Dec 192011

Fairhaven Vineyards TVM 2009 Lomanto: Texas Bred, Texas Savored

It was truly one of the most incredible wine tastings…in Denison, Texas, at Vinita, the familial home of Thomas Volnay (T.V.) Munson. We had a host of wines, but not a name among them was recognizable from any of my previous wine tastings. The names included Lomanto, Ben Hur, Delicatessen, Wine King, and Nitodal. These are now only memories to me, except one.

R.L. Winters provided the wines made from grapes originally bred at the hand of the “Originator”, T.V. Munson: the grape breeder par excellence, horticulturalist, scientist, businessman, back roads traveler and savior of the French wine industry with Texas native root stock that gave him the moniker: The Grape Man of Texas.

R.L. is a master horticulturalist at his Fairhaven Vineyards, which has a mission to produce exceptional, fine quality French American and American Hybrid wines for sale in the Texas market and nationwide. He has begun a pioneering effort to develop his “Heritage Series” of super-hybrid wine grapes. The genetic base for this project was sourced from Fairhaven’s exceptionally rare American hybrid collection. His breeding vineyard is a living history of Texas wine Heritage. What heirlooms are to tomatoes, Munson varieties are to grapes.

In November of 2009, Fairhaven Lomanto became the first wine produced in R.L.’s Heritage Series.

All of the wines from my Vinita tasting were now history except for one, and it was a bottle of R.L.’s Fairhaven Vineyards 2009 Lomanto. The label on the bottle bares the initials TVM in honor of T.V. Munson’s great grape breeding work over a century ago.

Nearly immediately after I popped the cork on this baby, I knew that it had a lot to give. It was thick and dark with an opacity something like a California Zin. The color was a purple-blue-red, something that R.L. calls “astral purple with a stunning iridescent blue halo”. The aroma was still tight, but had readily discernible dark berries highlighted with mineral and mint notes. On the palate, it was pure black cherry: juicy, ripe and concentrated. After I sat awhile tasting this wine, I thought seriously if anyone had doubts that a red hybrid grape could go mainstream, they better think again.

The Fairhaven Lomanto was a deep, dark and serious red wine

According to R.L. “Regarding Lomanto, it’s one tough vine.  We were able to get 400 of the vines through this last summer (a 100 year drought) without irrigation, and only had a few losses. In a normal year the vine shows very little damage from foliar fungal problems when a usual spray program is maintained.”

He continued, “Lomanto’s tolerance to Pierce’s Disease (PD) is exceptional. An occasional vine will show some symptoms but the problems usually occur on a single cordon (zonal) and rarely affect the entire vine. Berry size is 20-22mm and cluster weights will average about 14 ounces, with some ranging to 18.”

At more or less a pound a piece, those are what I call clusters.

R.L. gave me more details on the 2009 Lomanto harvest and how it was handled in his winery. He said, “In 2009, ripening was progressive and uniform. Harvest details and berry chemisty was as follows: Harvest 2009 July 14 at 6:45 am, Brix 21. pH 3.3. TA 0.90 g/l. Fermentation was in two stages: Primary fermentation with Lalvin ICV D254 and a secondary malolactic fermentation using Scott Labs Alpha ML. After that, the barrel treatment was new American oak all the way with 145 days in oak, a mere five months.

During my tasting, I decided that the Fairhaven Lomanto was a perfect match for tomato pasta with its fruit forward characteristics and moderate tannic structure. It was like having an “East Texas Montepulciano”, the red Italian wine grape variety acknowledged far and wide as having wine characteristics with a high pasta compatibility factor.

R.L. was specific about why it should be grown here in Texas: resistance to Pierce’s Disease and drought, while providing a good crop load, as well. But, why is Lomanto so good as a wine grape. I looked for an historical perspective by going back to T.V. Munsons words that I found in his seminal grape growing primer, Foundations of American Grape Culture.

Lomanto was a Munson hybrid grape that he produced in 1902 by crossing Salado and Pense grapes. Pardon if these are not household names, but from Munson’s notes these two grapes brought to Lomanto excellent quality claret red juice, good acidity and value for grower needing a grape for Texas’s limy soils and hot climate.

