Aug 302015




 By: R.L. Winters, Fairhaven Vineyards

Master Horticulturist/Ampelographer Fairhaven American Hybrid Research Foundation

[VT – Please welcome back VintageTexas guest blogger R.L. Winters in this three part blog on the impact of the use of imidacloprid pesticides our grape culture in Texas and the American Southland. Click here to read Part I – The MYSTERY. Click here to read Part III – WHAT YOU CAN DO.


In the case of sublethal imidacloprid dosing, the pollinators aren’t killed directly, but absorb or transfer enough of the chemical to the brood to produce toxicity that overlaps into successive generations. In the process of unraveling this paradox, it has become clear that the neonicotinoid was being transferred back to the colony in the form of contaminated pollen. The pollen is then consumed and or conveyed to the developing larvae. As the larvae matured, the ingested tainted pollen delivers the sub-lethal dose that would manifest itself by damaging the foragers neurons to the degree that their ability to master the vital, million-year-old skills of colony behavior, was severely damaged.

As is detailed in the report published by Ecotoxicology 2012 May 21(4) 973-992; “Bees trained to forage on artificial feeders, Bortolotti et al. (2003) noticed that a 500 meter distance between the hive and the feeding area resulted in no foragers at the hive/feeding area up to 24 hours after treatment when foragers were fed with imidacloprid at 500 and 1,000 μg l−1. The latter authors also found that a lower concentration (100 μg l−1 imidacloprid) caused a delay in the returning time (to hive or feeding area) of the foragers”.


At the core of the mystery of the disappearance, the explanation seems to be a macabre set of symptoms that include the inability to navigate correctly.

Continue reading »

 Posted by at 10:56 am
Aug 292015

Honey Bee doing its thing. Will we have them for long?



 By: R.L. Winters, Fairhaven Vineyards

Master Horticulturist/Ampelographer Fairhaven American Hybrid Research Foundation

[VT – Please welcome back VintageTexas guest blogger R.L. Winters in this three part blog on the impact of the use of imidacloprid pesticides our grape culture in Texas and the American Southland.] Click here for Part II, click here for Part III.

— — — — —


In the late winter of 2005 Florida beekeeper Bill Rhodes was busy working his usual day’s tasks, the drudgery of preparing hundreds of his bee colonies for shipment to the vast almond groves of California, where they would facilitating the production of an important national crop. He noticed an unusual behavior while conducting regular maintenance of the hives…

The bees responded to the routine splitting of the hives by refusing to occupy the split sections! Something he hadn’t seen before in decades of experience working with these tiny denizens of nature.

Once the broods arrived in California, Rhodes went out to inspect the hives, marking them and returning within the week to check again. “The hive would look entirely different,” Rhodes said. “It was like something just had them by the throat and was just pulling the strength from them. We had no idea what it was.” Of the sixteen semi-loads of pollinators Rhodes had shipped to the location only two were serviceable. The rest had perished.

Backtracking to where the brood had been previously contracted, led Rhodes back to a fruit farming operation in South Dakota. The farm was located immediately adjacent to vast acres of sunflowers that were literally dripping with imidacloprid.

What this simple, thoughtful, beekeeper had identified was later to become known as Colony Collapse Disorder. Overnight, Rhodes had become the unwilling Paul Revere of the basis of world crop production, shouting a warning that would circle the globe!


Honey bees approaching a sunflower


Imidacloprid is a type of neonicotinoid insecticide that was first registered for use in the United States in 1994. The chemical compound, a synthetic form of nicotine, was originally approved for use in ornamentals, and turf application to control sucking or chewing insects. The product is marketed under many different trade names: Alias, Merit, Gaucho, Provado, Montana, Nuprid, Marathon, Adonis, Macho, and Dominion.

Continue reading »

 Posted by at 9:01 am
Aug 252015

Morning Grape Harvest at Brennan Vineyards (from Brennan Vineyards)

It’s A Fine Wine Harvest in Texas This Year – Could be the Biggest!

