A Texas Winemaker with a New Mission and Wine: Brock Estes, DANK, Johnny Rojo, a starter wine without training wheels!
If you don’t know Brock Estes, it might be hard for you to make a sentence with these three words in it: Fly Gap, Dank and wine. But, if you get to know Brock Estes and his winemaking/winegrowing associates in Mason County, you’d have no problem doing it. You’ll have the opportunity to meet-up with Brock and try some of his Fly Gap Winery DANK, Johnny Rojo (a red blend wine) this Saturday at Sandstone Cellars (details below). But, why take the trouble to travel to Mason for a wine release?
Well, according to Brock, “Johnny Rojo is a wine that I feel will get a lot of non-wine drinkers into wine; actually, excited about wine and trying other wines, as well.”
Having just tried this wine, all I can say is, Johnny Rojo’s not anything like the slightly sweet, pink and sometimes sparkling wines (think, insipid) that introduced me to wine when I first explored wine drinking in the early 1970s. Johnny Rojo, first off and with emphasis, I can say, it is a serious wine. If he considers it an introductory wine, then I’d call it a starter wine without training wheels!
Brock continued, “It’s a kitchen sink, fusion blend that is fruit forward and well balanced. Not too complex, just really simple and really smooth and good. It’s an easy drinking (red) wine, and should be a real crowd pleaser.”
Brock’s lingo (e.g. kitchen sink, fusion blend) is similar to Mason County winemaking brethren like Don Pullum who I’m sure has had an influence. However, Brock has reached out to Texas winemaking leader, Kim McPherson (McPherson Cellars, Lubbock Texas) to help him craft this wine and also to put together a group of wines that speak to Brock’s personal winemaking mission. According to Brock, “My goal is to steer younger or less established wine drinkers onto increasingly more serious wines by offerings beyond Johnny Rojo.”Continue reading »
Clinton “Doc” McPherson & his son Kim at Buffalo Gap Wine & Food Summit in April 2012
In Memoriam: Clinton “Doc” McPherson, Pioneer of Texas Wine, Passed Today
The passing of Clinton “Doc” McPherson was reported this morning on Texas Wine Lover blog.
Those in the Texas wine and grape industry and countless people that now enjoy Texas wine, please stop and take a moment to savor a sip of Texas wine in honor this man. We all owe him a debt of gratitude for helping to start the Texas wine industry and initiating what we know as today’s Texas wine experience.
Doc grew up on a cotton farm and evolved from Army Air Corps navigator with hundreds of combat flying hours and numerous medals, to PhD college professor and aspiring wine aficionado in a region of the world better known for cotton, corn, and soybeans than for grapes and malolactic fermentation. It was Doc’s headstrong attitude and association with Robert Reed, Roy Mitchell, and others that got the whole dang modern Texas wine thing started back in 1970s.
Doc attended a Mentors Panel at Neal Newsom’s Field Day in Plains a few years back and addressed the assemblage:
“Bob Reed and I were professors at Texas Tech, and we used to meet over noon lunch. We brought our own lunches because we were poor professors and couldn’t afford the food they sold at the union. I said to Bob, ‘Let’s grow some grapes. We can make jelly and sell it on the roadside during the summer for some extra cash.’ We agreed, OK, we’ll just do that.”
Then, Doc stopped for a moment to think, and interjected, “I’ll tell you what. If I had all the money that Bob and I made and lost with grapes in the early days, both of us would be millionaires.”
“We finally got five acres of grapes planted in 1969, some for makin’ wine. Then, the university president came by and told us that all the assistants and professors had to get themselves a research project. I said RE-SEARCH? So, later I asked him about putting in a small experimental winery in the basement of the chemistry building. I don’t remember all the facts and figures—Roy Mitchell might—but I finally got it put in. That’s where the modern Texas wine industry all started.”
“But, one day when Bob and I were talking about what to do with our grapes, a lady came by and asked us, ‘Why don’t you boys put in a real winery?’ I said, Ma’am, we’re professors, we don’t even have enough money to buy groceries, not to mention a winery. She turned to her secretary and said, ‘Write these boys a check for $50,000 to get them a winery started.’ Today, Bruni is making mighty fine wines over at Llano Estacado, the place I started back in those early days.”
Llano Estacado winery was established in 1976.
Doc, in my opinion, is one of the true Texas Wineslingers. He is survived today by his family and his son Kim who carries on Doc’s Texas wine legacy. It all started after Doc said to Bob Reed, “‘Let’s grow some grapes.“
It’s starting to get cold and stormy outside. As we gather around our dining tables and fireplaces this yearend, many bottles of Port wine will be opened. The origin of Port wine started with a 1678 visit by English merchants to an abbot in Lamego, Portugal, on the Douro River….