Furthermore, Lomanto was a cross that linked American and European grape cultures and over a hundred years later appears ready to serve and be served. In the cross, Munson used Salado, another Munson hybrid from 1893 that brought together Champini, De Grasset and Brillant, that he combined with Pense (also known as Malaga) that Munson realized was a European vinifera grape. Malaga has also be referred to by other names: Chevrier, Columbier and Blanc Doux. However, Malaga (Pense) is more commonly known these days as Semillon, the first-class sweet white grape of the French Sauternes. The ability of Malaga (Semillon) to produce ripe sweet juice appears to have come through in Lomanto, too.

For more on the Munson story and my “in the vineyard” tasting of Munson grapes, go to:

 Posted by at 11:55 am
Aug 152011

Video: Calais Winery in Dallas Deep Ellum Presses 2011 Newsom Vineyards Tempranillo (The Purple Stuff)

Here is “The Purple Juice”. It’s Newsom Vineyards 2011 Tempranillo (Texas High Plains Appellation) that was pressed at Calais Winery in the Deep Ellum district of downtown Dallas after eleven days of fermentation on the skins.

According to Ben Calais, winemaker at Calais Winery, said, “2011 was a hard year for winegrowers in Texas, but the grapes that were watched over, harvested and carefully transported to the winery came in with some pretty good numbers. For example, these Tempranillo grapes were ripe and concentrated and had good acidity; actually the best I’ve seen over past years.”

Watch the video that shows the thick purple juice being pressed, pumped and gathered to be aged in oak barrels.

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Back to Texsom for Day 2. We will be sampling some wines from Rioja region of Spain. These are the wines of Tempranilllo, the region in the land where Tempranillo’s origins reside. While tasting the Cianzas and Gran Reservas from Rioja, I will be mentally tasting the Tempranilllo of Calais Winery.

 Posted by at 9:37 am
Jul 172011

Manifesto: The Texas Wine Discussion Starts with Diurnal Temperature Swings, But Goes So Much Further

How many times have you heard winery and/or vineyard reps say, “This vineyard location benefits from warm to hot days that develop strong fruit character, but also have cool nights that helps maintain acidity in the grapes”?

It’s repeated, repeated and repeated. It’s almost like a mantra in most wine regions, particularly in California…but is it true? And, is that really the discussion we need to have?

In most new world wine growing regions, the challenge in grape growing (numero uno) is getting the grapes to physiological (phenolic) ripeness before sugar levels get too high and the acidity starts to drop off and pH starts to shoot up making wines undrinkable and unstable.

But, is the need for large diurnal temperature (i.e. the day-night temperature) swings counter-productive. There is definitely a school of thought (particularly in old world European grape growing) that for flavor development in the grapes, they need uniformly moderate temperatures.

Europe’s best and most widely regarded wine producing regions characteristically have temperatures that vary over narrow ranges, both day-to-night and day-to-day throughout the ripening portion of the growing season. Relatively moderate and constant temperatures during ripening favor certain biochemical processes that define the color, flavor and aroma of wine grapes.

Why is this true?  The answer is likely this:  biological chemical reactions are driven by enzymes.  These enzymes’ activity levels are a function of temperature.  So it is likely that the enzymes relating to phenolic development do not work as well in extremes of temperature. But, warmer regions have found a way to handle this problem. It’s blending. In the notably hot Rhone Valley they have up to 13 grape varieties of grapes that can be legally used in a Rhone blended wines; even the noted “lip stinger”, Picpoul Blanc that brings lip smacking crisp acidity to the blend even in the hottest of years.

So, what about vineyards in what are characterized as having hot days like we have in Texas (and particularly this summer) and when night time cooling is low to moderate? In these sites, sugar development and acid drop are likely to outpace phenolic development and structural ripeness.  This situation leaves the grape growers with two choices:

  • Pick early and have underdeveloped phenolics with accompanying herbaceous or other unattractive flavors (this works surprisingly well for most white grape varieties, less so for reds), or
  • Pick later with much higher sugar levels and low acidity that must be dealt with at the winery with strategies designed to moderate alcohol content and increase acidity in the finished wine, but run the risk of bringing undesirable characteristics of their own.

