Calais Winery – French Winemaking, Spanish-Style Grapes and Texas High Plains Grape Growing. Savor It While You Can!
It was a sunny Sunday afternoon and my sights were set for Denison, Texas. As I-45 penetrated the urban landscape of Dallas, about where Highway 75 signs started to appear, I punched in this address into my car’s GPS: 3000 Commerce St, Dallas TX 75226
I had promised to stop by before, but it always seemed like I was pressed for time. But, on this trip, there was something that drew me for a visit with Benjamin Calais – it was his Texas Tempranillo.
Calais Winery is a boutique winery located in the Deep Ellum neighborhood of Dallas. Deep Ellum is the renovated warehouse district located just three blocks east of central downtown Dallas. This 170 acres is known as the alternative from the “norm.” It’s the home of fashion-forward, trend-setting style and the birthplace for many new bands. This holds for wine, too. It’s home to Ben’s emporium of urban wine, Calais Winery.
From a small storefront winery, French winemaker Benjamin Calais handcrafts small batches of high quality wines. He uses a wine-style derived from classic French techniques but with an added modern twist. The twist that I wanted to investigate was why a French winemaker would have a penchant for making Tempranillo wine, from grapes grown in Texas, but whose viticultural home is in Spain.
I can attest that his wines are indeed handcrafted. As I sat at his tasting room bar sampling his wine, I shared the space with a series of large white vats of red wine in the process of soaking and fermenting. Each was topped with a thick purple bubbling mass comprised of macerated grapes; skins, seeds and all.
He poured me a glass of his 2009 Texas Tempranillo. The grapes were not only Texas grown, but that came with a pedigree, as well. The grapes were from long time Texas winegrower Neal Newsom’s vineyard on the Texas high plains located west Lubbock near the New Mexico border.
It was obvious that Ben was excited about this wine. After I did my survey that found over 25 Texas wineries now making wine with Texas-grown Tempranillo (http://vintagetexas.com/blog/?p=2400), we communicated by email and Twitter several times during the past month. He even threw down the gauntlet by telling me that he only had six cases of this wine left and that he considered it one of the best wines that he’d made, bar none.
Why would a winemaker from France get so excited about his Texas Tempranillo. Well, simply put, he thinks that it’s great stuff. He likes to make classic French-style wines from Bordeaux varieties of grapes like Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot, and from grapes like Chardonnay that originate from the Burgundian valleys. However, during his short experience in Texas, he sees Tempranillo as a leading red grape for this new winegrowing region.
Ben said, “Tempranillo in Texas, and especially on the high plains, handles the high temperatures better than the Bordeaux varieties of red grapes. It comes in ripe with not only the high Brix and acidity needed to make exceptional red wine, it also ripens to the core – its seeds. This is something that’s necessary so the tannins in the wine are soft, pleasant, and not harsh.”
The stop to visit Ben at Calais Winery was definitely worth it. His 2009 Tempranillo was a big, lush wine with a dark inky consistency, silky mouthfeel and full-bodied character. Yet, it was very pleasant even without accompanying food despite its young age. I’d suggest getting over there to get some of what’s left of this wine. According to rumor, the number of cases of this wine is now down to only four.
The Texas Tempranillo clock for the 2009 vintage is ticking.
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See more about Ben Calais’ Tempranillo and other great Texas wines at: