Jun 102015

Antelope Horn Milkweed – A Native to Texas

Texas: A Land of Native Milkweed & What You Can Do To Save It

Most of us know about milkweed from either what we have read about it as the favorite food of the Monarch butterfly caterpillars, or by what we have seen for sale (Tropical Milkweed) in our local Wal-Mart, Home Depot and many garden stores and nurseries. But, for those that have any acreage at all (even a couple acres) or for our Texas gardeners and naturalist, the topic goes much deeper.

The migration of the Monarch butterflies could soon become a thing of the past due to this butterfly’s declining population.  The cause is a combination of factors that includes illegal logging, wildfires, droughts, and a drastic loss of their crucial native milkweed habitat in the United States. In fact, in 2010, the monarch butterfly was added to the World Wildlife Fund’s Ten Most Threatened Species List. The cited reason: loss of habitat necessary for survival of the monarch migration.

The habitat problem boils down to one thing: native milkweed species that have resided in fields and pastures in our country for centuries have succumbed to the major forces of but land development and unknowing mowing of public and private grassland.

I’ve owned my hill country property in Alamo Springs Ranch for over 10 years. During this time, I’ve spent countless hours “gleefully” mowing the grass in the proximity of our cottage. However, with the grass, I also mowed down many weird-looking green plants with pointy leaves and white flowers.  It wasn’t until this year that I realized these plants were a specie of native Texas milkweed called Antelope Horn milkweed (See photos).

During the most recent episode of rain with the grasses on our property over a foot tall, I started an effort to flag many of the Antelope Horn milkweed so that they could be avoided (as best a possible) during mowing.

While I was placing the flags in the area of these milkweed plants, I took a close look at the blossoms. They are five-pointed flowers with light-green to white petals tightly packed into clusters of twenty or more flowers.  Each flower has five round, white coronas that stand above the petals on small horn-like stems.


Native Milkweed hosts to many of our endangered pollinators (look closely)

Looking closer (see above photo), I saw something that really surprised me: the number and diversity of insects species that these milkweed flowers attract and sustain.  Not only were there several species of butterfly on the milkweed flowers, but there were honey bees, small beetles and black ants (not fire ants!). After doing some research, I found out that these native milkweed are a haven for many of our native pollinators that are in distress right now, too.

I encourage you to take a closer look at the grassland on your property before your next mowing.  Look for, identify and flag as many as you can to save them from the mower.  Photos of several of the other types of native milkweed in the Texas hill country are available online on the Native Plant Society of Texas website at: http://npsot.org/wp/story/2012/2235/. If you find any of these, please flag them too and don’t mow them down.

The horticultural community in Texas encourages you to sustain the native milkweed population rather than planting the Wall-Mart and Home Depot variety of tropical milkweed (with its yellow, orange and red flowers). The tropical milkweed will actually keep the Monarchs from continuing their fall migration to Mexico unless you cut it down as fall approaches. If tropical milkweed is available locally, the Monarchs will tend to stay here where they succumb to the cold, freezing weather and a local and toxic fungus. The native milkweeds are better since they naturally die-back in the fall. This encourages the Monarchs to continue on their journey to Mexico. But, don’t worry, they will come back in the spring on their reverse migration.


You can also help promote native milkweed by gathering seeds from some of the seedpods (see photo above). Once you gather the seeds, plant them to start a garden of native milkweed or distribute in an unmowed area on your property to sustain the Monarchs (see below) and many other Texas pollinators. Further details on propagation of native milkweed via seeds is available at http://npsot.org/wp/story/2014/5885/.


Monarch Caterpillars on Native Milkweed Plant

 Posted by at 9:24 am
Jun 092015

Bobby and Jennifer Cox at Pheasant Ridge – Ultra Magazine March 1984

Veteran Texas Winemaker Owns Pheasant Ridge Winery Once Again

The Cox’s regain lost winery that they saw from their kitchen window every morning for over 20 years 

by Andrew Chalk, Guest Blogger & VT Commentary by Russ Kane

Bobby Cox, the winemaker who played a major part in putting Texas wine on the national map, is back as owner (with his wife Jennifer) of Pheasant Ridge Winery. Cox and the Bingham Family, agreed to split the assets [from the recent winery acquisition]. The Binghams get the existing inventory and all of the wine making equipment at the winery, and Cox gets ownership of the brand, the winery building near Lubbock and thirty acres of vineyards (about half of which are producing). Cox said that he is optimistic about the future of Texas wine, considering the industry to be at a tipping point at which high quality is going to become commonplace. He says that he looks forward to being part of that quality revolution and will be using 100% Texas grapes.


