Nov 232014

Label Art for Kerrville Hills Muscrat Love Wine

Need Some Muscrat Love?  It’s at Kerrville Hills Winery

I like this Kerrville Hills Muscrat Love wine for several reasons. The first reason is because at the first public wine tasting that I think that ever did (in Old Town Spring, TX, in the mid-to-late 1990s) I included a sweet and slightly sparkling Muscat Canelli wine from Sister Creek Vineyards in my presentation. When I got to that wine, I dutifully announced the name of the wine as “Muscat Canelli”. Nearly immediately, a loud  voice with a down home Texas twang came from the back of the room. He boomed, “Did y’all say ‘Muscrat’ Canelli? What kind of grape is that?” Now, I can actually say, “yes, this is Muscrat wine”…. almost.

The second reason I like this wine is because it is made well and made with Orange Muscat from the Texas High Plains. The grapes came from Jet and Gay Lynn Wilmeth’s Diamante Doble Vineyards near Tokio, TX (click here). The wine is luscious and delightfully playful with citrus and stone fruit notes and slightly sweet on the palate. It finishes light and crisp leaving thoughts in my mind of a breezy night on a tropical island. It will go wonderfully with spicy Mexican or Pan Asian cuisine.

Thirdly, the label art is deliciously playful, too. It is almost real enough to touch. The original floral was created by Doreen Shann in Hunt, TX.

Still another reason I like this wine, it has only 10.9% alcohol and it fulfills my quest for wines with low alcohol. The world has enough 15% alcohol Pinot Noir and dessert wines with up to 20% alcohol, or more.


Wayne Milberger – Owner & Winemaker, Kerrville Hills Winery

The last but not least reason that I like this wine is that Wayne Milberger owner and winemaker at Kerrville Hills Winery and his wife Carol are good people. When my photographer and I stopped by early on a Sunday morning to take photos for my new book on the Texas Hill Country Wineries, Wayne and Carol were friendly and gracious hosts and generous with their time.

Wayne is a bit of a handy man/engineer who tries to re-purpose just about everything he comes in contact with. That is how he got his winery’s refrigeration system and, in fact, that is how the whole winery building came about with a chimney right in the middle of the tasting room, as well. Ask Wayne how that happened.


Tasting Room at Kerrville Hills Winery

Stop by and experience Wayne’s handy work both in the winery and in his wines. His winery is not on the main hill country drag of Route 290, but it’s well worth a little extra time getting there:

Hours: Thurs – Monday 11:00 am to 6:00 pm; 3600 Fredericksburg Road (Route 16), Kerrville, TX 78028; 830-895-4233;

P.S. If you are coming down Route 16 from Fredericksburg to Kerrville, take a look for a bit of Texas wine history. As you approach the “hairpin” in the road (obvious on a map or on your GPS) that the locals call “Deadman’s Curve”, the white wooden building (now being re-purposed as a church school) on the right side of the road is the last vestige of the old Pedernales Vineyards that met an untimely demise and a mystery. Pedernales Vineyard should not to be confused with Pedernales Cellars on modern day fame. Click here to learn more about the mystery of Pedernales Vineyards. It will be worth it.

 Posted by at 11:49 am
Nov 222014

Label on Carton of Florida Orange Juice

Is Texas Wine Like Orange Juice?

A friend of mine related the following story to me with the caveat that many wineries were likely tired of hearing people like Andrew Chalk (click here) and I (click here) rant about sourcing of grapes used in Texas wines and how wine labeling should accurately reflect the source of the grapes. Who cares any way?

The Anonymous Friend said, “I’ll pass on one story that was told to me by a winery… ‘Take Minute Maid. They have to have orange juice on the shelves [in stores]. What if Florida where they get their oranges from gets a freeze that year and there’s no crop. It happens. Do they just say we’re not going to make orange juice until we can get Florida oranges? No, they look anywhere in the world (outside the country) to get oranges so they can still provide a product. Do consumers care then that the orange juice is not made from Florida oranges or just that Minute Maid made a really good orange juice?’”

If I follow this analogy and apply it to Texas wine (like I believe was the intention of the story), then Texas wine SHOULD BE just like orange juice, right? It doesn’t really matter if Texas wine is made with grapes that come from Texas or Lodi or Washington State or anywhere else. But, should the label on the wine (or orange juice) accurately reflect the source of the fruit?


