Tuesday, July 23, 2013

A Texas Lip Stinger: Bending Branch Winery’s First Texas Picpoul Blanc

The original and complete article can be found at Texas Wine & Trail Magazine.

Texas is definitely home to unique grape and wine varieties, and as of July, Texas can now put the little known Picpoul Blanc on the list. On a relatively mild July night, invited guests and wine club members came out to Bending Branch Winery in Comfort, Texas to try the first ever Texas grown Picpoul Blanc. The small first production – 24 cases – went quickly. This award winning wine – it earned a silver medal in the Lone Star International Wine Competition in June – truly represents the strength and ingenuity of Texas grape growing and winemaking.

All 3 Bending Branch Picpouls & Signature Poster

Bending Branch and Picpoul Blanc

Bending Branch Picpoul Blancs
 From the beginning, Bending Branch made the Picpoul Blanc one of their signature wines. The first Picpoul, and the one visitors to the winery sample, is sourced from Hall Ranch Vineyards in California. This wine is an important part of the winery’s portfolio, along with the Tannat. Like the Tannat, there has been some experimentation (last year saw a Tannat port). A few years back, Bending Branch began to age some of the Picpoul in some slightly used bourbon barrels to create the Single Barrel Picpoul Blanc; this particular version of the wine is used in making Mint Juleps for the winery’s annual Kentucky Derby party. And like the Tannat, winemakers Bob Young and John Rivenburgh wanted to bring this grape to Texas, and they accomplished this with the new Estate Picpoul.

Single Barrel Picpoul Mint Julep, 2013 Kentucky Derby Party

Bending Branch’s Estate Picpoul

As for this new wine, one guest remarked that the Estate Picpoul holds true to the variety, and of course, it was a pleasant wine for summer in Texas. One of the most remarkable elements is the acid. This particular vintage has noticeable acid from beginning to end, adding a bite and crispness that is refreshing. In fact, the wine almost seems as if it was carbonated; the acid creates an effervescent mouth feel.

Figure 4: Bending Branch Estate Picpoul
As for the aroma, it is a soft, subtly herb scent with a hint of lemon, maybe lemongrass. This moved well into the taste, which is predominately lemon. For me, the wine is more of a sour, rather than sweet, lemonade. This lemonade flavor is the understated sort, almost as if it has a mild hint of lime; at one point it makes me think of a bit of lemonade with Sprite. While talking to other guests and Jennifer Beckmann, the winery’s Director of Marketing and Certified Sommelier, we turned to the other flavors, particularly the herbaceous element of the wine. Jennifer described the sort of lemons used in hot toddies –ones steeped with a cinnamon stick. I think this description fits well, as it suggests the pleasant but refined sour lemon taste with the balance and lightness created by the herbs.

Estate Picpoul
The Estate Picpoul, the first estate wine for Bending Branch, was a hit at the release party. The strength of this estate grown wine has made fans of the winery eager for more. Later this year, Bending Branch will also release an Estate Tannat, joining the RF, EM, and Texas Tannat, as well as a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Aglianico, and Tempranillo. This is good news for Texas wine.

Unfortunately, this first round of Texas grown Picpoul will have a rather limited audience (there were 4 cases as of this morning, July 14). Hopefully, it is only a taste of things to come because this bright wine with delicate tones matches well with Texas. There is something bold in the acid as it stings the lips and incites the taste buds. The subtle, harmonious flavors are not so different from a scenic drive through the hill country. Bending Branch has added another wine to Texas’ extensive portfolio, one that has great potential.

Winey Sci-Fi

I know that more than one Texas wine blogger is a fan of science fiction, if everyone's reaction to our meeting Wil Wheaton last year is any indication.  While doing some research for my site, Wine and Savages, I stumbled across a piece of near-future sci-fi about the wine industry -- "Water to Wine" by Mary Robinette Kowal -- that you can read for free at Subterranean Press.  Set in a world where climate change has ruined most wine-growing regions, it's the story of a family clinging to making wine the old way.  It's set in the Pacific Northwest, not Texas, but I think we can all enjoy it anyway.

Read "Water to Wine" here.

Monday, July 22, 2013

Sparkling Texas: News from William+Chris Vineyards

This past Saturday was quite a whirlwind. Sean and I had our first official tasting at Hye Meadow (post forthcoming), Sean ate lots of chili and chili-like recipes -- thanks to William+Chris, Pedernales, and Hilmy. We relaxed to some fine soul, jazz music at Hilmy, and we ended our day with a great release party at Bending Branch (post forthcoming). One of the greatest bits of news that I came across was word of some upcoming wines at William+Chris.

