Saturday, December 27, 2014

More Attention for Texas Wine? A new wine show has Texas in its sights

On Christmas Eve, a trailer for a new Youtube show appeared. Dudes Being Dudes in Wine Country is a project from the guys at Nocking Point Wines. They plan on traveling the US to visit lesser known wine regions.

From their site:
Over 1/3 of that wine comes from overseas and a vast majority of the remainder comes from Northern California. We've all heard of Napa, Bordeaux and Burgundy. What about Paso Robles? Or Austin, Texas? How about wine from Michigan? Did you know Canada makes world-class wines? Mexico too? The list goes on...and we're going to take you along with us as we explore each of these new world-class wine regions and the people that make them so awesome to visit.

So, does that mean there will be a Texas Hill Country episode? Who will the dudes visit? What will they think of Texas wine? Will this publicity be good for Texas wine?

And this is a big deal because Nocking Point Wines, though young, has quite a following. The winery and production company is made up of the duo of Andrew Harding and Stephen Amell (who is currently Oliver Queen on the CW's Arrow). Besides, they look like they are having fun and will fit in well. Well, here's hoping this is good for everyone.

Friday, December 26, 2014

Looking Back to Look Forward: Fly Gap December 2014

I am returning to the blog. My worked quickly filled November and December. However, my three short weeks of vacation has begun, so I am returning to these pages. And it so happens, that the following post is another return.

The clouds seemed to break for us, as we sat down at the picnic table to drink wine and catch up. A chilly breeze blew along the open fields in Mason County. The collection of buildings around us were transforming, slowly developing from dream into reality. This day was very different from the day in early June when I first stepped foot here. As 2014 draws to a close, I see growth and a bright future for Fly Gap Winery.
Mason Punch and Johnny Rojo

In June, Brock Estes allowed me to see his dream. We road through the hills along sandy, red dirt roads to see a place ripe for new life. When we finally arrived at the location that would soon be his winery and tasting room, I looked out on a clean block that would one day become a statue. The production facility had no siding, just an ever developing foundation of concrete vats that, one day, would flow with Mason County grapes. The future tasting room was filled with a collection of many pasts, not yet ready to become a future. The cellar was a roof and three walls with a rough dirt floor. But, I knew that this was only the beginning.

Concrete Vessel, June 2014
Just six months later, the form has begun to take shape. It is rough yet, but it shows signs of what is to be. The production facility now has siding and is better prepared to protect the wine. Boxes of the newest wine fill the space. This wall of white cardboard holds something precious: Brock's first 100% Mason wine and the first to be bottled on the premise. The cellar dives deep into the red earth, on schedule to begin its next phase. The tasting room has begun to let its memories go, and in it is the future back bar.

Production Facility, December 2014
Despite the cold breeze, Brock, my husband Sean, and I sat outside to take everything in. We sipped on the last release – Johnny Rojo – enjoying its growth since the late summer. This wine has begun to mature. It has relaxed into itself, softening its rougher edges and growing more harmonious. This wine lulled us into forgetting that it was December, its warmth a relaxing touch.

Mason Punch, front
And we tasted the newest wine – Mason Punch. This wine is special. The four previous wines, though made from Texas fruit, do not bear the name Fly Gap. These four wines are Dank. The Fly Gap name is reserved for those wines born in Mason County. Mason Punch is only the first. But it is young, much like the ever changing landscape of the winery. On that day, a youthfulness, new spring life, moved through the blend of 44% Touriga and 56% Tempranillo. The dusky terroir was quiet, and the fruit engaged in a frenetic dance. In the bottle, a dream is taking shape. But much like the world around it, it is finding its way.
Mason Punch, back
The sun moved across the sky; we were reminded that it was the shortest day of the year. We let the day slip by: witnessing a dream take shape does that. So we gathered up our wines – the maturing Johnny Rojo and the youthful Mason Punch – and set out into the setting sun.

Note: We all noticed a greenness to the newest wine, indicating that it may yet be too young to drink. However, there is a lot of potential, so we brought a few bottles home and plan to let them age a bit.

Sunday, October 5, 2014

Texas Wine Month has Started!

The greatest celebration of Texas wine is upon us. October is Texas Wine Month, and wineries throughout the state are celebrating with special events and festivals. For me, that means a trip to the Texas Hill Country Wineries and 31 days on the annual Texas Wine Month trail.

For those that do not know, the wine trail allows those who purchase passes to sample wines from all 42 participating wineries -- without any additional charge. For $35 for an individual pass and $60 for a couple, this is an incredible deal.

