A Meet-Up on the Texas Wine Trail and Visit to Vineyards in Alpine, Texas
Over the past year, I have read many historical accounts from travelers on horseback or stagecoach moving through Texas. Some of these descriptions were from over a hundred and fifty years ago when Texas had even more wide-open space that it has today. If Texas is one thing, it is big, and I am amazed how people would meet-up on the long, dusty trails in this state without the aid of cell phones, wi-fi, or other modern electronic devices. Well, I had one such experience yesterday while staying in Marathon, Texas.
I had heard that Raymond and Gladys Haak of Haak Vineyards and Winery (www.haakwine.com) were going to be traveling in west Texas around the time of a trip my wife and I were planning. We agreed to meet-up at the Gage Hotel (www.gagehotel.com) in Marathon, Texasm for a delightful encounter and it came not a moment too soon.
I was just about to drag my wife out on another dust-covered trace to visit one more vineyard site. This time it was going to be the Cathedral Mountain Vineyard that produced the wine that Times Ten Cellars (www.timestencellars.com) wowed me with at the Texas Twitter Taste-Off in Dallas last year (https://vintagetexas.com/?p=1083). Figuring that my wife would like a reprieve, I extended an invitation to Raymond Haak to join me on my vineyard tour south of Alpine, Texas. He gladly accepted and my wife was off the hook with a Texas-sized smile on her face.
Raymond and I traveled over to Alpine, Texas and then headed south into the mountains on Highway 118. I had cleared our trip with Times Ten winery owner, Kert Platner who advised that we would see a dirt road on the right in about 18 miles from town that would take us up to the vineyard. By the time we exited the highway, we were already about a mile high and still climbing along a red dirt road.
When we reached the Cathedral Mountain Vineyard site, its name was apparent as off in the distance to the west was the appropriately-named Cathedral Mountain towering over the countryside. The vineyard consisted of two blocks totaling about 8 acres planted in wine grapes. The top block was a large stand of Tempranillo and smaller grouping of Grenache budded out vivaciously with large green leaves and tendrils and buckshot-sized berries ready to be engaged in the process of winegrowing. I reckoned that the lower block was younger and a bit less vigorous than the upper block of vines and consisted of rows of Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah and Mourvedre as it proceeded down hill a bit further.
Besides the breathtaking view of Cathedral Mountain, the most eye-captivating aspect of the vineyard is its red-rock base. The near-burgundy colored rocks highlighted with chards of limestone and black volcanic rock littering the vineyard captivated Raymond and me. From the site of the Tempranillo and Grenache, they seem to be “keepers” that will be a mainstay of many future fine Texas wines. The added surprises on this trip were the new vineyards that we spied on our drive south of Alpine. It seems that others were getting in on the region’s grape growing reputation.
Once back at the Gage Hotel and after a quick dip in their saltwater pool, my wife and I joined Raymond and Gladys and their friends Leo and Mamie for dinner in the Gage Hotel restaurant, Cenizo; but first, we had a quick peek at the rare white buffalo head mounted on the wall in the bar. Once seated for dinner, we were all drawn to the retaurant’s special version of the Texas specialty, Chicken Fried Steak. It was served with a variation of white pan gravy that had a spicy mix of chorizo and roasted corn.
The meal was made complete with wines made by the hand of Raymond Haak that had traveled with him all the way from his winery in Santa Fe, Texas. The first wine was the Haak 2008 Malbec, a luscious, fruit-driven beverage that carried refreshing crisp acidity. We followed with the Haak 2006 Cabernet Sauvignon that offered a well-matured soft tannic structure with aromas of cedar, vanilla and an assortment of dried dark fruits.
The night finished with our group on the hotel’s patio, sitting in wooden rocking chairs under the Texas stars and sipping the last of our good Texas juice. We talked of our travels past and wine experiences in foreign lands. Then, we stopped to listen to the approaching rumble and the whistle from the train speeding by on the tracks across the road….all part of the west Texas, Gage Hotel experience.
Great write-up Russ! We all enjoyed the (wine) oasis in the dessert. We should expect some outstanding Tempranillo from Times Ten Cellars.
I think that Times Ten Cellars will be glad to hear that from you. I agree….the Tempranillo and Grenache both looks healthy and ready to produce some dark, inky juice for Texas wines.
Great meeting up with y’all in Marathon.
We are glad you enjoyed your visit to the vineyard! Amy and I met you at the Twitter tasting. Please join us for Harvest this year. We have our largest fruit set to date (planted in 2004) and no freeze. If the weather cooperates we should have our biggest yield ever.
The top vineyard block is the Tempranillo and Grenache as you mentioned. The vigor of these vines, and the rest of the vineyard, is heavily mitigated by our sparse volcanic basalt and ash soils. The Grenache is virtually hydroponic in a portion of the rows – it is that rocky!
The lower vineyard was planted at the same time. The bulk of it is Syrah. I lost the lower half of the Syrah in the April
28th freeze in 2008. The upper half of the Syrah is still going strong. It avoided the freeze and has the best clones for the site. It produced the best fruit in 2009. Cab Sauv does well just about anywhere. The Mourvedre planting is small but very promising. If we get an opportunity to let it hang until October it should be outstanding in the next few vintages.
Thanks for writing about us. Keep in touch.
Cathedral Mountain Vineyards
times ten cellars