Sep 032016

Rachel DelRocco surrounded by her sommelier study group members (from left) Cat Nguyen, Adam Toon and Matt Crawford. Photo by Courtney Perry

Sommelier Rachel DelRocco Goes from Teahouse to Texsom Champ (Parts 1 & 2)

This post includes Part 1 that was recently published on Edible Houston’s blog (click here) written by Russ Kane,, wine writer, author and naturalist. Part 2 at the bottom of this blog provides more on Sommelier Rachel DelRocco’s career leading to her championship win in the 2016 Texsom Sommelier Competition.

Part 1 -From Teahouse to Texsom Champ 

Houston Sommelier Rachel DelRocco from Camerata at Paulie’s returned from Dallas after attending the Texas Sommeliers Conference – Texsom. This was her fourth trip to attend, test or volunteer at Texsom. But this year she returned as the winner of the 2016 Texsom Sommelier Competition where she bested 23 other competitors from Texas and surrounding states. For DelRocco this illustrates the long leap from her early days as a New York teahouse manager to Texsom Champ today.

For many that attend Texsom, the closed-door sommelier competition is a bit mysterious. Competitors go inside a room, the door closes and only a precious few come out to a winner’s fanfare.

Clearing the mystery, Rachel said, “The Texsom competition is attractive to wine professionals like me because it is a snapshot of what is required and what challenges lay ahead to advance through the Master Sommelier certification process. There was a wine theory exam, a blind tasting exercise and a service exam where I had to serve wine to a table of Master Sommeliers. Total time is only about an hour, but it’s broken up into three parts given over a full day, which is a bit nerve racking.”

In her Texsom win, DelRocco acknowledged the role of her Houston study group who are all going through the advanced sommelier certification process. They spend late-night hours testing each other on the finer points of wine knowledge and service. The group includes co-worker Adam Toon, Matt Crawford (State of Grace Restaurant) and Cat Nguyen (Republic Distributing). They were all present at Texsom and were DelRocco’s cheering section between exams and at the award presentation.


Rachel high-fives with her study group members after Texsom competition win. Photo by Courtney Perry

Study group member Adam Toon said, “This was really Rachel’s win. But, it was also a win for Camerata where Rachel and I work and are tutored by Master Sommelier David Keck. We feel that this is also a big win for our study group.”

DelRocco said, “I left the competition not really having a good feeling about my service exam. But later, I was lifted because the judges said that despite a few miscues they appreciated my comfortableness and the sense of hospitality that I conveyed under the stress of competition. I was buoyed because this is the stuff that as a sommelier I feel is our ultimate mission. It’s what t I strive to do everyday, and it was highly regarded in the competition.”

Part 2 – DelRocco’s Knows There are High Expectations for Her

When reflecting on her career path that brought her to the recent Texsom Championship, DelRocco said, “It was definitely not something that I planned in great detail. After I graduated from school, I was manager of a Teahouse in New York City. I looked at other fields, but the restaurant industry seemed to work all parts of my brain and kept pulling at me.”

In 2012, DelRocco was looking for a change and moved to Austin. This is where she found herself interested in the local beverage scene: drinks, spirits and Austin’s whole mixology movement.


Somellier Rachel DelRocco relaxes at Camerata after returning from Texsom. Photo by Jame Skogsberg

DelRocco said, “There were many people that helped guide me in my career; some great people that took me under their wings. Austin’s June Rodil, the seventh certified Master Sommelier from Texas, was a draw that attracted me to work with her at Qui on Austin’s 6th Street. At Qui, I was part of the opening staff as bartender. As I recall, this is about when wine being something that I wanted to know more about. And, I was excited for the opportunity to learn about wine firsthand from a sommelier like June.”

The association with Rodil in Austin and DelRocco’s experience at Texsom led to meeting Camerata General Manager and newly awarded Master Sommelier David Keck. When her fiancé got a job in Houston, she would come to town and they would hang out at Camerata.

DelRocco said, “This is when I got to know David better. Eventually, it made more sense for me move here. So, I reached out to David. One day we got together for coffee and he called me a couple months later when he had an opening and asked me to join his staff.”

She continued, “At Camerata, from day one, the amount that I have learned here has been phenomenal. My educational channels include tasting and learning the wines on David’s incredible lists.  It also involve the educational opportunities that he provides to his staff and graciously provides to other wine professionals in the Houston area. His expectations for me are high. This pushes me to learn and do more.”

The Texsom competition was more than the trophy and notoriety for DelRocco. It was a great personal experience. She also walked away from it knowing how far she progressed professionally and how much wine knowledges she had assimilated since her early teahouse days. It also gave her an appreciation of how much more is required for her future advancement through the levels of certification from The Court of Master Sommeliers.