‘Tis the season to be jolly, and to search for a few good wines that will transform your holiday dinners into joyous occasions. Wouldn’t it be grand to have your own personal chef and sommelier? Well, I’ve brought together some of the best in Texas at wine and food and pairing to come to your recue….
Texans love sparkling wines, and these bubblies have been around for some time. Lorenzo de Zavala (a noted land empresario, statesman and Texas revolutionary) left behind a sales receipt for Champagne from Île-de-France in Paris dated May 18, 1831, as proof….
Dr. Roy Mitchell has participated in more of the Texas wine experience than anybody still active in it. Prior to our meeting, I’d met Roy only once at a Texas wine industry meeting a few years ago where I first tasted his sherry. It was captivating then, but even more so now….
Register for online account and track The Wineslinger’s weekly Texas wine column directly (click here).
Tasting Among Old Friends: 4.0 Cellars and a New Texas Wine Experience
As I left my Texas Hill Country cottage, there was a recently unfamiliar sight: patches of sky reflected up from puddles on the pockmarked country road. The wet coolness of the afternoon reminded me of driving another wine road through California’s Sonoma County and their Russian River district. It was a place of many friends and shared glasses of wine in tasting rooms with many of these visits in the cool damp time of early Spring.
My Hill Country destination was a new winery and tasting room on the Fredericksburg Wine Road 290 called Four Point Cellars or simply 4.0 Cellars. While the destination was new, it held an opportunity to meet up with old friends. For some time now as opportunities arose, I’ve stopped in to taste wine at three favorite Texas wineries generally considered off the beaten path. They are: Brennan Vineyards in Comanche, TX; Lone Oak Winery in Burleson, TX, now with the new name of Lost Oak Winery (after coming back from a California wine competition with a gold medal and threat of a law suit for use of their old name), and McPherson Cellars in Lubbock, TX. Each has the demonstrated ability to make quality and award winning wines at show well on the national and international stage, but up to today, they required some forethought, planning and a long drive across Texas to enjoy a glass of wine or to buy enough to stock your cellar.
As I approached 4.0 Cellars, their modernistic tower welcomed me from a distance. Once out of my car and approaching the 4.0 facilities, the graceful architecture and inviting landscape was equally alluring as if requesting my presence inside asking me to get reacquainted with old and favorite friends: the wines from three wineries of Brennan, Lost Oak and McPherson, but only a short fifteen minute drive from Fredericksburg, TX.
Inside 4.0 Cellars, Kassandra McPherson greeted me and welcomed me to taste some of my favorite Texas wines and many that are simply not in wide distribution around the state, and perhaps under appreciated by the Texas wine-drinking public at large. Kassandra is the daughter of Kim and granddaughter of Clinton “Doc” McPherson (both prime movers of the modern Texas wine experience). She’s back from University of California – Davis where she studied viticulture and enology and interned at Trefethen Vineyards, and now operates 4.0 Cellars. Hopefully, in time, she will get her chance to make wines of distinction in this Hill Country operation and thus fulfilling the 4.0 Cellars name.
Due to a recent trip to Lubbock to attend Literary Lubbock that featured my book, The Wineslinger Chronicles, and a follow-on tour of vineyards in the Texas High Plains AVA, I missed the opportunity to attend Four Point Cellars media launch event where Pat Brennan (Brennan Vineyards), Gene Estes (Lost Oak Winery) and Kim McPherson (McPherson Cellars) explained their new winery’s mission – The Texas Wine Experience. As summed up best by Pat Brennan, “4.0 Cellars is about giving the people of Texas the quality wines that they’ve been looking for,” and I’ll add, the convenience of having 4.0 Cellars in close proximity on the well-trafficked Route 290 Wine Road and, according to Orbitz, in the second fastest growing wine and culinary destination in the USA – The Texas Hill Country.
Photo by Matt McGinnis, WhatAreYouDrinking.net
As I got reacquainted with my old friends – The Viogniers from Brennan Vineyards and Lost Oak Vineyards, McPherson Cellars Roussanne, La Herencia and DBS (blend of Dolcetto, Barbara and Sangiovese), and Lost Oak’s Tempranillo – I looked around and found the surroundings comfortable and quite appealing; a complement to the quality wine experience now offered at Four Point Cellars.
But, you now what? Before I left, I’d made a few new friends, too. And, so can you.
