Monday, January 18, 2016


A Near Perfect Texas Wine Vintage

The Texas Wine Industry will be talking about 2015 for many years to come. 2015 will be our vintage of the century. We had a mild spring, escaping the treacherous late spring frost, we had tame temperatures through the growing season and a later than normal harvest. Growers and winemakers are on cloud nine, they are blessed with quantity and quality. Perfect vintages or near perfect vintages are few and far between, especially in Texas, and it has been incredible to witness. We should all enjoy it and never forget it.

While this vintage is in the glowing sun, shining bright, almost so bright that nothing else can be seen. I want to ask you to look carefully. There just above the horizon is a full moon rising, reflecting the light of this vintage. Yet it's own beauty should not be overlooked. This moon is the industry itself, waxing into maturity, coming off some difficult vintages, lessons learned from past mistakes and turning the tide of consumer knowledge in favor of the grapes that grow best in Texas.

One event that brought this whole picture into focus for me was on October 3rd 2015 at the Pedernales Cellars winery just outside of Stonewall Texas. The special occasion was the release dinner for their new allocated wines with the Kuhlken-Osterberg label. They are only available through the purchase of futures. The dinner was hosted in the winery itself, up the hill from the tasting room. Barrels were moved to the side and linen-covered tables were neatly arranged with shiny happy centerpieces. A classic music trio played for the gathered Texas Wine enthusiasts. An exquisite wine dinner by Sullivan Street Caterers. Everything you could want at a wine event anywhere in the world.

Our hosts, glowing with pride and joy, Larry and Jeanine Kuhlken, who planted their vineyards in the Bell Mountain American Viticultural Area in the early 1990’s, along with their children; David and Julie – along, along with with their spouses, Heather Kuhlken and Fredrik Osterberg. Guest of honor was Master Sommelier Guy Stout and Mistress of Ceremony was Veronique Cecilia Barretto. While the reason for the gathering is the new wine release, this was also a celebration of this incredible team, the and the Pedernales Cellars venture coming up on ten years, and the wine culture emerging in the Hill Country.

This team expertly runs Pedernales Cellars a over fifteen-thousand case winery, with many award winning wines with very high reputation. Having set a high standard already for Texas wine and recognizing that they have not reached their potential; this team brainstormed, designed and created Texas’ first Luxury Wine released “en primeur.

Fredrik Osterberg, with experience in European wine traditions, desired wines that could be cellared and aged to reach their full potential as liquid works of art. David Kuhlken, working with their geographically unique estate vineyards, and now wonderfully mature vines producing amazing fruit, knew that they have the raw materials to create some of the greatest wines in the world. Julie Kuhlken, genius and inspiration for design created an fluid, elegant and breathtaking package with a look somewhat reminiscent of avant garde artist Gustave Klimp.

Tasting Notes, in order of tasting:

2014 Kuhlken-Osterberg, 45% Cabernet Sauvignon, 22% Mourvedre, 22% Touriga Nacional, 11% Tinta Cao & Tinta Amarela.
Seventy-five dollars a bottle

Aromas of violets with vibrant red cherry and hints of pepper, vanilla and cocoa with a tantalizing blackberry scent in the background. The mouthfeel is silky and ripe with the fruit of red cherries and black cherries, a decent oaky vanilla presence with the pepper and cocoa balancing out the elegant finish.

2013 Kuhlken-Osterberg, 30% Tinta Amarela, 30% Touriga Nacional, 15% Tempranillo, 25% Syrah blend. 
One-hundred dollars a bottle

Distinct smoky aromas with the undertones of tar that support the fruit of black cherry with hints of cedar and pepper. The wines bursts with flavor on the palate with black cherry and cranberry fruit, pronounced vanilla, grippy tannins and a very long finish leaving a impression of a firm wine with resolve. This wine is miracle that it exist at all; most of the Texas High Plains was wiped out by freezes and most of the Texas Hill Country was pummeled with hail, however the Kuhlken Estate vineyards was spared and flourished!

