Sep 122010
 

McNews Flash! Army Couple Visits Over 100 Texas Wineries with their Texas Winery Passport

As I wrote this blog, U.S. Army Major Tom McNew was already on his way to Iraq, but he left his passport behind. Major McNew and wife, Anne Marie, are Texas Winery Passport holders and Anne Marie will keep it safe until he returns.

“We decided that we were going to visit every winery in Texas,” said Anne Marie, who is originally from the Chicago area. “Of course, at that time, we had no idea Texas had so many wineries!”

Their strategy was very in keeping with Tom’s military training: Set a goal, make a plan, make sure the brigade knows the their role, and lead the charge. As such, the McNews set their initial goal at visiting an even 100 before Tom’s deployment and they did it handily.

When I linked up with them at Franklin Houser’s Dry Comal Creek Winery (www.drycomalcreek.com), they had just reached their goal with number of their winery visits being somewhere between 106 and 110. However, the exact number seem to vary depending if I asked Tom, Anne Marie or even Elizabeth Hadley whose team administers the Texas Department of Agriculture Winery Passport Program (www.gotexanwine.org). But, they were all pretty close and for sure Tom and Anne Marie were over their initial 100-winery goal.

Shortly after I arrived at the tasting room at Dry Comal Creek, Tom and his party were coming through the door. Tom, wearing a wild sport shirt, cargo shorts and a stylish fedora, said, “Sorry about being so late, guys. We got a late start out of Fort Hood. I had some soldierin’ to do that held up our departure and we had already committed to stopping at the new Bending Branch winery (www.bendingbranchwinery.com) and the winery at Singing Water Vineyards (www.singingwatervineyards.com) in Comfort on our way here.”

I could see that Major Tom and new recruit Anne Marie were had the necessary team support for a successful outcome. They showed up with Tom’s brother Tim and Tim’s wife Jenny.

Tim commented, “Just for the record, Tom knows that I’m a beer man. So, to get me here, he told me that we were going to a new Shiner brewery.” However, Tim seems to be getting into the tasting of Dry Comal Creek wines that Franklin had waiting for them.

I guess being a military man, Tom knows the finer points of getting people to do things, even if its not something they’ve done before, or had in mind to do in the first place.

I asked Tom how they liked their experience with the Texas Department of Agriculture’s Winery Passport Program.

Tom said, “When we picked up our first passport at a winery, we really didn’t know what it was. We just took it around to the wineries we visited, got it stamped and I sent in the results to TDA. As we started to get rewards, I said to Anne Marie, ‘This is cool’. Later, when the rewards started to get even better, like big wine glasses and stuff, we both said,  ‘This is WAY cool. What’s next! That’s when we really got into the passport program and looked forward to what the next reward level might bring.”

It seemed like a perfect opportunity to see how everyday people like Tom and Anne Marie see the Texas wine experience. I felt that it might be just a tad different than the way wine geeks like me see things since our noses are usually stuck in a glass of wine most of time when visiting wineries. I got a chance to ask them some questions:

What did you like best about Texas wineries/wines?

We like that there are so many Texas wineries close by our home on base at Fort Hood. We can take short weekend trips to visit them. It’s not very expensive to travel by car and occasionally we stay overnight in a hotel for a nice drive in the Texas countryside. We also like that the winemakers are usually at the wineries when we visit. Therefore, we get first-person insights into their wine. Anna Maries added, “This makes Texas wineries so much more personal than what I’ve observed the abundance of commercialized wineries in California.”

As for the wines themselves, we enjoy hearing the background on how each is created, the process, the grapes, basically “The Story”. We appreciate the specific wines that are growing well here in Texas, like Cabernet and Tempranillo. Since we both prefer red wines, we really enjoy the Texas wines that are grown and produced here. There are many Texas wines that are young and not necessarily very complex or layered, but many are well made. We enjoy drinking Texas wines that are well made and that offer that local “WOW” factor. Just think how fine these wines will as the vines get older.