 Posted by at 10:00 am
Aug 222016

Ron Yates, owner of Yates Winery, at his Spicewood Vineyards Tasting Room

Texas Wine Industry Veterans Open the New Yates Winery in Hye, TX

The owners of Spicewood Vineyards are set opened Yates, Texas’s newest premium winery in Hye, Texas in September, 2016. Building on the experience of making award-winning wines at Spicewood Vineyards, the Yates team is eager to expand its winemaking with a new winery proudly carrying the family name.   

Led by owner, Ron Yates, along with a talented winery team from Spicewood, the new winery will make high quality wine in proximity to several other wineries on the Wine Road 290. 

“We’re incredibly proud of what we’ve achieved at Spicewood Vineyard since purchasing the winery almost a decade ago,” says owner, Ron Yates. “We’ve learned a lot from our success at Spicewood, and will use that experience to create this new, namesake winery with a different focus. Spicewood Vineyard will remain committed to making Texas wine with estate-grown Portuguese and Spanish grapes. Yates will make top-notch Rhone, Spanish, and Italian style wines, along with several vineyard-designated Tempranillo wines with fruit gown in the Texas Hill Country, West Texas, Davis Mountain, and the Texas High Plains. Texas wine lovers will have a lot to choose from.”

Yates will offer a distinctive wine experience at a 6,000 square-foot contemporary winery that includes a 20,000 case production facility, and an adjacent 1,800 square-foot, covered crush pad. Initially, guests will enjoy tastings of Yates premium wines on the patio overlooking the vineyards and in the production winery. Visitors can choose from eight wines to purchase by the glass or by the bottle to enjoy at the winery or while exploring the property. In the near future, Yates will complete a Pavilion that will serve as a tasting area with cheese and wine pairings, as well as a site for wine club and other events space. It will be abutted by a relaxing swimming pool.

Soon guests will enjoy an elegant, 5,000 square foot tasting room, complete with a private room for library wines and cellar for private tastings. The tasting room building will also feature an underground cellar for Gran Reserva Tempranillo aging.

“Building a completely new facility is a winemaker’s dream,” says Yates winemaker, Todd Crowell. “I was able to design the winery from the ground up with the exact specifications we want to create the highest quality wines possible. We installed the finest state-of-the-art equipment such as a custom designed crush pad complete with a variable speed crusher and a programmable ‘smart’ press, a two-inch diaphragm pump for gentle juice and wine transfers, and fully jacketed stainless steel tanks accessible via aluminum catwalk. Soon, we will be doubling our tank capacity with French oak tanks and a champagne tank. The result will be excellence in the bottle.”

The winery is situated on 15.8 acres abutting Highway 290. The acreage is currently planted four acres of primarily Tempranillo grapevines, with an additional six acres of estate vineyards planned. As a specialist in Tempranillo, Yates will plant that grape extensively in its vineyards, along with grapes such as Graciano and Petite Sirah.

Beyond our estate-grown fruit, we work with well-established grape growers in Texas who share the passion for being in the vineyard to ensure we have a steady supply of high-quality grapes in a wide selection of varieties. Yates has long-held relationships with top grape growers to source excellent fruit for its wines. Near-term vintages will include grapes such as Albariño, Grenache, Malbec, Sangiovese, Sauvignon Blanc, Touriga Nacional and Viognier from top Texas vineyards like Bingham Vineyards, Bayer Family Vineyards, Martin’s Vineyards, Reddy Vineyards, Farmhouse Vineyards, as well as others. In addition, Yates will source ultra-premium Pinot Noir and Zinfandel from California.

Note:  Yates will be open to guests by appointment only starting in September.

Connect with Yates

For Reservations contact: 

Yates on Twitter

Yates on Facebook


About Yates

Established with a mission to create the finest wines in Texas, Yates builds on the award winning experience of its sister winery, Spicewood Vineyards. The family-owned and operated winery employs a seasoned team of winemaking experts, using start-of-the-art equipment to craft Spanish, Italian, Rhone-style wines with estate-grown and sourced grapes. Opening in September, 2016, Yates, is Texas’s newest premium winery located in Hye, Texas in the center of the Texas wine country.     

 About Spicewood Vineyards

Founded in 1992, Spicewood Vineyards, produces the finest award winning wines. Wines that are known for their timeless appeal and unique flavor of the Texas Hill Country. Nestled in the Texas Hill Country amongst 32 acres of vines, enjoy great wine and a relaxing atmosphere. We have over 12 varieties of wine including Tempranillo, Albarino, Sauvignon Blanc and Merlot. Visit us for a wine tasting, glass or bottle. Hosting a special event? Check out our elegant event center.