Early in the year, I kept getting inquiries from friends and associates in the wine business asking about the impact of the rainy spring weather in the Texas hill country. I’d just say, “So far, what I’m hearing is good”, but really not knowing what the long-term results were going to be when harvest time came around.

Then, at the end of May, in just a few weeks, many Texas vineyards (particularly those in central Texas) where inundated with a foot or two of rain in multiple doses that came fast, hard and furious. There were even groups of wine tourists talking shelter during tornado warnings in subterranean cellars of wineries along Route 290 near Fredericksburg.

The net result of all this was, it was hard for some vineyards to keep up with their spraying and the development of significant fungal disease pressure. However, according to a recent (and optimistic) Texas Fine Wine news release, “disciplined vineyard management practices aided canopy development and kept the vineyards across the state healthy and productive.”

From personal discussions, it appears that some Texas vineyards were hurt, and hurt badly, but the net result across the state is that the 2015 is turning out to be a very good year for grape production.

“We are beyond thrilled to see a quality harvest of Viognier and Nero d’Avola, which we have been without in 2013 and 2014,” said Pat Brennan, owner of Brennan Vineyards (Comanche, TX).  “Overall, the fruit is looking beautiful and 2015 looks to be a very promising vintage.” From the recent social media photo-blasts by Brennan Vineyards Rebecca Connelly and Todd Webster, Pat Brennan’s winemaker, the bins are filling up with ripe, luscious grapes and harvesting is going at a breakneck pace.


Morning harvest at Brennan Vineyards (photo from Brennan Vineyards)

Continue reading »

 Posted by at 11:25 am
Aug 132015

Wall-to-wall attendance at 2015 TEXSOM

Four Takeaways from 2015 TEXSOM

Looking back to my first Texsom in 2008, I’ve attended a majority of the TEXSOM conferences over its past eleven years. As I recall, the first one I attended barely broke an attendance of around 200 people. The vast majority were local sommeliers (barely enough to fill a hotel ballroom). They were bolstered by a moderate-sized group of wine aficionados who attended the TEXSOM grand tasting. But, one thing’s been clear during this time, the driver for this event has been the vision of TEXSOM founders and Master Sommeliers James Tidwell and Drew Hendricks to create a unique event for career-minded beverage professionals.

This year’s TEXSOM  (held August 8-10) was a “grown-up” version of James’s and Drew’s early conferences now having six simultaneous breakout sessions each morning and afternoon over the two-day period. This year, it brought to the Four Seasons Resort Dallas (Las Colinas) over 1000 attendees including nearly a third of all Certified Master Sommeliers residing in the United States.

The reality of TEXSOM is that there is really no other wine and beverage educational event operating at the same caliber. Its attributes includes:

  • Extensive guided tastings and panel presentations lead by MS, MW and international wine luminaries
  • Sommeliers, wine professionals and volunteers in attendance now come from over 18 states.
  • The 11th annual Best Sommelier competition has now expanded beyond Texas to include surrounding states with (I presume) expansion in sight to reach all of America’s coasts.
  • Associated educational courses and certification examinations from both the Court of Master Sommeliers Americas and the UK-based Wine & Spirits Education Trust.

I have four major takeaways from the 2015 TEXSOM that I want to share with you.


Trimbach Retrospective Tasting led by Jean Trimbach

#1 – As a Taster, I Have the Opportunity to Learn from the World’s Best

It was an honor to sit, taste and learn from the best and most knowledgeable professionals in the beverage industry. This year my personal track was: Continue reading »

 Posted by at 3:12 pm
Aug 112015

Nathan Fausti 2015 TEXSOM Best Sommelier Competition Winner

FLASH: Nathan Fausti of Olive & June Named 2015 Best Sommelier at Texsom

2015 (11th Annual) TEXSOM Best Sommelier Competition Presented by Texas Monthly

TEXSOM co-founders and Master Sommeliers Drew Hendricks and James Tidwell last night announced at the Wine & Food Foundation of Texas Grand Tasting that Nathan Fausti of Olive & June in Austin, Texas, is the 2015 TEXSOM Best Sommelier. The 2015 TEXSOM Best Sommelier Competition, presented by Texas Monthly, takes place during TEXSOM, the most prominent and influential wine education conference in the United States, held annually at the Four Seasons Resort and Club Dallas at Las Colinas in Irving, Texas.