Bobby Cox in vineyard in 2008

The Bingham Family, one of the largest growers of grapes in the High Plains, plans to move forward with their Bingham Family Vineyards in Meadow Texas and has already released wines and opened a tasting room in Grapevine. Tastings and tours start at the Meadow winery facility later this summer after construction work is finished but Betty Bingham stressed that they expect the Grapevine tasting room to be the main consumer tasting facility.

For Texas wine lovers, this development means that two producers committed to making quality wine from 100% Texas grapes can operate at full pace.

Pheasant Ridge holds a unique place in Texas wine history. Founded by Cox in the early 1980s, it committed to grow vinifera grapes in Texas right from the start. At a time when many of the few dozen wineries then in the state were producing an embarrassing mish-mash of chemistry set experiments gone wrong, Cox’s winemaking and viticulture produced medals, not just in-state but at the country’s most prestigious wine competitions. The Pheasant Ridge 1982 Cabernet Sauvignon won a medal and their Sauvignon Blanc won an honorable mention at the San Francisco Wine Competition. A silver medal was awarded to the 1984 Sauvignon Blanc at the San Francisco Wine Competition in 1985. In 1986 the 1983 Cabernet Sauvignon won a gold at the San Francisco Wine Competition.

This also recently appeared in Wines & Vines.


VT Commentary…I agree wholeheartedly with Andy on this one. It was a win-win way to handle the Pheasant Ridge acquisition and one that allows the modern Texas wine industry to get back in touch with its legacy that Bobby helped create. The re-establishment of the Pheasant Ridge Winery with Bobby Cox will be like having a Texas wine “Hubble Telescope” giving us “eyes to see” back in time in the industry near its modern creation. I explored this legacy personally on a trips to the Texas high plains in 2008 & 2009. I related one occasion in my recent book (The WineSlinger Chronicles: Texas on the Vine available on Amazon.com). Excerpt below:

“Bobby Cox is a larger-than-life character both in stature and reputation among grape growers and winemakers. He’s something like a Texas version of Paul Bunyan, and Neal Newsom’s large blue grape harvester parked beside him appeared as the mechanical equivalent of Bunyan’s large blue ox, Babe. While Bunyan was a legendary lumberman in the American northland, Bobby’s a bona fide virtuoso of grape growing here in the Southwest.

Bobby’s hands showed the signs of wear and weather, and his furrowed face was etched with the look of lessons learned at the mercy of Mother Nature and hard economic times. At times it is difficult to separate the man from the legend. He’s shown an uncanny ability of identifying trends, helping growers select grape varieties that best fit the climate and soil in Texas, and at adapting vineyard techniques that optimize the quantity and quality of their harvests. That evening when Bobby arrived at a dinner gathering of High Plains growers, he produced his own personal offering of Texas wine history captured in a large, dusty liter and a half bottle of wine.

Pheasant Ridge Winery, with its estate vineyard in the Lubbock area, was once Bobby’s baby. The vineyard he planted in the 1970s is one of the oldest in Texas, with sixty acres of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, Chenin Blanc, and Semillon. He was a believer in the European vinifera grapes from the start, at a time when many people felt that they couldn’t be grown here. However, Bobby’s blood, sweat, and tears weren’t enough. A few years of lean harvests led to the need to borrow money to keep the winery going, but when that ran out, the winery was taken over by the bank and sold in the early 1990s.

Bobby still views his lost winery every day from his kitchen window when he drinks his morning coffee before going out to tend the vineyards of others. Despite this misfortune, he decided to stay in the game as a vineyard consultant to help promote the art and science of Texas viticulture that he loves so much.”

Well, Bobby’s decision to stay in the game has paid off. It also gives proof to the saying “what goes around, comes around” In this case, it came around with a second chance at fulfilling the Cox’s dreams that were left largely unfulfilled over two decades ago. This will be no small task for a much older but well seasoned Bobby Cox. But, you know, if anyone can do it, my faith is in Bobby.