 Posted by at 11:21 am
Jul 282016


Wine a l’Orange: 2015 Brennan Vineyards Cellar Select Viognier

While it is possible to ferment a wine made from orange juice and infuse a wine with the juice of citrus (like Sangria), I hope that you realize that this story is NOT going to be about that kind of wine. However, it IS a story that came about while I was looking for a wine to serve with a favorite dish I make – Duck a l’Orange and thus appeared… my Wine a l’Orange, Voila!

As my story goes, on a recent trip down the Wine Road 290 near Fredericksburg I stopped in at Four Point Cellars for a taste or two or four or six (actually forgot how many) with manager Jesse Barter. When we got to wine three (I think it was), he pulled up a bottle of Brennan Vineyards 2015 Cellar Select Viognier.

I recall that it had an interesting orange-red label. In short order, Jesse proceeded to pour me an ounce and a half of a wine with a noticeable orange color and a bracing kick. For a grape that would normally be considered a “white wine” grape, I thought this a bit odd for Viognier. But, he gave a reassuring glance followed a comment, “This is Brennan Vineyards winemaker Todd Webster’s “orange wine”.

Later, I followed up with Todd Webster, Executive Winemaker at Brennan Vineyards about his orange wine. He said, “I saw an article about skin fermented wine in one of our trade magazines.  So I started reading more about was called ‘orange wine’.”

I guess there is a need for a little background here for those not familiar with the term orange wine…

Typically, white wines are made by crushing the grapes and quickly getting the juice off the skins and into a fermenter with little skin contact. All grape skins contain color and tannins (whites and reds), but we mostly bring that into the winemaking equation only when making red wines through extended skin contact with the grape must to impose color and tannin to bring both visual appeal and structure to the wine. 

In the making of white wines, this skin contact is usually considered undesirable and some cases a flaw. But, orange wines get their name from the noticeable orange hue that they get from extended contact with grape skins in the winemaking process. 

Then, I asked Todd why would someone want to make orange wines in the first place, especially in Texas.

He said, “A common theme in this style of winemaking is that it produces more wine.  We get low press yields with Viognier so if there was a way to produce more Viognier with the same amount of grapes, I was all in.”  


From here, it was all about the 2015 vintage in Texas that brought about the Todd’s first orange wine and, as far as I know, the first made in this state.

According to Todd, “In 2015, we had an abundance of Viognier; in fact, more than we have even had.  So, it was a perfect year to try something new.  I contacted our Texas supplier and we talked, and finally came up with a protocol for making our orange wine.”  

It turns out that one can leave different varieties of grapes on the skins for different amounts of time.  Viognier, in particular, happens to be one variety you don’t want to soak on the skins too long because it is high in phenolics to start with.  

Todd said, “So, we decided that we would go for skin contact of a few days and we fermented the wine at a little higher temperature than we normally do for our other whites.” 

“I love how the wine turned out, Todd added.  “But, serving temperature is key with this wine.  If you serve it like a white wine (too cold), it loses all of its greatness. So, it needs to be served at the temperature you would use for a red wine.” I took this a just under normal room temperature – may be 60-65 F.

In my wine and duck a l’orange pairing, I heeded Todd’s advise on service temperature. It appears that skin contact tends to mute the normal floral and stone fruit characteristics of Viognier. The warmer serving temperature tends to bring out more of these nice floral aromatics. Warmer serving also takes a bit of the harsher side of the tannic bite off the wine that you get when the wine is cold. It also brings palate dryness and olfactory characteristics of citrus and note of roasted hazelnuts or walnuts.

The Brennan Vineyards Cellar Select Viognier is a BIG wine yielding much more than your typical white wine mouthfeel. It comes with good dose of dry tannins and alcohol (at 15.4%). It is a wine that perhaps will be best appreciated by red wine drinkers or maybe those used to drinking those good old well-oaked California Chardonnays. This wine really paired well with my very flavorful duck preparation with the orange color and citrus notes from the wine melding with the l’orange sauce. Additionally, with the duck being primarily dark meat, it had the body and flavor to match that offered by the wine. Other pairing ideas are salmon, wild game birds and possibly even farm-raised boar or venison.

— — — — —

Factoid: Orange wines were common in Italy in the 1950s and 1960s mainly in the northeastern regions which were growing white grapes. It gave them another style of wine to make from grapes like Pinot Grigio that like Viognier gain a rose or orange color on their skins when they ripen. Some in Italy refer to this style as “copper wines” or “ramato wines” as the skins of Pinot Grigio give the wine a coppery orange color. Gradually orange wines became a footnote in history as fresh white wines became the dominate style in the marketplace. But, it appears not so for winemaker Todd Webster and Brennan Vineyards who is working to keep the style alive.

