Newsom Grape Day & Tempranillo Symposium: Five Things I Leaned About Texas Wine
Last Friday was the annual gathering of grape growers and winemakers from around the state in Neal Newsom’s “Barn-atorium” surrounded by his Newsom family vineyards near Plains, Texas. The big white metal structure was filled nearly to capacity with what Neal described as likely to be “a record-breaking attendance”. The only question remaining was only the total attendance which had already acceded the RSVPs, filled the available seats, and left standing room only for the remainder of the attendees.
While the prior evening’s drive from Lubbock was made a bit made exciting by clouds of red sand blow up by the 35 mph wind on FM2196, the morning of the meeting was still and crisp at 49 F. The sun cast long day-break shadows down the rows of grapevines in the adjacent vineyard blocks.
The Newsom Grape Day events were summarized by Jeff Cope on his Texas Wine Lover blog. Presentations focused on Texas high plains grape growing and factors that contribute to bringing quality and value to Texas wines. I’ve tried to boil down what I learned to five major points that need to be conveyed to all Texas wineries, vineyards and interested consumers after listening to the presentations and from discussions of the attendees:
- Number 1 – Texans Should Look to Spain for Knowing What to Look for in Texas Wines. According to Dr. Ed Hellman at Texas Tech, Tempranillo is well positioned for Texas wine. It the most heavily planted red grape in the wine regions of Spain, a country that has similar latitude and elevation to many places in the Texas Hill Country and Texas High Plains viticultural areas. The overlap in latitude comes at 36 degrees north latitude with Texas being somewhat lower with higher average temperatures. However, western Texas generally has higher elevations that bring cool night time temperatures that helps to produce high quality grapes.
- Number 2 – It’s Tempranillo for Texas. Based on data from plantings in recent years, Tempranillo is the fastest expanding wine grape variety in the world! It now the fifth ranked variety WORLWIDE behind Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Arien and Chardonnay. So, with the recent emphasis on Texas Tempranillo wines, it seems that Texas is in the mainstream of a worldwide wine trend for the future.
- Number 3 – It’s Cool to be Really Cold or Really Hot in Winemaking. Dr. Bob Young at Bending Branch Winery, fresh off his winery’s top medal winning shows in Houston and San Francisco wine competitions, highlighted new techniques for extracting more color and tannin/anthocyanin compounds from red grapes. These included cryo-maceration (what he designates CM on his wines) in which the freshly harvested grapes are frozen, and a sexy sounding thermal winemaking technique called Flash Detente where the grape must is quickly heated to about 185 F and rapidly cooled. Both techniques appear to help in grape maceration on a micro level that leads to giving red wine a deeper, darker color with smoother (less edgy) tannins. I’ve tried Bending Branch CM Tannat and I’m a believer. He also highlighted his new portable apparatus (to be soon delivered to his winery) for Flash Détente.
- Number 4 – Winemakers Here Focus on “Texas” Tempranillo. Tempranillo for Texas was the topic of a panel discussion involving four wine specialists with extensive experience with Tempranillo wines in Spain and Texas. The outcome was a warning that on the road to Texas Tempranillo, growers and winemakers need to watch out for problems of high pH wines and unripe characteristics in the wines. This panel involved particularly good exchanges between Dan Gatlin (Inwood Estates Vineyards) and Jim Johnson (Alamosa Wine Cellars). Both had a key role to play in developing Texas Tempranillo wines, Dan with this initial plantings at Newsom Vineyards in the Texas High Plains AVA and Jim with the early Hill Country planting of Tempranillo in his estate vineyard in Bend, Texas. All the panelists reminded Texas growers and winemakers not to try to waste their time making “Spanish” Tempranillo. Rather, they need to try to make the best Texas Tempranillo they can. Due to the largest size of Texas (and particularly the large sizes of both the Texas High Plains AVA and Texas Hill Country AVA, there will not likely be one Texas style for Tempranillo. However, individual wineries needed to work with their growers to make a consistent style of their own that can be recognized by their customers. This will likely involve blending Tempranillo with other Spanish and/or Classic French varietals to make the best and consistent wine they can year over year.
- Number 5 – The Proof of Texas Wine Quality is in the Taste! During and after the symposium, there were some great Texas wines to be tasted. The question that I went into this phrase of the meeting with was…“What do Texas winegrowers and winemakers do well?” Since this was a Tempranillo symposium, the first two wines to grasp my attention were Ron Yate’s Spicewood Vineyards Tempranillo (Texas High Plains) and Les Constable’s Brushy Creek Vineyards Tempranillo. Both were well extracted with depth of color and darker berry flavors. A special wine was Dan Gatlin’s Inwood Estates Mericana 100% Newsom Vineyards Texas high plains Cabernet Sauvignon with round yet crisp mouthfeel, black current and minerally underpinning. Dan readily admits that this is NOT a wine that he will make every year; only when the conditions are just right as in 2010. Howard Davies presented winemaker-son Grayson’s Arché Winery Roussanne, fresh from its platinum award at the San Diego International Wine Competition, proved its mettle and gave attendees a taste of it Saint Jo Red River Valley heritage. Another very worthy Roussanne (this white grape is destine for Texas stardom, in my opinion) was presented by Eden Hill Vineyard. Both were ripe, smooth and rich in this grape’s lemon drop character. A final few noteworthy shout outs need to be included. They go to the newly opened Compass Rose Cellars with their Pinot Grigio (a pale blond and tart wine with a touch of rose color) and Lewis Wines Viognier (tropical and fresh with a hint of spritz) and its Parr Vineyard Tempranillo (notes of dark red berries and spice).