Oct 312008

In Texas we call it….“Circling the Wagons”

According to Steve Heimoff of the Wine Enthusiast, “By now, just about everybody who went to the Wine Bloggers Conference  – a three day symposium for wine bloggers, media innovators and wine industry leaders held Nov 26-28, 2008 in Sonoma, California – has blogged on it.”

It was held at the Flamingo Hotel in Santa Rosa, California. For more information, go to: http://winebloggersconference.org/

Steve, I admit that I did attend and blog from the conference. There, I admitted it and, if I am correct, admission is the first step toward recovery. My blog conference blogging was intended to document the live blog tasting event that was held on the opening afternoon of the conference.

I also admit that the blog tasting did get a little crazy, particularly when I had two representatives from two wineries talking in my opposing ears and trying to pour their wines into my glass at the same time. But, it was an exciting wine tasting experience with a buzz that I had not experienced before. Interestingly, I did discover two really good new wines at this event, as well.

It was particularly interesting to catch the aftermath of the whole Rodney Strong – Rockaway Vineyard blog incident. The long and short of it was this winery’s innovative approach to an important new wine release/launch.

Details:  Rodney Strong Winery completely bypassed the mainstream wine media (Aka…The Wine Spectator, Wine Enthusiast etc.) and sent their new wine offering ‘Rockaway Cabernet Sauvignon’ directly to wine bloggers to taste, evaluate and to communicate their ratings (good or bad) to consumers through the Blogosphere (a collective term encompassing blogs and their interconnections and their community of readers). More Rockaway release information at:


The aftershocks of this marketing decision can still be felt. One of the most active critics of this approach has been Steve Heimoff, the West Coast Editor of The Wine Enthusiast. He has participated in a longwinded tit-for-tat on a variety of wine blogs since the Roackaway release earlier this year, much of which appears to me to be best described as “sour grapes”. Check it out for yourself ON HIS BLOG at: http://steveheimoff.com/?p=244

In my opinion, Heimoff has continuously appeared to display a pompous “how could they” mood, making the bloggers out to be either “not as worthy” or “not as qualified” as he.

The point that Heimoff misses is that the bloggers, simply put, are a new force to be reckoned with.

Steve, in Texas we call what you are doing ….Circling the wagons.

This was just the first salvo…. the initial broadside shot to the established wine media’s slow going, hot-wind-powered vessel of yore. It is only going to continue and will likely include other forms of electronic media as well…..like Twitter.

If you are not up on Twitter, you can get more information at: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Twitter).

As one attendee at the bloggers conference mentioned to me, “The Rockaway incident is just the start of the democratization of the wine media”. In the future, rather than relying solely on the words of the major wine publications to make or break a wine, the blogs have the potential to provide a collective and more expansive voice to consumers. Additionally, the consumers can also participate in these discussions and make their opinions known, as well. The medium of blogging also fast tracks the time required to get a new wine into the marketplace (the dream of every wine marketeer) by shortcutting around the conventional printed media.

I believe that, in fact, we are simply witnessing the continuation of the paradigm shift from the “pony express” print media to the age of instant messaging.

I recently read a most interesting comment from Heimoff. He claims that one of his friends (who did not even go to the conference but knew all about it) said it reminded him of a Star Trek convention. It sounds as if Heimoff and his friend feel threatened and do not want to accept today’s technological reality or as we say here in Texas, he’s circling his wagons.

I can remember back to the same kind of antediluvian logic about personal computers from the main-frame computer geeks that eventually led to their own demise. The typical argument was…. “What would people actually do with a computer on their desk?”. History teaches us one thing….Embrace change, particularly when it: (a) Makes for an easier and faster flow of information, and (b) Breaks down barriers between producers and consumers.

The most interesting (and somewhat surreal) part of the wine bloggers conference last week was the Heimoff-chaired session which was supposed to discuss the impact and credibility of wine bloggers. In actuality, it appeared to paint a picture of bloggers as hackers, worried mainly with getting eyeballs on the screen, monetizing their sites and not worrying about their own credibility.

The simple point that Heimoff appears to miss is that many of these blogs (money making or not) have developed a community based on a significant degree of trust with their readership.

Personally, I am an accidental blogger. I started VintageTexas.com as a means of getting into a regular writing habit again after a two year sabbatical and as a means to prepare my thoughts for an upcoming book on Texas wines. However, a remarkable thing happened….I built it and they came! Far more readers came than I expected. Within less than three months from the start-up of my “accidental” Texas wine blog, it has exceeded a rate of 6,000 readers and about 24,000 page views per month and growing, and this with me blogging on average of only two to three times a week.

The lesson that this blog has taught me was the there are actually a lot of people online that were searching for information on Texas wine. Furthermore, there are also likely readers that want information on wines from Virginia, Missouri and other states as well.