Manifesto: Three Lessons for Texas Winemakers to Live By
I stopped by for a visit with Kim McPherson, known as “K Mac” to some in Texas; he’s proprietor and winemaker at his McPherson Cellars winery in Lubbock, Texas. His family line, namely his father Clinton “Doc” McPherson, goes back to the genesis of the modern Texas wine experience that took root in the 1970s. Even Kim himself is old enough to have had his fingers in some of the first commercially produced vinifera wines made in Texas.
I’m up in these parts for long time Texas winegrower, Neal Newsom’s Field Day and a following tour of the Texas high plains wineries and vineyards on Saturday. I find Kim McPherson one of the more pleasurable people to visit in the whole dang state when it comes to talking wine…Texas wine. Why? Because he doesn’t sugar coat the conversation about Texas wine: where it’s come from and how it’s doing now. Consequently, I trust his insights regarding where it’s likely to go in the future.
Kim readily admits that its hard work making Texas appellation wines, and in some years even he can pull it off. I last talked to him in 2009, which was a horrible year due to the severe late spring freeze that decimated that year’s harvest of Texas grapes. By some estimates, it was only 30-50 percent of what it could have been in the absence of the freeze. That was about as ‘dark” as I had seen him, except for maybe a period before he started his winery.
But, on this visit in 2011, Kim leaned more toward optimism, not outright cheer and bliss mind you. However, coming off a great statewide 2010 harvest, he sees some progress toward making the industry more sustainable going forward. However, now he frets that people have to get with the program.
We sat in the small laboratory in his avant-garde-meets-desert-landscape-meets-early-coca-cola styled destination winery in downtown Lubbock and we talked about what he feels are “lessons to live by” for those that want to make the Texas wine industry succeed and help it join the ranks of the major wine-producing states and wine producing regions of the world. It really isn’t hard in concept; perhaps a bit more complicated in practice. To me, his manifesto seemed to boil down to three rules:
1. Grow “warm weather” grapes. For the most part, these are grapes from the Mediterranean region of Europe that includes parts of Spain, Italy and southern France. Not all are suited for Texas, but he feels that there are good ones that actually “like” being here in Texas. Actually, on my last visit, he suggested that Texas should select its best six varieties of Vitis vinifera (European wine grapes), saddle up and be prepared to ride with them. Three red and three white (well almost). Today, his selections for reds grapes were Tempranillo, Mourvedre, and Cabernet Sauvignon with Cabernet relegated to the second-string of Texas grapes to be used as a blender with other grapes like Tempranillo or Sangiovese. Other reds such as Syrah, Grenache and maybe even Sangiovese, he would move into a category of red grapes that seem to make better Texas Rosés than red wines. As for his list of three white wine grapes, Kim started with Viognier and Roussanne, but then he stopped and thought a while. Then, he decided that rather than a third white wine grape, Texas should focus (as they do in many Mediterranean regions) on Rosés: pink wines made dry and crisp.
2. Place more emphasis on blended wines. If you look at most major wine growing regions around the world, they’ve made their reputation on blended wines rather than single varietal wines. This allows the winemaker the flexibility to craft the best wine he/she can with the particular grapes the vintage provided. Think about Bordeaux and Rhone Valley wines, they are all blends of grapes that have developed and grow in these regions. Single varietal wines were an invention of California. It made selling wines easier and the relatively consistent growing growing conditions made it possible to make Cabernet and Chardonnay in a consistent manner year after year. In Texas, we have a much more variable situation with weather (again similar to that in Europe). Blending will allow both growers and winemakers more flexibility to go with the best that the particular year’s harvest gives them. Blends with proprietary names allow for consistency in the marketplace, rather than have one year where a particular grape variety, say Sangiovese, is dark and rich followed by a year where the Sangiovese is weak, or another year when there wasn’t enough produced to be commercial. If used as part a blended wine, say with Cabernet, Nero d’Avola or other Italian red varieties, a Sangiovese-based blend would likely be both a better made and better received. The differences in the blend from year-to-year make for good discussion points in the tasting room and around the dinner table, too.
3. Since by and large, the Texas wines that Kim was pontificating about are not in the standard “California Set” of Cabernet, Merlot and Chardonnay, Texas winemakers will have to do what Kim calls “hand selling”. This means winemakers will have to develop relationships with restauranteurs, sommeliers, retailers, media and even consumers one-on-one or through social media to get the new gospel of Texas wines across to the wine consuming public. This Texas gospel of Mediterranean varietals, blends and year-to-year differences is a message much more in keeping with the old world wine experiences than with that of California. Is this a bad thing? In my book, not at all.
Ten Things I Learned About Wine, Food and People at the 2010 Buffalo Gap Wine & Food Summit
1. Court of Master Sommeliers – Deductive Tasting Format. This was a technique that I learned at a CMS class in Houston many years ago when Guy Stout brought it to town for the first time. Use all of your senses to position the wine in the global wine world: Sight, Smell, and Taste.
