Tuesday, December 29, 2015

A Busy Fall: The Beginning

I found myself overwhelmed right after Labor Day. I had little time to attend to any writing. I stepped away from a project I am working on with my intrepid partner, Sean Bircher. And I provide only a small bit of content for my other writing gig, Texas Wine Lover. Mainly, I graded papers; I focused on providing detailed feedback to my many students, which left me with very little spare time.

In that spare time, we did squeeze in a bit of wine. We got away one day a week, and we wisely used that to try new wines and relax. We did take some notes here and there, as well as a whole lot of pictures. So during the next few weeks, I will post some of those pictures from Sean's and my adventures.

First up for our fall had both a beginning and an end.

The Beginning

One of my first fall assignments for Texas Wine Lover was to cover the grand opening of Torr Na Lochs in Burnet.

We arrived at a busy time, but toured about and learned a lot about this new gem. When we finished, we enjoyed a snack and some wine while appreciating the incredible view.

For more on this new winery, check out my post at Texas Wine Lover.

The End (and a new beginning)

Despite the joy of this new adventure, one of Sean's and my favorite wineries "rode off into the
sunset." On Labor Day, Alamosa Wine Cellars in Bend welcomed guests one last time.

The news may have seemed bad, but it was actually good news. Owners Jim and Karen Johnson retired. They celebrated for a few months leading up to the big day. Now they get to travel more and enjoy the days ahead.

And we found ourselves very lucky during our visit. Longtime Texas Wine Friends Jim and Julie Baker happened to swing by the same day. It lead to a great day remembering old times.

Though we will miss the bold wines of Alamosa Wine Cellars, we wish Jim and Karen the best of luck on their next adventure. To learn more, check out Jeremy Wilson's article on Texas Wine Lover.


October is always a whirlwind of a month: midterms, Halloween, etc. But this year, we celebrated my fortieth birthday. Check out how we celebrated our birthday!

Thursday, August 13, 2015

Drinking with Superhereos: Nocking Point Mixer in Austin

I recently spent 4 days in Indianapolis, with most of those days spent at GenCon. Unfortunately, we left at the start of day 4 to get home. But, what we came home for was well worth it. After flying for 5 hours, we ate and drove to Austin to attend the Nocking Point Wines Texas Mixer.

Nocking Point is owned by two friends, Stephen Amell and Andrew Harding. They travel the country hosting tasting parties and raising money for their charity, NP Gives. They also film a YouTube show, Dudes Being Dudes in Wine Country. And for those not in the know, Mr. Amell plays Oliver Queen -- the Green Arrow -- on CW's Arrow (hence he superheroes reference in the title).

Now, I already covered the event for Texas Wine Lover, so you can go here for that article and its photos. What I want to share here is all the extra silly things from the party.

First, there were the refreshments. We sampled 6 wines, and, if one tried, he/she could have enjoyed multiple tastings of each. Honestly, they should probably institute a ticket system for the wine. In addition, each guest received two tickets for a beer, cocktail, or other alcohol beverage from the host -- Old School Bar and Grill. It was hot, and we do not drink beer, so Sean and I sipped on 2 Austin Eastciders.

This was about as much space as one could find.
And that is the thing, it was hot! It did not help that Sean and I just came back from Indianapolis. During most of our trip there was little to no humidity, and the temperatures were at least 10 degrees cooler than Texas. The heat hit everyone hard. When standing in line, we all hid in the shade, but it was not enough. Inside, the second story -- where most of the fun took place -- was open to outside (the fans and AC cut down the heat but did not remove it). And one of the best places to avoid the crowds, which I had enough of while wandering the exhibitor hall at GenCon, was the porch outside. Suffice it to say, everyone, at the very least, glistened.

Now, I am going to be honest here. I was not that impressed by the event. Yes, I had fun, and yes, it was nice, but some of the problems made it less so.

First, it was nigh impossible to talk to Stephen Amell unless you elbowed your way to him. I had wanted to ask him a few questions -- hoping for maybe 5 minutes of his time -- but I barely got time to ask him one. And while I did so, the crowd tried to push me aside and interrupted him. For that, I do not blame Stephen at all, but I do blame the crowd for being so inconsiderate to one another and out host.