Jennifer and Bobby Cox in 2009 with a bottle of their original 1982 Pheasant Ridge Cabernet

 Posted by at 2:47 pm
Jun 082015

Houston’s Two Festivals in One: Wine & Music

Inaugural Discover Wine Festival in Houston to Feature 19 Texas Wineries

The inaugural Discover Wine Festival will be held on Saturday, June 20 in downtown Houston from 11 a.m. until 8 p.m. The 2015 Discover Wine Festival will be a festival within a festival since we will be part of the Springboard South Music Festival. Springboard South had a very successful festival last year and continues to expand this year with their festival being three days, and expecting over 5,000 people per day to listen to over 150 bands of different genres on six stages.

The Discover Wine Festival will be located in an air conditioned tent (more like a building) and live music will be playing on one side of the tent while 19 excellent Texas wineries will be pouring wine on the other side of the tent. The tent will be located adjacent to Warehouse Live which is near George R. Brown Convention Center in Houston, Texas. All Discover Wine Festival attendees will have access to all the Springboard South music stages so wine festival goers can listen to different music genres and return for more wine in the festival tent.

We look forward to introducing quality Texas wine to the Houston area. Wineries are coming to Houston all the way from Grapevine, the Hill Country, Fredericksburg, East Texas, and including the local area. Wineries attending the festival will be: Clear Creek Vineyard, Cork This! Winery, Crump Valley Vineyards, Fall Creek Vineyards, Flat Creek Estate, Haak Vineyards & Winery, Hye Meadow Winery, Kiepersol Estates Winery, Los Pinos Ranch Vineyards, Majek Vineyard & Winery, Perrine Winery, Pleasant Hill Winery, Red 55 Winery, Saddlehorn Winery, San Duccero Vineyards, Sloan & Williams Winery, Solaro Urban Winery Houston, Texas Legato, and Valley Mills Vineyards.

Among the top sponsors are Kroger, Go Texan, Yelp, and Texas Hill Country Wineries. The wine festival will be open to the general public. Discover Wine Festival is brought to you by the Texas wine website Texas Wine Lover and the Kemah winery Clear Creek Vineyards.

For more information, please see the website , Facebook page https://www.facebook.com/DiscoverWineFestival, or follow on Twitter https://twitter.com/discoverfest. You can also email discoverwinefestival@gmail.com or call (832) 338-4111.

— — — — —

Saturday June 20th • 813 Saint Emanuel Street • Downtown Houston • 11 am – 8pm


 Posted by at 10:04 am
Jun 062015

2014 Pilot Knob Vineyard, Chardonnay, Robert Clay Vineyard, Texas Hill Country, “Cloud Nine”

A “Chardonnay-Year” for the Texas Hill Country & Pilot Knob and Robert Clay Vineyards

It was an early August day 2014, when I visited Dan McLaughlin’s Robert Clay Vineyard in Mason. I was directed by Dan to try a helping of the still remaining Chardonnay grapes in the vineyard. See http://vintagetexas.com/blog/?p=13774 . It was after this “tasting” and a similar tasting of Alfonse Dotson’s Certenberg Vineyard Chardonnay grapes (also in Mason County) that I proclaimed 2014 a “Chardonnay-Year” for the Texas Hill Country [I can’t make claims for anywhere else in the state].

I recently had an opportunity to again come face-to-face with the same Chardonnay from Robert Clay Vineyard. But, this time it was in the form of a finished wine: 2014 Pilot Knob Vineyard, Chardonnay, Robert Clay Vineyard, Texas Hill Country, “Cloud Nine”.

I can definitely say that this wine reflects the summer of 2014 that I experienced in Mason County. The summer was retrained, parsed with occasional soothing showers and refreshing afternoon breezes and moderate day and night time temperatures. This is just what Chardonnay grapes need to show well in a Texas wine. It’s not an every year thing, but when the magic works…wow!


Robert Clay Vineyard Chardonnay 2014 at Harvest

In this recent meet-up, the wine showed something special. It wasn’t the pale straw color of many French Chardonnays and didn’t have the intense golden hues of California’s sturdy-stylistically oak-aged Chards either. The Pilot Knob Chardonnay starts with light golden straw and something that I’ve seen a few times before in Texas white wines: a straw-gold color tinged with perhaps just the slightest glow of a southwestern sunset. My take is that it is perhaps a dose of sun ripened grape skin color (see above).

