Love to taste, talk and tweet about Texas wines and where they are in the global scheme for wines. After all that's the only way they will reach the full potential.

Apr 192014

Dirk’s Vodka – Going Against the Grain

Dirk’s Vodka: The Spirit of Texas and Kiepersol – Going Against the Grain

When I’ve had too many harvested Meyer lemons, I’ve made juice (frozen in cubes for later use). When I’ve had too many farm eggs, I’ve made frittata. But, what did Kiepersol Estate winemaker Marnelle Durrett and her father Pierre de Wet do last year when they ended up harvesting more grapes from their estate vineyard near Tyler than they could handle? For the first time, they sold grapes to other Texas winemakers who were in the midst of the 2013 all-time bad grape shortage suffered at the hands of a series of late spring freezes. That offering was much appreciated, I’m sure.

Secondly, they took some of the remaining overage and made more wine than they could use. Then, Pierre went to work designing and building four custom stills with which Jim Durrett distilled what is the first domestic (and Texas) grape-based vodka. If you’ve had Ciroc from France, you’ve tasted the only other vodka of this kind in the world.

On a recent warm east Texas evening, Marnelle, Jim and Pierre hosted friends, winery VIPs and media to the opening of their new Kiepersol wine tasting room and a short walkway away to the distillery for an advance taste of the new product called Dirk’s Vodka.

As you may know, Vodka is a distillate containing ethanol and residual (or added) water usually made from fermented grains or potatoes, though it can be made from other starting materials (e.g. grapes or wine). East Texas has a long history and storied past making distilled beverages behind barns and tucked in cedar breaks often referred to as “moonshine”. Well, with the release of Dirk’s Vodka to the public this past Tuesday, the tradition of east Texas distillation took a big leap forward.


Master Distiller Jim Durrett with his custom stills

The evening was complete with a peek at the modern distilling operation set in the back of what used to be the old Kiepersol tasting room. I can’t image what was involved to de-bond a winery building and re-bond it as a distillery. It sounds like an administrative and paperwork nightmare involving local, state and federal agencies. But, they were successful whatever it took. This is something that characterizes the collective “spirits” of the operations principals.

Upon entering the distillery, the residual heat of the stills was evident in the room as master distiller, Jim Durrett stood front and center and explained the process. After which, he pointed to overhead pipes that lead through the wall. On the other side was a large covered stainless steel tank.

As Jim lifted the large metal lid, the heady, alcoholic vapors permeated into my sinuses while the dipping sound of the pure unadulterated distilled alcohol echoed reminiscently like spring water in a deep cave. Jim also revealed his other works in progress that included rum (made from molasses) and corn-based whiskey both of which were quietly resting in oak barrels gaining age and flavor. A tasting of a few milliliters of each showed promise of other new products that will hopefully follow Dirk’s Vodka to market. My key tasting descriptors for Dirk’s Vodka were crispness, citrus-like tang, and minerally finish.

The night was complete with food and tastings of Dirk’s Vodka, neat and smooth, and blended in cocktails. Meanwhile, the sunset casted long shadows in the adjoining vineyard while toasts were made to the expanding realm of the Kiepersol Estate. Dirk’s vodka is currently available (two bottles per person over 21 years old per month) only at the distillery at 4120 FM 344 E, Tyler, TX 75703; tele: (903) 894-8995.


Vineyard in the expanding realm of Kiepersol Estate

 Posted by at 11:26 am
Apr 162014


2014 Lone Star International Wine Competition Entry Deadline is Coming

Deadline is May 23, 2014 to Feature Your Wines in a Premier Wine Competition for All Winemakers in the 2014 Lone Star International Wine Competition

Don’t miss the deadline for getting your wines into the 2014 Lone Star International Wine Competition (May 23, 2014).  This year marks the 31st anniversary of the competition which is three competitions in one – a Texas competition, an International competition, and a Limited Production competition. The judging will be held in Grapevine, Texas on June 2-3, 2014.

Experienced judges from will select the award-winning wines that span over eight divisions.  Returning in 2014 is a Wine Bottle Label competition, judged by local world-class artists and photographers.  Wine, Wine Bottle Labels, and/or both can be entered into the competition.  Ship your wines now while the weather is still cool.

Winners will receive a gold, silver, or bronze medal.  Winning wines are also recognized in the Best of Show and Best in Varietal categories.