The subject of regional wines in the USA is largely ignored by the mainstream wine media that is fixated on the major producing regions. Why? Well, in the case of Texas, about 95 percent of our wine is consumed within Texas. Therefore, it does not profit the Wine Spectator or Enthusiast to cover Texas wine when their readership is mostly outside of Texas where they cannot purchase Texas wines (not a bad reason for the time being).

VintageTexas.com has hit on an “informational niche” addressing topics related to a new wine region that is coming in under the radar of the major wine publications. The topics it addresses relate to the evolving local wine scene, coverage of Texas wines, wineries and events, and the people making it happen. But even more importantly, it documents our developing wine culture in Texas, comparing and contrasting Texas with other more established wine producing areas, and the relationship between our wines and local cuisine. Our topics include warm weather grape varieties that love the Texas sun, discovery of our Texas terroir, and education of our consumer palate.

Would a Rockaway-style release work for Texas wine? You betcha! But only if it was a wine worthy of big time media release. As mentioned above, the comments may be good or bad depending on the character of the wine. The communities of Texas food and wine bloggers would support this approach and bring the message to the marketplace in a much more direct and factual way than Texas wines are currently being covered by the mainstream wine media.

Obviously, anyone that is seriously involved in blogging and who spends many hours a week writing a blog is asking the question…How do I make money? But, this is generally true for anyone going down a new path of business. What is a business model that will work for my blog?


Will all of these bloggers and their blogs survive? I can say from many years of business experience….definitely not! But, those most likely to survive will exploit their creativity and draw on their ethics of hard work. They will also work to establish their credentials as being wine knowledgeable and develop a bond of community with their readers.

Despite what Heimoff may think, do not expect wine bloggers to don a pair of pointed ears and raise the Vulcan salute any time soon. But, they may raise a glass of wine with their fellow bloggers and readers, and chant a resounding….“Live long and prosper!”

Oct 292008

Wine Quiz #2 – Know your Italian Wines

Wine Regions of Italy1. What is the most famous red wine grape varietal used in Tuscany?

A. Asti Spumante
B. Vin Santo
C. Sangiovese
D. Marsala

2. Chianti is which of the following: 

A. A wine producing region of Sicily
B. A wine producing region in Tuscany
C. Historically, was a blended wine made from red and white  grapes
D. Can contain up to 10 percent non-Italian varietals
E. The name of the wicker basket used for serving wine

3. Brunello di Montalcino is a local Tuscan name for what Italian grape variety?

A. Spumoni
B. Nebbiolo
C. Sangiovese
D. Ugni Blanc

4. Chianti Classico is which of the following:

A. The throne of the king of Tuscany in 1836
B. The “classic” inner zone of the Chianti producing region
C. Is the name used for Chianti aged more than 30 months in oak
D. An old automobile from Tuscany

5. Vin Santo is which of the following:

A. A wine blessed in the name of Saint Vincent
B. A dessert wine made from dehydrated grapes
C. Is made from Trebbiano and Malvasia grapes.

6. Which is a legal system for wine quality classification in Italy:

A. Denominazione di origine controllata – DOC
B. Denominazione di origine controllata e garantita – DOCG.

7. Which of the following are Italian wine producing regions:

A. Sardinia
B. Tuscany
C. Piedmont
D. Abruzzi
F. Apizza

Answers will be provided as a comment to this posting. Enjoy!

Oct 292008

Wine Reviews on VintageTexas

Glass of Wine Reviews

Vintage Texas is pleased to announce that has started reviewing wines from Texas and wine from the expanding wine world that may be of particular interest to Texans. It also provides an extra focus on wines from warm growing regions, Mediterranean varietals and contrasts with cooler climates as we explore our own regional offerings. Reviews will be posted once every two weeks.


We welcome your suggestions for wines we should review. But, keep in mind that we likely do not have the ability to review them all, but we will give it a try!

Please email your wine suggestions to: russ@vintagetexas.com.

Wineries and Distributors:

If you are a winery or distributor interested in submitting your wine for review, please see the details page at: http://vintagetexas.com/blog/?page_id=60

About the Vintage Texas Reviews

Vintage Texas reviewers include a selected group of tasters, including: knowledgeable wine instructors and writers, local and/or regional sommeliers, wine buyers, and experienced afficionados. Tastings are conducted blind and utilize the UC Davis 20-point methond of evaluation as a basis. It will also include a description of the perceived wine and its qualities, cellar recommendations and suggested food pairs.

We particularly understand tastes and the cuisine from Texas and the Southwestern USA. We also aim to provide an understanding of the terroir of wines from regions around the world that are like and NOT like that found in Texas.

Reviews will be published on VintageTexas.com after which they will be archived and accessible by site search.

Oct 282008

Anemone’s Knees & the Yelp of the Kelp – A Wine from Texas

Green Anemone in Tide Pool

On a stop after the Wine Bloggers Conference, we got some R&R in Half Moon Bay on the Pacific coast just south of San Francisco. This is small coastal area with surf, fog, and tide pools. We spent the day yesterday walking the beach, viewing the anemones, star fish and yards of seaweed and kelp and decorate the beach. Interestingly, we also found that Half Moon Bay was offered wine from Texas. Yes….a wine from Texas!