On the nose, the wine showed restraint like the summer that produced it. It held a pleasant air of sweet vanilla bean and toasted almonds from oak followed closely with apple and citrus notes. These progressed further on the palate to yellow delicious apples, butterscotch and lemon curd yielding a well-rounded [soft-yet-crisp] finish. All these characteristics come packaged with the restrained polish and integration of a fine wine. You could argue about “if it’s classic Chard, or not”. But, I known one thing, it’s a wine that is destine to please. I just hope that we have more Chardonnay vintages like this one in Texas to proclaim so that we can continue this discussion over more wine.

I linked up on a call to grower Dan McLaughlin after my tasting and he indicated he was really pleased how his grapes showed in the final analysis. He also had praise for the winemaking effort of Craig Pinkley at Pilot Knob and the support of Tim Drake winemaker at Flat Creek Winery.

Dan said, “2014 was an exception harvest for our Chardonnay at Robert Clay Vineyard. The numbers were solidly good: 2.3 tons per acre, harvested at 21.8 Brix and pH 3.51. I don’t think they could have been any better.”

Later, I asked Craig for more background on this wine and he referred to Dan’s fruit as “immaculate” and “super clean”, then said, “Dan is a meticulous grower. Because of this, we made the decision to go with the vineyard’s feral yeast to ferment, and no additional yeast was added.  I know that that can be dangerous because you really don’t know what’s going to happen, but it all turned out great. Both Dan and Craig called it “Pretty darn cool”.

Craig also said, “The fermentation, secondary [malo-lactic] fermentation and aging were all done in Hungarian oak barrels: 9 months aging in all with 30% new oak. With a committed grower like Dan and with the guiding hand of Tim Drake, who has extensive experience with the Chardonnay grape, it all came together in a fine way. We were pleased to create a wine with lovely textures, aromas, and drinkability.  A little hurrah for Texas Chardonnay.”

I’ve talked to many winemakers in Texas that are now “playing with” aging in Hungarian oak (closely akin to French Oak) because they particularly like the toasty qualities and creamy softness it imparts to the wine. This wine definitely has those attributes.

Later, I asked Dan where did the “Cloud Nine” on the wine label come from. After a moment of pause, Dan said, “ My wife Jeanie was adopted. While Jeanie and her birth father were very close, he hadn’t seen her in 8 years. In 2014, he came to visit us during harvest and he got a chance to visit with his family and grandkids. Jeanie’s father also helped with harvest. He spent all night driving the Kubota around the vineyard with my son picking up fruit as it was harvested and telling stories to everyone that would listen.”

After pausing again, he said, “On his way back home on his Harley after the visit, he had a serious accident and passed away. Jeanie later said that during that visit her father was ‘really on Cloud Nine’. We thought that it would be a fitting and special dedication to him by adding “Cloud Nine” on the wine’s label. It’s a celebration of his life.”


Photo from Robert Clay Vineyard Facebook page.

The 2014 Pilot Knob Vineyard, Chardonnay, Robert Clay Vineyard, Texas Hill Country, “Cloud Nine” is a special wine in the glass. It was a special vintage and special harvest, too. It is also special for the memories that it holds every time it’s savored.

For more information on the wine, winery and vineyard, see:

Pilot Knob Vineyard & Winery and ordering information – http://www.pilotknobvineyard.com/

Robert Clay Vineyard


 Posted by at 11:24 am
Jun 032015


TEXSOM Celebrates 11 Years as Nation’s Premier Sommelier Education Conference: Sessions and Registration

Presently celebrating its eleventh year, TEXSOM, the most prominent and influential sommelier education conference in the world, announces that registration is now open for TEXSOM 2015. The TEXSOM 2015 conference will take place August 8 -10, 2015 at the Four Seasons Resort & Club Dallas at Las Colinas, Texas.