2. In Guy’s Tasting Panel (Wine…Why you like it) held bright and early yesterday morning, he proved that most wines can be described by asking yourself only four questions: Old world or new world? Warm climate or cool climate? Grape variety? Oak aging and type (American/French, etc)? Gosh…I love the smell of Cabernet in the morning!
3. Grapes that we commonly know can be crafted into wines of extremely different character that sometimes fool us. Dr. Clay Cockerell showed his winery’s stuff by pouring two Sauvignon Blanc wines. One was dry and made sur lee in a Graves (French) style and the other was late harvested and fooled the crowd.
4. In Guy’s panel, I sat and tasted next to Clint “Doc” McPherson, the now 90+ year old college prof and prime mover of the modern Texas wine industry. The most surprising comment that he told me and later told the crowd was that “I’ve seen more grape vines pulled out than anyone.” This is a testament to post prohibitionist Texas laws and tea toating sentiments, and chaulk up the rest to Texas’s learning experiences. Except in rare locations, Texas just ain’t Burgundy and not Bordeaux either. It’s in the tough box of a warm growing region that has to face the impact of late spring freezes. Texas needs to focus on varietal selection (those from Italy, Southern France and Spain or hybrids like Blanc Du Bois and Black Spanish) and innovative vineyard practices to fight freezes.
5. There is a difference in what your beef eating experience will be depending on what you serve with beef. Leave the sweet sauces for pork and use accoutrements that have “umami” (the savory fifth taste). Things like mushrooms, blue cheese, bacon enhance the beef eating experience.
6. You might be able to tell the differences between dry and wet aged beef and grass and grain feed beef if presented side by side. The dry aged beef had a noticeably different nutty flavor component and was a bit richer than wet aged beef. However, wet aging is the preference in the marketplace these days for economic and supply-side reasons. Grass feed beef was slightly less moist than grain feed (probably from lower fat content); they have nearly the same omega 3’s.
7.The key to making multigenerational wineries work is likely very much the same as how it works in other family business. Families need to stress perfection, friendship and respect. Most second-generation family members have worked in the business (as kids doing odd jobs like restocking the soda machine), left and returned later in life. Some are focusing their energies on a second label (likely creating something that’s their own). A good example is father-son team of Michael and James Stewart (Stewart Cellars / Singshot). The father is making a great $60 Napa Valley Cabernet while the son is turning heads making an excellent $20 Napa Valley Cabernet that his friend can afford.
8. Texas needs to take a page from California’s Napa Valley winegrowers and winemakers. Texas needs to focus on the selection of a few grape varietals that want to grow in Texas….plain and simple, hardly! When you talk to the Napa Valley growers, they nearly unanimously say “Cabernet just grows and we have to do very little to it”. When you talk to the Napa Valley winemakers, they say “We just bring it in the backdoor of the winery and it nearly makes wine by itself.” Texas has discovered better varietals for its climate; Viognier and Tempranillo and its working on the next set of “keepers” such as Roussanne, Vermentino, Mourvedre, and Grenache. I hope that they can find a why to work with Chenin Blanc, to make a mainstream Texas wine because it likes to grow here, too.
9. Texas wines to try: Becker Roussanne, McPherson Rosé, Flat Creek Pinot Blanc, Brennan Vineyards Viognier, Llano Estacado Cabernet Sauvignon Mont Sec Vineyard.
10. Tom and Lisa Perini (Perini Ranch and Steakhouse) show their dedication to their business of feeding people and doing it well, but also their love of food and wine and the desire to educate people so that they can best enjoy the experience.
A TOAST ON THE HIGH PLAINS… THE “GIANT SIP” OF TEXAS
The 1st Annual Lubbock, Texas Wine Festival… “A TOAST ON THE HIGH PLAINS…THE GIANT SIP OF TEXAS”.
When: November 6 thru 8, 2009 (Fri. – Sat. – Sun.)
Where: Louise Underwood Center for the Arts – Ave. K and Mac Davis Ln. (6th Street)
Why: To promote and celebrate the Texas Wine Country Experience and raise funds for several local groups.
Lubbock is a “natural” location for a wine festival and the festival itself should develop over the next few years into one of the Premier Wine Events in the State. Lubbock was where the heart beat of the modern Texas wine industry started with the formation of Llano Estacado, CapRock and Pheasant Ridge Wineries. The region holds the names of some of the most influential people in the Texas wine industry, such as Dr. Clinton “Doc” McPherson, founder of Llano Estacado Winery, and his son and renowned winemaker Kim McPherson, long-time preminum grape grower Neal Newsom, and Texas’ premier viticultural consultant, Bobby Cox.