Fausti topped a strong field of 23 other competitors in a rigorous three-part wine examination involving service, blind tasting and theory. An elite panel of Master Sommelier and Master of Wine judges named Fausti the 2015 TEXSOM Best Sommelier at a ceremony on Monday evening.  The competition is a key part of TEXSOM. To participate, candidates must be a current resident of Arkansas, Louisiana, Oklahoma, New Mexico, or Texas and must not have passed the Court of Master Sommeliers’ Advanced Sommelier Examination. Previously, only Texas sommeliers were allowed to apply for the competition.

In addition to being honored with the title “2015 TEXSOM Best Sommelier,” Fausti received a scholarship of $2,500 from the Guild of Sommeliers Education Foundation to be used for a Court of Master Sommeliers certification program. David Donalson of Goody Goody Liquor in Dallas, Texas was the second runner up and will receive a $1,500 scholarship, and the 3rd place winner Luis La Torre of Spec’s Fine Wines in Dallas, Texas will receive a $1,000 scholarship.

Nathan Fausti is the 11th winner of the TEXSOM Best Sommelier Competition to be honored with the TEXSOM T.V. Munson Trophy. The trophy is named after Thomas Volney Munson (1843–1913) often called the “Grape Man of Texas”. He was a horticulturalist and grape hybridizer who collected, categorized and bred Native American grapes. Munson’s greatest achievement to the world of wine was providing the French and European vineyards with phylloxera-resistant root stock from wild Texas grapes. This allowed vineyards across Europe to recover from the devastating blight of the 1800s. France later presented Munson the Chevalier du Merite Agricole of the French Legion of Honor.

Nathan, congrats!


2015 TEXSOM Best Sommelier Competition Organizers & Winner, Nathan Fausti (center)


Founded in 2005, TEXSOM was started by Master Sommeliers James Tidwell and Drew Hendricks to help promote professional wine service standards, outline paths for further wine education and certification, and raise public awareness about the professional standards and certifications for sommeliers. Today, the conference draws a total of 1,000 attendees, of whom 700 are sommeliers, retailers and wine buyers.

 Posted by at 2:04 pm
Aug 052015

Tasting with John Rivenburgh and Bob Young, Bending Branch Winery

Bending Branch Winery: Where Bob and John Bring a “Dash of Flash” to the Wine Tasting: New Wine Releases

After driving past the cool waters of the Guadalupe River and arriving at Bending Branch Winery in Comfort, Bending Branch owner and winemaker Bob Young chauffeured us to the winery building. He used his new and nearly “street legal” electric shuttle car. In the cool of Bending Branch Winery, three flights of wines were set up for us to taste.

Quite surprising to me was, while Bending Branch Winery made their reputation on dark red Tannat wines, we were four wines into the tasting and all of the limited release 2014 wines tasted in the first flight were whites: Estate Cuvee Blanc white blend; Roussanne, Hoover Valley Vineyard; Viognier, Riven Rock Vineyard; and, Single Barrel Blanc, Hall Ranch Vineyards.

Bending Branch viticulturist and winemaker John Rivenburgh explained, “While out with some of my hill country winemaking buddies, they joked with me…‘John, you’re getting really good making red wines. Too bad you can’t make white wines.’ I wanted to show them, I really could do whites, too.”


John Rivenburgh peeking between the bottles.