Label on Carton of USA “American” Orange Juice

This story got me thinking how orange juice drinkers might feel about the source of the oranges and what the companies that make orange juice do to label there orange juice products. So, I went and did some research at HEB and Whole Foods Market. What do you think I found out?

As I suspected, of people in the store that day that were buying orange juice, some wanted to know where the oranges came from and some didn’t. OK, that issue was settled. Orange juice consumers WERE just like wine consumers.


Label on California Orange Juice

Next, I inspected several containers of orange juice. Do you know what I found out? Each carton of orange juice indicated where the oranges came from, as least to an extent. As these photos show: (a) Containers of Florida orange juice indicated “Florida Orange Juice”, (b) Containers of California orange juice indicated “California Orange Juice” clearly on the front label. Containers of more generic orange juice indicated that it was just made in the USA and some indicated  a mix of sources like “USA and Mexico”. In all cases, the origin of the fruit was clearly and correctly indicated.

Now, I don’t profess to know the labeling regulations for orange juice (how much is needed to be Florida or California orange juice). After all, I can barely remember some of the rules that apply to wine labeling.

It appears to me that orange juice manufacturers do correctly indicate the source of the fruit in their juice. The use of the words “California” and “Florida” on orange juice cartons appears to me to be analogous to using the word “Texas” on the wine label to indicate Texas appellation of wine. Using the words “USA” on orange juice looks to be analogous to wine labels containing the words “American Wine”. Frankly, I don’t know if there is anything in the wine world analogous to “USA and Mexico”.


Label on Orange Juice from “USA & Mexico” – See lower left

Maybe labeling of orange juice and wine do have something in common. But, you know, I didn’t see one carton of orange juice with the meaningless and confusing words, “For Sale in Texas Only“. If I had seen that on a carton of orange juice, just like for Texas wine, I would have wrongly interpreted that the juice carrying that label was a special product of Texas only allowed to be sold to fellow Texans within the confines of the Great State of Texas.

What do you say, let’s try to make the source of wine grapes in Texas wine as easy to determine as the source of oranges in orange juice. That shouldn’t be too hard for all Texas wineries to do. Then, maybe Andy and I can shut up and spend more of our time sipping more wine and less time typing borderline esoteric wine blogs. We are almost there, there are only a few Texas wineries that persist in using “For Sale in Texas Only” rather than America or other correct grape source.

P.S. I hope that you all take these points under serious consideration while also understanding and accommodate my tongue-in-cheek approach used in this blog. I also know that it is seriously hard to start a new wine producing region. I’ve talked to most of the key people in the Texas wine industry that have made an impact here. I appreciate their hard work and dedication; their grit and gumption, and so do many consumers. By and large, nearly all  people in the Texas wine industry want to be honest and deal squarely with consumers. Please keep in mind that in the modern marketplace, trust starts with clear and honest labeling. There is no room for anything else. Thanks to all Texas wineries that, if enough Texas grapes are not available, that you correctly indicate the source of the grapes on the label – from American Wine to Temecula, Sierra Foothills, to Columbia River Valley. I’d rather have a bottle of wine that I can appreciate it’s source than one that has no source. Cheers to your success, now and in the future.


It’s 6 pm. Do you know what grapes are in your glass wine?

 Posted by at 3:58 pm
Nov 212014

Gary Elliott will need to make room for his Houston Rodeo Saddle Award for 2015 Top Texas Wine – Photo Courtesy of James Skogsberg

2015 Houston Rodeo Uncorks The Best in Texas: Driftwood Estate Winery Longhorn Red 2012

Well, it’s official. The 2015 Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo International Wine Competition just released the results of their top award winners and  champions are:

