Day 3 On the Texas Hill Country Holiday Wine Trail: New Faces; Old Friends
The last day of the wine trail did not start until noon. This gave me an opportunity to post my article from the Day2 trail “ride” that stretched from Lampasas round the back side of Lake Buchanan and on to Spicewood. Once this was complete this morning, I had time to fill the deer feeder at our cottage and close it up until next week when we return. Then, I packed the car and Paco (our Hahn’s Macaw) and I hit the trail. We saved the southern Hill Country path for this last leg of the trail that started with the wineries west and in downtown Fredericksburg. We then traveled then down to Comfort then east to New Braunfels and then back to Houston in the evening.
I started the day driving west out of Fredericksburg on Rt. 290 and saw outcroppings of the Glen Rose and Edwards limestone formations that rise from the older, weathered Hensell sandstone. Also part of the landscape are the quaint, old stone houses and fences handbuilt with stones cleared from the fields over 150 years ago by the German settlers in this region (See Honenberger Homestead above).
Chisholm Trail Winery
My first stop today was at Chisholm Trail Winery (Named for the famous Texas cattle drive trail) just about 10 miles west of Fredericksburg. I was the first to arrive at their western, ranch-style tasting room. I almost wanted to hitch up my trusty steed with the “BMW” brand. Upon entering the tasting room, I noticed they had bird in a cage. So, I went back to my car to get Paco to join me. He did not feel much like socializing today, particularly after the winery bird gave a single loud squawk as he approached. Instead, he watched me sample a few wines from his perch on my shoulder.
I started with the Chisholm Trail premium wine selection. The two that particularly attracted my notice were two red blends – the Silver Spur Cabernet Sauvignon (with Cabernet, Merlot and Cabernet Franc) and the Diablo (with Syrah and Lenoir). I also savored the Lone Wolf dry red wine made from 100% Lenoir. It had a dark ruby color in the glass, a ripe plum aroma and flavor with a hint of tangy cranberry. It is good to see that winemakers in Texas are working with Lenoir (also called Black Spanish) to make red table wines and not just Port-style wines, although they can be good, too.
Lenoir is quite unique because it is a red varietal that actually bleeds red juice when crushed. Most red bleed white juice and get their color extensively from extended maceration with their dark colored skins. This grape also grows very well in Texas, particularly in the southern, central areas and eastern areas of Texas that may have problems with Pierce’s disease.
I finished with a barrel sample of the Chisholm Trail Barbara. It exhibited an attractive deep purple color, a thick mouth feel and astonishing dark berry flavors. This is going to be a wonderful wine that will hopefully be released by Chisholm Trail Winery in the near future.
On the way back to Fredericksburg, I stopped at Fredericksburg Winery located just a short walk from the Marketplatz. It is owned and operated by the whole Switzer Family that consists of three brothers, wives, nephew, niece, and mother. They are known far and wide as the “Sweet Meisters” for their attention to detail in handmade and sweeter wines. High quality sweet wine is not to be scoffed at…it is a true part of our Texas legacy coming. In part, it came with the German settlers in the Texas Hill Country and also developed further by the country folk around the state that made wine from wild Mustang and other wild American grapes that seemed to grow just about everywhere. Perhaps, you can appreciate this better from the amount of sugar needed in the wild Mustang grape wine recipe below from Jack Keller’s winemaking website at:
TEXAS MUSTANG GRAPE WINE (5 gallons)
1/2 bushel very ripe Mustang Grapes
12-15 lbs. granulated sugar
4 gallons water
6 crushed Campden tablets
3 tblsp yeast nutrient
Red Star Montrachet or Lalvin 71B-1122 wine yeast
I tasted through a range of their wines and found one that was – not too dry and not too sweet. Like in the Goldilocks story, it was “just right” with a good sugar acid balance and called Fredericksburg F&N. The reference to F&N stands for “Fredericksburg and Northern”, as in the railroad that was built in the early 1900’s to serve Fredericksburg from Comfort. Well, the railroad line had many problems, not the smallest of which was a rather large hill of about 2000 feet with a steep grade about ten miles south of town.
Thankfully, Fredericksburg Winery’s F&N did not have problems like its namesake. Their F&N is made from Zinfandel and Sangiovese grapes and had a ruby red color with medium body and sweetness. This wine can be enjoyed slightly chilled and is a real quencher that compliments a range of hot and spicy foods or sweet BBQ sauced meats. But, don’t forget that you also can slip it while just sittin’ round the campfire telling stories of the Texans of yore, like Texas Rangers – Jack Hayes, John Hughes and Frank Hamer that helped to make Texas a safer place to settle in the late 1800’s and early 1900’s.
I did not have time on this trip to stop in Luckenbach, Texas (http://www.luckenbachtexas.com) about 15 miles southeast of Fredericksburg. Make a point to visit this “town” made famous in Texas song as a hangout for Waylon, Willie and the boys.
Riding south to Comfort from Fredericksburg on Rt. 87, I used my GPS to assess my elevation. We topped out at about 2200 feet on a ridge line that they call the “Big Hill” (the biggest headache for the old F&N railroad). Comfort Cellars is a winery, tasting room and an emporium of antiques, knick-knacks, soaps and collectibles. Cathie Winmill is the owner, collector and winemaker who has a collection of very interesting wines, as well. As I was starting to taste her wines, a couple entered the tasting room and asked if their dog could come in, as well. Cathie said yes and they introduced us all to their dog “Raisin”. The couple said that their dog could say…”I love you”. Now, stop laughing…I am not making this up! I had not heard a dog talk before, but now I have! It never ceases to amaze me how enlightening Texas wine tasting can be.