We stayed at the Landis Shores Inn. It is owned by Ken and Ellen Landis and was recently named one of the top 15 Inns for Wine Connoisseurs in North America. Ken is Chef and Ellen is the Sommelier and they offer an extensive wine list. Both are wine judges and Ellen has received her first level Sommelier certification proudly displayed in the lobby of the inn. http://www.bbonline.com/ca/landis/ 

Landis Sommelier & Inn Wine Certificates

While sampling some wine and cheese at the inn during the late afternoon, I noticed an interesting selection offered for tasting – Lorval Merlot. I instantly recognized the brand and from the back label confirmed that it was a wine bottled in Fort Stockton, Texas. This is the location of the Texas-based Ste. Genevieve Winery. But, the label also indicated that the wine was from Languedoc Roussillon, the vast wine growing region (like Texas) of Southwestern France.

Lorval offer a value wines that, while having a low price point, are generally good sipping wines. Loval is a true “global product”. I have previously tasted a Chardonnay under the Lorval label originating from Australia, but similar to the Merlot was bottled in Ste. Genevieve’s Fort Stockton winery. In both cases, the wines were likely transported in bulk in refrigerated containers that came from distant shores and bottled in Fort Stockton.

Ste. Genevieve got its start in 1986 when more than 1,000 acres of wine grapes were planted near Fort Stockton planted when the University of Texas entered into an agreement with a Texas-French consortium (Cordier Estates) to produce Ste. Genevieve wines. Today, Ste. Genevieve Winery is the largest wine producer in the State of Texas. Presently, the vineyard is known as Mesa Vineyards and is located 25 miles east of Fort Stockton. It is the producer for Ste. Genevieve, Peregrine Hill and other Texas brands. Their grapes can also used to fortify other brands such as Lorval.

For more info on Ste. Genevieve Winery, go to:


This experience proves that a “Wine from Texas” may be different than a “Texas Wine”, but enjoy and savor.


Russ Kane – www.vintagetexas.com/blog

Oct 272008

Texas Ports of Call – Port, Food, and Chocolate Pairing Ideas from Messina Hof Winery & Resort

Paul & Merrill with Houston Rodeo Competition Wine Award Saddle

NOTE: A Vintage Texas blog reader recently posted a comment that requested information on pairing chocolate and wine. I responded that I believe that I could do this one better to include food, chocolate and wine pairing ideas, based on an event that I covered at Messina Hof Winery and Resort in Bryan, Texas. The following posting is based on my preparation and experiences from this event.


You might be surprised to hear that Texas has been at the forefront of the national and international wine scene with its Port wine production? Winemakers like Paul Bonarrigo at Messina Hof have stirred the “fermentation tank” and added a healthy dose of innovation to Port-style winemaking that appears to be potentially perking demand for this sultry sweet drink.

I had the pleasure of visiting Messina Hof to experience something that piqued my culinary interest….Merrill Bonarrigo’s Port Wine and Chocolate Pairing Luncheon.

Actually, this event was a dual experience that combined a unique three-course, food encounter with winemaker Paul Bonarrigo’s educational, blending laboratory presentation. And all this took place in the beautiful setting of Messina Hof’s Vintage House restaurant on a delightfully warm, sunny day that made for a pleasant road trip to their winery in Bryan, Texas, about 80 miles northwest of Houston.

Ports and Other Sweet Fortified Wines

Port-style wines actually pre-date their namesake country, with thick, sweet wines being common in Greek and Roman times. As it turns out, the high sugar and alcohol contents of these wines act as preservatives and have been used particularly in warmer wine producing regions for this reason for millennia.

Once sweet, alcoholic wines were made, they were incredibly stable and could be transported great distances by ship or road, or stored for years waiting for just the right banquet accompaniment. In fact, to this day, most wine producing areas around the Mediterranean still have their own brand of sweet, fortified wine that is intertwined with local culture and cuisine. As has been shown previously, Texas has much in common (actually more than you might first realize) with many of these sunny winemaking locales.

It was the Portuguese that actually converted Port making into an artisanal craft. By the 13th century, wine producers in Portugal were exporting their wines from the Douro River valley. But, it was the demand for hearty red wines in Britain in the 17th century, combined with their king’s political disdain for all things French that fueled their fledgling Port making industry.

For centuries, this fortified wine has been made in the classic manner that stops the grape fermentation to maintain residual sugar and then brings the alcohol up to 18 to 20 percent through the addition of Brandy. Paul Bonarrigo has been on the forefront of Port-making by using a strain of yeast that can remain active up to these very high alcohol levels. This innovation allows him to make a “naturally” fermented Port without the dosage of Brandy.