More information can be found at or contact Debbie Reynolds, Executive Director, Texas Wine and Grape Growers Association at:

Download 2014 Entry Form

Download 2014 Rules

 Posted by at 10:36 am
Apr 152014


Texas Wine Country 2014: Some Dodged the Bullet, Some Not

Most people in Texas would agree that Texas is a hot sunny place most of the time. They would also likely agree with the idea that Texas winegrowing has more in common with similarly sunny places like Spain, south of France and Italy than with the cool clime of Burgundy. However, in my opinion, something that we don’t emphasize enough when talking about Texas as a winegrowing region is the “hard stop” caused by the persistent late spring freezes that limits our native wine industry.

Last night was a good example of one such hard stop. Thankfully, it wasn’t a complete train wreck like Texas wine growers experienced last year, probably the worst string of late spring freezes in the modern records. But, last night’s freeze it still hurt, some more than others.

For winegrowers on the high plains around Lubbock, reported temperatures were well below 32 F. A report came in that the “vast majority of buds are tight” and freeze tolerant. However, temperatures were variant and for some early-budding grape varieties and vineyard in low lying areas, “this one’s going to hurt”. Continue reading »

 Posted by at 11:50 am
Apr 102014


What a Difference Four Years Made for Texas Wine – 1910 to 1914

While doing background research for my new book, Texas Hill Country Wineries, for Arcadia Publications, I came across two newspaper advertisements from the early 1900s. The first (shown above) is for a the Lone Star Saloon in Castroville, Texas, that offers “Wines, Liquors, Beers, Cigars, Smoking and Chewing Tobacco. Liquors of all kinds and prices, in Flasks, Quarts and Gallons for family use.”  I assume family use means not for resale.

The second advertisement from 1914 is for the Broadway Bar as found in the Cameron Herald. This was just four years later and 6 years before National Prohibition was imposed. Nationwide prohibition did not begin in the United States until 1920, when the Eighteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution went into effect.

In advance of America’s National Prohibition, the Texas state legislature (then in the “forefront” of the temperance movement) granted communities and/or countries the “local option” that allowed them to elect to “go dry” thus banning the manufacture, transportation, sale and consumption of alcoholic beverages in various defined territories within Texas. Notice the fine print on this advertisement that says, “No orders solicited from prohibition territory.”

National Prohibition was repealed in 1933, with the ratification of the Twenty-first Amendment. However, this action by the federal government just handed the question of prohibition back to the states to decide. In Texas, the decision went back to the “local option” that allows prohibition to persists in some form or another around the state today.

Many people from other states often ask me “If Texas is such a good wine producing state, why is it so far behind other major wine producing states in America?” The longstanding run of prohibition in Texas (much longer than in most other states and still today in affect in some jurisdictions in Texas) is one of several things that delayed the development of wineries in Texas.

In 2001, a Texas state constitutional amendment gave Texas wineries the unique ability to make and sell wine anywhere (in wet, dry or damp areas in the state) as long as they maintain the use of 75% Texas grapes. This was a watershed moment for local wine in Texas and since then is when the number of Texas wineries started a rapid increase all around the state of Texas.

 Posted by at 2:47 pm
Apr 092014

Sedàra Silicia DOC Rosso by Donnafugata

Join the Whole Foods Market Twitter Tasting: Spring is the Time for Italian Food & Wine

There is no better time than Spring to treat your taste buds to a trip across Italy. The air is clear and fresh, and the heat and humidity of summer have not yet arrived, what better time to cook. So, stop at Whole Foods Market, and pick your wine and food selections during their Wines from Italy spring feature. Then, get in the kitchen, pop a cork, pour a glass, and light up the burners.

In fact, why not join other Italian vino-enthusiasts (21 and older) for a Twitter tasting live tomorrow (April 10th 7-8 pm CT) at Whole Foods Market Stores (consult your local store for participation). Or, even better, while your sipping and cooking, join the action through the “Twitterverse” with others by following the hashtag #WFMwine. You can do this live and/or add you comments through TweetChat by logging in with your Twitter name then adding #WFMwine in the space indicated for the hastag to follow (click here). You can also post comments about your experiences by joining the Facebook group “Anything But Cabernet, Merlot, Chardonnay, Pinot” (click here), an international group of wine lovers dedicated to seeking out any wines but the usual suspects.

HRB Twitter Italian Wines

Italian wines are some of the most food friendly wines available. Native Italian grapes are not your standard set of Cabernet, Merlot, Chardonnay and Pinot Noir (although you can find them in Italy, too). They come by names of the grapes such as Pinot Grigio and Prosecco. However, they sometimes are labeled under their places of origin like Sangiovese from the Chianti region or Nero d’Alova from Sicily.

