Denise Clarke, a Certified Wine Educator and Sommelier, helped facilitate a Texas Fine Wine media event last week at Spicewood Vineyards. Texas Fine Wine is comprised of four Texas Hill Country wineries producing amazing award-winning wines from Texas grapes. This was the first time the group has hosted such an in-person event in over a year due to COVID-19. The event and tasting included a panel of representatives from each of the four wineries. Bending Branch Winery in Comfort was represented by General Manager Jennifer McInnis, Duchman Family Winery was represented by winemaker Dave Reilly, Spicewood Vineyards was represented by Owner Ron Yates, and Pedernales Cellars was represented by co-owner Julie Kuhlken.
The audience was reminded that Texas is essentially the size of France and we need to keep in mind that we have a number of variations across the state in elevation, with the state essentially climbing from the lowest regions on the coast up to the High Plains, and also in the variations of soil composition and microclimates within regions and AVAs. Even an individual winery or vineyard can realize variations in soil composition across their acreage and microclimate changes across various parts of a vineyard.
The initial wines poured were four whites featuring one from each winery. Most white wine varietals in the state are sourced from the Texas High Plains, yet not all. Bending Branch featured their 2020 Estate Picpoul Blanc, sourced from fruit out of Lost Pirogue Vineyard ($32). This wine had bright acidity with a smooth clean mouthfeel and notes of pear and apricot which was extremely food friendly. Duchman Family Winery featured a 2019 Viognier with fruit from Bingham Vineyards ($26). This wine was created in 100% stainless and featured stone fruit on the palate and tropical notes on the nose with a bit of minerality on the finish. Spicewood’s 2020 Estate Sauvignon Blanc ($24) ended up being a grape that produced well on their estate even though owner Ron Yates initially thought he would be replacing these vines when he bought the property. This wine is an easy sipper with grapefruit and tropical fruit notes. Pedernales Cellars featured a 2019 Viognier Reserve ($40) with some oak during production, this wine is more floral with pear, peach, and honeysuckle with a luscious mouthfeel. These lovelies were all well received.
The second group of wines tasted were rosés. Bending Branch featured a 2020 Branch Tannat Frizzante Rosé ($22) with soft fizziness to this blushing pink wine with a hint of citrus and watermelon making it quite a refreshing sipper. Duchman Family Winery featured a 2019 Rosé of Sangiovese from Salt Lick Vineyards ($25). This dusty pink wine had lovely acids and bright red berry fruit notes. Spicewood’s 2020 Pét-Nat of Sangiovese from Bear Vineyards ($28) featured a bit of yeast and Brioche notes on the nose with blood orange, tangerine notes, and a hint of tropical guava. The audience noted how this wine’s character and tasting notes changed the longer they sipped it with buttered popcorn and honey being additional notes described. Pedernales Cellars substituted a red wine due to their lack of any rosé at the time. So, their 2017 Texas High Plains Graciano ($40) was sampled instead. This red had a nice subtle smokiness with big red berry fruit and a hint of tobacco. Not a grape varietal too broadly produced as a single varietal in the state, yet a very enjoyable wine when you can find a bottle.
The final wines sampled were the big Texas reds. This is when everyone’s competitive natures came out as each winery representative was exceptionally proud of their reds. Bending Branch featured their 2017 Tannat from Newsom Vineyards ($50). If you are familiar with Bending Branch, you know that Tannat is one of the signature grape varietals used by this winery and used very well too. This wine was aged for 24 months on American Oak imparting some earthiness to the cola, and subtle cocoa and black cherry notes on this beauty. Duchman Family Winery featured their 2016 Aglianico with fruit sourced from Oswald Vineyard ($40). This red had maple syrup on the nose with dark plums and black cherry on the palate with just a hint of spice. It is a sought-after wine that the winery produces with this favored varietal. Both Spicewood and Pedernales showcased Tempranillo wines, another favorite Texas grape varietal, and one both wineries are producing in exceptional ways. Spicewood Vineyards shared their 2017 Estate Tempranillo ($39) that tasted of blueberries and black cherry with a subtle note of violet and faint touch of pepper. Pedernales Cellars featured their 2017 Texas High Plains Tempranillo ($40) with a bit of herb on the nose and a smooth mouthfeel with lots of smoke, leather, and blackberry on the palate.
Every panel member noted how these three amazing grape varietals among their reds were showing how exceptionally well they could do when grown in the state. Though the varietals all originated in other countries, they were thriving and simply shining as wonderful examples of how stunning fruit and a broad variety of grape varietals were all coming online across the state. Each made their case that their red grape varietal was their top red, but all agreed that the industry is still young here, and we are still planting and experimenting and finding what works well in various areas of Texas. Mediterranean varietals are absolutely enjoying the state and thriving.
Attendees enjoying all the wines also had the pleasure of pairing their wines with assorted nibbles from their accompanying snack boxes of cheese, figs, charcuterie, dried apricots, grapes, peppers, corn nuts, chocolate, and jam provided by Antonelli’s Cheese Shop. The small bites provided great pairing enjoyment with the wines and help highlight the tasting notes. Though the weather outside may have been a bit stormy and dreary, the enthusiasm, comradery, and enjoyment of the participants and the presenters left little doubt that all had a delightful time exploring and discussing the merits and challenges of grape growing and producing world-class wines in the state in recent years through draughts and freezes in addition to surviving the challenges that COVID-19 brought to each business.
It was stunningly clear though, that each winery found new opportunities amid their challenges and found pathways to expand business and explore new directions that they may never have tried before, like the popular online virtual tastings and happy hours that Bending Branch started in 2020. Texas wineries and winemakers are strong individuals, with grit, ingenuity, and tremendous pride in what they are doing. Being able to showcase and share this with more people and help others who may only be recently realizing that there are world-class wines being produced locally, is a true pleasure. An important point made was the price points of the wines sampled were all approachable, yet the quality was exceptional. One more reason to be thankful for what sipping local can mean to your wallet! It was a delight to be able to enjoy an in-person event at Spicewood Vineyards with other like-minded aficionados to talk, taste, and enjoy Texas Fine Wine. I hope you stop in at any and all of these wineries in the near future to sample and enjoy some bottles as well and find your favorites. With so many great options, it is easy to see that the future continues to look bright for these four amazing wineries and Texas Fine Wine. I left with a couple of bottles of my own to enjoy and hope you too pick some up soon to sample for yourself.
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