  • Grand Champion Best of Show – Rombauer Vineyards Diamond Selection Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley, California 2010
  • Reserve Grand Champion Best of Show – Charles-Le-Bel, Brut, Champagne, France NV
  • Top Texas Wine Driftwood Estate Winery Longhorn Red, Texas 2012
  • Top Sparkling Wine – Ricossa Winery Moscato d’Asti, Italy 2013
  • Top White Wine – McManis Family Vineyards Viognier, River Junction, California 2013
  • Top Red Wine – Antinori Guado Al Tasso, Bolgheri DOC Supierore, Italy 2011
  • Top Region Wine – Shirvington Cabernet Sauvignon, McLaren Vale, Australia 2010
  • Top Sweet Wine – Yalumba Antique Tawny, Southeastern Australia, NV
  • Top Value Wine – Fancy Pants Red Blend, California 2012

These wineries should feel very happy with their awards as there were 2,578 entries, including wines from 43 Texas wineries and 16 different countries. I don’t think that they count Texas as a separate country from the USA, but they do feature the best wine from Texas. There were 20 panels of judges, consisting of wine experts, collectors and knowledgeable consumers. This is first time since the competition’s early history that I was able to join the panel of judges. It was impressive to taste a wide selection of fine wines from around the world. I personally tasted about 150 wines over the two day weekend period (November 15-16) allocated for my judging panel in the competition.


Houston Rodeo 2015 Wine Competition Best Texas, Regional and Value Wine Judging – Driftwood Longhorn Red was a standout.

On the first day of the competition, my panel handled Sauvignon Blanc, Tempranillo, Syrah/Shiraz and Meads. After we finished judging, we were keep waiting nearly two hours to be released only to find out that we needed to go back for a tie breaker round between five Texas wines in medal contention in the Syrah/Shiraz category.This really tells you something about Texas Syrah.

On day two, I participated as a judge in the “taste off” for the top Texas, regional (Pacific Rim), and value wines. In this round, it was obvious that Texas was well represented. We tasted and judged each of the top five scoring Texas wines on its own merits with each judge casting votes without discussing or sharing the results. To me, one wine stood out in this flight of Texas wines. It was dark, nearly opaque. It had a grand display of well extracted dark fruit and a well crafted tannic grip. It got my vote. Later, I found out it was Gary Elliott’s Driftwood Estate Winery Longhorn Red (2012).

By the way, now Gary Elliott’s winery not only has the best vineyard view in Texas, but offers the Best Texas Wine, as well. Congratulations Gary, I’m sure that both you and your wine will represent Texas well.


View of the Vineyard at Driftwood Estate Winery

Driftwood Estate Winery is located 6 miles south of Hwy 290 on Ranch Road 12 between Dripping Springs & Wimberley. It offers Mediterranean and classic style wines. it has a breathtaking hilltop view overlooking the vineyard, giftshop, tastings, picnic area and covered deck. Weddings & private parties welcome! More at:

– — – — –

The Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo is a Section 501(c)(3) charity that benefits youth, supports education, and facilitates better agricultural practices through exhibitions and presentation. Since its beginning in 1932, the Show has committed nearly $375 million to the youth of Texas. For more information, visit and connect with RodeoHouston® online via Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube, Pinterest and Tumblr for all of the latest news. Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo Heritage Partners are Reliant, Ford, Miller Lite, Coca-Cola, BP America and Mattress Firm. The 2015 show will run March 3 – 22, 2015.

 Posted by at 5:02 pm
Nov 132014

Tempranillo Day Tasting Line-up of Texas Wines

Tonight 7 pm – Join Us for International Tempranillo Day Twitter Tasting

Well, wake up and get out of bed! It’s International Tempranillo Day!

People around the world rejoice. Tempranillo (the national red grape of Spain) is also finding a new second home…Texas. Texas (with its arid hilly wine country, plethora of grilled meats and newly planted acres of olive trees) and Tempranillo (the tannic red wine with Iberian roots) is an excellent pairing.