While I’m sure this was said in jest, their estate vineyard combined with a good 2014 vintage and new sources of hill country grapes complied so that John and Bob could have some really fine whites to show:

  • 2014 Cuvee Blanc is all stainless steel fermented from their estate grown, organic grapes: approximately 60% Picpoul Blanc, 20% Roussanne and 20% Vermentino. It’s a palate pleaser yielding Picpoul’s crisp acidity and lemon-orange citrus notes carried with Roussanne’s classic smooth silky mouthfeel.
  • 2014 Roussanne, Hoover Valley Vineyard is 100% varietal. This Chardonnay lover’s Texas white wine is made with a 50-50 blend of stainless and oak aged Roussanne with a touch of lees left in during aging in oak. My notes say, “great body, richness and depth of flavor, but bringing a crisp finish where lemon citrus and tea notes prevail.” It is the first Texas version of Bending Branch’s “Comfortage” (a twist on the Rhone Valley appellation name – Hermitage) that in prior years was made from California fruit.

Continue reading »

 Posted by at 2:29 pm
Jul 072015

Jennifer Beckmann at Kuhlman Cellars

Kuhlman Cellars: For Love of Vina Vita and the Re-creation of a First Kiss

On a busy Fall afternoon, while rushing back to my cottage on the hill at the end of a long drive, I was encouraged by Jennifer Beckmann to stop by the newly opened Kuhlman Cellars. After stopping-in to a take a peek, I’ll admit to being far too distracted by many things that day. But, the winery did leave impressions of unpretentious yet fine food/wine pairings and the aromatics of new pine paneling. It also gave me the urge to return, which is something that I was just recently able to do.

Driving up to the winery on Route 290, I saw the future hopes of owners Chris and Jennifer Cobb in Kuhlman Cellars’ newly planted estate vineyard populated with mostly Mediterranean-style grapes. Present were Marsanne, Roussanne, Carignan and Mourvèdre. These are all sun-loving varieties, that have been known for centuries to express their terroir (their vineyard environment including the soil, topography, and climate).


Kuhlman Cellars and Estate Vineyard

In the winery, greeted again by the ever-smiling Jennifer Beckmann, I was invited to savor the Kuhlman concept of Vina Vita (or Wine Life). This time it came at a slower pace allowing me to enjoy bites of food and matching sips of wine (five bites and five wines, perfectly paired) in a guided tasting. It was a personal wine and food journey of sorts with Jennifer as my guide. Continue reading »

 Posted by at 7:21 pm
Jul 012015


Winemaking Harvest Internship Opportunity: Looking for Texans Interested in California Experience

Forwarded from Randy Hester,

I am coming up on my 10th harvest in Napa Valley but my first position was a cellar internship in 2006, and the knowledge I gained from it is immeasurable. Because the Texas wine industry is growing so quickly, I would like to share a great opportunity with my fellow Texans again this year. I have set up a referral system with the same winery I worked with to start my career and am happy to assist in setting up an interview for a position this fall.

The Texas Wine Drinkers forum is packed with parents, friends, students, winery people, vineyard people, and consumers who love Texas wines. If you know of anyone interested in working this fall in Napa Valley, please message me on Facebook or by email and I can provide you more detail and information.

And this was the recent call to action that I’ve initiated:

Fellow Texas wine drinkers, please encourage your favorite wineries to send applicants my way. The sacrifice they make this year to get one or two of their employees some excellent training will pay tremendous dividends immediately upon their return and for years to come. Jeff Cope, Russell Kane, Denise Clarke, Katy Jane Seaton, January Wiese, anything you can do to spread the word would be greatly appreciated. This industry is growing at a fantastic rate, and with all of the newly planted vineyards coming on line in the next few year we need skilled workers!

