Calais Winery: A Winemaker Tasting à la Cave
After my tasting this past weekend at Calais Winery, between Hye and Johnson City on Texas Highway 290, I believe that the transformation of Ben Calais’ winery from urban Dallas storefront to subterranean Texas hill country affair has made his fine wines even better.
Not that his wines were shabby before; they were actually excellent with one of his store-front-made Tempranillos still stored with me albeit virtually, as a very pleasant memory. This past weekend, maybe it was part ambience of tasting “ala cave”, but I do think there was more to it than just that.
Despite, relocation and extended period of hands-on construction for Ben and his family, and the period of lean vintages from the Texas High Plains AVA* where he prefers to source his grape, this past weekend the wines of Calais popped!
For me, it started right off the bat (or more appropriately, in the cave or in the glass) with his 2014 Principale Roussanne. It was rich in the grape’s characteristic lemon drop, green tea and herbal aromas and flavors that were layered in texture (a combo of bright fruit, tart and astringent mineral notes and well structured finish).
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*AVA – American Viticultural Area
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The two of three following red wines (Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon) were sourced from Newsom Vineyards in Plains, Texas, perhaps the highest of Texas’s high plains vineyards. In combination with intense sunlight at 3700 feet elevation, harsh to extreme weather swings, low vigor red sandy beach-sand-like soils, and Newson’s old vines yields some of the lowest grape production (in tons/acre) of nearly any vineyard site in Texas. But, this is just what Ben Calais wants.
He said, “I normally have growers plant my own vines and then I can dictate how they are grown. But, in some cases like my Merlot, I’ve taken production from vines that other people have walked away from due to their extremely limited production. He continued, “If your thinking of making making a $20 per bottle wine, you just can’t do it with grapes like these. BUt, that’s not what I’m after.”
Calais has other plans. He is not after that “$20 bottle of wine”. He is after the best expression he can get from these grapes and this REQUIRES low production in the vineyard. He knows it comes with a price. In our tasting this weekend, the wines ran in bottle price from just over $30 to slightly skyward of $100.
I would be remiss if I didn’t mention Calais’s 2015 Malbec (Cuvee des Pierres – The Stones) sourced with grapes from Andy Timmons Lost Draw Vineyards near Brownfield, also in the Texas High Plains AVA.
While we are embedded in a world with far too much cheap (and even at times expensive) and insipid Malbec, from the moment unusual-shaped Calais Winery wine glass approached by nose, I realized (in Star Wars lingo) that “this WAS the Malbec I’d been looking for” – punchy with rich brambly black fruit with notes of baking spice, leather, stoney minerals and black coffee.
While the price point of Ben Calais wines may not be for everyone’s pocketbook, at least for everyday drinking, I highly recommend that travelers to the hill country with serious wine interest, those like me searching for true varietal character in wines and if you’re in search of a special wine, please stop by Calais Winery for one of Ben’s “by-appointment-only” tastings. And, if it’s within your reach, take a few of Ben’s super-premium bottles, your favorites, to share with your special person or people on appropriately premium occasions. You won’t regret.