April 6-10, 2017 – Day Four of Four
For some time now Laurie Ware and I have been talking about a wine trail trip to the Texas High Plains, the source of at least 75% of the wine grapes grown in Texas. Laurie took the lead in planning and managing this Texas High Plains excursion, helping to develop skills for what she envisions as a Texas Wine Trail Travel Agent business. Here is part four (the end) of the story of the wine trail trip that Laurie Ware planned for me, entitled “Carl’s Epic High Plains Vines to Wine Extravaganza.” Be sure to read the other parts: One, Two, and Three.
Day Four – April 9, Sunday
Sunday morning dawned brightly with the wind more noticeable than on previous days. This promised to be a dusty one on the High Plains. We all had slept hard after a busy and eventful day three on our trip. Laurie Ware slept in this morning while her husband, Shelly, and I came down for the breakfast buffet at the Best Western Caprock Inn in Brownfield, TX. Shelly took a couple of items back to the room for Laurie, and we agreed to meet about 10:30 to start our drive to Levelland for the first stop at Trilogy Cellars. On the way to Levelland the wind really began to increase in velocity, and dust began to fill the air. Laurie explored our options for lunch and selected Something Different Grill located at 207 E. TX-114. In what used to be a service station, the Grill offered simple fare including burgers, salads and Mexican food. After an early lunch, we drove around just to get a feel for the town. The South Plains College Campus was fairly large and impressive. There were lots of older neighborhoods with brick homes that could readily be dated to the 1950s through 1970s. The wind continued to pick up, so dust and debris were really flying about by the time we parked in front of Trilogy Cellars, located at 618 Avenue H on the eastern side of the town square across from the Hockley County Courthouse.
Soon, Steve Newsom, one of the Trilogy Cellars founders and proprietors, stepped out with a blower to clear at least some of the dust and debris that had collected around the front door. A few minutes later he stepped out again and signaled that we should come in to visit and share in a tasting of Trilogy wines.
We tasted the regular selection of wines on their tasting sheet, as well a few extras. And, as I had done for others we visited, several wines made from grapes grown by Trilogy Cellars were offered as gifts. One of those wines, an Oregon Pinot Gris, was opened for comparison with this flight of wines.
- Trilogy Cellars Roussanne 2016 (Texas High Plains, Hockley County TX). Ripe peach aromas and flavors, with soft floral and herbal nuances.
- Trilogy Cellars Pinot Grigio 2015 (Texas High Plains, Hockley County TX). Definite mineral (caliche?) character to the apple fruit & floral notes.
- Innocent Winery Pinot Gris Vitae Springs Vineyard 2010 (Willamette Valley Oregon). Definitely a deeper, richer style with more baked fruit & less floral character.
- Trilogy Cellars Pinot Grigio 2016 (Texas High Plains, Hockley County TX). This newer vintage of PG was fresher with bright fruit, but still had some mineral notes.
- Trilogy Cellars Intersection Red 2015 (Texas High Plains, Hockley County TX). Softer red blend from Sangiovese 43%, Montepulciano 21%, Merlot 18%, and Malbec 18%.
- Trilogy Cellars Merlot Reserve 2015 (Texas High Plains, Hockley County TX). Ripe currant and black cherry fruit, full-palate presence, lots of toasty oak nuances, long finish.
- Trilogy Cellars Relentless Red Blend 2015 (Texas High Plains, Hockley County TX). Rich, smoky, blend with mulberry fruit, Merlot 57% and Malbec 43%.
After tasting at the wine bar, we moved to the beautiful back room to enjoy a visit with Steve Newsom and learn more about him, his partners, their vineyards, and the historic building they had renovated. Steve told us about the three partners and their vineyards, all in Hockley County. Steve Newsom’s partners are Rowdy Bowlen and Chace Hill, both long-time farmers that now have vineyards to supply grapes for Trilogy Cellars. Steve told several interesting stories about how the vineyards and their plantings differed, especially based on soil type, clonal selections, and whether the vines were grafted onto rootstock or own-rooted. Steve’s vineyard is planted in primarily loamy sand soil. Rowdy’s soil type is more calciferous in nature, and Chase’s vineyard has more clay content. All of these differences help to increase the flavor profile and structural characteristics in Trilogy Cellars wines. One special success from this collaboration came with their Malbec Reserve 2014, a blend made with grapes from all three vineyards, that was awarded a double gold medal and best of class designation in the 2017 San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition.