I have had a few responses, and here is the gist of what I have sent those folks:

Thank you for reaching out. I started my winemaking career with this fantastic winery and they have agreed to interview people that I send their way. This is a paid internship in Napa, lasting approximately from August through November. Applicants would need a driver’s license, your own transportation, and temporary housing. (Harvest housing is readily available across the valley through rental agencies. Options include spare bedrooms, guest houses, etc., and even the winery has rooms to rent on a first come first served basis.) They will learn a broad range of cellar operations at a high level, and at a volume that provides plenty of repetition and practice. My hope is that anyone who goes through this experience will be able to jump right in to any production facility in Texas and be a highly productive member of that team. In your case maybe that means taking yourself and your team to a whole different level.

If you or anyone you know is interested please send me an updated resume and a quick note on your goals in the wine industry. From there I would like to connect with a phone call to talk more about the ins and outs.

Thank you so much for your time and your interest. Please spread the word this summer and let’s get some Texas winery folks some good training. I look forward to meeting you at some point or another down the road.

Randy Hester


 Posted by at 10:49 am
Jun 302015

Messina Hof Sneak Peek – Awards, Events & Wines

Sneak Peek of Messina Hof Winery 2015 at Vic & Anthony’s

Paul Mitchell Bonarrigo, the seventh generation winemaker in the Bonarrigo family, addressed the assemblage at Vic & Anthony’s Steak House in Houston to taste and savor the wines from Messina Hof Winery and Resort. With Paul Mitchell were his family: father and mother, Paul and Merrill, who started their family winery in Bryan, TX, in the 1970s, and his wife Karen.

During a break in the tasting, Paul Mitchell highlighted a few of Messina Hof’s long list of accomplishments, including:

  • Most awarded winery in Texas with over 200 competition medals in just the past three years and over 150 gold medal wining wines.
  • From 1983 to 2015, the annual case production of Messina Hof Winery increased from 550 to over 70,000 cases.
  • Being the fourth modern era winery established in Texas, Messina Hof now has three locations including the Messina Hof Winery and Resort (Bryan), Messina Hof Hill Country (Fredericksburg) and Messina Hof Grapevine.

Selection of Messina Hof Award Winning Wines

He said, “During the last few years, there has been a lot of investments in Texas vineyards that have accumulated more than 2000 new acres of vines. Many growers on the high plains are converting from cotton to grapes. I want to specifically acknowledge Bill and Gail Day (Houston area residents) who planted their Buena Suerte Vineyards near Lubbock. Their vineyard has provided the Viognier, Tempranillo and Sangiovese that are in the wines you enjoying tonight.” Continue reading »

 Posted by at 2:24 pm
Jun 242015

The Texas Wine Gulag: VT Guest Blog by R.L. Winters, Fairhaven Vineyards

The Texas Wine Gulag

How Big Retail Is Wrecking The Texas Wine Business

VT Guest Blog by: R.L. Winters (Master Horticulturist/Ampelographer Fairhaven American Hybrid Research Foundation), Owner & Winemaker Fairhaven Vineyards

— — — — —

How many times have you gone into a liquor retailer looking for a specific wine and been told: “Oh, the reason you can’t find it is because the Texas wines are ‘Over There’. Have you noticed, that frequently, ‘Over There’ really means ‘Back There’.

I have begun to question the reasoning behind store schematics that take a specific regional wine and (effectively) locks it up, prisoner, to a separate, and frequently, remote section of the retail area. In Texas, this is effectively ‘The Texas Wine. Gulag’.

Does this ‘Texas Wine Section’ really stimulate sales, or does it guarantee that the majority of wine shoppers won’t see your product?

One recent experience I’ve had with one of the large Texas retailers points up the problems that Texas wineries face in the crowded wine market.

I’ve had not less than a dozen phone conversations with the wine buyer and, amidst all of the label grumbling (click here for more on label grumbling), I was presented with a long list of excuses why the buyer simply doesn’t have the time to sample my products.


Notice: Texas wine on left; bourbon & rye whiskey on right.

Assuming I (or you if presented with the same situation) have the patience and perseverance at a level granted to few mortals, I might end up with five minutes with the retailer to offer up my wines! Continue reading »

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 Posted by at 10:48 am