Category:Regional wine

Texas wine developments: 2015

texas wineSome thoughts after driving some 900 miles through the Texas High Plains in search of Texas wine:

• It’s not so much that this year’s harvest was plentiful, or that quality looks to be good. Rather, it’s that growers who normally had a couple of tons of grapes to sell have six or eight. Or 10. That means wineries may have more grapes than they know what to do with — something that could only happen in Texas, where short harvests have been the norm for a decade. Hence, there may not be anywhere to store the extra crushed grapes, and I don’t even want to think about what it will do to grape prices over the next couple of years. The good news? That there will be almost no excuse to sell Texas wine that doesn’t carry a Texas appellation, a practice long common here and which has generated huge controversy.

• Even I get tired of ragging on Dallas restaurants that don’t carry Texas wine, but after eating in three Lubbock restaurants that do Texas wine justice — the Pecan Grill at the Overton Hotel, La Diosa, and West Table — Dallas restaurants have no excuse for not carrying Texas wine. If they can do it in Lubbock, why can’t we do it here? We are supposed to be more cosmopolitan than Lubbock, aren’t we?

• Neal Newsom, a west Texas cotton farmer who planted his first grapes 30 years ago and today grows only grapes, says his fellow cotton farmers used to heckle him — literally — over that decision. Because what kind of self-respecting cotton farmer would grow something as silly as grapes in a part of the country where cotton is king? Today, though, says Newsom, they’re practically jealous, given his success. “I got more people asking me about growing grapes last year than I did in the previous 29 years put together,” he says.

• The less said about my experiences in Post, about 50 miles southwest of Lubbock, the better. Who knew driving through a small town, no bigger than five minutes from north to south, could cause so much aggravation, and both times I went through it?

• The best wines I tasted? A tempranillo from Llano Estacado (which I’ll use in my American Wine Society seminar about Texas wine in November) and the McPherson rose. The former had varietal character — some earthiness, a bit of orange peel — but tasted of Texas, with more red fruit than a Rioja and more balanced acidity. It’s about $15 for people lucky enough to have an HEB in their town. The rose, about $10, is sold out in much of the state, but a couple of restaurants in Lubbock still had it. That it sold out so quickly speaks to how well it’s made — juicy strawberry fruit and a crispness that makes me smile when I write about it — as well as how much Texas wine drinkers have changed. Just a couple of years ago, to paraphrase my pal John Bratcher, you couldn’t sell rose here if you left it outside the liquor store with a sign that said free for the taking.

The Wine Curmudgeon’s fall 2015 wine education extravaganza

wine education

Have Curmudgeon-mobile, will travel.

Take your pick. All provide wine education as only the Wine Curmudgeon can — which means that if you’re stuffy, hung up on scores, or think wine is not supposed to be fun, you should probably look elsewhere:

? My wine class, also open to non-credit students, at Dallas’ El Centro College. We’ll cover the basics, including how to spit, the three-tier system, restaurant wine, and how wine is made, plus at least 10 tastings focusing on the world’s wine regions. Cost is $177, which is a great deal if only for the tastings. But you also get my incisive commentary and occasional rant, which means the school is practically giving the class away. We’ll meet 7-8:50 p.m. on Thursday between Sept. 3 and Dec. 17. Click the link for registration information.

? The annual Texas wine panel at the Kerrville fall food and wine festival, 3:30 p.m. on Sept. 5. This is always one of my favorite events, not just because I hear some terrific folk music, but because the audience appreciates Texas wine and wants it to be better.

? The southwest chapter meeting of the American Wine Society in Arizona, on the last weekend of October, where I’ll talk about U.S. regional wine.

?The American Wine Society’s national meeting Nov. 5-7 in suburban Washington, D.C., where I’ll give two seminars. Not coincidentally, conference registration begins this week. I’m doing “The Texas Revolution: How the Lone Star state learned to love grapes that weren ?t chardonnay, cabernet, and merlot” at 4:45 p.m. on Nov. 6, and “Five U.S. wine regions you probably don ?t know, but should,” at 11 a.m. Nov. 7. The latter will look at wine regions, including one in California, that deserve more attention than they get.

And, perhaps the most fun part of all — the Wine Curmudgeon’s latest marketing effort, which will allow me to spread the gospel of cheap wine anywhere I drive. Yes, a personalized Texas license plate that says 10 WINE.

Helping The Daily Meal understand local and the best U.S. wineries

best U.S. wineriesHow do we know that regional wine is firmly part of the wine mainstream? When a hip and with it on-line magazine, edited by Colman Andrews — one of the most influential people in the food world — lists the 101 best U.S. wineries and 13 are from The Other 47. And, even more impressively, the editors knew so much about drinking local that they don’t even need to ask the most qualified regional wine experts in the country for their input.

Call it just another day at the office for the Winestream Media.

Do not take this as poor mouthing on my part. I’m more grateful than I can write that our work with Drink Local Wine made a difference, whether it’s Eric Asimov’s endorsement of New York wine or Food & Wine’s Ray Isle, who is as open minded about regional wine as he is about cheap wine. And when local gets the kind of play it did from something as high profile and as 21st century as The Daly Meal, I know how far we’ve come.