When on the trail, guests an enjoy up to 4 full tastings a day. There was some complaint about it at first, as those that can't regularly be in the area would not be able to visit many wineries. This is true, but by moving to 4 a day, they can no offer full tastings (rather than the typical 3), which makes for a more thorough experience. I have already enjoyed my first trail day, and I can say that 4 full tastings is an ample amount. To complete that Herculean task, we devoted almost 6 hours to make those four visits to wineries that were very close to one another (someone within sight distance).  I can honestly say that I enjoyed the fuller tasting; it forced me to slow down and enjoy the wine and the company. Best of all, it allowed me to real get a full measure of what each winery had to offer.

The other new change is the use of a tasting booklet. In years past, trail goers took their paper ticket to each of the wineries. At each winery the ticket was stamped to track each guests' visits. After awhile, the ticket could get full, and so many of the stamps were hard to read. The new book provides four spaces for each of the 31 days of the trail; there is no problem with keeping track. In addition to tracking visits, the book becomes a souvenir.

In addition to the trail, the wineries host a kick-off party during the first weekend. This year it was moved to Saturday, which made it easier to actually come. So from 6-8 on the 3rd, guests enjoyed the beauty of Hye Meadow and drank wines from the host, as well as Alamosa, Bending Branch, Lewis Wines, McReynold's, and Messina Hof. Live music from the Flying Pig provided the evening's soundtrack, and KHill Barbeque served up great food. This night ended up being perfect, with the moon raising on side and the sun setting on the other.

Luckily, this adventure is just getting started. There are still many days to visit the wineries and a second party on Saturday the 25 at Driftwood.To join the fun, head to the Texas Hill Country website and grab a ticket; they may just sell out. And then, let the Texas wine drinking commence.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Revitalization in the Hill Country: Wedding Oak Winery Expands into Burnet

Texas regularly benefits from the growth and innovation of the Texas Wine industry. In the past decade, wineries and tasting rooms have energized local economies and their communities. The expansion and success of Fredericksburg and Hye are primary examples of how the industry can invest in the community, create and sustain satisfying and well-paying jobs, and create new revenue streams. Each year, yet another town, especially those in the Hill Country, grow brighter thanks to the efforts of the wine industry. In recent years, Wedding Oak Winery has helped the City of San Saba. Now, they plan to continue their effort by doing the same for Burnet.

Wedding Oak and San Saba

For those who have visited San Saba, the positive influence of Wedding Oak is clearly apparent. The small town provided incredible potential – a strong history, a devoted community, and ample possible attractions. Mike and Lynn McHenry, along with other local investors, decided to bring San Saba back to life. The group started with the winery. Then, when Wedding Oak opened, they did more than just join the San Saba community, they provided the aid needed to grow San Saba and make it a unique destination.
Wedding Oak Winery's Namesake
San Saba had a struggling town center – like many small towns in Texas. But, it also had a great history and beauty that could easily aid the town’s certain success. So, Wedding Oak and its investors purchased a number of old and unoccupied buildings, many dating from the early twentieth century. Today, these buildings look new and retain their classic charm, and businesses are starting to fill them up. In addition to the revitalizing the downtown, the winery promotes the area, encouraging winery visitors to visit important landmarks like the actual Wedding Oak tree and Regency Bridge, shop at the long standing local businesses like Harry’s, and attend festivals like Pecan Jam and the new Sip and Stroll at Christmas. This involvement has created a need for additional new businesses, like a recently opened bistro. San Saba has grown and now shines thanks to the efforts of Wedding Oak Winery.

Wedding Oak and Burnet

Now, the winery hopes to do the same for a neighboring small town, Burnet. Burnet is well situated near a number of Texas wineries – Perissos (already in Burnet), Flat Creek, Pilot Knob, Pillar Bluff, Texas Legato, Fiesta, Alamosa, Fall Creek, and, of course, Wedding Oak itself – so it is no surprise that it will benefit from the wine industry. Like San Saba, the city has historic relevance and an abundance of wonderful attractions, especially outdoor recreation. These similarities suggest that Wedding Oak can use their experience to make this new endeavor a success. In fact, Mike McHenry believes this new plan for Burnet will make the community “a regional hub for the growing wine industry in the Hill Country.” This hub will help draw more tourists to the wineries at the “Top of the Hill Country.”

To make this all possible, Wedding Oak has paired with the Burnet Economic Development Corporation (BEDC) – a city board that uses locally generated sales tax to grow the community. This team will work to renovate and invigorate a historic area of the city. The BEDC has purchased a number of buildings – the Chamber of Commerce and adjacent buildings – in the city square along East Jackson Street. Specifically, Wedding Oak and the BEDC have acquired the Badger Building at the corner of South Pierce and East Jackson, which will house the new winery. Wedding Oak will also be involved with the other adjacent buildings. Together, they will renovate the buildings and provide new opportunities.