 Posted by at 7:22 pm
Jul 232016

Texas Fine Wine Predicts 2016 Harvest to be a Yield & Quality Barnburner

With 2016 grape harvest right around the corner in some parts of the Texas Hill Country, the wineries of Texas Fine Wine are encouraged by the quality and yield of this year’s crop. In fact, some vineyards are expected to produce their best crop in many years.

“The 2016 vintage is shaping up to be one of the best crop yields, and weather conditions are right where they need to be to have a stellar vintage,” says Dave Reilly, winemaker at Driftwood-based Duchman Family Winery.

Pedernales Cellars, in Stonewall, expects its Kuhlken Estate Vineyards, located 11 miles north of Fredericksburg, to yield a record harvest of Tempranillo, with recent dry conditions providing pristine, completely disease-free canopies and clusters, while Brennan Vineyards predicts its Nero d’Avola harvest from its Comanche County vineyards will be the best in four years.

“We expect to have a full harvest of our estate Tempranillo after two years of reduced yields due to hail,” says David Kuhlken, Pedernales Cellars winemaker. “We’re also anticipating a good crop of some new grapes for our winery this year, including Alicante Bouschet, Dolcetto, Carignan, Tannat, Graciano and Grenache Blanc, all from the Texas High Plains.”

“Heavy rains in May and early June, as well as hail, caused fungal disease and damage to some Texas vineyards, but we were fortunate to have avoided these issues,” says Pat Brennan, owner of Brennan Vineyards. “Overall yield will be down somewhat from projections; however, fruit and vegetative growth are well balanced. Our Tempranillo, Viognier and Mourvedre all look strong.”

Dr. Bob Young, owner of Bending Branch Winery, agrees this year is showing a wide variation in grape crops across the state. “Several of our vineyard partners are having a great growing season thus far with our signature red wine grapes Tannat, Petite Sirah, and the up and coming varietal, Souzão,” Young says. “Other vineyards have been hit by hail and Hill Country vineyards have experienced fungal pressure, including at our estate, after continuous heavy rains earlier this season. Despite these conditions, Bending Branch expects to once again have a good crop of Hill Country Roussanne and Texas High Plains Malbec to work with.”

Hill Country Harvest Gets Underway

At its estate vineyards, Spicewood Vineyards has already started harvesting Chardonnay and Semillion for its new sparkling wine program, and predicts its Hill Country white wine harvest will be done before August.

“It looks like we may complete harvest in the Hill Country by early August and the High Plains may not get started until a couple weeks later, so we might have a very welcomed break between the two,” predicts Ron Yates, owner of Spicewood Vineyards.

Yates noted that he is particularly pleased with the quality of his Graciano grapes.

“Bud break for our Graciano grapes occurred nearly four weeks after other grapes, providing extra protection from late freezes,” says Yates. “This is exactly why we planted Graciano and the grapes look beautiful.”

Pedernales Cellars has also begun harvesting its Hill Country vineyards, starting with Albarino.

Texas Fine Wine is a group of five distinctive wineries dedicated to making quality wines from Texas appellation vineyards and setting the highest standards in the Texas wine industry. For more information, go to, and follow Texas Fine Wine on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

 Posted by at 11:57 am
Jul 222016

David Keck (left) with Jon David Headrick (right) at Camerata

Loirefest: Houston’s David Keck at his Best

In the Houston wine community (those of you in wholesale and retail, the restaurant trade, and lets not forget the groupies of writers and consumers), we are blessed having David Keck MS among us. Who is he, you ask? If you don’t know, I’ll tell you.

David is our Bayou City’s operatic singer cum sommelier, Vermonter cum Houstonian who traded in his Julliard credentials for the similarly prestigious Master Sommelier diploma. He is a Monteverdi of Mourvèdre of sorts in residence now at the hip Montrose-area wine bar, Camerata at Pauli’s.

David is someone with unquestionable talent with wine and people. He has the poise of a stage actor (with looks, projecting voice and smile to boot) who offers us his lust for the wines of the world and the people that make and sell them with the underlying message “Better tasting through knowledge”. From personal experience, he encourages people at all levels of “this community” to advance their wine knowledge and expand their tasting horizons, even if they, at times, do so begrudgingly.

Early in my many stops to Camerata, I realized something and I posted it on their Facebook page, an honest and heartfelt comment: “Find the quaff you’ve been looking for, especially if you didn’t know what you wanted.” Largely through David’s efforts, Camerata is the go-to-place to experience the breadth of the wine world in a relaxing yet often frenetic setting… literally not knowing what might be poured into your glass next. It is a place where you can learn the secrets of wine and experience their pleasures, too.