The Main Event: Food – Chocolate – Port

The luncheon at Messina Hof was a great expression of winemaking and wine and food pairing, much in keeping with the characteristics of Paul and Merrill Bonarrigo who hosted this event at Messina Hof. I especially like wine and food experiences that take people and wine out of their conventional genre and context. Well, this one really filled the bill. It is not very often that a gourmet meal starts and finishes with port wine and, where every course includes chocolate. I expected that it would be even rarer to find people that might think that it could work, but there were many that spent their afternoon trying out this eclectic culinary handiwork.

The menu had countless flavor elements to tingle the palate and made it receptive to the full favored, Port-style wines from Messina Hof. As stated by Merrill Bonarrigo, “The menu and recipes were prepared with the complexity of the flavor components of the foods and wines in mind, and to show how they work singularly and together.”

Merrill continued by explaining her Port pairing tips, “First serve foods that have assertive flavor components, especially those that can stand up to the intensity of Port. Secondly, serve foods that are less sweet than Port. When the food is sweeter than the wine, it tends to make the wine taste sour. Finally, don’t forget that you can also substitute some Port for just about any sweet component in the preparation. This helps to bring the food and wine flavors together.”

First Course – Salad

The endive salad, served as the first course in combination with the Messina Hof Ivory Ports of Call (a White Port), was one of the best and unique amalgamations of the day. The salad was prepared with strong flavor elements coming from the pistachios, bitter chocolate, balsamic vinegar, raisins and black pepper. It may surprise some of you that Port can be white. It is far less common than hearty red Ports, but in this case, the wine consisted of a blend of strongly scented and highly floral Muscat Canelli and Sauvignon Blanc grapes that had received some aging in French oak.

During this first course, Paul Bonarrigo illustrated the role of acidity in wines by preparing a modified, high-acid version of his Ivory Port. As Paul pointed out, “Acidity is usually a good quality in wines which keeps them fresh and interesting on the palate. However, too much acidity can lead to a bitter sensation that can actually detract from the sweetness of the Port.”

In this case, the combination of sweetness and acidity in the Ivory Port helped to match the same qualities in the raisins and balsamic vinegar while also ameliorating and integrating the chocolate. The third noticeable aspect of the wine and food pairing was the oak aging that added structure to the wine while being a facilitator for the nuttiness of the pistachios and the pepper in the salad.

Second Course – Chicken Mole

The second course was a spicy chicken mole preparation that contained chocolate, onions, tomatoes, cumin and chipotle peppers served in combination with Messina Hof Tex-Zin (Red Zinfandel). This grouping combined a full-flavored white meat dish with a full-bodied red wine – Gee, did you know that you can do that?

Merrill’s strategy that worked well is summed up in her statement, “The wine should be dictated by the flavors and their intensity in the food, which can actually come from the sauce or spices.”  In this case, the strong elements of tomato, spices and chocolate in the sauce melded fine with the wine’s underpinning of dark berries which was punctuated by smoky, peppery qualities that, in turn, were a superb match for these same characteristics brought by the chipotles.

Paul then demonstrated the impact of oak aging by comparing the Red Zinfandel to a modified version that had about twice the oak intensity (essentially “over-oaked”). It was obvious that the additional oak aging worked counter to the food-friendliness of the wine, thus illustrating another of Merrill’s wine and food pairing tips.

Third Course – Dessert

The final course was a chocolate adaptation of the quintessential dessert – Crème Brûlée, served with Messina Hof Papa Paulo Private Reserve Port along with a traditional Port (fortified with Brandy).

Crème Brûlée is already rich in crème and the addition of chocolate gave it an added weight and flavor intensity that begged for a substantial wine. A natural pairing for rich chocolate-infused desserts are sweet red wines that exude distinctive dark berry, cherry and chocolate qualities. The Papa Paulo Port held up its side of the pairing quite well. The vanilla aroma infused into the wine by 24 months of oak aging also joined up with the vanilla in the dessert, as well.

An interesting comparison was made between the naturally fermented Papa Paulo Port and the Brandy-fortified traditional Port. The absence of Brandy in the naturally fermented Port was most noticeable on the palate during the finish due to the improved smoothness sans the brandy addition. It was also a wonderful finish to an enlightening and educational afternoon at Messina Hof Winery and Resort.

Messina Hof Ports and Sherry

Messina Hof Winery now offers a range of fortified wines including five Ports and a Sherry.  As explained by Merrill, “The Ports are the Ivory and Ebony Ports of Call, Barrel Reserve Port, Private Reserve Port, Paulo Port, and Tawny Port.  The Sherry is called Solera.  The Messina Hof Tawny Port was one of the saddle winners that Messina Hof received from the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo.” 