Why are Italian wines so food friendly? Well, they come with a natural acidity and are usually made in a medium bodied style with lighter use of oak that matches well with food, particularly if it is grilled or accompanied with a hearty tomato, cream or butter sauce.

My two selections from the Whole Foods Market Italian wine selections for Spring were one white wine and one red wine from their Spring Italian wine selections.


Principessa de Gavia DOC

For starters, I opened a bottle of Banfi Principessa de Gavia DOC (Dallas Wine Competition 2014 Silver medal winner)  100% Cortese, a white Italian wine grape variety predominantly grown in the southeastern regions of the Italian Piedmont. The wine was rich in tropical aromas balanced with tart apple and citrus followed with a tangy yet substantial feel on the palate. This combination of tasting elements yields a wine with extremely broad wine pairing capabilities. It is light enough to handle delicate fish dishes and yet strong enough to handle more substantive and flavorful dishes, especially with sharp tomato sauces and cheeses. My food pairing was with a mixed plate with hard sheep milk cheese with rice crackers, grilled chicken in tomato sauce and fig-Gorgonzola cheese.

My second pairing was with the Sedàra Silicia DOC Rosso by Donnafugata (pictured at top), a wine with an effortless tannic structure, dominant red fruit in the aroma and on the palate with underlaid hints of baking spices and mineral character. It is a blend of mostly Nero d’Avola, supported with Syrah, Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon and small amounts of other grapes. My food pairing with this wine was a simple plate of brown rice pasta with a sauce of tomato paste, olive oil and garlic, served with steamed asparagus with tarragon butter sauce. The versatility of this red wine goes with its ability not to fight with the asparagus, known to create “palate wars” with strongly tannic red wines. The clean bright red fruit in the Sedàra ameliorated and tamed the asparagus bringing the two disparate components of the dish together into harmony.

Lettie Teague, wine writer for the Wall Street Journal, credits the food pairing ability of Italian wines to a few important factors (click here for more details):

  • Italians, in their culture, naturally associate wine and food together (this is a good example of the pairing concept – wines and foods that grow together, go together).
  • Natural high acidity of Italian wines: Acidity lends a wine liveliness to the meal by keeping your palate fresh and ready for the next bite.
  • Commonly Italian winemakers are unlikely to use a lot of new oak (there are some exceptions), but as a rule, wines with lighter oaking allow the fresh fruity characteristics in the wine meld with the flavors from the food.

– — – — –

VT Note: Enjoy this Whole Foods Market Twitter Tasting and their Italian wines. But, also remember that wine from Italian grape varieties are appearing in wines from Texas wineries from grapes grown in Texas vineyards. They are a good match for our hot and sunny clime. Check out the soon to be released 4.0 Cellars Nero d’Avola 2012 Comanche County, Texas, at their tasting room near Fredericksburg, Texas (click here). See below:


 Posted by at 1:08 pm
Apr 062014


Rios de Chile: Carmenère, the Grape Lost, Found and Doing Very Well in Chile

Carmenère, a member of the Bordeaux family of red grapes,gets its name from the French word “carmin” referring either to the red highlights in the wine or the crimson color of its post-harvest foliage. Carmenère was originally found in Bordeaux vineyards prior to the Phylloxera infestation of the 1800s. However, it was not part of the vineyard mix in the Medoc when these vineyards were replanted post-Phylloxera. This situation was likely because of the difficulty Carmenère has in ripening in the cool, wet Medoc weather. At one point, Carmenère was thought to be the lost grape variety of Bordeaux.

However, Carmenère came to Chile over 150 years ago as vine stock that sent from Bordeaux. At some point, it was misidentified and thought to be Merlot. It was not until the 1990s and the advent of DNA testing that these grapes in Chile were positively identified as Carmenère.

Carmenère is now far from extinct, and doing very well in Chile. In recent years, it has become the most widely recognized wine grape variety and now hallmark grape from Chile. It has been found, identified and is doing very well there.

Notes from a recent tasting of two Carmenère wines (one Carmenère and the other Reserva Carmenère) from Rios de Chile winemaker Alfonso Duarte are presented below:

2011 Rios de Chile Carmenère (D.O. Central Valley) —  This Carmenère has a red purple color with intense, raw young black fruit on the nose with green herbal notes following. Medium extraction and skin tannin bring with them the essence of crushed blackberry that governs this wine on the palate balanced with crisp (not overripe) acidity. These qualities bring value to this very affordable wine (<$10) for those that enjoy fresh, fruit-dominated red wines.