His most recent community opportunities have come during the current month’s 2nd annual “Loirefest”. It is a festival of wines Loire, created by Keck that has gone statewide. What better way to beat the heavy Texas heat than with the clear, crisp pop and refreshing zip on the palate gained from the wines of Loire. As far as I’m concerned, this is one of the world’s great pairings. Loirefest is a crusade of wines (and not the usual suspects) usually centered on Chenin Blanc, Sauvignon Blanc, Cabernet Franc, the principal grapes from this pastoral wine region along France’s longest river – the Loire.


Peter Wasserman – Fine wine purveyor & self-appointed Head of Antimarketing and Sales Preventions

This year again, David’s current home base at Camerata has been Houston’s ground zero for savoring the wines of Loire: some old (1989) and some new (2015). First, there was a 4th of July tasting with Peter Wasserman whose cool crisp imported wines revived Houstonians from their heat-induced stupor. Earlier this week, Jon David Headrick provided a very personal tasting in which he shared experiences at wineries in the Loire Valley intermingled with tales of the regions ancient geology.

Please stop a second to understand why David does these events

In his own Facebook words, David says, “I try to host as many events with the Houston Sommelier Association (HSA) or at Camerata at Paulie’s with what I would consider the most influential winemakers, importers, and wine professionals in the world.”

While presenting these luminaries to his friends and associates, he also hosted a contingent from his adopted state, a Texas winery group called “Texas Fine Wine” that is an assemblage of some of the best and brightest wineries in our emerging wine region. When I was doing a story on Texas Blanc Du Bois for Edible Houston, David without hesitation offered up the assembled palates of his HSA group so they could try wines from a grape that while making wonderful wines in Texas is literally not on any wine map any of these people had seen before. What I’m saying is, there is nothing snooty about David when it comes to trying something new, he has an open mind.

From the perspective of a wine industry sideline watcher, I see a day when David Keck will get a call from either the east or the west coast. It will be followed by an offer that he just will not be able to refuse. It will take him away from the many friends and associates he has made in Houston.

My reason for doing this blog today is to mainly to acknowledge David’s efforts and to say thanks hopefully well before we have to say goodbye. I’m also hoping that when that day comes, David leaves a trail of many friends and associates in his wake with which he connected that caught the “bug” from David. The bug I’m talking about is the quest for knowledge and his desire to improve the skills of people at all levels around him that make up the industry that he loves so much.


— — — — —

For those that want to experience the fun-filled educational last-light of this year’s Loirefest, stop by at Camerata on July 26th. They will feature Zev Rovine of Zev Rovine Selections and Byron Bates of Goatboy Imports to talk and taste Natural wine in the Loire Valley. Click here for more information.

Also coming is another David Keck collaboration… “Lünch”, a pop-up food and wine experience being held at the Oxheart Restaurant venue, July 29th through August 7th. When Oxheart shutters so their team there can have a summertime break, Chef Peter Jahnke (formerly of Underbelly, Anvil and Bank to name a few), and Master Sommelier David Keck of Camerata along with Jillian Bartolome (formerly of Common Bond) will be moving into the space for this ten-day pop-up. Click here for more information and reservations. I’ll be there!

 Posted by at 2:54 pm
Jul 042016

Photo credit: Texas Wine Revolution

Texas Wine Revolution Showcasing 100% Texas-Grown Rosé

Texas Wine Revolution being held Sunday, July 10th is an inaugural festival, showcasing the beauty of Texas grown wines, specifically this year 100% Texas grown Rosé wines.

Featuring up to 27 Texas wineries and winemakers and their Texas grown Rosé, the afternoon will include tastings, live music, local food purveyors, VIP seminars and shaded picnic areas for guests among Texas vines. Celebrate and meet local wineries, winemakers, and farmers for an awakening of “Real Texas Wine”.

At his year’s event, festival goers will enjoy:

  • Complimentary 6 bottle tote bag, logo wine glass (for tasting and take home), a booklet featuring each participating winery that will double as a “passport”
  • Tastings of up to (27) 100% Texas grown Rosés from Texas wineries and winemakers
  • Live entertainment
  • Opportunity to purchase bottles and glasses from participating wineries
  • Local Restaurants/Food vendors with samples and food for purchase
  • Shaded picnic areas
  • Valet parking
  • Security by local law enforcement

William Chris Vineyards will be the venue hosting the 2016 Texas Wine Revolution festival. It is conveniently located on Highway 290 in Hye, Texas, 50 minutes west of Austin and San Antonio.