TEXSOM 2015 will include presentations by Master Sommeliers, Masters of Wine, Certified Wine Educators and other industry experts. In fact, roughly 25% of the all the professionals who have earned the title of Master Sommelier in the nation will be in attendance this year. Seminars will include regional spotlights, variety intensives, two iconic winery retrospectives, and industry/sommelier roundtable discussions. The sessions will concentrate on wine, but also include spirits, beer, coffee, tea and other beverages. Some of this year’s seminars include:

  • The Lineage of the Pinot Family
  • White Grape Varieties of Greece
  • Wines of Process: Sparkling, Oxidized, Fortified, and Beyond
  • Iconic Winery Retrospectives on Maison Trimbach & Kumeu River Wines
  • Sake’s Secondary Styles
  • Wild Beers: Old and New World
  • Guildsomm Presents: “Wines of the Rhone Valley, Australia and New Zealand: Commonalities of New Wave Producers”
  • Calvados: From Cidre to Apple Brandy


TEXSOM is the only conference with presenting sponsors from four of the major wine education and certification organizations in the world: Court of Master Sommeliers – Americas; Guild of Sommeliers Education Foundation; Society of Wine Educators; and Wine and Spirit Education Trust. The conference is expected to draw a total of 1,000 attendees, of which 700 will be sommeliers, retailers and wine buyers.

TEXSOM 2015 will offer participants a chance to attend 24 different seminars, each featuring up to eight beverages. Attendees will also have the opportunity to evaluate more than 400 wines at the Grand Tasting and Awards Reception, which is sponsored by the Wine and Food Foundation of Texas.

In addition, the conference will again host the TEXSOM Best Sommelier Competition, sponsored by Texas Monthly, which is a challenge to young sommeliers to pit their knowledge and expertise against their peers’. For the first time, the competition will be open to qualified candidates who not only live in Texas, but also those residing in Arkansas, Louisiana, Oklahoma, and New Mexico. The winners of the contest will be announced at the Grand Tasting and Awards Reception on the closing night.

Attendees will have the opportunity to read about a selection of TEXSOM International Wine Awards medal-winning wines in the conference program, which will include articles and descriptions about the competition and the wines. In addition, two hospitality suites, open to sommelier and trade attendees, will highlight a selection of these sommelier-selected, medal-winning wines in a unique setting.

The registration fee for TEXSOM 2015 is $425 and includes lunches, access to hospitality suites, and admittance to the Grand Tasting and Awards Reception. Rooms are available (while supply lasts) at the Four Seasons Resort and Club Dallas at Las Colinas. To register, interested parties should visit http://www.texsom.com.


Founded in 2005, TEXSOM was started by Master Sommeliers James Tidwell and Drew Hendricks to help promote professional wine service standards, outline paths for further wine education and certification, and raise public awareness about the professional standards and certifications for sommeliers. Today, the conference draws a total of 1,000 attendees, of whom 700 are sommeliers, retailers and wine buyers.


 Posted by at 3:28 pm
Jun 012015

VintageTexas Semi-Sweet Coriander Pickles

VintageTexas Semi-Sweet Coriander Pickles

Here’s a break from Texas wine, but for something that still has a good dose of Texas flavor. It’s my recipe for by Texas Semi-Sweet Coriander Pickles. All of the major ingredients and herbs could come from a local garden. However, this year (after losing and re-finding my recipe), I felt that it was time to gather ingredients from garden and markets.

18                   Baby cucumbers (4-6 inch long)

2                     Large jalapeño peppers

1                      Medium sweet onion, e.g. Texas 10-15 (peeled, washed and cut into four rings, quartered and separated)

8                      Large cloves garlic (pealed and halved)

1-cup              Carrots (Julienned and rinsed)

10-cups          Water

10-cups          White vinegar

8                      (Dry or Wet) Sterilized Pint Glass Bottles & Lids

Per bottle:

3 Tbsps.         White granulated sugar

1 Tbsp.           Pickling spice

1 tsp.               Kosher salt

1 tsp.               Coriander seeds

¼ tsp.            Celery seed (ground)

½ tsp.            Fresh finely chopped cilantro (with flowers/seed, if available)

¼ tsp.            Dried Mexican oregano

1 tsp.               Texas wildflower honey

1 sprig             Fresh dill

In this case, the cucumbers were market bought but from Texas, as were the jalapeños. My carrots from puny this year (little short runts – cute actually) and I saved them for salads. The Texas Sweet 10-15 onions weren’t in season so I went with Vidalias. Important ingredients that were from Texas were the chopped cilantro that had both flowers and seed pods (coriander) on it, wildflower honey and Mexican oregano. Now for the pickle-making procedure…


Wash cucumbers and soak in cold water. Cut cucumbers into approx. ¼ -inch slices and return to water. Wash and cut Jalapeños. Cut them longitudinally to remove ¼ to ½-inch strips while leaving the seeds and white membranes behind. Divide cucumber slices, jalapeño slices, onion sections, garlic slices and julienned carrots into eight equal amounts and tightly pack in each of the 8 bottles. To each bottle, add indicated amounts of sugar, pickling spice, salt, coriander seeds, ground celery seed, chopped cilantro, Mexican oregano, dill and Texas wildflower honey. Add water and vinegar to large pot and heat to a rolling boil. Once boiling, transfer water/vinegar solution into each jar using a ladle and a large opening funnel. Fill each bottle to rim and tightly screw on lid. Once bottles are cool enough to handle, transfer them to refrigerator and keep 1 to 3 days before serving. Should keep refrigerated for 30-60 days if they last that long.