Paul Bonnariggo Wine Making Presentation

These ports are made from the Lenore (Black Spanish) grape that grows well all around Texas, but in totally different styles.  It is amazing to taste the difference of the chocolate cherry in the ruby ports versus the cherry amaretto character of Tawny.  For Paul to be able to make two such totally different wines from the same grape is truly amazing. 
Merrill also related, “The Solera Sherry was a limited production available only locally.  The first time one of our guests opened a bottle and tasted it they exclaimed, ‘It tastes like a liquid Cinnabon!’.  I think it will be a perfect dessert wine for toasting the holidays.”
Paul and Merrill have now released there third cookbook called Vineyard Cuisine, Meals and Memories from Messina Hof.  It has an entire section on wine and chocolate pairing.  I had the feeling that it would since Merrill said in closing….”You know my love for chocolate!” 

For more information on Messina Hof Winery and Resort, their winery B&B, and their complete offering of wines and upcoming events, go to: www.messinahof.com.

Oct 242008

Blog Wine Tasting: Kind of Like Speed Dating at the Wine Bloggers Conference in Sonoma CA

Well here goes…..Live Blog Tasting……

Speed Tasting at the Wine Bloggers Conference

The live blog tasting started at 3 pm today. It feels alot like speed dating.  A wide range of small and large wineries are represented with wines made from grapes from around the state of California. The format was 16 tables of bloggers and 12 wineries pouring one wine each. They were each given 10 minutes at each table and we had this time to taste, talk and blog on the wine.

Kanzler Vineyards 2007 Pinot Noir – $42

One of the first plots planted in 1996. Mixture of three clones. Stephen is an ex-IT guy and bought 20 acres of land in western Sonoma county in 1994. He was looking for a good use of the land. He could grow apples anywhere but had a chance to plant grapes in one of the most unique locations in the wine world.

The wine was young but bold and concentrated made from grapes that were dry farmed. Great youthful fruit flavors with a hint of smoke.

Minor Napa Valley 2006 Cabernet Sauvignon – $17

Minor is a small family run operation. This wine is their biggest seller. Not like other Cabs below $20. Rich and velety feel and a good aromatic nose.

Lionheart Wines 2007 Roussane – Santa Barbara Country – $30

Grapes were from a warmer site which gave tropical fruit notes in aroma and flavor. It was an experiment to make this wine. It was fermented in neutral oak and stirred on the lees. They like Rhone varietal wines and blends because they are generally very food friendly. This white wine is for people that are looking for something interesting and other than Chardonnay.

 McNab 2004 Bonterra – $45

A Meritage blend of 60 percent Merlot with 26 percent Cabernet Sauvignon and Petite Syrah from Medicino. Made with the winemakers favorite lot of grapes. He used only certified biodynamics and organic wine. Earthy aroma, a hint of smoke and dark berry flavors.

Close LaChance 2006 Cabernet Sauvignon -$30

The winery is a family operation located in San Martin, CA, near San Jose. The winery has a production of 60-80,000 cases annually. The wine has a very large presence with lots of fruit and a strong tannic structure from 26 months of aging. 

 Boho Vineyards Central Coast Chardonnay

Three liter box wine lasts a minimum of six weeks after opening since the wine does not get exposed to air. It is the equivalent of four 750 ml bottles….and its recyled paper box is environmentally friendly (carbon footprint is 55% less than if the wine would be provided in four glass bottles).

Oops. We just got two wineries at the same time. My right ear is dedicated to Blink Pinot Noir ($40) and my left ear is for James David….Help me sweet Jesus! Please save me, I am in wine blog overload!

Twisted Oak, The Spaniard – 2006 Tempranillo Blend – $49

Huge back cherry aromas and flavors with a long finish of vanilla smoke.

Small Vines Wines  2006 Pinot Noir Sonoma Coast – $65

This wine is the presence of concentrated red berries in the glass.

Cupcake Vineyards 2007 Chardonnay

…………..I am running behind….But, alas, times up and we are finished.

My fave wines for the blog wine tasting, in order are:

1. Twisted Oak, The Spaniard – 2006 Tempranillo Blend

2. McNab 2004 Bonterra (Meritage Blend)

3. Boho Vineyards Central Coast Chardonnay (for eco-friendly, convenient packaging).


I will be back on the blog with more from the Wine Bloggers Conference and some really fine experiences, lessons learned on blogging, and a few really good wines, later this week.

Oct 242008

Off to the Wine Bloggers Conference in Sonoma

Russ the Blogger in Napa

We left yesterday for California and had the distinct pleasure to stay in Napa Valley at the home of our friends from Houston – Chuck and Lisa Reid. Their 5 acre vineyard of Cabernet Sauvignon is called Farmhouse Vineyard. Lisa, a local artist in Napa, (www.lisareid.com) shared her latest taste sensation and wine pairing: Orville Redenbachers popcorn with olive oil (pressed from their Farmhouse Vineyard olives) and blackpepper, paired with a wonderful Chardonnay.