For more information on registration, prices, wines, food, sponsorship, go to:


Photo credit: Texas Wine Revolution

 Posted by at 1:27 pm
Jun 162016

Nolan Newsom and his phone full of wines he will be selling in the near future – all Newsom estate wines.

Newsom Vineyards at Comfort: It’s Always Been the Plan

A few weeks ago, I linked up on social media with Nolan Newsom, son of Texas winegrowing legends Neal and Janice Newsom of Newsom Vineyards in Plains, Texas. Nolan and I agreed to meet for breakfast in  Comfort on my next trip to my hill top cottage located not far away.

I’d first met Nolan many years ago during one of my trips to the Texas High Plains. It was on the eve of a nasty late-spring storm barreling down on his family vineyard. His father had arranged for many of the high plains growers in the Lubbock/Brownfield area to meet with me for dinner at his Rock’n-N B&B. Nolan was at the helm in the kitchen grilling up steaks of every possible version of rare imaginable. There were lots of good red Texas wine compliments of the winegrowers, too. I added all the fixin’s that I could stuff into my suit case and worked as Nolan’s sous-chef for the evening.

At breakfast in Comfort this week, Nolan and his wife Mei, the co-founders of Newsom Vineyards at Comfort), shared their vision for this new venture. I asked Nolan how the idea for Newsom Vineyards at Comfort developed.

Nolan said, “Well, it’s actually been in the planning stage longer than we anticipated. Unfortunately, our tasting room project (Newsom Vineyards at Comfort) was delayed a bit due to the recent string of bad harvest years on the high plains. But, the vision all along was to start a tasting room where we could feature wines made from grapes harvested in the Newsom family vineyards.”

Most following the Texas wine industry know that the Newsom legacy all started with Nolan’s father and grandfather who both planting a just half an acre of grapes each over 30 years ago. Actually, it was young Neal’s idea after taking classes with Clinton “Doc” McPherson and Dr. Roy Mitchell at Texas Tech University. That eventually grew to more than a hundred acres with their grapes going to some of the best wineries and winemakers in Texas.


Nolan in the Family Vineyard (Plains, Texas) – photo from Newsom Vineyards Facebook Page.

While Nolan’s background is definitely the the sandy red dirt of west Texas, Mei comes from the the hustle and bustle of Shanghai, China. She made her way to Lubbock as one of Brent Trela’s Texas Tech enology students. I guess you could say that Nolan and Mei were a match both personally and professionally made of Texas vineyards and wine. So, it’s only natural that they would aim their venture at Texas wine consumers.

For now, the couple are calling a small white centennial house in Comfort home while they prepare it to operate in the near future as their tasting room. Most days Nolan is spending his time reclaiming the houses antique wood paneling for various uses in the new tasting room. Mei is keeping her winemaking trade fresh at Gary Elliot’s Driftwood Estate Winery and Vineyard.


Nolan & Mei Newsom

According to Nolan, “In the next 18 months, Newsom Vineyards at Comfort will release small case lots of 17 wines (15 varietal and 2 blends). They will carry either the Newsom Vineyards or their Inception label. These will include wines made by wineries we’ve worked with that we think are really the best at the particular wines they make. These wineries include Texas stalwarts like Bending Branch, Calais, Lewis, Pedernales, Llano Estacado, Flat Creek and Driftwood. The most amazing thing to me is that we will be carrying three single vineyard Newsom Cabernets made by three different wineries!”

To illustrate the magnitude of the project, Nolan punched a few buttons on his Smartphone and revealed the screen to me showing all the wines that they will selling from their Comfort tasting room (See above).

Upon hearing and seeing the magnitude of the plans for near-term offerings at Newsom Vineyards at Comfort, I know I paused… and, I think that I may have even let out a gasp.

After breakfast, we walked across the open area that connects High’s Cafe, Bending Branch’s tasting room and Hill Country Distillers. The plans are to have Newsom Vineyards at Comfort open there by Labor Day and, soon thereafter, joined by a soon-to-be-opened restaurant and a new brewery. Nolan’s and Mei’s concept is to facilitate the connection between all these food and beverage establishments and their tasting room in downtown (old town) Comfort.


Centennial house and soon-to-be Newsom VIneyards at Comfort – photo from Nolan Newsom’s Facebook Page.

After we stepped up into the house via makeshift stairs of stacked cinderblocks, Nolan continued. “I know we have big plans, but the main thing right now is to get this house converted into our tasting room and the building out back into storage. We have wine coming and Labor Day is our goal for the date to start selling it.”

Later, I was able to taste two of the new Newsom Vineyard Texas High Plains appellation estate wines:

Newsom Vineyards 2015 Pinot Grigio

A dry, minerally and “stoney” wine was my first impression; definitely not fruit-driven, but offering something more like a salinity. But, the fruit characteristic in this wine are lemon and lemon zest that also carry a light herbal note. This is definitely what Italians would call a high country Pinot Grigio. And, they’d be right since Newsom Vineyards is around 3,700 feet in elevation.

