From Nuances in Arboreal Green to the Nuances of Wine
My trip was from Houston to the Dallas – Fort Worth area and my destination was more specifically Grapevine where I will be sitting with others in the wine and restaurant trades to judge wines in the 2009 Lone Star Wine Competition. We will have the opportunity to choose the best wines from Texas and several other countries such as Australia, Canada, Mexico, and those in Latin America as well as an enlarging number of wines from many states, including Oregon, Washington, New York and California. It has been over five years since I judged in this event, and since then it is hard to imagine that there are now a hundred new Texas wineries.
I could have flown up for the Lone Star competition, it would have been easy enough, but long drives in Texas give me a pleasure and an excitement that frankly still surprises me. As I left the Gulf Coast behind heading north, the white moisture-laden clouds billowing in the sapphire sky started to deflate to mere thin white wisps as they desiccated in the Texas sun. Likewise, the lush, green channels of roadside grass dotted with patches of golden wild flowers of summer became dashed with russet dryness as I drove into the heartland of Texas.
I exited the freeway north of Huntsville where seemingly everywhere along on the byway, wild grapevines grow. Nearly two centuries have lapsed since Stephen Austin commented, “nature seemed to have intended Texas for a vineyard to supply America with wines” as he undoubtedly cast his eyes upon a similar scene. Despite this gap of time, grape vines still hang plentifully from Texas fences for miles on end. In certain areas, they engulf entire patches of vegetation, covering bushes of all types and hanging gangly from the tops of the tallest trees.
Texas Vineyards and Smokehaus
As I approached Palestine, Texas, I was looking for a new winery with a name that is true to its Lone Star roots – Texas Vineyard and Smokehaus. Where else could the two go together so easily….surely not in California, Washington, New York or Oregon. My Blackberry maps app found the mark on small country road 2133 where I met Rafael Hernandez, half of the husband and wife winery team at Texas Vineyard and Smokehaus. They started from scratch after Rafael’s thirty years in the military and twenty more years with the Houston police department. The Rafael’s are presently pouring wine selections from Homestead Winery and Muscadine and fruit wines from Piney Woods Country Winery to accompany local smokehouse offerings. The grand opening of their porch-front bistro is coming in July.
See: http://www.palestineherald.com/videoslideshows/local_story_048092528.html for more information on Texas Vineyards and Smokehaus. Some of the other wineries in this area to check out are: Sweet Dreams Winery (www.sweetdreamswinery.com), Kiepersol Estate Vineyard (www.kiepersol.com); KE Cellars (www.kecellars.com), and Los Pinos Ranch VIneyards (www.lospinosranchvineyards.com).
From Palestine, I headed up a short piece of old State Route 75, fifty years ago the principal north-south highway in Texas. It now seems rather nostalgically different than traveling the interstate. The family farms and trailer parks stream by and appear as a flash of Texas time past. While still on SR 75, I continued northward and I realized how many shades of green there are. My time on our Hill Country high ridge property has cultured me in the rural art of tree identification. It is an art that comes from quick color association and attention to a few basic leave shapes, in a way like varietal identification in wine tasting, but done from afar. In this part of east Texas, the dark green needled pines confront the grey-green stands of post oaks with their orange-tinged new growth. Interspersed pecans, Texas sumacs and willows collectively provide bright lime accents, but each offering its own distinctive leaf shape.
Back on the freeway and rimming the south side of the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex, the pines faded away leaving the flat Blackland Prairie that held vast north Texas fields of wheat and corn where isolated post oaks rim fields and delineate the rivers and creeks. As I moved farther westward, mesquite and ash juniper (Texas cedar) appeared in increasing numbers. This vast natural ordering was in logical response to the changes in Texas terroir; changes in soil type from sandy to clayey and rapidly diminishing rainfall as my trek took me to the west.
The afternoon was hot with grey-pink clouds building in the west, but they could not spare a drop for the thirsty land as I arrived south of Fort Worth for my second stop of the day, visiting Bruce and Brigit Anderson at their Sunset Winery (www.www.sunsetwinery.com) in Burleson, Texas. I spoke to Bruce about his initial successes making award-winning wines from Texas High Plains grapes. In each year of his winery’s short history, it has garnered medals at national and international wine competitions. I am sure that Bruce would also give some of the credit to “brother” Neal Newsom and his Newsom Family Vineyard in Plains, Texas, just this side of the New Mexico border.
At first, they had only a Cabernet Sauvignon and a Merlot to sell, but those wines earned a total of five medals in various competitions. To date, every Sunset wine entered into competition has earned one or more medals, including a Gold in the Lone Star International Competition for its 2005 Newsom Vineyard, Cabernet Sauvignon and the Texas Class Champion – Gold for its 2004 Newsom Vineyards “Moon Glow” Merlot. I tasted these wines and they are still showing quite well coming on their fifth anniversary. I also tasted a new Sunset Winery Malbec wine that Bruce refers to as his “work in progress”. He is working with the current vintage taking several alternative approaches that he hopes will make this another award-winning wine in the Sunset Winery fold. Bruce said, “Malbec grown on the Texas High Plains should make great wines for Texas as this region has a similar terroir to that in the high Mendoza wine region in Argentina where it has gathered notoriety.” To add variety, the winery is also making Orange Muscat, blush, and sweet red wines with the estate vineyard now planted with Black Spanish and Blanc du Bois.
Grapevine, a Fitting Venue for a Wine Competition
Bidding farewell to the Anderson’s, I continued north to Grapevine, an appropriate venue for the judging of the wines in the Lone Star Wine Competition. I joined friend and Texas writer, Henry Chappell, for dinner at the Gaylord Resort. We enjoy sharing our experiences on book projects. My project is still developing from blog-to-book on the new Texas wine experience and now is in proposal form. His efforts are also Texas-centric have focused on a book on Texas working dogs that is nearing completion and he has a new project on Texas water issues.
Reflecting on our individual yet similar experiences, we agreed how owning rural land, our small yet very personal parts of Texas, has given us new perspectives on the sense of place that is so special in Texas along with deeper awareness of its natural details. For me today, it was visual recognition of the nuances of arboreal green, but tomorrow it will with no uncertainty require my palate to discern the nuances of wines from Texas and various foreign locales. However, for this night, my palate was more or less at peace being plied with a refreshing Margarita.
P.S. An additional reflection on traveling in Texas are the interesting and often unexpected things you see while driving. In this case, a roadside billboard sign read “Robotic Surgery”. It conjured up a mental picture of robots in surgical gowns. Another establishment had a sign in its front window offering live bait, beer and wine with wine now getting equal billing to live bait and beer. Finally, what I believe is a Texas invention, the roadside drive-through beer and wine store. I did not stop to see if mixed drinks were offered, as well.