2009 Rios de Chile Reserva Carmenère (D.O. Cachapoal Valley) — This Reserva Carmenère shows a red-black color. Intense black fruit (blackberry and plum) merge enjoyably on the nose and palate with the addition of vanilla, mushroom, tannin and a hint of cinnamon spice on the finish obtained from limited duration oak aging adds complexity over its non-Reserva sibling wine. There is only a slight price escalation to this Reserva (about $14) but the gain is in its density and intricacy of aromas and palate characteristics.

Following the tasting, these two Carmenère wines were paired with Chicken Florentine Albondigas (meat balls) served with Japanese “sticky” rice and braised kale in tomato broth with matchstick carrots and shitake mushrooms.

A range of varietal Chilean wines are available under the Rios de Chile label from the Pacific Wine Group. Samples were provided for this tasting.

– — – — –

Samples Policy: VintageTexas accepts wine samples for review with the understanding there are no preconditions about what is written. Wineries, distributors or importers that want to send samples should email me for information.

 Posted by at 6:44 pm
Mar 262014


Texas & Beyond: Texas Wines Are Having a Break-Out Year recently tabulated the Texas wine winners from the recently held Texsom – Dallas Morning News International Wine Competition in held in Dallas in January (click here). There were eleven Texas appellation gold medal wines and NOT ONE was made from grapes whose lineage came from Bordeaux or Burgundy. This is a huge statement for two important aspects of wines, wineries and vineyards in Texas. Grapes with Mediterranean heritage are making the best wines in the state. It also shows you can’t count our hybrids either, like Blanc Du Bois and Norton.

It’s only taken thirty years or so for the Texas wine industry to break their infatuation and misguided dependence on what is known far and wide as “The California Set” (Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Chardonnay and Pinot Noir). These grape varieties are great, I love them, and in some years, they can produce some wonderful wines in Texas. But, they are not what Texas can base a sustainable wine industry. The Texsom Dallas Morning News results are the cap on a stellar year for Texas wines, a year where Texas (the 5th largest wine producing state) has proven to the world, it knows how to make world-class wines and do it in a different manner than states 1st through 4th (California, Washington, New York and Oregon). It’s time to embrace your inner Mediterranean. We need more grapes planted precisely from the grapes that produced the winners in this competition: Tannat, Tempranillo, Sangiovese, Grenache, Syrah, Mourvedre, Viognier, Roussanne, Pinot Grigio, Blanc Du Bois and perhaps even Norton (or possible Lenoir).


Wine from Houston Rodeo Texas Wine Seminar

You may also recall, my blog from November 25th that analyzed the early results from the 2014 Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo International Wine Competition: Interesting Insights into Texas Wine from 2014 Houston Rodeo Gold (click here). It said something significant has happened on the subject of Texas wineries and vineyards. What was that, you say? Well, Texas wineries have finally shed most of their inferiority complex about not being in Napa, Bordeaux or Burgundy. Texas wines are increasingly becoming wines of the warm and sunny Mediterranean region albeit they are still 10+ hours apart by a speeding jet.  The recent Rodeo gold medal results confirm that Texas’s wines with Mediterranean lineage (such as Tempranillo, Mourvedre, Viognier, Muscat, Roussanne and Sangiovese and blends of these grapes, too) are gaining both national and international accolades. Continue reading »

 Posted by at 4:10 pm
Mar 232014


Exciting Times in Chile: Redefining Their Terroir & Wines

If you think you know Chilean wines, take another look. The Chileans are redefining their terroir and in the process are redefining their wines and improving quality using a simple concept – find the right grape varieties for the right location and terroir. This was the message that came across when I attended a luncheon seminar held by the Houston Sommelier Association at Camerata’s Wine Bar at Pauli’s Restaurant in Houston’s Montrose district. Featured speaker was Fred Dexheimer, MS.

The concept for the new classification of Chile’s wine regions is really quite simple: There is more diversity in grape growing conditions going west to east (from the Pacific coast to the high Andes Mountains) than going north to south. To handle the west-to-east diversity, the new system calls out Costa areas (coastal regions with the cool, moist influence of the sea), Entre Cordilleras areas (regions between mountain ranges with intermediate conditions and deep soils), and Andres areas (regions with increasing elevation that make vines work hard, reducing crop loads and thus adding structure to the wines).