Chuck and Lisa Reid Harvest

After a wonderful dinner and wine with Chuck and Lisa, sleep came easy. It was an early morning today as they were harvesting their cabernet grapes at 6:30 am.


By 10:30 am we were off for The Flamingo Resort in Santa Rosa, the site of the Wine Bloggers Conference. I will be doing some live blogs later today from the tasting.


Farmhouse Vineyard

We arrived shortly before noon and were treated to a vineyard luncheon and tasting at the Kick Ranch VIneyard on the outskirts of Santa Rosa.


I had the pleasure of visiting with Kent and Kathy Rosenblum (Rosenblum Cellars) and tasting their Kick Ranch Reserve Syrah. I explained that I was a wine writer from Texas trying to understand our “sense of place” and context of Texas wines.

When told that Texas now had 160 wines, Kent indicated that back in the 1960’s California was probably about the same. He said, “None of us had any idea about who we were and what the wine industry would become. But, we had people with ideas and the drive to succeed. Texas can to the same”.

Lunch at Kick Ranch Vineyard

He also felt that using new technology like blogging was a good vehicle to provide information in our developing industry in Texas, much of which are not on the radar screen of rhe mainstream wine industry media.

Oct 192008

LightCatcher Winery: The Tasting – Sangria Summer Port

LightCatcher Logo

Caris and I got to talking about how wine should be fun. Sometimes wine writers get hung up focusing mostly on dry wines like Cabernets and Chardonnays that get high accolades. Caris has definitely created a serious red wine portfolio that can go up against the best as evidenced by LightCatcher’s success in major competitions like the Houston Rodeo Wine Competition and the Lead Steer Award from the Texas’ Best Competition. She has also found success getting her wines into first class restaurants like Del Frisco’s Steakhouse in Fort Worth where carnivores eat rare steaks (and other stuff) and only drink the best red wines.

Del Frisco\'s Meal

Well, Caris said that if I wanted a great fun wine that I should try LightCatcher Sangria Summer Port. The Summer Port is a blend of LightCatcher Cabernet and Merlot that has been infused with white peaches, nectarines and apples, and fortified with brandy. $32

After tasting it, I believe that the only words that can come close to an adequate description are simply……”Sweetly Succulent!”

The LightCatcher Sangria Port wine is mildly sweet but the sweetness is paired well with a kiss of acidity to keep the wine bright on the palate, sip after sip. The weighty Cab/Merlot fruit carry the peach-laden, fruit salad aromas and flavors. It provides the “Full Monty” of fruit, flavor and fun. 

Sangria Summer PortThe fun in this wine is obviously the palate-popping flavor, but it also comes through in the number of ways you can serve the Sangria Summer Port.

1. Drink it neat at room temperature as you do with most Port wines.

2. It even works paired with Stilton cheese and figs; smoked white cheddar and Fuji apples also works).

3. Serve it chilled for sipping on a hot day.

4. Pour it over crushed ice with a slice of lime hanging on the glass while you kick back on the patio or your favorite chair.

5. Combine it with just about any citrus or tropical fruit juice.


See you at LightCatcher Bistro

LightCatcher Winery also has a compliment of premium red and white wines crafted for your drinking pleasure:

LightCatcher Red Wines
LightCatcher 2003 Merlot
Newsom Vineyard • Texas High Plains Appellation (Triple medal winner). The first Texas wine in over seven years to be selected for the wine list at Del Frisco’s Double Eagle Steak House in Fort Worth. $36
LightCatcher 2004 Merlot Reserve
Newsom Vineyard • Texas High Plains Appellation
Barrel aged for 35 months, this wine is concentrated and full bodied, with aromas of brown sugar and currants, and flavors of vanilla, raspberry, plum, chocolate and cherry. $32
LightCatcher 2004 Cabernet Sauvignon
Newsom Vineyard • Texas High Plains Appellation
Texas Grand Champion & Class Champion – Houston LSR 2008 and four time medal winner. Recently selected to join our 2003 Merlot on the wine list at Del Frisco’s Double Eagle Steak House in Fort Worth. $30

LightCatcher White, Rose and Sweet Wines

2007 LightCatcher Chardonnay (Unoaked)
Texas High Plains Appellation • Canada Vineyard with 17 year old vines. $26
2007 LightCatcher Barrel Reserve Chardonnay
Texas High Plains Appellation • Canada Vineyard. $45
2007 LightCatcher Etain’s (DRY) Rose
Texas High Plains Appellation
Texas Reserve Grand Champion – Houston LSR 2008.  $18
LightCatcher 2005 Orange Muscat (dry)
Newsom Vineyard • Texas High Plains Appellation
Gold medal winner. This wine, one of only ten selected from all Texas wineries, was taken to Manhattan to be poured in a blind tasting for NY wine and food writers. It was put up against a world class wine, a Bott Freres Grand Cru Muscat from France, and… WON! $80

For more information on the complete range of wines from LightCatcher, go to:


Oct 182008

LightCatcher Winery Wall of Awards

LightCatcher Winery: A Touch a Wine Magic

From the awards LightCatcher’s co-owner and winemaker, Caris Turpen, has garnered in her short winemaking career, one has to say that she is doing something right. Is it magic?