In California, they have high daytime temperature but big day-night temperature swings brought by cool Pacific breezes at night.  In contrast, Bordeaux has a climate where the Atlantic moderates both the day and nighttime temperatures and thus more completely minimizes temperature fluctuations.  Both regions can grow classic European varieties of grapes (Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon), but California’s wines tend to be higher in alcohol and lower in acidity than wines made from the same grapes but in Europe.

What about frontiers of the modern wine world like Texas? We have summer daytime temperatures in the mid-90s that can even reach the low 100s by mid-summer, but this is not that much different than in other new world grape growing regions like California (Napa), Washington state (eastern regions) and even Australia. Unfortunately, Texas doesn’t have a large body of cool water to its west that helps dry a diurnal temperature swing.

What we do have in Texas is elevation and dry, arid conditions. As you travel in a northwesterly direction from the eastern Texas Gulf Coast near Houston (45 feet above sea level) the elevation increases to between 1000 to 2000 feet by the time you reach the Texas hill country near Austin, San Antonio and Fredericksburg. If you continue on this northwestern trajectory and eventually find yourself in the region between Lubbock and the New Mexico border (the Texas high plains), you’ll be at 3500 to 4000 feet (that’s a thousand feet higher than the Argentine Mendoza). It’s dry as a bone up there and has lots of red sandy loam to go around.

The net result is that the vineyards in the Texas hill country get moderate night time cooling, probably insufficient for Classic European varietals to be within their usual parameters. However, by the time we reach the Texas high plains, things would be closer to the bar set by California’s wine producing regions, but still not quite there. Consequently, we can grow Cabernet, but it is going to be a good “warm weather” cabernet, not the Napa Valley kind of wine you might expect. Winemakers can make some adjustments if they harvest right and provide judicious treatment of the juice at crush, or use of blending with other grape varieties that have more tolerance to the heat and that preserve their acidity. These are generally grapes that originate from southern regions in Spain, Portugal, southern France, southern Italy, Sicily and Sardinia. A good example of this latter approach is Llano Estacado Winery’s Viviano (made with part Cabernet Sauvignon and part Sangiovese).

For a longer term and more permanent fix, more of these “Mediterranean” grapes need to be planted in Texas. The picture that is becoming evident is that the Texas high plains may be like Spain, southern France and Italy, but the Hill Country may be more like Portugal. However, the grapes selected for these regions need to fit within the other constraints that our continental climate brings. They need to bud late or have prolific secondary buds to beat the late spring freezes (this is the single biggest threat to low harvest yields in Texas) and be able to quickly shut down after harvest to resistant winter kill when the winter cold sets in.

As you can see, the discussion of growing wine grapes in Texas starts with the question of our summer time heat and the discussion of diurnal temperature variation, but gets even more complex. However, this is precisely the discussion that we need to have.

Texas just ain’t Bordeaux, and it ain’t even Napa Valley no matter how you slice it or dice it. It’s time to get real and move on to discover what the Texas wine experience really will be and set our vision toward how to reach 10,000 acres of wine grapes and how to get there a quickly as possible. Only once we get to that point, will the global wine world take up as a serious player.

 Posted by at 1:43 pm
Jul 032011

VintageTexas Sunday “Cyclopedia of Wine: Cold Soak versus Extended Maceration

Maceration is a winemaking process whereby the phenolic materials of the grape (tannins, coloring agents (anthocyanins) and many flavor/aroma compounds) are extracted from the grape skins, seeds and stems into the must (pulpy juice of the grape). Since most of the pigments in red grapes are in the skins, maceration is the principal technique used to yield the dark purple-red color in red wines.

Pre-fermentation cold soak has gained popularity as a trendy winemaking technique in recent years. It seems to have started as way to get more color and flavor from the finicky and notably thin-skinned grape, Pinot Noir. The technique has now been used on just about every red grape in the known wine world.

Cold soaks on macerated grapes are typically conducted at temperatures of about 40 to 50 F for periods from a couple days to about a week, but under the hand of an experienced winemaker, they can run as long as two weeks. The use of low temperature in this process is to reduce bacterial growth and spoilage in the presence of oxygen due to the absence of the protective carbon dioxide gas formed during fermentation. Arguments continue as to the true benefits of cold soaking, which red grape varieties truly benefit, and the optimum period for cold soaking. It does appear that “thin-skinned” varieties of grapes and those that do not give color and aroma readily stand to benefit more than those that have thicker, color-rich skins. In Texas, I would think that Sangiovese and Grenache are good candidates for the cold soak, as may be Black Spanish which does not have a lot of tannin to give.