The acquired buildings are an important part of Burnet’s past. The Badger Building, in particular, first housed a wholesale and retail drugstore, as well as offices, as early as 1886. Since then, a variety of businesses and local government offices have used this space. And like many of these historic buildings, the Badger Building is in need of repair. Some of the adjacent buildings are like the Badger Building: they merely needed to be renovated. Others, however, are so damaged that they will need to be demolished and rebuilt. Soon, the officially designated Historical Site and its neighbors will return to their former glory, and have a winery also.

All of these plans include Wedding Oak establishing a new winery in Burnet. This location will include a tasting room with wine sales and a wine production facility. And just like the main location in San Saba, this new building will also have additional retail sales and event space. This project does not differ much from the work started in San Saba. Wedding Oak and its investors purchased a block of commercial buildings and, still today, continues renovation. The long term goal is to have businesses establish themselves in these revitalized buildings, like the recently opened J.C. Campbell Mercantile next door to the winery. As the project continues, the adjacent buildings will soon showcase other additions to San Saba. Now, the city of Burnet will enjoy Wedding Oak’s commitment to revitalizing small, local communities.

The Future of Texas Wine in Burnet

The new project in Burnet will begin production early in 2015. The BEDC and Wedding Oak hope to have the work complete by the fall of the same year. If all goes well, next October, Texas Wine drinkers will have another stop on the Texas Hill Country’s Texas Wine Month Trail. And for Burnet, they will have gain a renovated historic building. In addition, the community, according to Burnet City Manager David Vaughn, will have “an entirely new draw with nearly immeasurably benefits” all thanks to Texas Wine.

Sunday, August 24, 2014

An Affair to Remember: Main Street Affairs in Llano, TX

When I am out visiting wineries, especially those a little further from home, I look for certain businesses to enhance my trips. I look for good restaurants, places to stay, fun places to visit and be outdoors, and comfortable spots to relax. Yesterday, I found one of the places: a place to relax.

I realize that when visiting a winery, the best ones create an atmosphere where guests can sit back, sip their wine, and enjoy the scenery. But sometimes, you need something else. Sometimes the wineries are so busy you just want to get away from the crowds. Sometimes the weather makes outdoor seating painful. And at other times, the wineries are closed but the evening is still young. Finding one of these oasis is crucial, especially if you are staying in one of the many welcoming and quaint small towns in the Texas Hill Country. I found such a place in a town with no wineries but nestled between two wine trails -- Wine Road 290 and the Top of the Hill Country. On Main Street in Llano, I found Man Street Affairs.

This picture comes from Main Street Affairs' Facebook page.
I have to admit that I stumbled on this place. It was late in the afternoon and we were headed back to San Antonio from Fall Creek. I know I could drive good old reliable 281, but I prefer Highway 16 to Fredericksburg because it is often less busy and a lot more scenic. Just before we left the winery, I checked my Twitter account and found a promising last stop: Alamosa Cellars was about to start a tasting at a wine bar in downtown  Llano. We did not have the time to visit the winery that day, so I thought it would be a great opportunity to see Jim and Karen Johnson as well as try their new Rosata di Sangiovese. It turned out to be a lot more.

We couldn't find directions for the wine bar, so we had to search along Main Street. This was completely unnecessary as the wine bar is on the northeast corner of Main Street and Highway 16. The location was a bit plain in the front, especially at a distance; it seemed like many of those little shops squeezed into a small location. As we approached, I noticed that the outside was a lot nicer than I thought, and so was not entirely surprised by the rustic and classy interior. The space is a historic one, and the interior pay homage to that with a dusting of the modern. Despite the late afternoon sun shining into their western window, the place was a bit dim, a relaxing sort of dimness that could lead to someone becoming way too comfortable. The stone walls and dark wood made me think more of a wine cellar, which is a good thing for a wine bar. This little gem provided a wonderful retreat.

We first had a leisurely tasting with Jim and Karen, along with a few older couples from the area. The wine bar provided small stemless glasses for the tasting; I later found out they use them when someone wants to taste a wine or do a tasting. I really liked that they did more than serve wine by the bottle and glass; it is a treat to find a place that will actually do tastings. After the tasting, each couple went their own ways; one couple was joined by friends and sat in an open and full space so they could socialize, while the other one slipped off to one of the quieter spots in the back to enjoy a glass of wine with one another. We surveyed the rather spacious room as we made our way to a large and inviting bar.
This picture comes from Main Street Affairs' Facebook page.