2012 Kuhlken-Osterberg, 76% Tinta Amarela, 24% Syrah blend.
One-hundred and fifty dollars a bottle

With shy aromas there are hints of red cherry, and smoke. Like a great old world wine that has a closed nose; this wine explodes on the tastebuds! Bursts of red cherry followed by vanilla and oak with tannins in a rich textural experience that makes the finish long and luxurious.

Years ago I can say I recognized that wine is an aesthetic experience; wine is art. As my education and experience has grown over the years my understanding of the world of wines available deepens; I can say all three of the Kuhlken-Osterberg wines are Masterpieces! Only this team could have come up with these wines and this night. Only this team has dared to kiss the sky and reach for the stars.  Only this team is creating wine that transcends the glass and time of the experience, achieving new heights for themselves and the Texas wine industry. From this new vantage point in shines a bright light on Texas wine with the bright light of the 2015 vintage; everything is clear and the world is within our reach!

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

The Journey

Cliff Bingham in the Tempranillo Vineyard

The Monday after the Blood Moon, I drove up to the High Plains. It is a beautiful drive, I love Texas; the Hill Country is so scenic with the rolling hills and winding roads. As you travel west you go up a series of plateaus, rising in elevation and the terrain evens out to become very flat with the enormous dome of the sky above.  I was amazed by the number of electricity generating windmills along the way. Well over a thousand of them by my estimation.

There are several very interesting cities along the way; San Angelo and Big Springs just to mention two. My cell phone GPS did an excellent job navigating my route. I was able to drive right to the Bingham Family Vineyards.  The appearance is of the brick farm homes in the area because this was the family home up until a few years ago. There are large vineyard plantings in the fields around the house, barn and winery.  The open space in this part of the country makes gauging distance and size difficult.

Puppy sez "They're ripe!"
Greeted by winemaker, Daniel Bingham and then I meet Cliff Bingham, Grape Grower and so much more. I was guided on a tour vineyards looking at Tempranillo, Vermintino and Dolcetto. Meet the neighbor's puppy, cutest ever, and he loved eating the grapes!

My tour of the winery was with Manuel Lechuga, he has been growing grapes and making wine in the Texas High Plains for twenty-eight years!  Manuel worked with Bobby Cox at Pheasant Ridge Winery until a few years ago. Tasting from a wealth of barrels, Manuel showed me a delicious array of wines; Merlot, Tempranillo, Dolcetto, Petite Verdot and wine in OLD barrels; 2009, 2006 and 2004!  Eleven years in barrel! Does anybody outside of Spain do this?  The wines are profound and amazing! (The Dugout, Cab Blend, is a wonderful result of this extreme barrel aging program.)

After this we went to the Bingham Family home for dinner tasting the wines in bottle. There were numerous family members and several wines to taste. I of course, kept up with it all. (No pop quizzes, please.) It was a wonderful evening and as dinner ended and I was heading back to the winery to stay the night. It seemed like the wonders were about to cease. I was in my car following Cliff in his truck, as we turned on to the FM road he stopped got out and came to my car asking; "Do you want to see harvest?" My answer; "YES!!!"

We pulled to the side of the Tempranillo vineyard we had visited in daylight. It was now after 10:00 pm, a cool night, dark; country dark, the only light the flood lights on the tractors working. One pulling the harvester and two tractors each pulling a bin the size of a modest Winnebago, to receive the grapes from each pass of the harvester.  The tractors with bins then rush over to the winery to pour their load into smaller bins, that are still pretty big. This pour was into a series of three bins with Daniel Binghanm standing in front of them. It looked like a Niagara Falls of grapes.  It is hear that I wished I had my cell phone camera, only all the GPS guidance had zapped my battery to 0%.  (I will be taking pictures next harvest.)  At the winery there is a forklift zipping back and forth, giant bins of grapes being pushed, pulled, lifted and hauled. Destemmer crusher whirling, semi-trucks idling while being filled with bins of Tempranillo right off the vines, and a large team of people working in full court press.  This was more exhilarating that watching the Spurs in the playoffs! This scene was a whirlwind, as was the day. As the semi-trucks headed out to the Hill Country where a great winemaker will take over them and make beautiful wines, I went to bed; exhausted from the long day. The Bingham family kept working through the night.