During conventional red wine fermentation, the grape skins and solids are also being leached of color, tannins and aromas. Typically, when fermentation is done, the wine is pressed or drained from the solids, but if a winemaker wants to extract more from the grape solids (skins, seeds and stems), the process used is extended (alcoholic) maceration.

Why do it? Some winemakers like the added color and flavor and feel that it improves a wine’s overall mouthfeel and that it might even improve the ageability of the wine. Sometimes, more color can be extracted during post-fermentation extended maceration as a result of the increased solubility of color-containing molecules from the skins in the presence of alcohol. Another factor in extended maceration is that short chain tannin molecules can link up to form longer chain molecules that yield more supple and pleasurable wines.

However, just as with pre-fermentation cold soaking, with extended maceration, experience is the rule to follow. Empirical studies show that extended maceration can make wines that are more complex and delicious, but sometimes if taken to extreme can result in overly astringent and harsh tannins, which may not benefit from aging in barrel or bottle. This process is often done with Bordeaux and Rhône grape varieties that have significant tannin levels. However, there is typically some loss of fruitiness and color in the process, but many feel it is justified by the complexity and mouthfeel that it adds to the wine.

In Texas, I’ve noticed that what I sensed was an unwillingness on the part of some Texas winemakers to try to extract all that the grapes have to give. I think that this is because they fear loosing what precious few Texas grapes they have to what on their part may be an untried process, at least on their part.

While on a visit to wineries in the Piemonte (Piedmont) region of northern Italy that make inky (and ageworthy) Barolo from locally grown Nebbiolo grapes, it was obvious to see that winemakers there had no such fear and took all they could from the grapes with hugely long extended macerations. They also had innovative techniques like rotary fermenters that were used to mix the “brew” for a month if not longer. At the end of the process, the skins were a pale shade of gray…no pigment was left in them.

So, are cold soaking and extended maceration important to making wine in Texas? I think so, as we need wines of body, character and complexity to represent the Lone Star State as we enter the global wine world.

Next time you visit a Texas winery, try to find someone that works with the wines on the production floor. Ask them about cold soaks and extended maceration. I’ll bet that you’ll get one of many possible responses based on the varieties of grapes they use, their willingness to explore the unknown, and the experience of the winemaker with these processes.

 Posted by at 1:30 pm
May 182011

A Story of the Three Texas Viogniers

As I selected this title, I had in my mind the story of Goldilocks and the Three Bears. You know, when Goldilocks got tired, she found one bed too soft, another too hard and the third was just right. Well, it seems that when it comes to Texas Viogniers, something close akin to this just might apply.

Why? Because there are a growing number of Texas-made Viogniers and this grape has quickly progressed deeply into our Texas wine Lexicon.

Last weekend I co-chaired a wine tasting panel at Culinaria (Culinary Arts and Wine Festival) in San Antonio where we did a Texas Two-Sip blind tasting: Texas versus non-Texas, sight unseen which was which.

Three of the six two-sip flights in the tasting were comprised of white wines. On the second flight, I asked the audience, “What was the grape variety from which the wines were made?” Nearly unanimously, the audience shouted out: “Viognier!” Well, they were wrong; the two Viognier wines were in the following flight. However, it goes to show how Texas wine drinkers have begun to associate Viognier with white wines made in their state. Click here for more.

Other recent tasting experiences have also illustrated to me how common “good quality” Texas Viogniers are becoming, and how varied, as well. It all started at the Texas Wine and Grape Growers Meeting in early March and the Buffalo Gap Wine and Food Summit followed. Since the start of this Viognier tasting escapade, I’ve tasted four different Viogniers: the first was from Lone Oak Winery and then I moved on to Kim McPherson’s McPherson Cellars Viognier (click here for blog post). Since then, I’ve had three more and all from the 2010 harvest. They were Viogniers from Brennan Vineyards, Grape Creek Vineyards and Becker Vineyards.

