Friday, July 31, 2015

Milestone: Alamosa Wine Cellars Closing

There are events in time that mark the boundary between that time and this time.  Sometimes we see them in hindsight and sometimes they are obvious to everyone when they occur.  This milestone may not be obvious to everyone, so I have appointed myself to draw it to your attention.  Alamosa Wine Cellars is closing; Labor Day weekend; September 6th, last day.  You MUST go visit this winery before it closes!!!

One of the Way Out Wineries (WOW!) between Lampasas and San Saba, it is a bit of a journey and well worth it.  The owners, Jim and Karen Johnson, planted grapes here in 1996, and proceeded to change how Texans grew grapes and made wine.  They were the pioneers out on the frontier of warm climate grape growing and artisanal winemaking, literally and figuratively.

We need to compile Jim Johnson's firsts in Texas; he helped produce Becker Vineyards’ first Viognier in the early 1990s, he was the first to grow Sangiovese and the first to commercially bottle Tempranillo.  The first to plant and bottle Verdelho, and I am sure there are many more.

My fondest memory is attending a Paso Robles seminar in Austin and during the question and answer session there was this couple asking about the clone of root stock the growers were planting on.  This was a much more technical question than the sommeliers and wine pros in the room were asking.  After the seminar I went and meet Jim and Karen Johnson, needing to know who they were.  It has been a pleasure knowing them ever since; tasting their wines, selling their wines, introducing their wines to new customers, hosting wine dinner with them, attending wine dinners and festivals with them.  I am here to tell you that the Texas wine industry is in the place it is today, poised to step onto the world stage, because of the hard work and inspired vision of Jim and Karen Johnson.

If you have not been to Alamosa Wine Cellars; you must go, the clock is ticking.  Jim and Karen plan to sell every last bottle of wine in the tasting room and the property itself!!!  You do not want to miss this piece of Texas Wine history, you must see the vineyards and winery and taste the delicious wines that have a strong sense of the place they are from.  They are offering big discounts on cases and individual bottles through Sept. 6, the last day they will be open. And they also will have fun events up until then, including an intimate retrospective tasting on Aug. 8 that will showcase some of Alamosa’s best vintages over the years, “the stuff we’re most proud of,” Jim Johnson says. Get tickets for the Library Tasting here.

Alamosa Wine Cellars, 677 County Road 430, west of Bend. 325-628-3313,

Texas will go on to surpass New York and even Oregon in winemaking.  Texas wines will someday be available throughout the nation and even in other countries.  These milestones will be remarkable and newsworthy when they happen, we will all celebrate!  I for one will look back to this unlikely spot on the a bend in the Colorado river and appreciate it's out-sized contribution it made to the maturing and the direction of the grape growing and winemaking in Texas.  I will be there cheering "Remember the Alamosa!!!" 

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

The Most Innovative Place in Wine Country!

John Rivenburgh, Neal & Janice Newsom, and Dr. Bob Young; celebrating the new release of their
delicious Malbec and Cabernet Sauvignon made with 
Newsom Vineyards grapes. 
Where do you think the most cutting edge winemaking and innovation is taking place?  California?  Sonoma? Napa Valley? NOPE.  It is happening in Comfort Texas; that's right, the little town just off IH-10 a little northwest of San Antonio.  Home to the Bending Branch Winery where owner Robert W Young, MD and grape grower John Rivenburgh are co-founders and co-winemakers.  Their combined academic expertise, experience and chutzpah make them a dynamic duo leading a passionate and committed team ready to go out on the limb and grab the brass ring.  

They started with identifying great grape varieties for Texas that no other Texas winery was developing; Picpoul Blanc, a white grape from the Rhône region in France, it is one of the thirteen permitted varietals in Châteauneuf-du-Pape, literally translates to “lip stinger” because it's bright acidity, minerality, and clean lemony flavor. AND... Tannat, a red grape from of the foothills of the Pyrenees Mountains in southwestern France on the Spanish border, famous for making wines that are robust and powerful.  Both grapes have done well for Bending Branch Winery  and they are making world class wines from them.

While great steps for Texas as a wine making region selecting these varieties is just the beginning for Young and Rivenburgh. Early on they built their own fully equipped laboratory. On the fly they can ensure that the chemistry is correct, so their wines will inspire the palate as well as age in the cellar.  Continuing the evolving process they began using Cryo Maceration, indicated by "CM" on the labels, freezing the grapes leads greater pressure on the grapes to break up the cellular membrane and results is the release of anthocyanin (dyes), tannins, flavoring and multiple sugars, making better more flavorful wines.  In addition Bending Branch is the forth winery in the United States to buy "Flash Détente" equipment manufactured by 
Della Toffola in the Veneto region in Italy.  This cutting edge extraction technique involves a combination of heating the grapes to about 180ºF and then sending them into a huge vacuum chamber, where they are cooled. The cells of the grape skins are burst from the inside allowing for 100% extraction of anthocyanins and skin tannins before alcoholic fermentation!  Flash Détente, which translates roughly as “instant relaxation” has great potential for Texas and the larger wine making world and will eventually be just another tool in every well equipped winery and it will be up to the winemaker to decide when to use it or not.  But, the future of winemaking is available today at the Bending Branch Winery.
Huge props to Dr. Young and Mr. Rivenburgh for their vision and leadership, this just covers their most outstanding innovations.  They have created a wine geek's paradise with the many grape varieties in single vineyard bottlings and indicating the different techniques being used; we get to taste and experience the difference in each nuance.  However, you DO NOT have to be a Sommelier to appreciate what they are doing and have fun at the winery; San Antonio Express-News Readers voted Bending Branch Winery The Best Texas Winery!   It is a very fun place with frequent events and parties, not the least of which was the recent Two Tons of Steel concert, which promises to become a concert series!!!  Look for all the winery events here and friend them on Facebook to get the updates as they come out.  I hope to see you at the winery.