Caris has gone from a successful career in film photography to a position of notoriety in Texas winemaking with near seamless perfection. It is like her Hollywood experience actually ‘set the stage’ for her current Texas oenological performance.

When asked, Caris makes a very direct link between her two careers. On a recent visit, she confided to me, “I was once asked about my connection between film and wine and I said that making a film was ‘art and science stirred by ego’, while winemaking was ‘art and science stirred by mystery’. While these words came out quickly and easily, I really did not understand the actual connection until I thought about it more thoroughly.”

Caris Turpen - Owner and Winermaker LightCatcher Winery“In winemaking,” she said, “you are given a source of nature (the grapes) that gives what it can and you cannot totally predict the outcome in advance. Photography is also driven by nature in occurrences and surroundings that often happen spontaneously. I always thought that I had the ability of foresight and a sense of purpose that allowed me to anticipate things. I was always looking forward.”

Highly honored cinematographer, Haskell Wexler, gave Caris what she described as her best professional compliment. As she related, “He said that I had ‘the ability to see beyond the needs of the camera’. I think that this is the same skill that I bring to winemaking. I feel that I have the ability to anticipate what I need to do in the cellar to produce a wine that is the best possible expression of the grapes.”


I first tasted wines from LightCatcher Winery during the 2004 Texas’ Best Wine Competition. Caris submitted her LightCatcher 2002 Merlot made from grower Neil Newsom’s high plains Texas fruit.  Like Barking Rocks Winery mentioned in my previous article, LightCatcher was also one of the new up-and-coming Texas wineries that were real “eye-openers” for the judges that year. They commented on Caris’ Merlot in terms of a well integrated expression of big fruit and oak with a deep purple color, well structured tannins and a mature character. These are comments that you do not always expect to hear about a young winemaker’s wines, except if she has a good grasp on the ‘mysteries’ of her craft.

Her exploits in winemaking, have not come without trials. Caris started as an amateur winemaker and indicated that her initial effort was far from memorable. She commented, “I started with a book (From Vines to Wines), some grape concentrate and a home wine maker’s kit. Unfortunately, I was mortified with the outcome. But, you know, this actually made me even more determined to make good wine.”

From there, Caris found a grape supplier that shipped her quality grapes and she gave it a second try. After a few more attempts, she came away with a Silver Medal in the Lone Star Wine Competition’s non-commercial division. As she admits, her determined goal was to master winemaking to the point where she could actually make a wine of similar quality to the $20 to 30 bottles that she was used to drinking. It was through this goal, hard work and determination that eventually resulted in her the ability to work with grapes and make them yield, as she describes, as “their best expression”.

However, after the success in the non-commercial wine competition Caris realized that she had “hit the wall” as a hobbyist and she still wanted to learn more. This pushed her to work all the angles to raise her game to a higher level. Caris went to TWGGA Grape Camp and Texas High Plains Grower Neil Newsom’s Field Day near Lubbock to learn more. She also pursued a formal education to support her winemaking adventure by doing most of the two year degree program at Grayson College under the tutelage of professors George Ray and Roy Mitchell. During this learning process she was recommended for a job in the cellar with Dr. Bobby Smith at La Buena Vida Winery. This opportunity put her in the cellar three days a week for nine months.

According to Caris, “All of the testing, lab work, dosing, racking and retesting at LBV winery was the best experience that I could have asked for. Then, the light bulb came on in my head….I could indeed make high quality wine and we could actually have a small winery. I realized that the only real difference between my hobby and a big winery operation was the factor of scale. My husband Terry and I visited wineries in California with the intent to ask questions and learn more about the business side of a winery operation. Our goal was to be a 2000 case micro-winery.”

In less than five years from start-up of LightCatcher, they surpassed their initial goal and are trying to settle in at around 3500 cases annually. Caris is now working on making their winery a destination combining their tasting room, Sunday jazz and wine events, and their restaurant – Bistro LightCatcher. LightCatcher is also hosting a number of weddings and private parties.

LightCatcher Jazz & Wine Sundays

I asked Caris about the changes she has experienced in the Texas wine scene since she started. She first mentioned how Texas grape growers are shifting their strategy and are now trying to plant warm weather grape varieties more suited for the Texas climate. She feels that grape growers have done their homework by planting many test rows to narrow down the candidates that can grow here and the acceptance with consumers of new varietals with names like Syrah, Grenache, Tempranillo, Sangiovese and Viognier has been positive based on her experience.

Additionally, the big changes that she feels have stimulated the Texas wine industry have been changes in Texas laws that now permit wineries in dry areas around the state and the sales from winery tasting rooms in these locales. These changes have grown the number of wineries in Texas from 60 only a few years ago to over 160 today. From this, Caris indicated she has seen a growing consumer interest and knowledge that some Texas wines are actually of similar quality to the wines that they buy from other, more established, wine producing regions.