After this interlude, I completed my tasting and found my favorite – a high quality Comfort Cellars Dry Chenin Blanc. It is light and crisp with the flavors of melon and peach. This wine should be a pleasant sip over a game of dominoes under a Texas Live Oak tree on a warm summer’s day, or a delightful pairing for light fish dishes such as flounder or sole. They also have a well balanced Blush wine and an interesting Orange Chardonnay. Cathie’s jalapeno wine (Yes – that’s right, jalapeno wine!) was served with Clamato juice and it packs a real kick….I brought a bottle back to Houston so that I can experiment further.
Singing Water Vineyard – The Real Find of the Trail!
I have to admit that Singing Water Vineyard just outside Comfort Texas was the real find of this weekend’s trail ride. I took the twisting road that split off of Rt. 27 going west from Comfort, crossed a spring-feed stream (see below) and got pretty close with my GPS (but you will need to go about a half mile farther than it tells you. This estate winery operation was started by Dick and Julie Holmberg originally as a vineyard of Merlot grapes in 1998. It slowly expanded to include the winery just a few years ago. They recently planted more acreage on the estate, this time with Syrah, Pinot Grigio, Montepulciano and Sangiovese.
The wines all exhibit an excellent wine making style and include a Sauvignon Blanc (with a great grapefruit touch, Estate Merlot (clean, fresh red berries and toasted oak) and a substantial Texas Reserve Merlot/Cabernet blend. The prices are also exceptionally good for wines of this quality. I had a chance to talk and tour the winery with Dick. This neat-as-a-pin winery and associated estate vineyard is a classy set-up with a great future for Texas winemaking. Bring your lunch and picnic on the patio with a glass of Singing Water wine. My friends on the wine trail certainly agree.
Sister Creek Vineyards
Pressed for time on this trip, I was unfortunately unable to stop by Sister Creek. But, I have recently written about it. Please read my story on this new world, “old world” winery at:
Dry Comal Creek Vineyards
Leaving Singing Water Vineyards, I punched in the address for Franklin Houser’s Dry Comal Creek and realized that I just had time to buy gasoline and get there by 4:45 pm, just 15 minutes before their closing time. Luckily, the traffic was not too bad as I skimmed over the rolling hills on the edge of the Texas Hill Country outside Boerne (pronounced “Burnie”) and nearby Bulverde. I arrived just before closing. As I entered the Dry Comal Creek tasting room, I ran into Bonnie Houser, Franklin’s wife. We talked for a moment and she said that she would go find Franklin. She said that he was probably watching the Dallas Cowboys game and would not mind a break in the frustration. While waiting, I started to taste several of the wines of Dry Comal Creek.
Dry Comal Creek is one of the few wineries that still make a wine from French Colombard. It was much more common wine in the 1960-1970’s, made as a sweet jug wine from Gallo or Carlo Rossi. Their Colombard is dry and crisp with flavors of pear and green apple. I also tasted their semi-sweet Blush wine called – Black and White, and very appropriately so. It is a blend of Black Spanish (Lenoir) and French Colombard (white) and has a fruity and smooth presentation with a taste sensation of mildly sweet fresh strawberries. One of the most interesting wines that I sampled at Dry Comal Creek was their 2007 Unoaked Cabernet Sauvignon. The Cabernet in this wine arrived to be used as a blending wine. But, upon sampling, it made an impression on all that tasted it. This wine had a full bodied character, was smooth on the palate but still, even with oak aging, had a light tannic backbone perhaps from extended maceration (a soak of the crushed grapes, skins and seeds in the resulting juice). A wine for that special someone that like red wines but who does not particularly desire highly oaked wines.
It was good to see the Franklin Houser again. He has been doing great things with Black Spanish (Lenoir) for the past several years. We opened a bottle and tasted his pre-release 2008 Black Spanish. It is a bit lighter than his previous Black Spanish wines by design. Franklin mentioned that it is an interesting wine that really likes aeration to open up properly. I took a bottle home and will post some follow-up tasting notes over the next day or two.
Franklin has also been experimenting with making a Banyuls-style sweet red Port wine from the Black Spanish grapes. This wine is the culmination of up to three years of direct exposure to full Texas weather including intense summer heat in small oak casks. During this time, the barrels are not topped off, so the wine concentrates and creates a deep brown maderized color, high density and a characteristic caramel aroma. In the appellation of Banyuls-sur-Mer in southern France they call this aroma and flavor – Rancio.
End of a Memorable Weekend Trail Ride
Well, it is time to return to Houston. As mentioned, the Texas Hill Country Holiday Wine Trail was an opportunity to renew old friendships and make some new ones. This works for both people and wines. I will miss the winery hospitality and the great “sense of place” that makes the Texas Hill Country such an extraordinary experience….the hills, fields, streams, natural springs, and wildlife. But, most of all, I will miss the people of the Texas Hill Country that keep alive the history, traditions and lore of the region and are also forging a new Texas Wine Country.
P.S. It seemed that this weekend I was following another old friend around the Texas Hill Country. It was Neal Newsom (Newsom Vineyards – Plains Texas and TWGGA President). We have been stopping in some of the same places, but not at the same time. Well, hello Neal! Welcome to the Texas Hill Country. I hope to see you in the spring on the Texas High Plains when we plant the new vines.
Happy wine trails to all of you, until we meet again…..
Wine Writer, Blogger and Aficionado.