During our tasting, Sabrina mentioned that the winery was about to make some sparkling wines. This was quite intriguing. The last I had heard, no one was really making sparkling wines in Texas. I had heard that some of the smaller wineries I am less familiar with may have, but nothing really notable. Last year, McPherson had a Texas sparkling that went through its bottling (sparkling process) in California at Kim McPherson's brother's place; this wine was grown and made in Texas but bottled elsewhere. Knowing this and that no one in Texas has quite the right equipment for producing sparkling, I asked Sabrina if she knew how they were planning to do it. She wasn't sure. So, with a bit of purpose, I set out for an answer.

I came across a wine splattered Chris Brundrett. He was currently away from some active fermentation he was doing, so I had a chance to find out how we planned on producing a fully Texas sparkling. Well, he actually told me that there will be two types. The first will be a cuvee style with the help of an outside source. In addition, he plans on making one by hand. This one will be done at McPherson's winery up in Lubbock. Chris estimates it will be four days of drinking beer and hand bottling wine.

The other thing Chris told me about these sparklings is that they will be made from Blanc du Bois. William+Chris has done some great things with this grape, so these two new wines should be real treats. And to make the excitement more palpable, next week will see the harvest of the the grapes.

Hopefully, it won't be long before Texas starts expanding its wine portfolio to include more sparkling wines. I am glad William+Chris is leading this way and that they are using one of Texas' best grapes.

Thursday, July 18, 2013

A New Perspective: At Flat Creek Estate

Sean and I took time to visit two wineries in one day. One of those wineries was Flat Creek Estate. We had been here a few times in the past, but were often left a bit unsatisfied. We hadn't been back in over two years, and we weren''t sure when we would make our way further up 281. After some recent tastings at wine events, a Texas Wine Twitter Tuesday tasting, and some chatting on social media with recent Flat Creek winemaker Tim Drake, I thought it was time to head back and give them another try.

Me and Flat Creek

This is a winery with a back story, at least for me; it was one of the first Texas wineries I visited. Sometimes when we would visit my grandparents in nearby Lago Vista (they lived around 20 minutes from the winery), we would stop in. Our first visit with my parents, I think in 2007 or 2008. We made a few other visits, 2010 and 2011, I believe. At those times, we really weren't impressed. The wine always tasted a bit off, maybe a bit overproduced. The wine often left an odd aftertaste. But my dad was a huge fan, so I would go back and try again, hoping it was just the last visit or things had changed. It really didn't. That was until recently.
Lake Travis Hill Country at Flat Creek Estates
One of the earlier Texas Wine Twitter Tuesdays featured a Moscato from Flat Creek. I was leery, but was soon enjoying the crisp sweetness of the wine. During that night, I got a chance to ask a few questions of winemaker Tim Drake. I was growing curious. Then Flat Creek was present at Culinaria. I tasted a few of the wines I hadn't had and found them different from the last time I had been at the winery. By the end of the night, I was friends with Tim on Facebook. I was now hooked, and I had to find a time to visit.

Before I get to the visit I have to share an odd side note. Sean and I are amused by the fact that the winemaker is Tim Drake. There is a Batman character with the same name; the second Robin (after iconic Dick Grayson). On our trip out to Flat Creek we couldn't quite help but laugh: Robin was going to Tim Drake's winery. I know, its only funny to comic book geeks.

On Sean's and my recent visit, I had hoped to meet up with Tim, but that didn't happen on the Saturday we came. Instead, owner Madelyn Naber oversaw our tasting and gave us a tour. Everyone at the tasting room was friendly and knowledgeable. I was able to learn a bit more about the current wines and get a fresh perspective on where the winery finds itself at in 2013.

Sean & I in the barrel room

News, Trivia, and Info

There was some neat trivia and info I learned about Flat Creek. Right now, the winery is renting space to a new beverage maker. Mead is currently being made at Flat Creek for sale at different Renaissance festivals; it is nice to see another Texas winery helping someone else out. And like many others, they don't have every piece of equipment in-house. For bottling, they actually rent a truck; I have heard of a number of wineries doing this. Bottling machines and lines are expensive. In addition, the less expensive ones are labor intensive (I should know after volunteering for Hilmy back in March). It is no wonder they just rent when they need to.

There are a number of trends they are working with as well. For one, they are using a variety of fermentation tanks. Though steel tanks made up most of the number, there is some concrete in use; they are embracing a new trend here. In addition, they sell a few wines by the keg and as a growler. Right now, it is mainly just a few whites, especially white blends. Also, they are moving towards screw tops for whites. Their decision here was taste. With a screw top, the wine can taste the same as it did in the tank, retaining the intended flavor. The other cool note was their blending procedure with the whites; they actually blend in a single tank, layering one wine upon another. I found this interesting, and the tank huge.
A variety of tanks, including blending tank (large one in the back)

During our tour and visit to the barrel room, we learned a bit more. While sneaking around the barrel room, notating barrels from all over -- France, US, Hungary -- I mainly took notice of the wine and where the grapes came from.  Among the Texas grapes, I saw major grape growers like Newsom and Reddy Vineyards and Andy Timmons' Lost Draw Vineyards alongside Flat Creek Estate Sangiovese and Frio Canyon grapes. I left the barrel room thirsty all over again.

