It is hard to believe that this fabulous winemaker is celebrating 10 years in business, yet, due to his work ethic and dedication to his craft, I am not surprised that Benjamin Calais has reached this wonderful milestone. Time sure does fly by when you’re hard at work building your business and creating fine Texas wine. During the past 10 years, he created a new winery, built a reputation and brand, and then relocated from his original location in Deep Ellum in Dallas to a quieter stretch in the Texas Hill Country off highway 290 outside of Hye.
When I first met Ben all those years ago, he was a one man show, digging in and working hard to convert his downtown tasting room to a more comfortable spot for folks and helping to rehabilitate an area that needed a little extra TLC. I was impressed with his story, the experience he had in France, and his passion for winemaking and for the fruit he wanted to go into his wines.
Fast forward to today, and I couldn’t be more pleased to sit and celebrate the journey and accomplishments of Ben Calais. When I know someone has a taste and interest in high end wine, I suggest they stop in to visit this winery to ensure they have a good idea of what Texas fine wines are all about and point out that his wines age well.
Upon hearing that CALAIS Winery was going to celebrate their 10th Anniversary with an alfresco wine dinner in the Hill Country, I didn’t hesitate to secure tickets to this limited seating event. I knew I wouldn’t be disappointed. It was wonderful to join wine friends at the event and make new ones over dinner.
Chef Ashley Odom ensured the five courses were well prepared, on point, and paired perfectly with the wines. As guests arrived, we found a long table set under oak trees strewn with white lights. The sun was just starting to set, and Ben personally greeted everyone passing out glasses and pouring his 2017 Cuvée du Rocher Sauvignon Blanc crafted from Newsom Vineyards fruit. It was bright, with some citrus and a little smooth butter, and was a perfect way to kick off the evening and whet our appetites for the journey ahead.
Everyone made their way to the communal table and began introducing themselves to their neighbors, and sharing stories of where they were from, how they found CALAIS Winery, and what some of their favorite Texas wine adventures were. One of the other hot topics, was where everyone was staying as many individuals booked an assortment of interesting and unique spots to spend the night to fully enjoy the weekend.
Before the first course arrived, wine glasses were refilled with the stunning Sauvignon Blanc, so everyone would have the wine to pair with their initial dish. The first course featured a crispy skinned black bass in a goat cheese cream sauce with Castelvetrano olives and lemon. The fish was cooked perfectly and was moist and paired nicely with the citrus notes of the wine.
Every course thereafter, with the exception of the final dessert course, featured two wines per course. This allowed guests to compare the library vintage to a younger vintage. The second course featured quail stuffed with gingered spinach with a cumin seed crust and a smoked tomato broth with a fingerling potato. This succulent plate was paired with the 2010 and 2015 vintages of Cuvée d’Elme Bordeaux Blend of Newsom fruit. Individuals enjoyed the opportunity to compare the library blend with the newer one. Many preferred the younger blend in this pairing, yet both were fantastic with lovely fruit, smokiness, and tannins. Individuals also raved about the smoked tomato broth in this dish, which was amazing with the meat and paired beautifully with the wine.
The third dish, roasted garlic and porcini crusted lamb chops with black cherry demi glaze over cardamom sweet potato puree, was a delight to many who didn’t think they were either a lamb or sweet potato fan. The wine pairing was a 2012 and 2015 Cuvée de l’Exposition Cabernet Sauvignon of Newsom Vineyards fruit. Both dark rich red wines exhibited notes of leather, a subtle smokiness, with great tannic structure and depth.
The fourth course featured a cheese plate featuring Manchego, Pecorino, and Brazos Valley Brie with a cranberry chutney and candied nuts. Guests raved about the goat cheese brie, which once again, had individuals who were never fond of this style of cheese inquiring where they could purchase it. (Honey Doe Farm in Madisonville, Texas) Don’t buy it all; save some for me too! The wine pairing featured a 2011 and 2016 Cuvée du Manoir Tempranillo with Newsom fruit. Both wines were drinking well, and it was nice to have a 2011 bottle from one of the best years to compare with the more recent version. Balanced with a brick red color, both will continue to age well in anyone’s wine cellar.
The fifth and final course was a stunning cardamom and orange poached pear with goat cheese ice cream, pistachios, and candied orange peel. So simple, but complex in flavor featuring some fall spices and subtle sweetness. This was paired with the rare 2015 Le Botrytis Texan with Texas High Plains fruit. This is a wine that will not be replicated as it was an unusual event when the botrytis was found in a vineyard, and Ben was able to get the winegrower to foster the condition and allow him to harvest the grapes, and work to create a very unusual sweet dessert wine with the fruit. The wine turned out great and many guests were excited to have a sweeter option to round out their evening.
So, cheers to a fabulous event, a great winery, and winemaker making a strong mark in the industry for boutique fine hand-crafted wines, and to the future that CALAIS Winery holds in store. I look forward to celebrating many more anniversaries and milestones with Ben in the years ahead. In the meantime, “Bravo” and well done!