Tonight for the Tempranillo Day festivities, I will have a group of wine aficionados together for a tasting in Houston that features some of what I feel are the best Texas wines based on homegrown Tempranillo grapes. More details at:

My 2014 Texas Tempranillo wine selections are:

  • Llano Estacado Winery 2012 Texas High Plains Tempranillo – Tempranillo79% harvested from the Reddy Vineyard and the Newsom Vineyard and Mourvèdre from Reddy Vineyard, all grapes from the Texas High Plains; shows moderate tannic structure, red berries, plums, and cedar.
  • Pedernales Cellars 2012 Tempranillo Reserve – Artfully made with dark cherry earth, truffle, tobacco with firm tannins and a smooth finish.
  • Duchman Family Winery 2011 Tempranillo Bayer Family Vineyards (Texas High Plains) – Crafted single-vineyard wine with smooth mouthfeel, aromatic smokey notes, red berry and soft “Pinotesque” finish. This is a sipping wine, too.
  • Lewis Wines 2011 Parr Vineyards Tempranillo (Texas Hill Country) – 100% Tempranillo sourced from Parr Vineyards west of Mason, the Pinot Noir of Tempranillos, medium body, aromatic with red berry, beet root, hint of cigarette smoke, even a floral note with a lingering finish.
  • Spicewood Vineyards 2012 Estate Tempranillo (Texas Hill Country) – 96% Tempranillo balance Cabernet Sauvignon; extracted tart red berry and dark fruit, layered with moist earth, leather and smoke.

Pick up a bottle Texas Tempranillo at your nearest market (Spec’s, Total Wine, Central Market or Whole Foods). If your empty handed still, pick up a Spanish Tempranillo (Rioja Crianza, Reserva or Gran Reserva) or Tempranillo blend.  Then, taste, tweet (tag with #TXwine and #TempranilloDay) and follow the action. It is a good way to compare notes and contrast wine styles while see what others have to say about Texas Tempranillo and Tempranillo wines worldwide.

Texas, BBQ and Tempranillo is a grand pairing. See what Forbes Magazine has to say about it: Click here.


“Texas Cowboy and Longhorn with Spilled Red Tempranillo Wine on Ground” by Picasso (NOT)

 Posted by at 9:57 am
Nov 062014

Follow me in the Texas hill country on I Love Texas Photo on Instagram Nov. 7-9, 2014

November 7-9: News Flash – Texas Hill Country Wineries on Instagram

This Thursday November 7th through Sunday November 9th, the Texas hill country wineries will be featured on Instagram. I have been selected to take the Instagram “baton” during my upcoming hill country trip and feature my cellphone photos that I will take and post to the world on Instagram. This feature is part of the “I Love Texas Photo” series that selects and features a different photographer every three days and provides a diverse array of scenes and portraits from all around Texas.

Check out the Instagram social media app/site and follow me on the I Love Texas Photo site on Instagram at:

I Love Texas Photo Instagram account currently has: 3,012 posts, 17,128 followers and 5,043 following.


I will be starting Friday morning and capture images in the Texas Hill Country and posting to Instagram. So, please follow the I Love Texas Photo account.

Selected images will also be going to my other social media accounts at:

Twitter: @VintageTexas –


Facebook Texas Wine Drinkers Group:



But to have the broadest reach for Texas wines, please follow the I Love Texas Photo account on Instagram.

I look forward to the task of spreading the joy of Texas hill country wines and winery/vineyard visits to everyone across the Lone Star State and beyond. Join me for this hill country trail ride and feel free to add your comments, favorite posts and/or retweet or reblog the photos. More information on the Texas Hill Country Wineries and trail maps are available at:


On the Hill Country Road Again


Looking for the fine wines of Texas

 Posted by at 11:29 am
Oct 292014


November 2014 #TXwine Twitter Thursday – Tempranillo Day Event

Writer, blogger and food/wine commentator, Andrew Chalk at has put Texas Tempranillos to the test (click here). For consumers, he recommends “Consider a Texas Tempranillo with your next steak, lamb or barbecue. Also, on day trips, consider visiting some producers and tasting their wines on their premises.” Andy also called Tempranillo “the right choice” for Texas’s leading namesake grape. Perhaps, he sees (and we should all see that Texas isn’t like Bordeaux, it sure as HELL ain’t like Burgundy, but Texas’s wine country is more like Spain the acknowledged home of the Tempranillo grape.

For sommeliers, Andy says, Tempranillo is “the best choice for your [wine] list and its the place to start for restaurants to bring Texas wines into their wine program. Well, November is the month for wine drinkers worldwide to celebrate Tempranillos. Thursday, November 13, 2014, has been officially proclaimed “Tempranillo Day” (click here) by TAPAS (Tempranillo Advocates Producers & Amigos. Therefore, Texans take note….

