Spring is an excellent time for a road trip and wine tasting. So, we threw clothes in the RV, loaded up the dog, and headed west from Fredericksburg on Friday morning. The iconic bluebonnets blanketed the sides of the road and stretched across cattle ranches. But it wasn’t easy to take in the views because the wind gusts shoved our motorhome side to side, and it took focus and muscle to keep us safely on the road. Well, it took my husband’s focus and muscle while I casually read an issue of Wine Spectator with my feet on the dash!
The drive took nearly 90 minutes longer than the usual five hours, and we finally arrived in Lubbock at dinnertime. We made the road trip to attend the annual Lubbock Uncorked wine event on Saturday. Once we settled in at Lubbock RV near the airport, we fed our fur baby and headed out to dinner. Burklee Hill Bistro & Tasting Room is downtown on Broadway, and we loved the retro vibe of the space. The wines are made from the Burklee Hill family vineyard established in 2002 in Levelland some 40 miles away. But the space has a definite bistro feel rather than a typical winery tasting room. We decided to do two wine tasting each choosing different wines. And we ordered dinner. Our server, Misa, was attentive and excited to hear we were in town for the wine festival.
While we enjoyed our wines, a musician started strumming his guitar while the lights dimmed ever so slightly. Our food arrived promptly, and we ordered glasses to accompany our dishes. Benjy had the Roxie sandwich with grilled chicken, bacon, avocado, butter lettuce, and aioli. He chose the 2019 Zinfandel to pair with the grill char and bacon. The sweet potato fries were also a good pairing, and our dog enjoyed a couple as well. I ordered the Caesar salad with grilled salmon and chose the 2020 rosé, which our server thought was made from Zinfandel, and paired perfectly with the salmon.
Saturday morning, my husband was up early for a round of golf at the Texas Tech University Rawls course. He’s enjoyed the course before, but the greens were in rough shape, but I’m sure they will be cleaned up a bit now that spring is upon us. Our dinner was so good the night before we returned to Burklee Hill for late brunch. I enjoyed the 2020 Olivia blend of Roussanne and Viognier, and it went nicely with the rich eggs Benedict.
Next, it was time to head to the much-anticipated Uncorked event. We drove up to the American Windmill Museum and were surprised at the sheer number of windmills on display as we arrived. The festival kicked off at 1:00 p.m., and we saw a line of wine lovers waiting to get in. The line moved quickly and check-in was efficient. Once inside the large open space, there were even more windmills. Of course, I expected windmills; I just had no idea there were so many different designs. The crowds of people flowed to the right if they were VIP ticket holders, and we ventured to the left with the rest of the regular folks.
There were 23 wineries present, plus food vendors and a few breweries. I was excited to visit with some of our favorite High Plains friends. And almost just as thrilled to see some new labels I didn’t yet know. Here’s a list of the participating wineries this year:
- Adelphos Cellars
- Bar Z Winery
- Becker Vineyards
- Bingham Family Vineyards
- Bolen Vineyards
- Burklee Hill Vineyards
- English Newsom Cellars
- Esperanza Winery
- Farmhouse Vineyard
- Hamilton Pool Vineyards
- Texas Cider Company
- Landon Winery
- Llano Estacado Winery
- McPherson Cellars
- Messina Hof Winery
- Prairie Chick Winery
- Rancho Loma Vineyards
- Reddy Vineyards
- Sandfighter Wines & Cellars
- The Triple D Winery
- Vessart Vineyards
- Williams Ranch Vineyard
- Yellow House Cellars
Of particular note, The Triple D Albarino, Prairie Chick Winery Zinfandel, Sandfighter Cabernet Sauvignon, Farmhouse Vineyards ‘Cultivated’ blend, Vessart Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon, and Yellow House Cellars Gruner Veltliner. Despite me being a ‘professional,’ we didn’t taste ALL of the wines, so this is just a sampling of what we enjoyed in our glass that afternoon.
After a couple of hours of tasting wine and visiting with friends, I spoke with Kay McDowell of the Lubbock Chamber. She was thrilled with the turnout and positive feedback she was hearing. At that point in the afternoon, an estimated 2,000 guests were present, including 200 VIP attendees. There was still time for more folks to join in the fun. This was the largest attendance for the annual event, and the Chamber is excited about what is possible in years to come.
If you are a winery, you should make a point to look into pouring your wine at the 2024 Lubbock Uncorked – https://www.lubbockchamber.com/lbkuncorked. And if you’re a wine lover, whether you live in Lubbock or not, this festival should be on your to-do list next year!
After our fun wine time and a little exploration of downtown Lubbock, we settled on an early dinner at La Diosa Cellars. Located near the Buddy Holly Museum, the decor was eclectic with a decidedly Spanish flair. The menu included three La Diosa “house” wines and about a dozen other options by the glass. My husband chose a Cabernet Sauvignon from Paso Robles, and I ordered the McPherson Cellars Viognier. The dinner choices were an extensive list of small plate tapas-style shareable. We had a hard time deciding but settled on the chef’s special of shrimp paella with lamb lollipops. The service was quick, and as the space started to fill up, a band was setting up in a corner. We decided to bow out before the music started and got back to the RV in time for a long walk with our dog before dark.