Or think that I need to rant about the regional wineries on the list. Like all such efforts, it’s perfectly imperfect. Yes, it’s missing a couple of Texas producers, including Brennan and Pedernales, who should be there, and that no one from Missouri made it speaks to the list’s shortcomings. (Full disclosure: One of the Texas producers in the top 101 is owned by someone who criticizes me regularly for my lack of wine knowledge, and has done it in a comment on the blog, and one of the writers who helped pick the list recently told a Texas winery official that the next time I got my facts right about Texas wine, it would be the first time I did so.)

Rather, it’s the frustration that once the Winestream Media gets hold of something, there’s only one way of doing things, and that’s its way. In the end, that becomes self-defeating, as anyone who has ever read the Wine Spectator knows. “Scores are good because they are, and everyone we know agrees with me. So how dare you question us? Because we don’t know you and we don’t want to know you.”

Hence the need to consult people who understand what’s going on with regional wine from a national perspective, which is mostly lacking with the people who helped pick this list.

That no one asked for my opinion is one thing. I’m in the middle of the country, and, as several of my pals have pointed out more than once, my location and my inability to play nicely with the other children works against me when important people on either coast need experting. But that isn’t the case with Doug Frost, MS, MW, and maybe the smartest regional wine person in the world. No one called Doug, and that’s like writing about baseball and not understanding that the game is nine innings long. And how about Linda Murphy, who wrote the book about the subject? Or Dave McIntyre of the Washington Post, who co-founded DLW and is the country’s leading authority on Virginia wine. Or Andrew Stover, who owns a distributor that imports regional wine to the East Coast and has probably more wine from the Other 47 as anyone in the world.

I emailed Andrews at the Daily Meal to ask him about this, but never heard back. Hopefully, he and I can talk soon, and I’ll update the post. Until then, check the list out, look for wineries in your area, and give them a try. Drinking local is what matters, a lesson I hope the Daily Meal keeps in mind when it does the list next year.

More about regional wine:
? Texas wine at the crossroads, one year later

? One more sign local wine has made the mainstream
? Drink Local Wine, regional wine, and the growth of local

Colorado Governor’s Cup 2015

Colorado Governor's CupMidway through yet another enthusiastic debate during the sweepstakes round of this year’s Colorado Governor’s Cup wine competition, I asked Doug Caskey, who runs the event, “When’s the last time you heard people get this worked up about regional wine?” Doug laughed, and said he wasn’t sure he had ever heard this many people get this excited about this many wines at a regional wine competition.

Which says pretty much everything you need to know about this year’s Governor’s Cup, which annually picks the best wines in Colorado. It’s not so much the quality of the wines, which are much better than they were when I first judged in the state a decade ago. It’s that the judges, most of whom don’t specialize in regional wine but work for restaurants, retailers, and distributors, have a completely different opinion than was common then. They don’t dismiss the wines out of hand, and they understand that Colorado wine isn’t supposed to takes like wine from Napa or Sonoma.

How else to explain Warren Winiarski, one of the greatest winemakers in Napa history, giving double gold medals to several Colorado wines?

The results haven’t been released yet, so I can’t name names (but will post them when they are). But I was especially impressed by:

? Two less-oaked chardonnays, which were crisp, fresh, and fruity. One of the judges went so far as to say one tasted more like Chablis, one of France’s great chardonnay regions, than the Colorado chardonnay he was used to.

? Two syrahs, cause of tremendous arguing about which was the best wine of the competition. Both were delicious, and what made them even more appealing is that they were completely different in style — one more Old World, with that almost bacon fat aroma, and one more New World, with lots of berry fruit.

? An absolutely gorgeous viognier, a grape I don’t usually associate with Colorado, that was on par with the best in Texas and Virginia, and much better than almost every California viognier I’ve ever tasted.

In this, Doug, who heads the Colorado Wine Board; his colleague, Kyle Schlachter; and state enologist Steve Menke have done yeoman work with the state’s wineries. This is always one of my favorite events to judge, and not just because they pay me $200. It’s a pleasure to judge an event where the winemakers want to get better, and where they have.

Texas wine at the crossroads, one year later

Texas wineAnd, apparently, not much has changed with Texas wine a year after I wrote: “Has Texas wine reached a plateau, where quality isn’t going to get any better given the state’s resources and climate? Or is something else going on?”

That was my conclusion after a couple of days tasting wine and moderating a Texas wine panel in the Hill Country last week. The day before I left, a Texas winemaker (who has told me I’m an idiot) took to the Internet to criticize almost everyone else who disagreed with him. During my visit, a winery owner told me I knew nothing about wine, Texas wine, and the ugni blanc grape, my Gascon favorite that is starting to be grown in Texas. And the wine during those couple of days? Mostly, and sadly, ordinary. At worst, it brought back memories of the bad old days in the late 1990s.

What’s going on? Why is this happening? Much of it has to do with the state’s wine success over the past decade — more wineries, better quality, and increased recognition here and elsewhere as part of the local wine movement. There are more wineries making better wine than ever before, using the grapes best-suited for the state’s terroir, and it’s easier to buy quality Texas wine than it has ever been — even grocery stores sell it.