November’s #TXwine Twitter Tuesday will actually be held on Thursday, November 13. This change comes as our normal #TXwine Twitter event will be celebrating International Tempranillo Day along with many other Tempranillo lovers around the world on that Thursday.

Many people have called Tempranillo “the signature red grape of Texas”. Tempranillo certainly appears to be doing well here, but what better way to ascertain its status and reflect on its future in Texas versus the rest of the world than to taste, tweet and chat with others both inside and outside our great state.

No specific Texas Tempranillos will be featured in this Twitter event. So, feel free to find one, two or a few of your favorite Texas Tempranillos (TEXAS on the label) and share your thoughts and tasting experiences with the event’s participants.


Courtesy of

Jeff Cope and Russ Kane will  lead this #TXwine Twitter chat and help moderate the discussion as we enjoy a few of our favorite Tempranillos. Denise Clarke will be hosting friends at her house for a fun time together to enjoy Tempranillos, so you may want to consider doing the same.

Join us for the November #TXwine Twitter tasting on November 13th from 7-8 p.m. CST. Grab your favorite Tempranillo and we look forward to having you with us for a night of tasting and tweeting.

Please remember to include #TXwine and for this event #TempranilloDay in your tweets so everyone participating in the chat can see your tweets!


Denise, Jeff, Jessica, Russ, and Daniel

@DeniseClarkeTX, @TXWineLover, @JDewps, @VintageTexas, @txwinejournal

Additional Details: More after the jump! Continue reading »

 Posted by at 10:57 am
Oct 272014

Robert Stucchi-Prinetti of Badia a Coltibuono

Tastes of Badia a Coltibuono: Wines that Entwine The Past and Future of Chianti Classico

I recently tasted a selection of wines of Badia a Coltibuono and met its general manager and winemaker Roberto Stucchi-Prinetti, the great grandson in the family that came to own this winery with a long legacy in the Chianti Classico region of Tuscany.

While tasting his initial offerings (value Chianti wines), Stucchi laid out a verbal picture of Badia a Coltibuono, which literally means “Abbey of Good Harvest” in an ancient dialect of Latin predating Italian. The abbey dates back to the 11th century being founded by a Tuscan order of Benedictine monks that established vineyards, a winery and a network of surrounding farms in the area near present-day Gaiole in Chianti.

In 1846, the abbey’s winery operation was secularized under the rule of Napoleon and in the late 1800s came into ownership of Piero Stucchi-Prinetti, Roberto’s great grandfather. It was largely due to Piero’s dedication and family support that the entire property began to flourish and survived the Second World War virtually intact. In the 1980s, with the aim to advance the winery’s business further Roberto came to California to study fermentation science at U.C. Davis. He later interned at Chappellet Vineyards in Napa Valley.


It would have been easy to get lost in the extensive history of Badia a Coltibuono and Roberto’s family story. However, the first two wines (Coltibuono Chianti Cetumura and Chianti Classico RS), both less than $15, snapped my attention back with refreshing, fruit-dominant, tart red cherry and aromatic floral notes highlighting little if any oak aging. And, for good reason, the Cetumura was recently named by Food & Wine Magazine’s Ray Isle to his list of “Amazing Wines for less than $15” (click here).

If wine drinking Texans are looking for a more personal linkage to Badia a Coltibuono, Roberto’s story gave it to me. He described a method of winegrowing/farming called “Promiscuo” that was in Italy and on his estate in the late-1800s when his great grandfather took control of the property. It used widely-spaced rows of grapes with other crops occupying the middles between the grapevines.

This agricultural approach is precisely the way another Italian family – The Qualias – newly arrived in Texas started their Val Verde Winery in 1883 in Del Rio, Texas (click here). This early approach to winegrowing encouraged different types of crops to co-exist side-by-side in the vineyard. In some cases, there would even be livestock bred on the estate. It was through this diversified Italian approach that Val Verde Winery survived and operated through prohibition and became the oldest continuously operated winery in Texas bringing with it a Mediterranean and Italian winemaking legacy to Texas. So, it is quite appropriate that Texan’s should sip and savor the wines of Badia a Coltibuono – kind of like a Mediterranean palate calibration.