The barrel room -- Lost Draw Vineyards Tempranillo


Our tasting was more extensive than most -- Madelyn kept letting us try wines not available to the general public (wine club only) as well as ones that are nearly gone. Of those we tried the 2010 Tempranillo; it was a nice blend of minerals and fruit. We also tried the 2009 Pinotage (made from California grapes). This small quantity wine is no longer available, but a 2010 is one its way. We found this wine to have an enticing character; it blended the fruit and earthier tones well. Sean commented that this wine could make a nice port.

During out tasting we had the older 2011 Viognier. The 2012, which I tasted at Culinaria, won the bronze at an international wine competition in Lyon, France (alongside Becker's silver and Pedernales Grand Gold). The 2011 is a silky wine with strong citrus fruits, especially grapefruit, while the 2012 is more subtle. Along with Viognier, I tasted the 2010 Muscato Blanco, which had a very sweet nose that ended in a sticky sweet taste; it started with softer fruits, like peach, and ended very citrusy (orange specifically). I also had the Mistella, a dessert style Muscat that was orange from the start. This wine was made subtle and soft by the addition of ice and was paired well with dark chocolate.

The tasting room bar; award winning wins and medals on the right

The afternoon's reds included the well known Super Texan (2010), The 2009 Syrah, 2008 Meritage, 2009 Cabernet Sauvignon, and the Port  IV.  The Super Texan is bold on flavors -- earth, spice, oak, and dark fruit -- and yet the mouth feel is light and soft. The Syrah's biggest strength was the tannins that did not stand out but instead accentuate the fruit. The Meritage is highlighted by its oakiness. The wine is a natural progression from fruit to oak. The Cab was a nice balance of fruit and oak. And the port was a ruby style that tasted more like wine than a strong tawny; it was soft and not overly sweet.

Vineyards behind the winery

During our visit we didn't get a chance to eat at the Bistro -- for next time -- but we did end our visit, after our a tour and a bit of wandering in awe in the barrel room, roaming the grounds. This is a beautiful place. I have always held a soft spot for the area; every summer I spent a week or so with my grandparents. The hills that jut and drop away out here, covered in trees and full of wildlife, have always seemed to me like an oasis. The vineyards stretching out and away from Flat Creek work nicely among what was already here. I can see why visitors flock here to escape and drink good Texas wine.

A New Perspective
I always think of golf courses, green
even in the drought and heat of summer,
and the sun sparkling from the lake.
Often, I stared out from the porch
from the house on Madison Cove, 
looking down and out, towards a world 
just out of reach. Below my feet
the Texas scrub and cacti gathered, 
shelter for the deer, skunks, rabbits,
and whatever else would wander 
and scavenge through the yard.
The wind would whistle by
punctuated by hummingbird wings
and the call of the Bobwhite quail.
View of Lago Vista, 5/2010
Estate Vineyards @ Flat Creek, 6/2013

Now, I see the hills rolling away green
with vines and grapes, settling
into this landscape from my childhood. 
I imagine the deer nosing close and the sniffing
noses of skunks as they come through,
only to find their quarry protected 
by shear netting. And from this view, 
I can imagine where Lake Travis sits --
low and sullen from drought -- and barely 
a sparkle visible when it catches the sun;
instead, I see a soft purple gleam
and a light golden twinkle from the sun
slipping through wine glasses.
And I still hear the wind whistle,
a rustle of leaves and soft bird song
drifting along this new vista.

Thursday, July 4, 2013

4th of July & TX Wine

We have a tradition; we spend 4th of July in the Texas Hill Country. There is plenty of great live music and, of course, Texas wine. Today, Sean & I started with our 2 favorite stops -- Becker & Pedernales.

Sean LOVES chili. So Becker's annual chili cook-off is a must. We always show-up early for a tasting; Henri showed us through an uncharacteristic tasting of whites -- the new Albarino is light and soft, but the award winning Viognier is lush. We followed with a leisurely chili tasting, drinking Tempraniilo. Sean's favorite was a competitor from Hye -- a fellow Flocker & Hye Society member! We had fun chatting, eating, and drinking.

Our major stop is Pedernales Celkars. The kite flying us a unique event of wine, music, food, and kites. This family friendly event is relaxed and friendly. This year, San Antonio's Monz Bonz BBQ is here to add some great tasty treats, along with yummy chocolate cupcakes from the winery.

I'm lucky to live so close to such wonderful places, where I can enjoy great wine, food, and company on such an important day. I don't need fireworks with all this greatness. Thanks everyone & happy 4th if July.

*Please excuse mistakes, as I'm writing this on my phone while drinking Pedernales' Miscato Giallo on the winery's front porch!