On November 6-8, 2009, the citizens of Lubbock and West Texas introduce their first festival devoted to the growing Wine Industry of Texas, now the fifth largest in the nation. Wineries from throughout the state (currently more than 20 participating) will showcase their products for a 3-day event.
Attendees will taste wines from many wineries and vintages; and for the first time in Texas, these wineries will be allowed to sell their products on-site by the glass, bottle, and case direct to the public. The festival begins Friday evening, Nov. 6 – (5:30 – 9:00), in conjunction with First Friday Art Trail, and continues Saturday and Sunday, Nov. 7 & 8 (11:00 – 5:00).
The location is within the downtown “Arts District” area around the Louise Hopkins Underwood Center for the Arts. This exciting event will be held outdoors with twenty or more Texas wineries each sampling and selling many of their best vintages.
This fun and exciting event will be raising funds for several local groups including: Lubbock Meals on Wheels, Marine Corps’ Toys for Tots, Sheriff’s Fallen Officer’s Fund, and others named at a later date!
There’s more than just wine too! Live Music, Artist booths, food temptations, and even beer tastings from Lubbock’s own Triple J Chophouse and Brewery!
The festival is promoting the ever expanding and extremely important wine and grape experience of Texas. There are over 180 wineries recognized in Texas. Locally, 5 wineries from the Lubbock High Plains area will be the true features of the festival.
Don Roark, of CapRock winery, said “finally…it’s about time someone got this going. We’re in!” Along those same lines, Dusty Duke, tasting room manager for Llano Estacado said: “We’ve been participating in these events around the state for years, this will be a great event for Lubbock, and quite frankly, a whole lotta fun!”
Kim McPherson of McPherson Cellars (Lubbock’s Newest) will be participating in the grand festival at the Underwood Center for the Arts and indicated, “if possible, he would like also to provide a wine and food pairing event in conjunction with Lubbock’s Wine Festival, possibly at his own event center. This is an indication of how the event is gaining momentum in Lubbock that was long a “dry” area where wine (and other alcoholic beverages) was not allowed to be sold.
Get Ready Lubbock! Get Ready for Fantastic Texas Food, Great Artist, Exceptional entertainment, and wonderful Texas Wine… Wine… and More Wine!
Everyone is invited to attend; but, must be 21 or older to partake in tasting/purchasing.
Lubbock Winemaker Kim McPherson on the 2009 Grape Harvest and current projects:
Video: Texas Sangiovese, the Warm Climate Pinot Noir
Sangiovese is universally acknowledged as one of the great grapes of Italy and is the principal grape used in producing Chianti in Tuscany. The grape normally produces light to medium bodied red wines with crisp acidity that makes them the near-perfect match for a wide range of foods from fish to fowl to grilled meats. The name Sangiovese comes from the phrase “Sanguis Jovis”, literally “Blood of Jove”, and it is sometimes translated as “the Blood of God”.
There are at least fourteen separate and distinct clones of Sangiovese. Most produce a lighter style wine with lots of red berry flavors and aromas with the exception of the clone of Sangiovese used to produce Brunello which results in a fuller body and darker quality than found in Chianti-style wines.
In Italy, Chianti requires a minimum of 80 percent of the wine to be composed of Sangiovese. In recent decades, this has led to a wide range of experimentation among wine makers, including the addition of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Syrah, creating the exceptional wines known as “Super Tuscans” and a range of Mediterranean blends. In Texas as in California, Sangiovese is growing in popularity used to produce single-grape varietal wines, with a number of vineyards producing very well-received wines from the grape. Sangiovese produced in Texas has been “brown bagged” and blind tasted by restaurateurs and sommeliers versus Sangiovese from California and Italy and found to be most like the old world wines of Chianti Classico of Tuscany.
The Sangiovese grape loves the hot climate found in places like Tuscany, as well as warmer dry regions of California and Texas. It generally makes lighter bodied wines with lots of red berry qualities when compared with heartier grapes such as Cabernet Sauvignon known for it dark berry and cassis characteristics. Consequently, Sangiovese is sometimes referred to as a “Warm Climate Pinot Noir” as Pinot Noir is also known for producing lighter body yet pleasing wines, but is typically grown in cooler climates. In contrast Sangiovese vines love the hot Tuscan or Texan sun. Descriptors for wines made from Sangiovese often hint at the rustic nature with nuances of red fruits (See table below for Sangiovese wine descriptors).
For additional information, check out the previous VintageTexas blog postings that highlight wines made from Sangiovese.