turn-out, and it also saw some of the most snappy dressing I have seen -- the weather was so nice it was easy to be a bit more in the spirit. Sean and I happily chatted with all those folks we know and see often at Bending Branch. And this year, we met even more wonderful people who were coming out to the winery and/or the party for the first time. Like last year, people mingled and chatted the day away, sharing in a way that I only see people do over a glass of wine. Somehow, at this event, walls always break down and people get to know one another. I realize my hat is always a great ice breaker -- I posed for a number of photos -- but there is something about the atmosphere that makes it easy to just introduce yourself to someone and start a new conversation.

Folks gathered to watch the parade of hats

As the throng of contestants gathered for the hat contest, this congenial atmosphere was most apparent. We shared our inspiration for our hats, as well as all of our tricks to making them look just right. I heard many of the folks complain about the weight; they regretted using a lot of glue to hold the hats together. Really, my hat should have been heavier (I wore a grape vine train), but I opt for a clear jewelry thread and sew everything on. My approach takes longer, but it makes the work last longer and doesn't add the weight of glue. And as we chatted, one-by-one we made the walk in front of the tasting room. And after we walked, and waited for the results, we cheered one another on, supporting each other. Though the contest is a competition, it is one of the most supportive, friendliest ones I have ever encountered.

Hat Contestants Post-Walk
The hat contest isn't the only game in town. This year's horseshoe contest took a while to get filled -- Bob Young asked me at least twice if I wanted to give it a try. Despite all the hesitation, the game turned into quite a competition. The game went on longer than anticipated. And after a long hard fight, a winner finally emerged.

With all the frivolity about us, it could be hard to settle in and enjoy the less active entertainments. It wasn't hard to find a comfortable shady spot to enjoy a nice breeze, cooler than normal May temperatures, and even cooler live jazz. And as the day wore on, Fresh Hot Brown sandwiches and Bourbon balls were quick to satisfy. And as always, single barrel Picpoul Blanc mint juleps quenched our thirst. This year, the juleps were a wonderful balance of flavors; I found mine so smooth that I drank it all without noticing.
Single Barrel Picpoul Blanc Mint Julep

There was a major change from last year. For the race last year, we all huddled on the patio in front of the tasting room. Though the crowd wasn't as big as this year's, we still couldn't fit in that space. So John Rivenburgh rearranged his garage into a viewing space. The mass gathered into John's three car garage where there was ample seating and places to rest a bottle or glass. Though it did get a bit stuffy, it provided more space and better viewing for the larger crowd. It was easy to see the horses parade on to the track, as well as to see my chosen horses lose.

Gathering to watch the race

The year's party seemed to have a great sense of class: the men dressed in their hats and bow-ties, or in Sean and John's case Guaybera shirts, and the ladies sported light and fetching spring dresses. From the moment we arrived till the moment we left, Sean and I found ourselves caught up in a good time, sharing it with wonderful people. Here's to next year.

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Catching Up Part 2: A Love Letter to Hye Market

May ended up giving me a few opportunities to travel up to the Texas Hill Country. In mid-May, we headed up to the farther side of the 290 trail. After a visit to Pedernales Cellars -- to pick-up the Double Gold Viognier Reserve -- we made a stop at William Chris Vineyards' most recent neighbors, the Hye Market. I had been following the Market on Facebook for awhile and found myself constantly eager to visit. Every week they showcase some incredible Texas wines, and I wanted to try many of those wines. Sean and I chose a great day to visit, as we tasted three great wineries: FlyGap, Hye Meadow, and Compass Rose.

Fly Gap Winery

I had been curious about Fly Gap's wines since our visit to Mason last November. Scott Haupert from Sandstone Cellars told Sean and I a little about Brock Estes and his dream. We didn't get a chance to buy any of the wine at that time -- we are always on a budget and stuck to Sandstone wines and one from Pontotoc Vineyards. Then earlier in the month, Texas Wine Drinkers -- a group on Facebook -- had a label contest; Fly Gap's Dank label competed. That reminded me that I needed to try this wine. When I noticed that they were at Hye Market, we headed in.

Brock Estes, owner and wine maker, greeted us as we walked up. We quickly hit it off and started talking about wine, especially the wines we love. He, Sean, and I all have an appreciation for Portuguese wine -- Brock informed us he will be headed to Portugal to gain some more wine making experience. So of course, we were blown away by his Mason County grown Tempranillo and Touriga blend -- Dank - Vox Populi. It hinted at the blends at Sandstone, but it was as if I was immersed in it. There was a strong sense of all the work and love that went into this wine.

If you are interested, check out their website and their Facebook page.

Hye Meadow

For awhile now, I  have been following the progress of Hye Meadow Winery on Facebook. They are not only creating a great winery, but a unique space for wine tourism (for more on that, check out the recent post on Hye Meadow from the Grapes Around Texas). When we finished tasting with Brock, we shuffled over a few steps to be greeted by a friendly face, Chris Black. We met Chris over a year ago when we was with Cap*Rock. I was glad to see him at a winery close to home.

Right now, the wines from Hye Meadow are made from grapes from the Pacific Northwest. Texas grapes are making themselves into Texas wines as we speak, and they will find their way to all of the picky Texas wine drinkers in the future. The three wines we tasted presented a diverse range, from dry red (Sangiovese), a slightly sweet white (50/50 Riesling & Gewurztraminer) and a slightly sweet blush (mainly Gewurztraminer with a bit of Cab). Normally, I am not a sweet person, but the sweet wines had a hint of crispness that made them possible summer favorites. I am eager to see what they are doing with Tempranillo and other popular pro-Texas grapes.

They are working furiously to open the doors to their winery, next to Hye Market. Keep an eye out by visiting their Facebook page.

Compass Rose

Honestly, I didn't know much about Compass Rose when we got to Hye Market; however, I was eager to know more. We met Mark Watson, the winery's president. He expressed their goal to make great wine for those who wanted to enjoy it -- a sentiment I hear throughout the Texas wine industry. This winery takes great care in their wines.

This boutique winery out of nearby Mason is drafting some strong Texas wine. We were lucky enough to try the Merlot -- which was nearly sold out at the time and is now sold out -- and the Papillon (a Pinot Grigo).

Both dry wines provided great contrasts. Sean and I were in love with the Merlot and had to make sure to leave with a bottle (a promise to post pics once we opened it). But before then, we wanted to make sure that everyone knew this little winery has a lot to offer.

Check them out on Facebook and at their website. Try Papillon at Hye Market.

A Love Letter To Hye

Age shows through the paint, creases
like wrinkles are badges from years
of the Texas sun beating down
and wild winds wiping by.

At the heart, life
beats on, invigorated by a spirit
of what has come before
and what has yet to come.

Here, there are whispers
of long grown children's letters to santa,
of pronouncements of future weddings, births,
and even of debts that snatch every dollar earned.

Here, voices ring out
with greetings to a friend not yet met ,
jokes told anew, again and again,
and of new memories being made at the old post office.

We left Hye Market satisfied and grinning from ear-to-ear. The handmade Texas Gelato was the ice cream on the cake (we skipped on the other great foods). A visit to the Market will leave anyone well hydrated -- between the great wine and the wonderful libations from Garrison Brothers -- and well fed.