This was typical, and the tall person with the red hair is me.
Second, there was limited time to talk to either host. It seems that there are a number of people who attend a lot of the mixers. Those familiar faces attracted what was left of both hosts time. I understand wanting to catch up with people who are friends, but it quickly took time away from anyone else.

Third, we couldn't get pictures. I had to agree not to take any pictures of Stephen and Andrew and focus on the wine. The plan was to focus on the wine, but I had hoped to get one of them together. There was never a time when pictures were allowed -- they could easily have gone on stage and let the crowd take pictures. In addition, those that did get pictures --usually with the hosts -- had BIG reasons why they wanted the pictures. Honestly, most I witnessed were likely exaggerations at best. And did I mention all the people who broke the rules and took the pictures anyway? SO of course, I have no pictures of Stephen and Andrew.

Closes thing to a picture of Stephen and Andrew. This accidentally got snapped was we waited for the band.

Fourth was space. The location was cramped for the beginning. I did my best to escape the crowds for much of the time, but any attempt would quickly be in vain. Of course, it did not help that when Sean and I retreated to the calm that the storm -- aka Stephen -- would come right by. I lost track of the number of time I politely stepped aside to let him and his people through. Many times, I was less than a foot away and face-to-face with him.

I know some of this is entirely out of their hands, but actions can be taken to avoid or decrease these problems.

One crazy thing that happened, and really made the night, was the band, Brother Sal's, last set. First, the music was stirring and performed with such passion. And, by odd, chance, we go into the front row. We had asked to take photos of the band, and they agreed. We prepared ourselves by setting up near the stage. As we waited, the several people in front of us left, moving us to the front. As for the photos, they did not come out well. Sean opted to not use the flash -- out of respect -- and so they fame out blurry.
The best picture of the band.

Not only was the front row cool, but we were on the side nearest Stephen and Andrew. Yet again, without trying, we found ourselves close by. It was really hard not to take pictures.

Now, part of the reason for visiting Texas was to film the second episode of their show. I was totally excited, and I tried to reach to reach out to them to provide any info or assistance. And to be honest, they could have used it.

The episode takes place at Austin Winery. So why did they choose that one? Because it was in Austin. That's it. They like Austin, so they choose the winery in the city. 

So why not drive an hour or so and head to the Hill Country? They did not know about it. I was a bit shocked. They own a winery, they are interested in wine, and are especially interested in unique places and wine. As many know, the Hill Country, let alone the other regions, has found its way into a LARGE number of publications -- both industry ones and popular ones. They should have known, which was disappointing.

Now, I have not visited Austin Winery, so I cannot say if it is a good choice. I do know, and even Stephen admitted this, that they have almost no Texas appellation wine. I do not understand how they can film an episode on Texas wine if they do not drink any. It seems really counter-intuitive. Also, by choosing Austin Winery, they did not get the full Texas wine experience. Going out to the wineries is a big deal. Out in the Hill Country, the High Plains, East Texas, and all the places in between, the winery experience is unique and special. The community one finds along the various wine trails cannot be experienced at a single winery. The grandeur of Texas wine country – the vineyards, rolling hills, grand vistas, bright blue skies – cannot be found at an urban winery. 

I, and at least one other person, told both Andrew and Stephen about the Hill Country. They both made remarks that suggest they may come back, which is good. However, they also seemed unconcerned, so their return may be a pipe dream.

I know, this was rather critical, but there is no reason not to be. And besides, the good stuff is at Texas Wine Lover. The wines were nice, and I really loved two of them. Stephen and Andrew were nice and approachable, just hard to talk to for more than a few seconds. The band was rocking. We also talked with lots of cool people. All and all, it was a good time, and I would do it again. 

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Summer Fun: May 2015

As the temperatures rise, I naturally seek indoors, especially here in Texas. Before long, I find myself without much to do. But, this summer has not followed tradition. For one, it has stayed cooler -- thus far -- and there has been plenty to do. Events quickly filled up my calendar. So in between teaching classes and household chores that I put off until I had time, I have found myself at one place or another. As it all begins to slow down, I finally can sit back and share some of these special occasions.

So first up... May. Things started off quick. I waded through finals and portfolios for the six classes I was teaching, but I often got away.