But that success has led to other, less welcome, developments: First, people getting into the wine business not because they particularly care about wine, but because it’s a successful business and they don’t understand that wine is more than a business. Second, as the Texas wine business has changed, not everyone has changed with it, and many of those people are bitter and angry about the changes.

U.S. Hwy. 290 in the Hill Country had a couple of wineries when I started writing about Texas wine some 20 years ago. There are more than a dozen today, and applications for almost two dozen more. Ignoring for the moment whether there is enough business to support that many, we can’t ignore that there aren’t enough grapes. As Houston wine writer Ron Saikowski pointed out during the seminar at Boot Ranch, there are about 8,000 acres of grapes in Texas. We need 40,000 acres to meet the demand, which means we use all the grapes grown here, regardless of quality, and make up the difference with imports, mostly from California and Washington state, and also of varying quality. The irony? As Texas wine becomes more successful, and we get more wineries, the grape shortage becomes more acute.

Which is not to say there isn’t good news. The new vintage of Becker’s Provencal rose ($17, sample, 12%) may be the best ever, and it’s usually one of the best roses in the state (and which says something about how professional wineries can make quality wine). Consumers are more knowledgeable, and so are the people who follow Texas wine. The writers on the panel — Saikowski, John Griffin of SavorSA, and Austin’s Matt McGinnis — know their stuff, and are more than capable of tracking the changes in the business and holding producers accountable. And they’re far from the only ones, also much different from the early days when there were just a couple of us.

Because, frankly, this version of Texas wine has worn me out, and it’s why I’m not judging the Lone Star competition this year. I’ve done it every year but one since they invited me 10 years ago, but I don’t see the point this time. Too many Texas producers don’t want honest criticism; they want gold medals and parades in the street, because they know how much better they are than everyone else. That’s not the way I do business, and anyone who is honest with themselves shouldn’t, either.

 

Civil War wine: What we drank 150 years ago

Civil War wineThe Wine Curmudgeon will be in East Texas over the weekend doing a freelance piece about Civil War re-enactments. This means two things: First, very little wine for three days, because East Texas is both rural and still dry in many places (which offers the prospect of going cold turkey). Second, though the U.S. was not a wine drinking country 150 years ago — we drank twice as much beer and 20 times as much spirits as wine — there was a thriving wine industry.

The heart of Civil War wine country was the Ohio River near Cincinnati, and its Robert Mondavi was a lawyer named Nicholas Longworth. As with all American wine pioneers, from Thomas Jefferson to Mondavi, everyone thought he was crazy, but for some 40 years Longworth produced quality wine despite the difficulties of grape and terroir. His best wines, including a semi-sweet sparkling, were made with catawba, a native hybrid grape that needs to be sugared to overcome its flavor flaws, and the Ohio River Valley is too humid and too hospitable to grape pests and diseases for long-term success.

But by 1860, Ohio made one-third of the country’s wine, Longworth farmed 2,000 acres of grapes (by comparison, we have just 8,000 in Texas today), and produced almost 10,000 cases in a country where the total production was probably less than 100,000 cases.

In the end, the difficulties caught up with Longworth. Diseases, including powdery mildew, destroyed the vines, and the Civil War took care of the rest. The area saw some fighting, which is never conducive to grape growing, but more importantly, there was no one left to pick grapes after the work force went off to fight the war.

Longworth, though, turned out to be more than footnote in U.S. history. His law practice, as well as his real estate speculations, made him one of the richest men in the 19th century U.S. His great-grandson, Nicholas III, became speaker of the House of Representatives and married Alice Roosevelt, Theodore Roosevelt’s oldest child and of whom T.R. said: “I can either run the country or I can attend to Alice, but I cannot possibly do both.”

Local wine, local food

local wineThe Wine Curmudgeon, despite his good intentions and his advocacy of all things local, is not perfect. Even the co-founder of Drink Local Wine sometimes forgets that local wine goes with local food.

Case in point: A recent dinner with pork shoulder rubbed with cumin and coriander, roasted with garlic. onions, and peppers, and served with guacamole and black beans. So, like the wine snobs and dilettantes that I spend so much time excoriating, I bought a French wine, a white from the Rhone, to drink with it.

What a maroon.

I live in Texas. I have been advocating Texas wine for Texas-style food for almost three decades. So why did I buy a French wine made with viognier when when we make some of the best viognier in the world in Texas?

Like I said, what a maroon.

It’s not so much that the white Rhone was overpriced and under-qualified. Even if it had been better made, it didn’t have the bright apricot and peach fruit to stand up to the pork the way a Texas viognier (Brennan, McPherson, and Pedernales among many others) would have. And it was heavier, as well, with an unpleasant oiliness, both qualities that didn’t complement the pork’s spiciness and something the best Texas viogniers don’t have. Ours are lighter and more crisp, which gives them an affinity for something as rich as the pork shoulder.

So the next time you opt for safe instead of local, know that you’re making the same mistake that I did. Just be willing to admit it, and do the right the next time.