This is a wine to be served with lighter Gulf seafood dishes like flounder, red snapper, blue crab or oysters.


Newsom Vineyards 2015 Orange Muscat

This wine was a surprise for me. Coming in the smaller 500-ml bottle format, my mind worked up an anticipation of a sweet dessert-style wine. Even the nose, with hints of citrus blossom and honeysuckle play tricks with the mind, making it think something sweet in on the way. But, this is a dry muscat with probably only enough residual sugar left in it to soften the finish. The descriptors for this wine include mandarine orange and white peach overlaid with nuances of ginger and near indescribable aroma of rain on hot rocks.

The food pairing ideas for this wine are nearly unlimited. For an opener, serve it with a salty blue cheese then move to tender boiled and spicy Gulf shrimp, Cornish game hens seasoned with Herbes de Provence, and finish with semi-sweet Pistachio cream cake or just simply sliced and naked Fredericksburg peaches… and you can sign me up for that!

These two Newsom Vineyards wines (showing on the back label produced and bottle by Newsom Vines @ Pedernales) makes me think that Pedernales Cellars had a hand in them which is good company to keep. Both were a delight to sample and makes me hopeful that I’m going to be around as Labor Day approaches and corks are popped and more Newsom Vineyards wines are poured at the opening of Nolan’s and Mei’s tasting room.

You can keep up with their progress on Nolan’s Facebook page or look for their location and information on their opening event on the Newson Vineyards at Comfort Facebook page.


Nolan & Mei Newsom are getting ready to welcome you into their tasting room in Comfort.




 Posted by at 10:14 am
Jun 132016


Calais Winery: A Winemaker Tasting à la Cave

After my tasting this past weekend at Calais Winery, between Hye and Johnson City on Texas Highway 290, I believe that the transformation of Ben Calais’ winery from urban Dallas storefront to subterranean Texas hill country affair has made his fine wines even better.

Not that his wines were shabby before; they were actually excellent with one of his store-front-made Tempranillos still stored with me albeit virtually, as a very pleasant memory. This past weekend, maybe it was part ambience of tasting “ala cave”, but I do think there was more to it than just that.

Despite, relocation and extended period of hands-on construction for Ben and his family, and the period of lean vintages from the Texas High Plains AVA* where he prefers to source his grape, this past weekend the wines of Calais popped!

For me, it started right off the bat (or more appropriately, in the cave or in the glass) with his 2014  Principale Roussanne. It was rich in the grape’s characteristic lemon drop, green tea and herbal aromas and flavors that were layered in texture (a combo of bright fruit, tart and astringent mineral notes and well structured finish).


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*AVA – American Viticultural Area

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The two of three following red wines (Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon) were sourced from Newsom Vineyards in Plains, Texas, perhaps the highest of Texas’s high plains vineyards. In combination with intense sunlight at 3700 feet elevation, harsh to extreme weather swings, low vigor red sandy beach-sand-like soils, and Newson’s old vines yields some of the lowest grape production (in tons/acre) of nearly any vineyard site in Texas.  But, this is just what Ben Calais wants.

He said, “I normally have growers plant my own vines and then I can dictate how they are grown. But, in some cases like my Merlot, I’ve taken production from vines that other people have walked away from due to their extremely limited production. He continued, “If your thinking of making making a $20 per bottle wine, you just can’t do it with grapes like these. BUt, that’s not what I’m after.”

Calais has other plans. He is not after that “$20 bottle of wine”. He is after the best expression he can get from these grapes and this REQUIRES low production in the vineyard. He knows it comes with a price. In our tasting this weekend, the wines ran in bottle price from just over $30 to slightly skyward of $100.

I would be remiss if I didn’t mention Calais’s  2015 Malbec (Cuvee des Pierres – The Stones) sourced with grapes from Andy Timmons Lost Draw Vineyards near Brownfield, also in the Texas High Plains AVA.


While we are embedded in a world with far too much cheap (and even at times expensive) and insipid Malbec, from the moment unusual-shaped Calais Winery wine glass approached by nose, I realized (in Star Wars lingo)  that “this WAS the Malbec I’d been looking for” – punchy with rich brambly black fruit with notes of baking spice, leather, stoney minerals and black coffee.

While the price point of Ben Calais wines may not be for everyone’s pocketbook, at least for everyday drinking, I highly recommend that travelers to the hill country with serious wine interest, those like me searching for true varietal character in wines and if you’re in search of a special wine, please stop by Calais Winery for one of Ben’s “by-appointment-only” tastings. And, if it’s within your reach, take a few of Ben’s super-premium bottles, your favorites, to share with your special person or people on appropriately premium occasions. You won’t regret.