Words that might be used to describe this spectacle of Viogniers might include: abundance, cornucopia, or profusion depending on your point of view. In these regards, Texas Viogniers are not only getting plentiful, but they are getting acclaim. Check out this month’s featured Texas wine from Jessica Dupuy who does the feature on Texas Monthly’s “Eat My Words” blog.

The balance of my Viognier Manifesto focuses on another aspect of Texas Viogniers: they are starting to differentiate. By this, I mean that we are starting to see different styles emerge. Some of this may be due to the mindset of the winemaker, but it may also been due to the varying growing conditions across Texas. It may just be variation in the Brix (sugar content) of the grapes at harvest. At the TWGGA meeting we had a tasting of three Texas Viogniers made from grapes harvested at 21-23 Brix, 23-25 Brix, and over 25 Brix. All wines were made by the same winemakers using similar techniques. These three wines were remarkably different from one another.

I actually don’t know yet what is the predominant factor in determining the up and coming styles of Viognier in Texas (If you feel like you know, please feel free to comment). The following three wines are examples of Texas Viognier that offer high quality and also the room for wine drinkers to find the style of Viognier that they like best.

Brennan Vineyard Viognier 2010

This wine is the lightest and brightest of the bunch and it offers a pale straw complexion with yellow/green highlights in the glass. What follows is a near monochromatic experience of bright citrus (lemon-lime on the nose followed by a light floral component of citrus blossom). Immediately on the palate, the wine shows a hint of fruit sweetness followed by pear and peach with a subtle, yet long crisp finish. Recommendation: This wine is for those that normally find other Viogniers (particularly California-style Viogniers) too big, too ripe, or too floral for them. Pair with light seafood dishes such as flounder, shrimp or oysters.

Grape Creek Vineyards Viognier 2010

Building on a similar basis from the previous wine, the Grape Creek Viognier starts with citrus on the nose but adds two more notes (honeysuckle and yeasty characteristics) resulting in a three-part harmony of aromatic sensations. This wine yields a dry tasting experience dominated by peach and a long bright finish of lemon zest. Recommendations: This wine is likely the most food friendly of the bunch. The dominance of dryness and acidity on the palate will cut through sauces rich in butter or olive oil but used on light, spicy fare such as Shrimp Scampi or Asian/Indian cuisine (yellow curry with seafood and jasmine rice comes to mind).

Becker Vineyards Viognier 2010

If the first two wines are monochromatic and a three tone chord, respectively, the Becker Viognier is a full polyphonic symphony, but crafted in aromas and taste. This wine is multilayered and changes significantly with time in the glass. It provides an exotic baseline of ripe peach and apricot that takes on tropical nuances as it lingers in the glass. Then, the wine erupts with aromas of honeysuckle and magnolia blossom and in time; a warm scented vanilla note wafts. But wait…there’s more. The mouthfeel is silky and soft and the taste oozes with ripe peach, nectarine and vanilla that lingers for minutes on the palate. Recommendation: This wine is best served colder than most white wines as it allows time for the tasting experience to evolve in the glass as the wine warms. Therefore, it serves a double purpose: good for sipping while cool, yet powerful enough for your most elaborate and powerful Mediterranean preparations like chicken with garlic, rosemary or herbs d’Provence, and citrus.

There you go…three Texas Viogniers, three very different, high quality wines. Depending on your preference choose the one to your liking: (a) light, bright and straightforward, (b) the intermediate play, or (c) the complex and exotically scented.

Which style is Texas Viognier? Well, right now and maybe forever, all of them. Enjoy the moment and we will see what happens.

 Posted by at 5:29 pm
Oct 212010

Write Off the Vine: Texas Wine News & Videos – October 21, 2010

How To Host a Texas Two-Sip

A Texas Two-Sip tasting is a blind tasting of Texas wines alongside comparable non-Texas wines from the United States or other wine regions around the world. Download the materials below to host your own Texas Two-Sip with family and friends.

All the resources you will need to host a Texas Two-Sip, find a Texas winery or wine trail near you, a list of grape varieties that do well in Texas, find a GoTEXAN restaurant that features Texas wine, and more are located online at:

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New Academic Programs for the Texas Wine Industry

Texas Tech University is pleased to announce a new initiative made possible through the support of the Texas grape and wine industry. Several new courses and a degree specialization will soon be offered for students seeking careers in the wine industry and in wine retailing. Through the efforts of faculty in the College of Agricultural Sciences and Natural Resources and the College of Human Sciences, many new courses and one degree option will soon be available to students at Texas Tech University.