Using this new approach, the wine growing regions of Chile can be understood more easily since it relates to what we’ve learned about wine growing in northern California with the coastal Russian River,  Sonoma and Napa regions. In much the same way, Chile’s winemakers are optimizing production of white wines like Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay and lighter reds (Pinot Noir) from the coastal areas going up the scale with Syrah, Merlot, Carmenere to Cabernet going inland and up to the Andres areas. Continue reading »

 Posted by at 9:41 pm
Mar 222014

Texas Fine Wine (Photo credit Austin Chronicle)

Texas Fine Wine: A New Alliance and a Class Act for Texas Wine Consumers & Growers

Four Texas wineries – Bending Branch Winery, Brennan Vineyards, Duchman Family Winery and Pedernales Cellars – recently announced the launch of “Texas Fine Wine” their new marketing initiative.

This initiative will promote their award-winning Texas wines as some of the best in the state (and made from Texas grapes) and their wineries as top wine tourism destinations.

Fredrik Osterberg, co-owner of Pedernales Cellars highlighting this venture said, “Texas Fine Wine represents a distinctive group of highly respected wineries recognized for making quality Texas appellation wines, delivering excellent customer experiences, and setting the highest standards in the Texas wine industry.”


Fredrik Osterberg (Pedernales Cellars) at 2013 Texsom

By now, just about everyone has blogged, tweeted and Facebooked the announcement of this new marketing initiative. But, I want to go on record saying that I believe that the formation of this alliance comes at a particularly opportune time and the principals in this venture need to be acknowledged. Continue reading »

 Posted by at 1:34 pm
Mar 072014

WST Promotes Texas Wine through Scholarship

The Wine Society of Texas Announces Scholarship Grant Program

The Wine Society of Texas will provide up to $5,000 in assistance for the wine education, internship or field study, and appreciation of wine through education.

On Wednesday, 5 March 2014, The Wine Society of Texas (WST), a 501c3 non-profit educational organization announced that it is accepting applications for its annual Scholarship Grant Program. In order to apply for the grant, individuals must be: (a) attending institutions around the State of Texas studying viticulture and oenology, or (b) pursuing winery internships in Texas, or (c) involved with Texas winemaking or field studies / wine education, or (d) involved in promoting the education of grape growing and wine making in the State of Texas. Grants may be given depending on the quality of requests in the amount totaling up to $5,000 by the WST. The scholarship program is consistent with the founding idea of WST and its continued mission to enhance the appreciation of wines, foster the knowledge of oenology and viticulture, support charitable activities, promote winemaking, and to educate.

According to Ms. Shirley Choate, WST President, “The WST Scholarship program offers financial assistance for tuition, books, or for related travel expenses for individuals registered or in a program of study with a Texas university or college offering accredited courses in viticulture or oenology. Financial assistance can also be provided for winery internships in Texas or for Texas winemaker studies. The funding for the WST Scholarship program is provided from charitable donations, local WST Chapter fund raising events, and various WST statewide wine events such as the wine education seminars. Our scholarship supports local Texas wine talent, which will be the future of the Texas wine and hospitality industry.”

The WST has awarded over $32,000 in grants over the past 9 years. The awards have been used for a variety of purposes – research for the Texas wine industry including Pierce’s disease, Wine Symposium and Conferences, financial assistance for students attending Viticulture or Hotel Management programs, wine sommelier studies, and authors on the Texas Wine Industry.

The WST will be accepting applications up to 18, May, 2014. All applications must be returned by this date, fully completed, to The Wine Society of Texas. Applicants are required to fill out the WST Scholarship Application, which will be reviewed by the WST Scholarship Committee. The committee may recommend single or multiple awards depending on the quality of applications received. All decisions will be final and applying does not guarantee receiving a grant. The WST scholarship award(s) will be announced in the summer of 2014.

For more information about the scholarship program or the WST please visit our website at

The Wine Society of Texas (, headquartered in Midland, Texas, was started in 1996 and received its 501(c) 3 non-profit status in 1999. It has about 200 members around the State of Texas. The WST mission is: to enhance the appreciation of wine, especially Texas wines; educate the experienced as well as the beginning wine taster; promote the wine makers, and grape growers; foster the knowledge of oenology and viticulture; help in charitable activities throughout the state of Texas; and promote the responsible consumption of wine. It organizes events that promote appreciation of wine through education in a comfortable social setting. The WST offers annual grants from its Scholarship Fund to assist in wine education, internships and field training.

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 Posted by at 9:48 am