Tip: Serve pickled cucumbers, onions, jalapeños and carrots with cilantro seeds. They give a flavorful crunch. For spicier pickles, also add desired amount of jalapeño seeds to each bottle before adding water/vinegar solution. For sweeter pickles add more honey.


 Posted by at 10:52 am
May 192015


A Difference You Can Taste: Perissos Vineyards 2014 Viognier

You might say that the Perissos Vineyard 2014 Viognier is a “whole bunch better”.  OK, there was no 2013 Perissos Viognier due to the series of late Spring frosts. So, you might ask, “better than what”.

I first got the feeling that things were going to be different when, during the 2014 harvest, I showed up at Perissos Vineyard near the Texas hamlet of Burnet. Winery owner and winemaker Seth Martin was pressing his freshly harvested Viognier and keeping a close eye on the pressure gauge on his press.

As my notes said, “ I showed up to see what Seth was doing. It was a remarkable August 1st harvest day for his estate vineyard’s Viognier. The Muscat was already in the winery, the vineyard temperatures were hanging around the upper 80s, refreshing breezes whisked through the vines, vineyard hands were lunching on pizza and Viognier juice was running from his press….” [Click here for more.] 

When I asked Seth, what was up to warrant all this attention? He said, “I’m trying something new, at least for us. We’re whole cluster pressing our Viognier.” Seth’s reference to cluster pressing was a reference to a technique counter to the norm in most wineries today where the grapes are sent through a crusher/destemmer before pressing.

Well, it’s a year later and I’ve just had my first opportunity to taste the fruits of Seth’s labor on the Perissos Vineyard 2014 Viognier. Available for a side-by-side tasting was Seth’s very worthy Perissos Vineyard 2012 Viognier.


Left: Perissos 2014 Viognier; Right Perissos 2012 Viognier

The comparison starts in the glass. The 2014 Viognier shows its difference with a blush, a copper tone added to the golden straw usually exhibited by Viognier wines. In the glass, there was an aromatic finesse launched with waxy floral notes of plumeria integrated with peach and pear that seemed to seamlessly flow into the essence of white peach on the palate. By comparison the 2012 Viognier was also carried by aromatic notes but from ripe tropical fruits that land on the palate with a tartness of green papaya salad with orange citrus dressing. Both are good wine, but the 2014 Viognier raises the bar on what I would describe as finesse: the characteristic of a soft, more refined and integrated manner, yet interesting in its ability to linger on and on. Where the 2012 might be described as a bit heady and ripe, the 2014 plays a more approachable and passionate game capable of accompanying lighter fare.

Previously, I had seen the cluster pressing method used, but mostly applied to Chardonnay or Pinot Noir and especially in the making sparkling wines and Champagne.  My introduction was during a winery visit in the Russian River region of California. Its main benefits were to overcome avoid harsh edges in early-harvested grapes with low Brix common for sparkling wine production. During my visit to Perissos, whole cluster pressing of warm weather grapes like Viognier appears to yield benefits Texan can enjoy.

When I checked my notes made after my 2014 Perissos visit, I found this comment:

“My guess is that this process will make a different style wine for Seth. It generally creates a more delicate, lighter-styled wine than using conventional destemming and crushing. However, it can also bring a few new high notes and tannins to the wine derived from the seeds and stems if higher pressing pressures are used. Such are the yin-yang stylistic dilemmas of winemakers that try to push their limits.”

I can say now that Seth’s careful attention to the pressure gauge on his press was well placed and the outcome for the Perissos 2014 Viognier was exceptional.

Seth Martin – Owner & Winemaker at Perissos Vineyard near Burnet, TX.