Caris is particularly thankful to the pioneers of Texas wines that, as she says, “got consumers to put down a longneck and pick up a wine glass.” These people were the visionaries that helped to build consumer awareness and confidence. She particularly noted the contributions of Pat Brennan at Brennan Vineyard for his work with warm weather varietals like his Viognier, which Caris admits has a “big Ju-Ju going on there”. Other acknowledgements go to her good friend and grower, Neil Newsom who has led the movement from cotton to Cabernet on the high plains, and Ed Auler for tailoring wines for the mass demand in Texas.

Caris is particularly high on Texas wines that work with the culture of Texas and that integrate with its hot weather and spicy foods. To punctuate this, she says that Syrah-blends and Viognier are examples of new Texas-style wines that are on the top of her list. She particularly notes the efforts at McPherson Cellars and La Diosa in Lubbock that make well-crafted wines and presents them with wonderful tapas-style foods. She also gives credit to Paul Bonarrigo at Messina Hof who works tirelessly on building market recognition for Texas wines and to getting his wines on restaurant wine lists throughout the state. She feels that this is an important step in building visibility and credibility with Texas consumers.

In closing, Caris emphasized to me that there is a magic in good winemaking that is just hard to explain. She says, “Each wine is different and that her approach is on awareness to these differences and to anticipate what she needs to do as a winemaker.” In her mind, winemaking is almost something metaphysical that involves a connection with her surroundings directed by her sense of purpose, fueled by a dose of magic.

LightCatcher Winery

6925 Confederate Park Road/FM1886, Fort Worth, TX 76108
Phone: (817) 237-2626
Fax: (817) 237-1629
Web site: www.lightcatcher.com
Caris and Terry Turpen, Owners

Tours, Tastings, Sales, Music Events, Facility Rental, Catering, Bistro

Situated 15 miles northwest of downtown Fort Worth, the winery and tasting room are located on treed acreage that provides a serene escape. Caris specializes in “big reds” as well as whites that offer, as she says, “as much entertainment value as a red.” The winery features wine tastings, an eclectic gift shop, and relaxed dining with indoor and outdoor seating. Bistro LightCatcher offers upscale “new American” foods to pair with their wines. Lunch and dinner service is available three days a week. Live jazz twice a month draws big crowds year-round.Visit and enjoy all LightCatcher has to offer – fine food, music, art and the finest Texas wines.
Visitors Welcome:
Wed-Thu-Sun noon-6pm;
Fri-Sat noon-9pm;
Bistro Service
Fri-Sat noon-8pm;
Sun noon-5pm


Oct 152008

Barking Rocks Winery: The Tasting

Barking Rocks Award Winning Cabernet Newsom Vineyard

While at the winery, I spied this bottle of the award winning 2002 Barking Rocks, Newsom Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon still sporting its gold medal. This must have been a omen of good tastes to come.

Tiberia shared with me a bottle of his 2004 Sangiovese made with Newsom Vineyard fruit.

This wine was initially a little shy in the nose after opening, providing hints of smoke, dusty earth and a steely, mineral note. But after being open and sitting for about 20 minutes, the wine released ripe red fruit characteristics including cherry and cranberry carried with the mineral aroma and taste. It also had a medium body and good acidity on the palate that will allow it to pair well with a variety of foods, including grilled chicken, pork chops and ribs, or pasta primavera.

See recipe:


On a final note, this is also a wine for people that say “I don’t like red wine”. Its medium body, moderate use of oak aging, and refreshing acidity make it a balanced and refreashing wine experience and also make it an extremely food friendly wine.

Tiberia and Sissy at Barking Rocks

Stop by and try some of Tiberia and Sissy’s wines at Barking Rocks in Granbury, TX. They have a number of wines that can please both the novice and experienced wine drinker. See below….

2004 Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve – A nose of cherry, deep red color, flavors of coffee and burnt caramel with a pleasing texture ($25).

2004 Sangiovese – Bright and intense, this wines nose flirts with red fruits while in the mouth expect smooth smoky and mineral flavors. 2007 Lone Star International Wine Competition medal winner ($20).

2004 Casena – A red blend with 41% cabernet Sauvignon, 41% Merlot and 18% Sangiovese that provides a cherry with delightful oak integration. Named after Tiberia’s Grandmother Casena  ($20). 

2005 Blanc du Bois –  A bright, crisp white wine with floral flavors and aromas. Honeysuckle in particular comes to mind. ($15). 

Barking Rocks (NV) Little Red Wine in Hood – A blend of Syrah and Blanc du Bois with a note of rose ($15).

2005 Viognier – This is a huge white wine, powerful aroma profile yet soft in the mouth.  Floral nose and notes of tropical fruits ($17).

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