Pontotoc Vineyard 2011 San Fernando Academy: A Fusion of All the Senses
I’d tasted this wine once with winemaker Don Pullum during his visit to our hill country cottage for dinner. After that, I was captivated and knew that I needed to experience it again. The 2011 San Fernando Academy is a red blend made by Don with oversight by Pontotoc Vineyard owner Carl Money. But, to merely call it a red blend is an understatement. Like several of Don’s winemaking efforts that I’ve enjoyed in the past (and still do on occasion, if I’ve been disciplined enough to cellar a bottle or two), they are more works of art using flavors and aromas from a multiplicity of grape varieties in place of an artist’s pallet of colors.
On my second occasion to appreciate this wine, I knew that it needed special accompaniment; something that paired with both its breadth and depth of characteristics. I also knew that I needed to allow the wine time to compose and configure itself. So, I opened the bottle about five hours before consumption.
Upon my first swirl and sniff, the 2011 San Fernando Academy brought back precise memories of past Pullum exploits.
One in particular was a special cuvée Don made from his own Mason County Akashic Vineyard grapes called L’Évier (French for the “kitchen sink”). Why that name? You probably guessed it…it had so many different varieties of grapes in it that the only thing missing was the proverbial kitchen sink. Impressed so much with this wine as a statement about what Texas wines could do, I took a bottle to France for a tasting with a renowned winemaker in Gigondas. [For the details of the story and Don’s reaction, you can read it in my book, The Wineslinger Chronicles (click here).]
Now, back to the Pontotoc Vineyard 2011 San Fernando Academy. The blend of grapes used in this wine was: 27% Cabernet Franc, 26% Sangiovese, 16% Mourvedre, 14% Cabernet Sauvignon, 7% Carignan, 6% Tempranillo, 3% Grenache and 1% Syrah. This blend was something that Don called “somewhat opportunistic, but it all came together very well.” Excluding the Cabernet Franc and Sauvignon, the rest of the bunch were like an old world trek around the Mediterranean: Sangiovese derived from Italy, Mourvedre, Syrah and Grenache from the south of France, and Tempranillo from Spain.
The taste of this wine brought a variety of dominant red and black fruit characteristics including red plum, crisp raspberries, sweet black cherries and luscious blackberries on the nose and palate. Then, came herbal nuances of thyme, tarragon and clove followed even later by myriad mysterious notes of black olive, rhubarb, a hint of smoke and the piquant of dry dusty soil.
Realizing what was going on as this wine intermingled with my senses, I grasped the need to pair this wine with equally interesting cuisine. So, I decided to go back to the Mediterranean roots of this wine to take my own culinary trek. In doing so, I prepared a Mediterranean dish that employed a dark meat chicken braise as my canvass. I started with vegetable broth and added Roma tomatoes from Italy, Herbes du Provence from France, garlic and anchovies from Spain. Then, I doubled around the southern shore of the Mediterranean to Morocco for lemon and a light touch of cinnamon ending up back in Italy for an additional dash of oregano just as the dish was finished in the oven.
As my wife and I sat down at the table to enjoy this multicultural fusion of wine and food elements, I only then understood that we could go one step further and end up with a total sensual immersion. Those of you that are of my vintage will remember listening to the Righteous Brothers recording of “That Loving Feeling” and feeling lost in what producer Phil Spector’s called his “wall of sound”. It’s reverberation in your brain seemed big enough to envelop your body and penetrate down into your soul. I scanned Pandora and played this song while we enjoyed our food and wine to complete what became the fusion of our senses: a joyous glass of varietal character, a plate of Mediterranean flavor, and our all-encompassing wall of sound.
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But, why commemorate the academy with this wine?
The Money Family is a fifth generation Texas farming family and takes great pride in bringing the fruit of their labor to the table. Carl first learned about viticulture while studying abroad in the wine district of Vienna, Austria, then imagined establishing a vineyard in his native Texas. In 2003, Carl purchased an historic German Estate in Pontotoc, where he and his family began restoring the sandstone farm house and clearing the fields with the vision of planting a vineyard. His dream culminated in the initial planting of five acres of Tempranillo. Carl became familiar with this Spanish grape variety while teaching law in Spain and rightfully thought it could handle the growing conditions in Texas that are often compared to those of Tempranillo’s native Spain.
After establishing his vineyard and refurbishing the farm house, Carl and his wife Frances purchased the turn-of-the-century sandstone buildings in Pontotoc, including what had been the grocery store, hardware store, post office, barber shop, and movie theater, with the idea of making the town into the center of viticulture and enology in the Northern Hill Country. The five buildings form historic downtown Pontotoc and stand facing the ruin of San Fernando Academy.
The wine from Carl Money’s Pontotoc Vineyard commemorates the San Fernando Academy. Like Pontotoc Vineyard, it was founded in Pontotoc, Texas. The academy was established in 1882 in this frontier outpost by interested citizens of the local community. It likely derived its name from the nearby San Fernando creek. The academy’s course of study was intended to lead toward a Teachers Certificate. A total of about 200 students were enrolled during the academy’s tenure and it drew many people to the area interested in education.
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Pontotoc Vineyard 2011 San Fernando Academy Awards:
Top 10 Texas Red Wines of 2012, Texas Monthly Magazine
Bronze Medal, 2013 Houston Rodeo International Wine Competition
Bronze Medal, 2013 San Francisco Chronicle International Wine Competition
Silver Medal, 2013, Finger Lakes International Wine Competition