 Posted by at 2:40 pm
May 112015

Eden Hill Vineyards Temptation Sparkling Wine

 Temptation by the Bottle: A Sparkling Wine from Eden Hill Vineyards

Chris Hornbaker, winemaker at Eden Hill Vineyard & Winery, said, “As you know, Eden Hill is dedicated to making wine from Texas grapes.  We wanted to bring to our customers a sparkling wine that was uniquely Texan, a sparkling wine they could be proud to share with friends and be proud to say was grown and made right here in the state.”

As most Texas wine drinkers know by now, Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, the traditional grapes used in the sparkling wines from the French region of Champagne, are hard to grow reliably in Texas.  Texas is ain’t Burgundy, if you know what I mean. If a sparkling wine was going to be made at Eden Hill, they needed to search for more reliable and quality Texas grape.

Chris related, “We really owe the idea of a sparkling Roussanne wine to my mom, Linda. One day she said, ‘What about our Roussanne grapes?’.  We had been making dry Roussanne still wine for several years, and Linda had always noticed it had full-bodied character like Chardonnay.”

Whereas Chardonnay’s lineage come from France’s Burgundy region, Roussanne appears to have originated in a Rhône wine growing region of France. Today, it is an important blending component in the wines of Crozes-Hermitage, Hermitage, and Saint-Joseph. In fact, in the French region of Saint-Péray, it is used for both still and sparkling wine production. A quick Google search also shows sparkling Roussannes are showing up in many new world regions like Washington State, even in Australia, and now evidently Texas.


Rosy-skinned Roussanne grapes nearing harvest

Chris said, “We talked to our Roussanne grower, John Oswald, and we all agreed to take a chance.  Texans aren’t shy about taking risks, right?  Well, after we popped the cork and had a taste, that first bottle of our new sparkler was gone in minutes. This wine was just so tempting to reach for another glass.  That’s how it got its name, “Temptation”.

You know, after just looking at the freshly poured glass of Eden Hill Temptation, I have to concur with Chris: it was tempting to the eyes and mind even before tasting. The color was hard to describe. I wrote down “coppery-blonde” and “Texas Prairie grass in a late summer sunset”. The wine was all cool and bubbly and actually quite appealing. Chris described this remarkable color as “light peach-gold” or a “light rosy-gold” and he feels it came from the grape skin contact given the wine.

A complex array of aromas and flavors exuded from this wine made for a tempting tasting experience, as well. Upon tasting, the sensory attributes I wrote down included apricot, Mandarin orange, tangerine, ginger, honeysuckle, and toasted almonds with lemon-citrus notes in the background (see my color rendition below). In my book, any wine with that many descriptors is complex and very likely to be a good one!


Tasting Notes for Eden Hill Temptation

The aforementioned descriptors play well with the wine’s moderate sweetness gained from 2-3% residual sugar content that also plays off the wine’s crisp acidity and lower 13.1% alcohol. The food pairing options for this wine are amazing, and are perhaps as tempting as the wine itself. Pairings for this wine range from spicy Tex-Mex chicken enchiladas, to Thai green or yellow curries, to Indonesian satay, to Italian Cream cake. Or, you can make it very simple on yourself. Just pour a glass of this sparkling wine, put your feet up, and enjoy Temptation with a few cream filled chocolate truffles.

Chris also said, “This wine’s been such a success for us at the winery and at festivals that we are planning to dedicate a portion of our Roussanne crop to it each year. In the future, we will most likely add a dry sparkling Roussanne to the line up as well.   We are constantly amazed at the versatility of the Roussanne grape in Texas.”

Chris also admitted that great wine starts with great grapes. That credit he again gave to John Oswald, their Roussanne grower in Brownfield in the Texas High Plains wine growing appellation (around Lubbock).

More information on Eden Hill Vineyards & Winery and this wine can be found online at www.edenhill.com. By the way, they will be launching their new Eden Hill eCommerce website in a few weeks. So, you want to taste Temptation but can’t make the drive up to the winery’s tasting room in Celina, you’ll be able to buy it from the wineries website.


 Posted by at 1:36 pm
May 072015


Texas Wine Quality Alliance is Up and Running!

I’m pleased to accounce that the new Texas Wine Quality Alliance (at www.texaswinequalityalliance.org) is up and running.