Being a small business owner, Anne Marie prefers to support local businesses and small business owners because she knows how hard it is out there in the current-day economy.

What Texas wines to you like?

When we first started our weekend trips, we liked a lot what people here call, Texas sweet red wine. Now, we consider it an all-around staple that goes with almost anything when we don’t want to think too hard and figure out what will go best with our meal.

These days, we prefer the more complex reds like Cabernet, Syrah, and Tempranillo. But in all honesty, a sweet Texas red like the one from Wichita Falls Vineyards (www.wichitafallsvineyardsandwinery.com) really got me thinking Texas wines were pretty good!

Anne Marie said, “At the start, I was still mostly a white wine drinker and found Viognier one of my favorites. I’ve never really liked Chardonnay and only had a short stint as a Pinot Grigio drinker. When I met Tom, he liked German Rieslings, which made him about on par with me. However, he also started to like Viognier when I introduced him to it. So, I have to thank Viognier, a staple of the Texas wine industry, for helping us turn to a heartier white wines and got us ready to graduate on to serious red wines.”

What wines are on your top five list?

They acknowledged that this was a hard choice! They both asked, “Only five?”

Tom and Anne Marie personal favorites list includes:

Red Caboose (www.redcaboosewinery.com )

Brennan Vineyards (www.brennanvineyards.com)

Perissos Vineyards (www.perissosvineyards.com)

Texas Legato (www.texaslegato.com)

Bar Z (www.barzwines.com)

Solaro Estates (www.solaroestate.com)

Tom said, “Oops, that’s six, but we also had great experiences at:

La Diosa (www.ladiosacellars.com)

McPherson Cellars (www.mcphersoncellars.com)

CapRock (www.caprockwinery.com)

Messina Hof (www.messinahof.com)

Sandstone Cellars (www.sandstonecellarswinery.com)

Wales Manor (www.walesmanor.com)

Basically, it’s impossible to just chose five!”

I’ve not had the opportunity to travel all the way up the panhandle of Texas to see Monty Dixon’s Bar-Z Winery whose winery in near Amarillo. It was one of your favorites. What was it like meeting Monty and seeing his winery?

It was a wonderful experience! That’s one visit that we will always treasure. After waiting a year to visit, Monty was a most informative and gracious host. His winery is really top notch, and has a beautiful view of the canyon.

Monty treated us like old friends. We were welcomed in, given a full tour and tasting. He was very generous with his military discount for us, as well. We heard all kinds of great stories like how he began making wine! You will need to experience those first hand when you get a chance to stop by and visit with Monty yourself! The Bar Z wines were very good and I’m very excited to try his new wines that will be bottled soon! I will make every attempt to visit Bar-Z again before Tom and I move to a new Army Post.

If you have one winery to revisit (and only one winery) which one would it be?

Ooh, that’s a tough choice. You know we’ve been to a bunch now. Maybe it’s because we were at Bar Z close to last, but I think I would pick Bar Z, because Monty was such a great host and had great stories to tell. It made the visit that much more memorable. Otherwise, it would be Red Caboose. This is a choice that is not only based on the excellent wines, but on the whole experience visiting the winery.

What surprised you the most at Texas wineries?

What surprised us most was how unpretentious everyone was. My previous experiences with wine tasting were at California wineries and in Illinois at a small wine shop or at large wine tasting events. They were much more snooty. At Texas wineries, we enjoyed being able to relax and enjoy the wine among friendlier folks. Anne Marie said, “I guess this may not be a “surprise” to Texans, but having only lived in Texas for a year when we began our quest, this was a real surprise to me.”

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I thanked Tom and Anne Marie for taking the time to visit with me and answer my questions. I know that you will join me in wishing Tom the best during his deployment in Iraq and for his safe and speedy return to Texas so that he and Anne Marie can finish their job of visiting Texas wineries.

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The Texas Winery Passport program offers rewards for wine tourists visiting as few as four Texas wineries. More information is available at www.gotexanwine.org. Rewards are available by entering the codes on display at wineries. The more passports completed, the bigger the rewards.

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