One other interesting story we heard was about the original plan to use Heritage as the name of the winery. After some research, Steve discovered that a Heritage Vineyards in New Jersey already existed, so he and his partners opted for Trilogy Cellars, instead. It was amazing for me to hear this story because Heritage Vineyards in New Jersey, owned by my dear friends, Penni and Bill Heritage, is where I worked for a number of years helping to grow grapes and serving as assistant winemaker. This is just one more example of how small the (wine) world can really be.
One of the more interesting features in the backroom of the building was the exterior wall made of brick and covered with plaster when the Trilogy partners began to renovate. As some plaster was removed, the brickwork and its functional pattern were revealed. Between several rows of bricks laid in the normal fashion, with the long side showing, was a row of bricks with only the ends showing. Steve explained to us that the other ends of the bricks extended out to help anchor the brick wall in the adjacent building. Also, Steve decided that it would be much more decorative and interesting to remove only part of the plaster from the bricks. So, he drew a wavy line around the room to indicate where the plaster should be removed (below the line) and preserved (above the line). This effort certainly added a nice decorative feature to the room.
Before departing, I made sure to give Steve (and his partners) the other two wines based on grape varieties grown in the Trilogy Cellars vineyards. This was a fun stop, and we really enjoyed our visit with Steve Newsom in Levelland.
- Pampas del Sur Reserve “Tenacious” 2016 Mendoza Argentina (50/50 Malbec/Cabernet Sauvignon)
- Ivasari (Barba) Montepulciano d’Abruzzo Old Vines 2009 (DOC Abruzzo Italy)
The next planned stop was Pheasant Ridge Winery located at 3507 E. CR-5700, near the small town of New Deal, just north of the Lubbock airport. Pheasant Ridge is owned and operated by Bobby Cox and his wife, Jennifer. There is a long history associated with Pheasant Ridge, including its founding by Bobby, later a loss of the vineyard and winery due to financial difficulties, and then a reacquisition that has Bobby Cox again serving as vineyard manager, winemaker, and proprietor. This visit had special significance for all of us. I had often visited Pheasant Ridge back in the early-to-mid 1980s, purchasing some of Bobby’s stellar Chenin Blanc and Cabernet Sauvignon wines. One of those wines, a magnum of 1987 Cabernet Sauvignon, was opened in 2016 with a group of Texas wine aficionados, including Laurie and Shelly Ware. The wine was magnificent, a really special example of top-quality, well-aged Texas wine. More recently at the Texas Wine and Grape Growers Association meeting in San Marcos, Bobby Cox opened for us, especially for Laurie who just loves big red wines, another of his early Cabernet Sauvignons, this time from 1982. Again, it was a stellar example of top-quality, well-aged Texas wine. So, as we made the 45 minute drive from Levelland to New Deal, we excitedly speculated as to what wines Bobby might serve us.
We pulled into the parking area and entered the large building that serves as winery, tasting room, and storage facility. Bobby was at the tasting bar serving a few other customers who had two German Shepherds with them. The dogs were generally well-behaved except when one of them would do some serious barking when anyone moved or someone new entered the area. We pulled up stools to the bar and Bobby began to pour for us some of his Pinot Noir wines. Several important clonal selections are planted in the vineyards, including Pommard, Wadenswil, and Martini 2. It wasn’t until we began tasting these wines and making comparisons with delightful French Pinot Noirs from Burgundy, that I realized Bobby Cox, like me, is a real Burgundy aficionado. What ensued was a spirited discussion of Pinot Noir clones, styles and flavors, most of which was probably lost on the rest of the folks at the tasting bar. I was very impressed with these wines, and the fact that Bobby was able to coax finicky Pinot Noir vines into giving such quality fruit here on the Texas High Plains.