Annual Kentucky Derby Party @ Bending Branch Winery

We started the month with one of our new annual traditions. For this year's party, Bending Branch made it a ticketed event. This new system limited the number of people so the winery could provide a better overall experience. The party was held at the new production facility out on the crush pad. This location provided plenty of room, shade, and space for a very large screen. Some guests brought snacks and picnics, but everyone also enjoyed a BBQ plate, a glass of wine and bourbon ball. Before the race, guests lined up to complete in this years hat contest. Contestants took the fun to a whole new level, which made me glad I opted out and wore my first wine hat. The afternoon culminated with the race. Who knew we would watch he first Triple Crown win in decades.

Pedernales Cellars Reserve Viognier Release

So, a wine release may not seem like much, unless it is the long awaited Reserve Viognier. Two years ago, this incredible wine took Double Gold at an international wine competition in Lyon, France, opening the door for a growing list of Texas winners. Last year, weather took the crop, and most Texas white grapes, so when a 2014 vintage became available, Pedernales threw a small party. Media came out to sample the wine and pairings. All guests did a vertical tasting of the award winning Viognier (which is NO longer available) and the newest vintage. The current release is clearly a young wine. The 12 leads with rich, golden stone fruit flavors with just enough citrus and acid to create nice balance. The 14 is tart and powerful; citrus notes -- and the sense of citric acid -- dominate to create a crisp wine; the typical stone fruit characteristics are bright and light and show promise to settle this wild child. Drink 12 now and hold 14 till at least 2016.

Memorial Day Weekend

We all know the big story: rain. Sean and I ventured up on Saturday to see some friends from out of town. While lounging at our last stop for the day -- Hye Meadow -- the rain came in. We thought we could wait it out since the rain began relatively earlier (around 3). We were wrong. We finally gave in at 6 and made the long drive home in the downpour. We had to avoid two of our normal routes -- 1376 through Sisterdale and 281 -- because of flooding (after only a few hours). We made it home safe and sound to hear that many areas were devastated. As a Texas State grad, I was saddened by the losses in San Marcos, as well as the neighboring communities (Wimberely and Blanco) where many of the residents I got to know during my three years at school lived. Of course, in the following days, many wineries reached out to help those in need.

Anniversary Weekend

Many Hill Country wineries celebrated their anniversaries in May. We were lucky enough to go to two "first" year ones at the very end of the month.

Fat Ass Winery threw a large party for friends and wine club members. A beautiful sunset set the stage (the weekend after the Memorial day rains). The band jammed all night, and their rhythms just demanded dancing. Of course, a highlight was the wine slushes; these tasty creations went down well. The bit surprise were the two new dry reds now available.

Compass Rose Cellars celebrated 1 year in Hye as well. Of course, the winery is always growing. The new restaurant headed by Bryan Gillenwater headlined the evening, as well as the view. This night was more low key, just like the relaxing mood set by the locale. The winery had lots to celebrate. In addition to the restaurant, they broke ground on new production facilities in Hye and have begun work on their take on a B&B. Year two will have some serious celebrating.

As May came to a close, June beckoned with even more fun.

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

June Fun @ Blue Lotus Winery/Texas Mead Works

I recently visited Blue Lotus Winery and Texas Mead Works in Seguin. You can check out my Texas Wine and Trail Magazine article here. But I wanted to help get the word out -- a bit more -- about an upcoming event they are having.

Mark your calendars for Saturday, June 13 for the BBQ & Wine/Mead Competition. The contestants are entered and ready to go, so all we have to do now is go and have fun.

The "gates" will open at 10, but the wine fun won't start until 11. The day will run till 6.

There is lots of fun ahead. Besides trying great BBQ and drinking wine and mead, there will be live music, wine and mead seminars, and local artisans. It will be a good time, and it is family friendly.

Ticket prices are as follows:
  • Children under 12 are free
  • Children (from 12-20) will be $10.
  • General adult admission will be $20. It includes 10 tasting tickets, glass, coupons, and other helpful items.
  • The VIP ticket runs $45. This includes the same as $20, but it also has a wine tour, barrel tasting, t-shirt, and space to eat inside in the Gallery.

For more info, check by their site.
They are at 5151 FM 20, Seguin, TX 78155