Courses Available Beginning in Fall 2009

PSS 1311 Winemaking Worldwide: an Introduction to Wines of the World; PSS 4111 Wine Appreciation; PSS 2314/2114 Wine Production Introduction (Principles of Wine Production) & Lab; PSS 3310 Viticulture I: Principles of Viticulture; PSS 4416 Winemaking Quality Control and Analysis; RHIM 4350 Wine Tourism; PSS 6415 Advanced Winemaking

Courses Available Beginning in Spring 2010

AAEC 5396/ PSS 5316 Winery Business Planning, Design and Operations; RHIM 4340 Wine Marketing; PSS 4XXX Study Abroad; PSS 4310 Viticulture II – Grape Production; PSS 5312 Vineyard Management


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Texas Wine of the Month: Haak Vineyards Madeira of Jacquez, 2006

Jessica Dupuy (EatMy Words/Texas Monthly)

For almost a year, we have presented a variety of different wines as some of Texas’ best showstoppers. From commonly known grape varietals such as Sauvignon Blanc and Tempranillo to less familiar grapes such as Black Spanish and Muscat Canelli, each new Texas Wine of the Month is a testament to the wide range of grapes the Lone Star state can produce—and produce well.

This month, we bring you another uncommon wine selection, a Madeira wine produced just outside of Galveston. That’s right, Galveston.

With 20% alcohol, the Haak Madeira of Jacquez is a strong wine that may not be appreciated by all palates, but it does make a perfect sipping digestif. Made exclusively from Jacquez grapes grown in the Gulf Coast region, the winery’s estufa—the heating element for producing the wine—is one of the very few in the United States today.

Winery: Haak Vineyards and Winery

Retail Price: ~$40

Availability: Spec’s and at Haak Vineyards and Winery


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Texas Wine is Alive and That’s No Bull

The Texas wine grape industry started in 1650 when Father Garcia de San Francisco y Zuniga, the founder of El Paso, planted vineyards for the production of sacramental wine (he is credited with the first vineyard planted in North America). It was not until the late 1960’s and 70’s that a new wine revolution began, and today the Lone Star State is home to over 200 wineries, and ranks fifth in total wine production in the United States (description from Appellation America). Some of the larger wineries of Texas include: Ste. Genevieve (#1- 600,000 cases), Llano Estacado (#2- 100,000 cases), Becker (#3), Messina Hof (#4) and Fall Creek (#5). Twenty-eight of Texas’ 254 counties still remain dry, even today. Harvest time is the end of July, two months earlier than California.


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10 Texas Wines to Tempt Your Taste Buds

John Griffin (SavorSA)

The calendar tells us that October is Texas Wine Month, but many of us “loca-pours” — the wine-loving equivalent of a locavore  — have been enjoying the state’s rich bounty all year long. The following is a list of 10 Lone Star wines worth seeking out. Many are at fine wine shops in the area. Others are available only at the winery or online.

The list could stretch on an on to include selections from many of the state’s other fine wineries, such as Fall Creek, Brennan, Pedernales Cellars, LightCatcher and Inwood Estates. These are just to get you started.

1. Haak Winery Blanc du Bois (Dry) 2009

2. Perissos Vineyard and Winery Texas Hill Country Viognier 2007

3. Stone House Vineyards Claros Norton 2008

4. Calais Winery Tempranillo 2009

5. Texas Hills Vineyards Toro de Tejas Newsom Vineyards Tempranillo 2009

Details and More:

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Oct 062010

Make Wine? It’s Time for the Austin County Fair, Non-Commercial Wine Show

As I’ve traveled rural and urban Texas over the past couple years, one thing that has amazed me is the number of people that make wine in this state. Most of these people aren’t professionals. They are non-commercial and therefore get the moniker “amateurs” that make wine as a hobby and for the shear love of  the grape. They may be amateurs, but that doesn’t mean that they make wines that are hard to swallow. Most of the non-commercial wines that I have tasted are actually quite palatable.

The source materials used in non-commercial wines can vary from conventional to outright unusual. Some use grapes from local wineries and vineyards while others use kits and grape concentrate, others still employ wild grapes found on their property, along a nearby road or rail easement. Still others, like Jack Keller, aren’t bounded by the normal morays and makes wine and archives winemaking recipes made from a wide variety of biological materials such as tomatoes, dandelions and even bananas.  Shawn Bruno at Bruno and George Winery, known for his fruit wines, once told me, “You can make wine out of literally anything that rots!” Not a particularly appealing thought, but likely true. Continue reading »

Sep 232010

Guest Blog: Wine Making, Texas Style at Bluff Dale Winery

By Nathan Smith, Freelance Agricultural Journalist

From Italian hillsides to French farms to California vineyards, the world has come to know and love the taste of the wine originating in these traditional locations. However, there are some new players in the game and they hail from the Lone Star State.

Wineries around the globe are being given a run for their money by small vineyards like Bluff Dale Winery in rural Bluff Dale, Texas. Here, David and Theresa Hayes have started their own vineyard and brand of wine, and are among several winemakers who are proving it can be done in Texas, too.

“I was in sales and we were transferred to Texas,” Hayes said. “We were living in Flower Mound at the time and we’d looked for land for two years. We stopped in Hico one Sunday and saw an ad for land in Bluff Dale. We drove over and, immediately, we both knew this was the location where we wanted to build. We bought it the next day; that was 12 years ago.”

Hayes is no novice to the art of winemaking. As a child, he helped his grandfather on a winery in his native Tennessee.

“Our wine’s come a long way since those days,” Hayes laughed. “Granddad made some awful stuff with wild grapes.”

Along with the mechanics of winemaking, the Hayes’ have learned patience. After first planting and irrigating the grapes, a period of six years went by before the first bottle of wine was produced. Depending on the type of wine and finish desired, the process from plant to harvest can take three to four years. From that point, the grapes are crushed and yeast added. This grape must is then stored in large tanks for an extended period and allowed to ferment.

After the process of filtering, the wine is placed in oak barrels where it remains from six to eighteen months, depending on the wine variety and style. After more filtering, the wine is bottled.

“It’s long work and a waiting game the first few years; it’s farming,” Hayes said. “We started with 1500 plants and still have close to that now.”

The diverse climate and constantly changing weather has made viticulture in Central Texas somewhat challenging. One simple resource not as regular in Texas as in other areas known for wineries is water. To supplement the rain, Hayes uses a drip irrigation system that allows each plant to be watered individually. By using this system, he is able to control precisely the amount of water each plant receives. To combat runoff, he uses a French drain system that enables him to utilize what rainwater he collects.

“Each irrigator emits one gallon per hour,” Hayes said. “Depending on how much rain we have, I’ll water three gallons every third or fourth day. Some years I don’t have to use any irrigation; we’ve had some real monsoon seasons. Other years, I might have to water six gallons a week times 1500 plants.”

Because of Hayes’ irrigation practices, some of the Tarleton State University’s students benefit from class visits to the winery. The water conservation and utilization class is one such beneficiary. Other courses, such as food processing, use this destination as a means to show students how agricultural products are processed in a real world setting.

Hayes recently traveled to Austin to listen in on some State Senate committee hearings concerning legislation affecting wineries in the state. Wineries are now able to market their products that bring in tourism and revenue to the state.

“Legislation is now more favorable toward wineries,” Hayes said. “The state government is now giving grants to people who want to start vineyards. The biggest problem we face in Texas is not having enough grapes. We really only have 25 percent of the grapes we need in the state.”

Bluff Dale Winery imports grapes from other vineyards in Texas to supplement their own harvest. Normal harvests bring in three to four tons per acre. One ton of grapes are roughly equal to 150 gallons of finished wine.

Like a few other winemakers in the state, the Hayes’ open their doors to visitors and wine enthusiasts from across the country. With covered patio areas and occasional live music, the winery in Bluff Dale is a peaceful getaway dedicated to those who enjoy a nice Texas wine in a pleasant rural setting.

“We enjoy getting to know the folks that visit,” Hayes said. “I’ve always enjoyed working with people and I guess I really never got out of sales; now the people just come to me.”

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Bluff Dale Vineyards

Physical Address: 5222 County Road 148, Bluff Dale, TX 76433

Mailing Address: P.O. Box 110, Bluff Dale, TX 76433

Phone: (254) 728-3540

Fax: (254) 728-3541


Web site:

Theresa Hayes, Owner

Bluff Dale is a bistro-style tasting room with seating at the bar or tables. Cheese, salami and tapas are always available, and we can accommodate up to 100 people for social events. Go to the Web site and leave your e-mail address to receive a free newsletter. See the spectacular vista of the Northern Hill Country from the grand porch or pavilion.

Visitors Welcome: Mon, Wed-Sat 11am-6pm; Sun noon-6pm; closed Tue., Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Years Day.

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About the Author

Nathan Smith, a recent graduate of Tarleton State University, is a freelance agricultural journalist who writes about issues in agriculture and water conservation. Although relatively new to the Texas winery scene, he knows a good thing when he tastes it. Raised on a West Texas cotton farm and cattle ranch, he appreciates the hard work of Texas wine makers and agriculturalists.

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Calling All Guest Bloggers

If you have a Texas wine rant or rave, or if you’ve had an interesting experience in Texas wine country and want to tell the world in the context of a good story, let me know by email – russ at VintageTexas dot com. VintageTexas has published several guest blogs in the past and would like to do more in the  future. Just keep the theme interesting, the tone friendly, and the topic meaningful and relevant to VintageTexas’ search for Texas Terroir.

Sep 082010

Grayson College Outreach Seminar Profiles Series Starts for Fall 2010 with Winemaking of Argentina

The first seminar in the Grayson College Enology Outreach Seminar Profiles Series for the fall will be Monday, September 20, 2010 at the Grapevine Convention Center and will focus on the winemaking of Argentina. It will look at how a winery that had been historically short of native grapes strategically positions itself for the future and as a result makes wine the year around in two hemispheres.

About the seminar speaker: Mark Johnson, Winemaker Chateau Chantal

After obtaining an engineering degree in Enology and Viticulture from the University at Geisenheim, Mark moved to the Old Mission Peninsula in Michigan’s NW corner and became a vineyard manager. Mark joined Chateau Grand Traverse in 1983, serving as Winemaker there for the next ten years. He was a co-founder of Chateau Chantal, joining the winery in 1993 and has served as vineyard manager and currently as Winemaker/VP. Following the Mendoza Argentina vineyard acquisition in 2004, Mark gained responsibility for operations in Michigan and Argentina. Continue reading »

Jul 112010

VintageTexas Sunday ‘Cyclopedia of Wine: Claret

A widely used wine term meaning, in most countries except England, a light red wine. However, in England and as used by many wine aficionados, the word traditionally refers to deep, red-purple Bordeaux wine. More recently, this term has been expanded to include similar hearty red wines produced elsewhere so long as they are made from the varieties of red grapes that originate from the Bordeaux region.  In France, however, the term Claret has no meaning or legal status.

The classic Claret blend contains only those varieties that are authorized for use in the red wines of the Bordeaux region of France.  Currently, the varieties are:  Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Petit Verdot, and Malbec. Carmenere is another permitted grape, but today it is almost never used except in red wines from South American.

A typical Bordeaux blend will have either Cabernet Sauvignon or Merlot as the primary grape but the other grapes will make up from 15% to 50% of the blend. Very few Bordeaux Blends use all of the allowed grape varieties. The use of three or four varieties is much more common. In the United States, red wines labeled as ‘Meritage’ ( can be included in the category of Clarets.

One of my favorite examples of a wine made in this style from Texas is Becker Vineyards ( Claret ‘Les Trois Dames’. The reference to Les Trois Dames refers to Becker tradition to use grapes originating from the vineyards of three female growers. This wine is matured in French and American oak barrels and provides a rich and complex wine tasting experience with essences of raspberries, chocolate and spices. Better still, it doesn’t empty your pocketbook at only $14-16 depending on where purchased. The blend is dominated with Cabernet Sauvignon and involves all five Bordeaux grape varietals. It is usually 65% Cabernet Sauvignon, 24% Merlot, 7% Cabernet Franc, 2% Malbec, 2% Petite Verdot.

Food compliments for Claret wines: lamb, steak, pheasant or quail.

More information on Bordeaux winemaking can be found at:

Let me know your favorite Claret-style wine.

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