- Pheasant Ridge Pinot Noir 1996 (Texas, lighter in color and body with bright red cherry fruit aromas and flavors)
- Pheasant Ridge Pinot Noir 2001 (Texas, darker in color and more full-bodied with plum notes added to the cherry fruit)
- Pheasant Ridge Pinot Noir 2006 (Texas, even darker in color with bold black cherry fruit, long earthy Burgundian finish)
Pheasant Ridge white wines have always had a special place in my cellar. I purchased many bottles of Chenin Blanc over the years and they have all seemed to age well, much like the wines of Savennieres and Vouvray, my favorite Chenin Blanc wines from France’s Loire Valley. Just last year, a Pheasant Ridge 2006 Chenin Blanc, opened by Texas Wine Lover’s Jeff Cope, showed extremely well at 10 years of age. The following two white wines were delicious, and the 8+ year old Chardonnay was particularly impressive.
- Pheasant Ridge Chenin Blanc Old Vines 2015 (Texas)
- From vines planted nearly 40 years ago! Bobby used VAN 2000 yeast, developed in South Africa for Steen (or Chenin Blanc), for the fermentation. This was smooth, yet balanced with lively acidity at the finish, and loaded with baked apple fruit aromas and flavors. This was a treat.
- Pheasant Ridge Chardonnay 2008 Texas
- From vines planted in 1981 (36 years old)! This was not barrel fermented, but had aged beautifully to give that rich, creamy mouthfeel while still maintaining good acid balance.
We moved into the lineup of Pheasant Ridge Cabernet Sauvignons to complete the tasting. All four were delicious, and well-made with about 13.5-14.0% ABV. The two reserve wines were noticeably darker, richer and, of course, showed more age. It was difficult to pick a favorite, but I think for my palate the 2003 was preferred by a slight margin. Bobby’s wife, Jennifer, joined us as we tasted these final wines. And, Laurie Ware was particularly happy to be tasting these big Texas reds.
- Pheasant Ridge Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve Limited Release 2002 (Texas High Plains). Bold, rich, black currant fruit with a dusty, long finish.
- Pheasant Ridge Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve Limited Release 2003 (Texas High Plains). Bold, rich, black currant, and cherry fruit, with tannins that were just resolved, lovely finish.
- Pheasant Ridge Cabernet Sauvignon Estate 2006 (Texas High Plains). Much brighter, more youthful black fruit aromas and flavors, with distinct mineral notes in the moderately tannic finish.
- Pheasant Ridge Cabernet Sauvignon 2007 (Texas High Plains). Bold black currant and blackberry fruit aromas and flavors; the finish was long and reasonably mellow with hints of calciferous minerals.
We lingered at Pheasant Ridge, visiting with Bobby and Jennifer, until it was time to head into Lubbock for dinner. I made sure to give Bobby and Jennifer two of my favorite wines that represented two of the grape varieties we had just tasted.
- Dom Baumard Savennieres 2011 (Anjou-Saumur Loire Valley France, Chenin Blanc)
- Columbia Crest Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve 2006 (Columbia Valley, Washington)
Bobby had recommended the Italian Garden located downtown at 1636 16th Street. The place was large with lots of tables, and was already busy when we arrived. We checked out the extensive menu, ordered, and sat back to review all that had happened during our final day on the Texas High Plains. As is typical at Italian restaurants, it was difficult to finish all the food we were served. I made sure to box and carry out the leftover pizza. Shelly drove us back to the hotel in Brownfield as the sun set and the High Plains settled into darkness. All three of us were ready for a restful night after the previous four days of activity, and the anticipation of the long drive back home on Monday.