We slept in on Sunday morning, but the wind started kicking up again, and the RV was starting to feel the effects. We ventured out for a late brunch at The Nicolett. In an old brick building, the restaurant has a swanky interior with the kitchen fully open to see the magic happen. The chef, Fin Walter, is a 2022 James Beard Semifinalist for Best Chef. This fine dining destination even has a multi-course menu for brunch. We started with orange bread and a nice sparkling Cremant from the Loire Valley of France. The bread was textured like a flaky croissant with the flavor of orange peel and a crusting of sugar on top. It paired deliciously with the sparkling wine. For the second course, we chose elk tartare served with a crispy flour tortilla. The texture of the sparkling wine was a nice counterbalance to the silky meats. And I followed this with crab Benedict served on fry bread with rich hollandaise that balanced my crisp second glass of bubbles. Truly, each course was even better than the previous one, and I’ll plan for dinner at this gem on our next visit.
We made time for two winery visits on this trip. The first was with Bobby Cox at Pheasant Ridge Winery. In 1978, after spending time traveling wine regions across the United States and France, Bobby and Jennifer Cox planted fifteen acres of Vitis vinifera vines on their property outside of Lubbock. At that time, most grapevines planted in the state were hybrid vines created to withstand the challenges of our climate. Vitis vinifera are the grapevines of typical European grapes that we now all know and love such as Cabernet Sauvignon, Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, and more. The fifteen acres Bobby planted was the largest vineyard of these grapes at the time. The winery was started in 1982, and wines have always been created from 100% Texas-grown grapes. At the time, state law did not even allow a winery to sell wine from its property. It’s been a tough road to get Texas wines from where they started in the 70s to where we are as a thriving industry today. And it’s thanks to committed winemakers like Bobby Cox.
Bobby’s style is decidedly French with lower alcohol levels, balance, and not too much fruitiness. Our tasting started with the 2015 Blac de Noir sparkling wine made from Pinot Noir and selling for just $30 a bottle. It is exactly what I’d expect from a mid-range Champagne and I bought a couple of bottles. This was followed by the 2016 Viognier with a full-body and a hint of herbs. Next was the 2005 Pinot Noir. Many people think this is a grape that can’t make a good wine in Texas, but this bottle will change your mind. This is a delicate wine, more like Burgundy than the west coast, and even with its age, the fruit notes are bright. The 1997 Cabernet Sauvignon was outstanding and very much like a French Bordeaux. Over the years, Pheasant Ridge has won over 200 medals and is the seventh-oldest winery in Texas.
We discussed everything from barrel aging to herbicide drift and from government regulations to wine festivals. The last grapes grown on the estate were in 2018. Damage to the vineyard due to drift means there isn’t any viable fruit these days. Luckily, Pheasant Ridge wines have long barrel and bottle gaining, so there are fantastic wines available today from older vintages. This isn’t super common with Texas wineries, and it lends the wines more of an old-world feel. If you are in Lubbock and have a couple of hours to spare, a visit with Bobby is a must. He is a fountain of Texas wine history and winemaking knowledge.
Our second winery was on our way out of town, with the wind already nipping at our wheels. We ventured off the beaten path to an unmarked metal building to meet Jim and Barbara Irwin of Adelphos Cellars. The name comes from the Greek word for ‘brother’ and reflects the strong bonds between the Irwins and David and Kathy Conklin. The first vines were planted in 2006 at Cerro Santo Estate. The grapes were sold to wineries around the state. The estate is 40 acres with about 22 under vine. The families decided they wanted their own wines and bottled their first vintage in 2019. They are hoping for about 2,500 cases in the 2023 vintage, but we all know Mother Nature has a say in that.
Manuel Lechuga has been the winemaker for Adelphos from the start. We tasted a crisp 2022 Riesling from the tank as well as a bottled 2018. Both were smooth, and the older vintage had a heavier mouth feel. The 2019 Chenin Blanc was exactly what I’d expect from a French Vouvray and I took home a bottle. Old Friends is a white blend made every year and the 2020 was a blend of Riesling, Sauvignon Blanc, and Chenin Blanc. This wine could be dangerous. It’s so easy, I could finish a bottle while cooking before dinner is even served! The Primrose is a light and flavorful dry rosé. The 2019 estate Primitivo was full of flavor but no sweetness, exactly what I would want from an Italian Primitivo and not at all like a West Coast Zinfandel. We also had the good luck of tasting an unlabeled red blend and a nearly sold-out Syrah. The Syrah was awesome, and luckily, they sold us a couple of bottles.
The families are working hard to complete the construction of a tasting room and event center in Lubbock. The production will still happen at the vineyard where it’s set up now, but tastings, weddings, corporate meetings, and the like will be more centrally located in town. We hope to see the new space at the end of this year, but we all know how construction goes, so it may be 2024. The event center can accommodate more than 300 people. If anyone in the industry is reading this, maybe we can hit Jim up for the 2024 Grape Camp to be held at the new facility!
Our drive back to Fredericksburg was just as windy as our drive out to Lubbock, but the trip was well worth our efforts. Not only did we have a fantastic time at our first Lubbock Uncorked event, but we tasted world-class wines, visited fantastic people, and discovered tasty restaurants rivaling any big city. If you find yourself in West Texas or just want an excuse for a road trip, add Lubbock to your list and create your own fun wine time!