 Posted by at 10:58 am
Jun 052016

Texas Hill Country Wineries – Video Interview

Check out this video interview I did with John DeMers, Fischer & Wieser’s Texas Food and Wine Ambassador.

As illustrated in his book, Russ Kane – aka Texas Wineslinger – says the Texas Hill Country wineries have roots as old as any around. Texas grapes grow on soils made from deposits in ancient seas, similar to the grape growing regions of Europe.

Texas  wine culture arrived in the 1600s with Spanish missionaries that settled and planted vineyards in El Paso del Norte. The 1800s brought German and Italian emigrant farmers to Texas. For them, wine was  considered a staple of everyday life.

In what is now America’s number five wine producing state, the  Texas hill country was named by Wine Enthusiast Magazine to their 2014 list of best international wine destinations. This may surprise some, but not the wine aficionados that have visited the Texas hill
country’s 50 or more wineries where wine and culinary tourism is currently its fastest growing sector.

Click the book icon in the upper right side of page to purchase.

Click the book icon in the upper right side of page to purchase.

This book is your guide to the Texas hill country winery experience. It’s time to sip and savor Texas for  yourself.

Author Russell Kane who shares his time between Houston and the Texas hill country is a technical  writer, researcher, wine blogger and book author whose work spans three decades and has earned him awards in both technical and wine communities. His bestselling book, The Wineslinger Chronicles: Texas on the Vine, provided him insights and stories from the pioneers of Texas wine.

To book a speaking engagement with Russ Kane, send your inquiries to:

 Posted by at 12:06 pm
May 292016

Bobby & Jennifer Cox from 1984 are back at the helm of their Pheasant Ridge Winery – Wine Dinner Tonight!

Tonight’s the Night: Dinner with Pheasant Ridge at Harrigan’s

May 29th, 2016 at 6 pm

After many years, Bobby Cox the man and Bobby Cox “the brand” with his Pheasant Ridge Winery is back. He is celebrating the occasion with a wine dinner at Harrigan’s in Lubbock Texas – 3801 50th St #1, Lubbock, TX 79413.

The description that I gave Bobby in my bestselling book The WineSlinger Chronicles: Texas on the Vine after our first meeting was as follows:

Bobby Cox is a larger-than-life character both in stature and reputation among grape growers and winemakers. He’s something like a Texas version of Paul Bunyan, and Neal Newsom’s large blue grape harvester parked beside him appeared as the mechanical equivalent of Bunyan’s large blue ox, Babe. While Bunyan was a legendary lumberman in the American northland, Bobby’s  a bona fide virtuoso of grape growing here in the Southwest.

Bobby’s hands showed the signs of wear and weather, and his furrowed face was etched with the look of lessons learned at the mercy of Mother Nature and hard economic times.

At times it is difficult to separate the man from the legend. He’s shown an uncanny ability of identifying trends, helping growers select grape varieties that best fit the climate and soil in Texas, and at adapting vineyard techniques that optimize the quantity and quality of their harvests…

Pheasant Ridge Winery, with its estate vineyard in the Lubbock area, was once Bobby’s baby. The vineyard he planted in the 1970s is one of the oldest in Texas, with sixty acres of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, Chenin Blanc, and Semillon. He was a believer in the European vinifera grapes from the start, at a time when many people felt that they couldn’t be grown here. However, Bobby’s blood, sweat, and tears weren’t enough. A few years of lean harvests led to the need to borrow money to keep the winery going, but when that ran out, the winery was taken over by the bank and sold in the early 1990s.

— — — — —

Well, after a long hard time during which he served others very well, Bobby and his lovely wife Jennifer are back in the helm of Pheasant Ridge Winery. I may not be able to be there physically in Lubbock tonight, but I’m there in spirit, wishing them the best of success for the future.

The menu and the “taste of time” wine pairings for the Pheasant Ridge Winery Dinner at Harrigan’s  tonight are:

Bacon-wrapped Pepper Shrimp with Herbed Buttermilk Dip – 2011 Chardonnay

Roasted Beet Salad with Goat Cheese, Texas Pecans & Chenin Blanc Vinaigrette – 2010 Dry Chenin Blanc

Mesquite Smoked Prime Rib Au Jus, New Orleans Mashed Potatoes, Grilled Asparagus Spears – 1999 Proprietor’s Reserve

A Selection of Fine Cheeses and Ripe Fresh Fruits – 2011 3 Barrels Up

Price: $60 per person

Reservations Required: Call 806-771-8880

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