I stayed the next day we discussed our business plans and agreements. I went to check out "the competition" or wineries I should have visited long, long ago. The Binghams and I easily and cordially came together on our Brokerage Agreement. The next morning we loaded samples into my car with an absolutely breathtaking sunrise for this NEW day!

It was a journey to come up here, one that began many years ago. It feels great, right and very promising. Like anyone on a journey; somehow I am surprised that it has not ended but grown into an odyssey better that I could have asked for...

"Make a joyful noise unto the LORD, all the earth!" Psalm 98:4

Monday, October 5, 2015

Blind Tasted and Tested...

The first supper where Bingham Family Vineyards wines are served in San Antonio was for my dear friends, the taste makers for San Antonio or as they like to be called; The Varsity Squad. In attendance; Dr. Gary Penny, Dr. Deborah Strus, Lisa Elliott, Tony Cherone, Veronique Cecilia Barretto (full time Sommelier for Pedernales Cellars, Wine Consultant for Folc Restaurant and 'part time' Wine Snob), Gloria Baretto and Ramon Baretto. All experienced wine enthusiasts and foodies.

I gathered them to blind taste the wines from Bingham Family Vineyards against counterpart wines from famous and popular producers from other regions of the world. Not a uncommon practice for wineries and wine professionals to engage in to asses the quality and perceived value of their wines in the glass. And, I will admit more than a little nerve racking when it is your wines being judged.  I did my best to be fearless and put in very serious competition from the 'counterpart wines.'

There were five pairs of wines tasted blind. We tasted each pair and discussed and voted on a preference as we went. The reveal was at the end after all the wines were tasted. Below are my tasting notes for each wine and then a summery of how the group felt.
The group picked Caymus blind and once revealed some recanted their choice, there seems to be love/hate reputation for the Conundrum wines. Blind the Short Rows was thought to be a Riesling or Gewurztraminer. Revealed the group could see the potential for sweet white drinkers, the target audience, all in attendance being dry wine lovers. Short Rows provides an excellent value and held it's own against a popular wine that is more expensive.
The group tied these two up in votes, they are very comparable. I expected the wines to be wildly different with one being a single variety and the other a blend, but I was wrong and very pleasantly surprised. The Cloudbust shows that Bingham Family Vineyards is not only delivering quality but value too! The challenge Texas wineries need to overcome, and we have done it!
The group picked the Orin Swift unanimously. It is the best rose I have tasted this year; it is amazing!  I was tasting blind also and I was SURE it was the Sunset Rose. The two roses are very similar and both are excellent.  Orin Swift is the hottest brand going; the same team who make the Locations wines, the "TX" blend that partnered with Kim McPherson and the bottles FLEW off the shelf! 
The group picked the Turnrow by one vote, everyone loved the floral aromas and found the wine complex and delicious. The Spanish wine was very good and had that old oak note that some liked and some not so much.
The group picked the Dugout by two votes, they loved the complexity and oak notes. The Beringer Knights Valley was the most different; some thought it was a Malbec. Curiously Beringer seems to have change it's style to be less Napa Cab like. Why?  The Dugout taste like the Knights Valley did ten years ago; it is berry nice.

Overall assessment; three winners out of five selections were made for the Bingham wines. In one instance the wine was out of place in flavor profile or price point, and that was the Beringer Knights Valley. I am very encouraged to witness the value (quality and price) that we are offering. The tasters were very excited on the reveal of the Bingham wines and to be the first in San Antonio to try the wines. It was a very warm and enthusiastic reception. I need you to start spreading the word that the Bingham wines are coming to San Antonio, Austin, the Hill Country and surrounding areas! And look for your opportunity to taste them yourself...

My next posts will cover my journey in more detail...
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