Texas Wines Through the Looking Glass
It’s late October and Alice is sitting on a slab of Texas limestone next to a riverbank in the Texas hill country, when she notices a rabbit run past. She follows the rabbit down a seemingly bucolic rural path cut through a stand of live oak trees. Suddenly, she finds herself traveling through time and space into a surreal world.
Alice sees a large cast iron cross planted at the edge of an attractive yet noticeably rustic vineyard. There’s also a small log house and a cave cut into the side of a limestone cliff. In the cave, she sees a long oak table set with bottles of wine and glass apparently awaiting a wine tasting. But, there’s something odd about the setting. It’s a world of winemaking, but one where the yeasts are all natural, the wine is made in carboys or barrels without the aid of jacketed stainless steel tanks and cold fermentation, all the wines are of Texas appellation, and in some cases the grapes aren’t even the classic European varieties.
This is how yesterday started at La Cruz de Comal, a Texas hill country collaboration between two long-standing friends, Texas lawyer and wine enthusiast Lewis Dickson and California winemaker Tony Coturri.
The Alice in my story is not of the wonderland type, but Alice Feiring the American journalist, author and commensurate blogger, who for several years was a wine and travel columnist for Time magazine, and is now best known as an advocate for “natural wine”. Could she have found a better place to go au natural but in the tasting room of Lewis Dickson? See Alice Feiring’s account of her visit to the Dickson compound and a tasting of his natural wines at: http://www.alicefeiring.com/blog/2010/10/texas-waltz.html (Thanks for the mention Alice.)
The tasting was arranged by Jeremy Parzen. We tasted through nine hand crafted wines none of which were labelled “Drink Me”, but rather ran the gambit from light, white, minerally and dry Blanc Du Bois through a range of thick purple-black potions. These were blends of vinifera (Merlot, Malbec, Cabernet) and French American hybrids (Black Spanish and Norton). The vinifera were grown at Granite Hill Vineyard just north of Fredericksburg, while the hybrid grapes and a few recently departed vinifera came from Dickson’s vineyard near New Braunfels. Also presented were a dry Rose’ and white and red dessert wines from Blanc Du Bois and Black Spanish, respectively.
For me, the high points of the tasting included the shear “minerality” of the Blanc Du Bois, made without cold fermentation and yeasts purposely developed to enhance the aromatic nuances of Sauvignon Blanc, and Dickson’s Toubadour series (2008, 2005), lively blends with earth, fruit essence and crisp acidity, more European in style than influenced new world wines. I had just recently tasted the previous 2004 vintage to complete the series.
They were followed by Dickson’s Cuvee Jackie, made with a blend of Norton and Black Spanish grapes and named after Dickson’s departed Mother, and the Cohete Rojo, a mash-up of six Mediterranean grapes; these where the most unique wines of the tasting. They were perhaps the “wonderland wines” impossible to triangulate from previous experience and tastings to known varietal or regional styles. They were wines destine for pondering…Where? Why? How? However, it was obvious that they were rustic, bold statements of what could be crafted “au natural” by grower and winemaker in a strange and far away land (Texas hill country) distanced from the homogenized world of wine that we have come to expect.