The next three Badia a Coltibuono wines, ranging in price from $20 to $50 specifically featured the Badia a Coltibuono estate vineyard grapes (which are now organically grown), selections of best and ripest grapes, extended maceration and more extensive oak aging regimens:

Chianti Classico Estate – 90% Sangiovese – 10% Canaiolo Nero blend with 12 months of oak aging bringing intense red fruit and floral notes and highlights.

Chianti Classico Riserva – 90% Sangiovese – 10% Canaiolo Nero blend with still riper grapes with 24 months of oak aging to produce a deeper richer red berry flavors and aromas with highlights of wet earth and floral on the finish.

Sangioveto Di Toscano – 100% estate Sangiovese with 24 months of oak aging followed by 6 months of bottle aging before release offering darker color, black cherry, cola and wet-earthy notes with well-structured, pleasant tannins and spice on the finish.


Vineyard at Badia a Coltibuono

Roberto talked further about his opportunity coming to the study in the United States. He said, “I learned some very useful information particularly as we were trying to develop the winery into an ongoing business. But, I was also in California during the start-up of the organic movement, which helped me immensely. There, I learned that the soil was alive, it was a living entity. From that, I’ve been able to make our vineyards organically grown for over 20 years now. It definitely make things easier, particularly for disease resistance, and helps our yields particularly in bad years.”

Roberto also said, “I had the opportunity to replant the vineyard starting in 1988. I was able to screen the vineyard and select individual vines that we felt were doing the best on this historical site over a long period of time. We selected 600 vines and from those we decided to use certain ones for propagation that would be used to bring the best characteristics to the new replanted vineyard.” Roberto refers to these wines as his “heirloom” vines that reach back into the legacy of Badia a Coltibuono’ s past that he now uses to produce the wineries current and future wines.


11th Century Monastery at Badia a Coltibuono

The last wines tasted were two Badia a Coltibuono Vin Santos. These are sweet wines made from early-harvested grapes with high acidity that are picked and then, in the “passito style”, let to air dry thus enhancing their sugar content to around 30 percent. Roberto refrained from calling them dessert wine. Rather, these are wines that are “guest wines”. They are oxidized and highly stable so you can keep a bottle open to serve when guests arrive as is the local custom in Tuscany.

The first of these wines was their Vin Santo del Chianti Classico made in the traditional manner from white Trebbiano and Malvasia grapes and allowed to age in small sealed oak barrels for four years under ambient conditions. The wine had an amber color and yielded honeyed characteristics appointed with roasted hazelnut qualities. The second Vin Santo was a special wine (called “Occhio di Pernice” – or “Partridge Eye” owing to its color) made from Sangiovese grapes and oak aged for five years. This wine presented a garnet red color with a rim of amber (like the Partridge’s eye) with nuances of honey, candied citrus fruit and savory, nutty and earthy notes.


In closing, Roberto spoke of his fortune to have interned at Chappellet Vineyards in Napa Valley before going back to Italy to work on modernizing his family’s vineyard and winery. This internship was a special opportunity since the Chappellet family’s development of their Pritchard Hill Vineyard was all about learning and identifying a vineyard site’s particular elements that defined its terroir (or sense of place). These are the set of special characteristics of geography, geology and climate of a certain place and how they interacting with plant genetics that are expressed in the wine. The skills learned at Chappellet and later applied at Badia a Coltibuono were precisely what have brought him his current successes and have also produced enjoyment for the many that drink his wines now and that will for decades to come.

 Posted by at 5:25 pm
Oct 252014

Houston Livestock Show & Rodeo 2014 Wine Tour Group

Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo’s First Wine Country Tour Visits the Texas Hill Country

By now, most of you know October is Texas Wine Month. Well, it could have been no better time than this month for The Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo’s (HLSR) Wine Sales and Events Committee (click here) to organize their first ever wine tour. On the three-day weekend of October 3-5, they welcomed committee members and fellow wine aficionados for a fun and event-filled weekend tour of Texas hill country wineries October 3-5, 2014.

This tour provided “wine-trail riders” special tastings, gourmet food and wine events including bus transportation, meals, hotels and special meetings with winery personnel. It was a first-hand opportunity to personally experience the Texas Hill Country that was recently named as one of Wine Enthusiast’s Top Ten Wine Destinations of 2014 (click here).  A special feature of the tour, none other than Doc Russ Texas Wineslinger (me) rode the trail with the tour participants and was available to answer Texas wine questions and provide interesting insights and stories of the birth, re-birth and evolution of the Texas hill country wineries.


HLSR Texas Wine Tasting at 4.0 Cellars

The tour started on Friday afternoon and after checking into their hotel rooms in Kerrville, the party caravanned to 4.0 Cellars on the Route 290 Wine Road east of Fredericksburg. There we tasted a selection of wines from HLSR award-winning wineries McPherson Cellars, Brennan Vineyards and Lost Oak Winery. The wines were enjoyed with hors d’oeuvres while they explored and relaxed on well-appointed grounds. This first evening was made even more enjoyable courtesy of the previous day’s cool front that overnight changed the seasons from Summer to Fall. Continue reading »

 Posted by at 2:51 pm
Oct 202014

Grand Champion Jerry Watson, Silver Medalist Martha Tarkington and Bronze Medal winner Ken Krienke at the 2014 Austin County Wine Show (Photo credit: Barker Photography –

Winners at the 2014 Austin County Wine Show

I once spoke with Texas high plains winegrower Neal Newsom about the differences in growing grapes for wine and growing other crops like hay and cotton. He looked back at me and said, “When we go to show, it’s a heck of a lot more fun when we meet-up to review and discuss wine grapes and drink wine than we have at hay meetings.”

Well, that is exactly how I feel having recently been a judge at the 2014 Austin County Wine Show Non-Commercial Competition sponsored by the Austin County Grape Growers Committee. I had far more fun tasting (and afterwards) drinking wine than I would have had chewing on a stalk of hay, that’s for dang sure.

Having been a wine judge for several years now, it was also good to see (and taste) that the wines made by amateur (non-commercial) winemakers in Texas continue to get better every year. It is good to see that Blanc Du Bois, the white grape of the Gulf Coast and post oak plains continues to be gaining acceptance by winemakers and consumers alike.


This year’s winners were:

Dry Red Wine: Gold – Scott Greene; Silver – Doug Rowlett; Bronze – Ken Krienke

Sweet Red Wine: Gold – Billy Schaffner and George Holm – Tie; Silver – Martha Tarkington; Bronze -Martha Tarkington

Dry White Wine: Gold – Barrett Rouse; Silver – Scott Greene; Bronze – Jerry Watson

Sweet White Wine: Gold – Jerry Watson; Silver Martha Tarkington; Bronze – Ken Krienke

Fruit / Berry Wine: Gold – Dave Grimme and Billy Schaffner – Tie; Silver – Dave Grimme; Bronze – Alfred Tomasek and George Holm

Dessert & Port Style Wine: Gold – Barrett Rouse; Silver – Kenneth Wuensche; Bronze – Scott Greene

Kit Wine (Non-TX) Grapes – Dry Red Wine: Gold – Alfred Tomasek; Silver – Richard Clayton

Kit Wine (Non-TX) Grapes – Dry White Wine: No awards given

Kit Wine (Non-TX) Grapes – Sweet Wine: Gold – Richard Clayton; Silver – John Martine; Bronze – Richard Clayton

Native Grape / Mustang Wine: Gold – Danny Koester; Silver – John Martine; Bronze – Alfred Tomasek

Blush Wine: Gold – Kenneth Wuensche; Silver – Kenneth Wuensche; Bronze – Barrett Rouse

Overall Winners: Grand Champion – Jerry Watson; Reserve Grand Champion – Barrett Rouse

Overall Austin County Winner: Grand Champion – Scott Greene

Jerry Watson, Overall Grand Champion from this year’s judging for his sweet Blanc Du Bois, said, “I started making wine from kits in the seventies then in the nineties, when we started growing, I moved on to fruit and then grape wines. Normally, I make dry Blanc Du Bois, but this year, I also made some sweet Blanc to keep my sweet wine drinking friends happy.”

When I asked him what it took to make good wine with Blanc Du Bois, he said, “A good slow, cold fermentation works best; something around 50-55 F that takes 2-3 weeks to complete. Then, make sure that the finished wine has a good sugar/acid balance.”