This group is organized to “Advance the Excellence of Texas Wines” through quantitative and organoleptic testing as well as education and marketing. The goal is to develop consumer confidence in the quality of Texas Wines and increase sales of those wineries who participate in the program. It will involve the evaluation of Texas wines to meet certain standards of quality. For these wines, the label must accurately reflect where the wine was produced and the origin of fruit.

More specifically,  for wines to be considered for evaluation by the Texas Wine Quality Alliance they must be produced by a member winery or have been purchased from another Texas source. The AVA designation on the label of the wine must accurately represent that 85% or more of the fruit in the wine is from a vineyard in the designated AVA in Texas in accordance with TTB guidelines. Only approved Texas AVA designations are acceptable for wines to be evaluated. A Texas only AVA designation on the label must represent that 75% of more of the fruit in the wine to be of Texas Origin.

For more information on the charter of this new organization, go to:


If you are interested to know more or to participate, go to the website and click on “About the Alliance” . You will find an invitation to the next meeting and grower/winery applications. Hope you all can make this next meeting as they will be electing an interim Board of Directors and appointing some of the committee chairs.

 Posted by at 4:48 pm
Apr 232015

And the Survey Says….The Right Grapes for Texas Wine!

I recently posed the following question to members of the Facebook Texas Wine Drinkers Group:

What are the best red and white grapes for Texas? I further specified that my quest was to identify the grapes that liked to grow here, made quality wines and that consumers liked to drink.

After over a hundred responses, I tallied up the count that I have summarized in the two plots below:

Results of Survey of Facebook Texas Wine Drinkers Group Members

Results of Survey of Facebook Texas Wine Drinkers Group Members

For the white grapes, the over whelming favorite was Viognier. I believe that this selection was the result of the great visibility and acclaim this grape has received in Texas wines at the state, national and international level. It does not indicate that this is a particularly easy grape to grow in Texas, particularly due to the difficulties of late springtime freeze events (e.g. 2009 and 2013). An even more important results are the focus of the FB-TWD group members on Roussanne and Blanc Du Bois. These two grapes are notable for two reasons: Roussanne buds significantly later than Viognier but has many similar wine characteristics; Blanc Du Bois is our de facto state non-vinifera grape (it grows in many parts of Texas where vinifera grapes are challenged and it also makes very nice wines in a wide variety of styles. I’m particularly excited by the inclusion of Blanc Du Bois in the top three as it has the potential to be a grape that is primarily grown in Texas.

Results of Survey of Facebook Texas Wine Drinkers Group Members

Results of Survey of Facebook Texas Wine Drinkers Group Members

It was no surprise that Tempranillo was the hands down winner in the red grape category. As proclaimed by Jim Johnson at Alamosa Wine Cellars (and one of the first to make a commercial Tempranillo wine in Texas), “Tempranillo is the national grape of Texas.” Coming in second was Mourvedre. While this grape begs for a blending companion for optimum results, it also buds out later than most other vinifera grapes in Texas. This helps it beat the late spring freeze all to common in Texas. Mourvedre also takes its time in the Texas sun and ripens slow and steady in our summertime heat. Tannat, Sangiovese and Malbec are in the runners-up positions. Tannat (subject to lots of new plantings in Texas) is one tough son of a gun of a grape, has high levels of resveratrol (sp? – help me our Bob Young who’s its champion), and adds a dollop of color and structure to anything else in the bottle with it. Sangiovese in Texas, well my opinion is that is does well with a hit of Cabernet (or similar) in it to present it’s best. Malbec is still a mystery to me when I think about where it can or will go in Texas.

I agree with those that say that Texas is too large to be a one (or two) grape state. It’s got the size of France, please keep that in mind. I also agree with those that embrace the “Champagne Model” for Texas This model says that every year is not a vintage year. Lets plant smart, prune wisely, have lots of tank capacity and then take what nature gives us. This means use the flexibility that multi-varietal blends provide and add the even greater flexibility of multi-vintage blending, too. In Texas, we need to think as out-of-the-box as Champagne (the region) and do what we can to define a viable and sustainable winemaking industry for Texas.

Thanks to all that gave their input. Hopefully, Texas wine consumers, growers and vintners will see this as eye opening and I do.



For those of you who are not a member of the Facebook Group – Texas Wine Drinkers, but who would like to join, see the following link. It costs nothing and you get pugged in with over 2500 other Texas wine aficionados that regularly share they thoughts and tastes to their friends on the group. See:


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 Posted by at 3:16 am