Sunday, July 19, 2015

Wedding Oak; growing tall, standing out from the landscape

Over 400 years ago a oak tree sprouted here. It grew, slowly at first, then it's strength and stature grew it began to stand out from the landscape. The large impressive oak became the symbolic site of numerous ceremonies and weddings, beginning with Native Americans, continuing with early settlers from the Santa Cruz de San Saba mission of 1758, whose ruins are located upstream on the San Saba River at Menard, and to the locals of today who look to this tree as a testament to the enduring qualities of life and the majestic beauty of all creation.  Great inspiration for this winery's name, after all, like this majestic oak's roots, wine reaches back through time reminding us of all the shared pleasures of life — requesting we slow down long enough to appreciate the blessings of the land while enjoying local food and wine with friends, family and community.

On Monday I got to visit Mike and Lynn McHenry at their Wedding Oak Winery.  An unassuming storefront off the town square in San Saba.  It is a beautiful tasting room with great atmosphere; almost living room like feel that is very comfortable and inviting.  Seemed almost cozy.  Windows into the production part of the winery hint at the larger operation.  Going through the door opens up to the barrels and beyond this is another door to more winery area and beyond that is another door still more winery.  This is a much larger winery operation than it first appears and just a few minutes of talking to Mike and Lynn you will catch on that their aspirations are as big as Texas!  Like their wineries namesake, they are digging in deep roots and growing tall; standing out from the landscape of Texas wineries.

And, their wines are ready for the world stage!  Tasting through their line up convinces me that Penny Adams is making the best wines of her life.  The whites are crisp and clean, refreshing and balanced.  The "Wedding Suite" of wines is the triple treat of delicious wines, easy drinking, and brilliant branding/packaging.  This line should be the 'cash cow' for the winery.  

That being said, their real stunning and brilliant wines are the red wines... a long time favorite of mine is the Terre Rouge, this is made from the grapes grown in Mike and Lynn's High Valley Vineyard, it is a textbook example of grape type matched to geology and location.  The aromas have a floral quality reminiscent to wild roses with cherry and cranberry.  The flavors are bold and bright with sour cherry, raspberry and cranberry with notes of leather and tobacco heading into the complex and smooth finish.  The shorthand on this wine is that it is a Texas rendition of Chateauneuf du Pape, one of the world's greatest wines and one MORE Texas wineries should be trying to recreate. (Soap box to come...)  

Another show stopper is the Reserve Syrah from 2013, it is wisely being cellar aged in bottle right now and will be available next year.  It has 23% Tannat grapes in it and which makes it BIG and brooding.  On the nose there is a pronounced smoky quality venturing into the tar neighborhood. In the flavors licorice comes forward first with black cherry and stony minrality, cracked black pepper and those smoky, oaky flavors.  This is a delicious wine now and in a few more months; the flavors will knit together and become more seamless and more seductive. I can't wait!  

And the other superstar wine I tried was the Harmony Ridge 2012, Tempranillo 57%, Mourvedre 20%, Cabernet Sauvignon 16% and Grenache 7%.  Another example of how great Tempranillo does in Texas!  Expressive aromas with initial flavors on the sour side of the sweet and sour equation.   Lots of black cherry, plum and wild fruit with that dusty Texas minrality and subtle oak.  Balanced and expertly crafted, as good, if not better than many GREAT Spanish Tempranillo blends. 

Take some time and make the trip to San Saba, it is a great Texas town, you can relax and unwind at Wedding Oak, taste their amazing wines and buy a case or two.  You will be glad you did.

Saturday, July 18, 2015

Wine Stained Jobs

Last October I left my job at the Westin La Cantera Hill Country Resort as Resort Sommelier.   The resort changed management companies and was closing for remodeling. I was there eighteen years, which amazes me!  It was a great run, we did many awesome things with wine over the years. 
Immediately after the resort I went to work with old friends at Arcade Midtown Kitchen as the General Manager / Sommelier.  This was a blast!  The Owner / Chef; Jesse Perez has incredible flavor profiles and an talent for unexpected combinations.  People love his cooking and it was a very busy and high energy restaurant.  It was unfortunate that Chef has bigger and better opportunities to pursue; so he closed down AMK.  It was sudden and surprising; our regulars where VERY passionate about our closing.  I wish it could have gone longer; I was just getting the wine list into shape and we received the Wine Spectator Award of Excellence as we were closing.  
Today I find myself looking for employment.  I am focusing on a job that will allow me to work with wine day in and day out.  We will see what opportunities are out there.  Wherever I end up;  my plan will be to revive my postings and work here.  No matter what life throws at you there will always be 
lessons in wine!  Cheers!!!