Jack Palacios & Scott Greene – The grapes for Scott’s gold medal, Grand Champion Syrah was grown in the Palacios family vineyard in Brenham, Texas.

Scott Greene, this year’s Austin County Overall Grand Champion, wanted to make sure the man who grew the grapes that were in his award winning wine was acknowledged. He said, “I want to make sure that you mention Jack Palacios. The Syrah in my wine was the produced in his vineyard. Syrah is not exactly a big grape for this part of Texas and Jack and his operation are to be commended. The Palacios family have been growing vinifera grapes with some success for several years not to far from here in Brenham. I have been the beneficiary, as I made the wine, but Jack should get an award for growing the grapes.”

Then, Scott added an additional note that indicated he was looking for further winemaking challenges. He said, “I’m still trying to find the Holy Grail for making a Black Spanish red table wine.”

Scott, as you well know, many have tried, but very few have succeeded. Perhaps it will be next year for you. Maybe it will be a Black Spanish/Syrah blend. Congrats to you and all participants and winners of this year’s Austin County Wine Show.

 Posted by at 3:37 pm
Oct 152014


VintageTexas: It’s Good to Know We’ve Made a Difference

I was perusing my recent issue of Food & Wine Magazine (November 2014), when I spotted F&W Executive Wine Editor Ray Isle’s article titled “The Great American Wine Challenge”. He talked about his wine tasting experiences in places like Arizona, Texas, New York and Virginia.

My attention was focused as I read Ray’s lead-in where he described his not so good wine tasting experiences in Texas with his father many years ago. Then, he flashed forward to the 2013 Austin Food & Wine Festival and his narrative included his preliminary misgivings having accepted an invitation to be on a wine panel about Texas wine at the Austin festival. Ray said…

“But, as I tasted through the wines, what I felt instead was relief and, to be honest, a frisson of pride for my home state. The wines weren’t just good: they were very good.”

After reading this, I read it again and with the hairs on the back of my neck standing at attention, I set the magazine down on my lap with a smile on my face.

I said to myself, “I organized that Texas wine panel in Austin.” I also selected the wines and moderated the panel. As I sat there rewinding my memories of how it all unfolded, I recalled that It was only after muddling it over in my mind (should I, shouldn’t I, should I, etc.) that I decided to reach out to Ray. I knew it was a long shot getting this nation wine luminary on the panel. While the festival was sponsored by Food & Wine, national media types tend to go invisible when the words “local wine” are spoken. But, I wanted to see if Ray would be willing to be a member of the Texas wine panel was going tobe a good one. He would be joining Austin master sommeliers Craig Collins and Devon Broglie, and local advanced sommelier June Rodil. The only problem was…I did not have Ray’s contact info.


2013 Austin F&W Festival Texas Wine Panelists (Photo credit: Matt McGinnis): Ray Isle on Left followed by June Rodil, Devon Broglie MS, Russ Kane, Paul M. Bonarrigo (non-panelist), Craig Collins MS.

After realizing my dilemma, I called Austin-based Texas wine marketing maven Denise Clarke after recalling that she had been part of a previous Texas wine marketing delegation to New York City and by chance maybe she had the information I sought. Sure enough, Denise came through with Ray’s contact information and I made the connection with him and he accepted my invitation.

Ray’s comments in the Food & Wine magazine article continued with praise for one of the panel’s featured wines. He said…

“My favorite, a Tannat from Bending Branch Winery in Comfort, Texas – a little town of about 2,300 people that about as non-Napa-fancy as a town can be – was spicy, powerful and polished, and a good red wine as I’d tasted in the past several months.”

Ray also admitted that the Austin tasting was the first of his several eye-opening American wine experiences. For that, I was pleased to be part of Ray’s American “wine awakening”, too.

Two other Texas wines featured in the F&W article were 2012 Duchman Family Winery Vermentino, Pedernales Cellars Texas Tempranillo.

Thanks Ray for the shout out for our local Texas wines from your national stage. Also, thanks to Denise who came through for me when I needed critical information from her Texas wine marketing files. It feels good to know that we’ve made a difference in helping to get Texas wines the national respect they now deserve.

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