The first surprise at the bar was that they only served Texas wines! Most of area wineries were there: Wedding Oak, Fiesta, Fall Creek, Alamosa (of course), Pontotoc, Dotson-Cervantes, and Sandstone. There were also a few more familiar wineries like Becker and William-Chris. Among the wines, they had offerings for white lovers, red fanatics, and even those with a sweet tooth. We settled in and found ourselves with far too many choices, a position I so rarely find myself in except at wineries.

I don't go to wine bars much. Many in San Antonio are expensive and have little choice in wines by the glass. And of course, few have any Texas wines (except Steinheimers at La Cantera). I had choice here, but price was my next concern. Well, price was not an issue. The average glass seemed to run $9, with some as little as $6 or $7. Few surpassed $10; the most notable was the most expensive, Perissos' 2012 Syrah for $15. Bottle prices were just as reasonable. In some cases, they were more than at the winery, but it was maybe one and half times the cost at the winery (if that). A good example in Pontotoc. Their wines run $25-$30 dollars; here a bottle only costs $39. While many were a bit more expensive -- which is to be expected -- a few were cheaper. Some of the Alamosa wines were actually cheaper than at the winery, so Jim encouraged people to buy a bottle here.

So we had an entire Texas menu at good prices. Oftentimes, these wines are by the bottle only; that was not the case here. So we searched the menu and pondered our choices. And then we spotted the perfect last glass of wine for our day: the 2008 Dotson-Cervantes Something Red. Rumors of this wine have circulated for quite awhile; I can't even remember when I first heard about the expansion of the label. But there it was, and very newly arrived. We were the first to try it at the wine bar, which we happily did.

Dotson-Cervantes Someting Red

As we sipped on the red blend from Mason County -- the terroir is clear and alluring in this wine -- we chatted with the staff. They were very friendly and relatively knowledgeable -- there were still things the were learning and were eager to learn more (they have only been open about 2 months). So we swapped stories and information. We felt welcomed, which is just what we look for out visiting wineries.

I can't say enough good things about Main Street Affairs. The spacious and cozy interior are the perfect refuge from the sweltering summer sun. The wine choices rank as one of the best in the area, and the prices didn't hurt my budget (only Sandstone in Mason has comparable selection and prices). The staff was as good as any of the best wineries in the area. From here on out, this may need to be one of my favorite stops. For more info, check them out on Facebook.

Friday, May 30, 2014

A Great Pairing: Texas Wine Chocolatier Moves into New Shop in Boerne

For longtime Hill Country wine visitors, Cathy Locke has been a regular Saturday fixture. Her smiling face was often the first to greet folks at a number of wineries along the 290 trail. And what she brought with her added that extra bit of delight to already great days. Her chocolates became a regular perfect pairing to a number of Texas wines. Recently, she celebrated the grand opening of her new stand-alone shop. Now, some of Texas' best chocolates can be found at Cathy’s Fine Chocolates in historic downtown Boerne.

Cathy has been an important supporter of Texas wine, as many of her truffles are made with Texas wine. She adds great Texas wine to the chocolate ganache in the truffles. During her grand opening, she offered three Texas wine truffles: a Viogner, a Tawny Port, and DBS (McPherson’s well-liked blend). In the past, a variety of wines from a number of Texas wineries have found their way into her truffles. Texas wine favorite Tempranillo has often been one of the chosen few. And Cathy doesn’t choose just any Texas wine; she makes sure to use the best Texas wines she can.

Cathy does offer a number of other delectable truffle flavors that pair well with Texas wine. Her spicy offerings, like Habanero Sea Salt or Ghost Pepper, are the perfect blend of dark chocolate and heat that goes well with Texas whites, either dry or sweet. Texas flavors like Lavender pair well with light reds and dry whites.  And the more traditional truffle flavors go well with about any wine. Sitting out on a number of Texas winery patios sipping on wine is made better with one of Cathy’s confections.

At her new shop, Cathy has made a number of other chocolates available. Chocolate covered fruit, fudge, and other unique creations can be found at Cathy’s new location. The shop allows for a larger selection of truffles and other confections, a bonus for wine drinking chocolate lovers.

For now, Cathy won’t be found along the wine trail. Her chocolates can still be found at wineries along the trail, but to see her and her larger portfolio of chocolates, a quick trip to Boerne is all that is needed. Her quaint little shop can be found at 233 South Main Street Suite K. Visit her site and Like her on Facebook for more details. So before the next round of winery visits, stop in and stock-up on one of the best Texas wine pairings.