Day Five – April 10, Monday
The last day of our trip had arrived, and we all faced the reality of driving home and getting back to our “normal” lives. We collectively decided to forego the hotel breakfast buffet, reverting instead to an old college-days standard, leftover pizza and cold beer for breakfast. We topped it off with some crumb cake Laurie had saved from breakfast at the Stevens’ home on Thursday. Soon we had the rooms cleared and the truck loaded. After checking out and filling Shelly’s truck with gasoline, we began to retrace our path from Thursday. We drove US-380 through Tahoka to Post, US-84 through Snyder to Roscoe, and IH-20/US-84 to Sweetwater. Remembering from last Thursday a construction “snafu” between Sweetwater and Abilene that really tied up east-bound traffic, we decided to go south from Sweetwater on TX-70. We veered off on TX-153 through Winters to Coleman where we connected with US-84/US-67 to Brownwood. From there we passed through Early and made the promised stop at Star of Texas Winery to visit and taste with proprietors Moira and Brian McCue.
We were greeted at Star of Texas Winery first by the pair of Vizsla dogs that Moira and Brain have roaming the grounds. These are reddish-brown, smooth-haired pointers, a breed that originated in Hungary. They were full of energy and very affectionate. Moira and Brian met us as we entered the tasting room. They had survived the weekend opening activities, and were still working on projects to get the tasting room and front porch/patio area in final finished condition. We took our places at the tasting bar and began to work our way through the four wines currently being offered. As we tasted, Moira and Brian explained the relationship they have with Mike McHenry and Penny Adams at Wedding Oak Winery in San Saba, who currently produce the Star of Texas wines.
- Star of Texas Winery Estrella Blanca 2016 (Texas High Plains)
- A medium dry white wine from Riesling 74%, Muscat Canelli 21%, and Orange Muscat 5%, 13.2% ABV, 1.4% RS; floral & citrus notes, soft easy finish
- Star of Texas Winery Texian White 2015 (Texas High Plains)
- An off-dry white wine from Orange Muscat 74%, Muscat Canelli 16%, Riesling 9%, and Roussanne 2%, 13.1% ABV, 1.0% RS; floral with melon and tropical fruit notes, smooth finish
- Star of Texas Winery Republic Red 2015 (Texas Hill Country)
- A dry red wine from Tempranillo 71%, Grenache 17%, Graciano 11%, Tannat 1%, Viogners 1%, 13.6 ABV; red berry and plum fruit with hints of cocoa and leather, dusty tannins on the finish
- Star of Texas Winery Blush 2016 (Texas High Plains)
- A sweet blush wine from Orange Muscat 80%, Muscat Canelli 10%, Riesling 10%, 13.6% ABV, 3.0% RS; soft and fruity with strawberry and watermelon notes
After saying our goodbyes to Moira and Brian, and to the Vizsla hounds that were still rambunctiously entertaining themselves about the grounds, we departed and drove the short distance through Zephyr to Laurie’s parents’ home where we had begun this adventure just five days earlier. Rondel and Henryetta Stevens had prepared pulled pork slider rolls for us and we happily sat down to a delicious lunch. There was, of course, much visiting about the people and places we had seen on our trip. Soon, however, it was time to depart, so we sorted out the wines and luggage, moving those that belonged to me to my vehicle. It was with great reluctance that I bid Shelly and Laurie farewell. It was difficult to find the right words to thank them for their part in this wonderful adventure. I certainly offered Shelly Ware my heartfelt thanks for the use of his Tundra pickup on this trip, and for driving us safely the entire way. Finally, after a great hug from Laurie, I stepped into my vehicle, ready to make the drive back to Fredericksburg. Laurie and Shelly pulled out just ahead of me and headed back to Burleson.
This was a marvelous wine trail adventure. Laurie Ware had planned it extremely well, and had perfectly managed the timing at and between our various stops. There was no question in my mind that Laurie had named this trip appropriately – “Carl’s Epic High Plains Vines to Wine Extravaganza.”
See more photos from Part Four on the Texas Wine Lover Facebook page’s photo album.