Thu July 16, 2015 9:21 pm By Jessica Dupuy

How Wes Mickel, a trained chef and hobbyist beer brewer found his way to being one of the first cider makers in Texas is a question he still asks himself on a regular basis. The Arkansas native took on the challenge of making cider from Texas-grown apples purely by happenstance. But as his Argus Cidery in West Austin has grown in popularity and production, he’s found a variety of ways to make dry and off-dry ciders using apples from Texas and Arkansas, and even Mexican pineapple. 

Texas Monthly: What made you decide to become a cider maker? 

Wes Mickel: In the back of my head, I’d always had an interest in cider. I had already loved brewing beer at home and Cider was one of my favorite beverages from early on. Researching Texas apples became fascinating to me. As I started to taste the different varieties that grow this far south, I found they were so distinctive in their different flavors and there was this ‘aha moment.’ I wasn’t really seeking it out, it sort of found me.

TM: Is cider more of a beer or a wine? 

WM: In terms of the law and permitting, it’s technically a wine in that a winery works with fruit and only fruit. A brewery uses cereal grains. That’s really the only distinction. We were the first cidery to apply for a license in Texas and they didn’t really know what to do with us.

In terms of production there are two schools of thought. Some people use yeast strains that are more for beers. They make cider that turns around quicker, which means you can get them to market faster. But you can also use wine yeasts, which makes cider that is very sharp and typically needs a little aging to develop more layers. 

TM: What are some of the misconceptions about Cider that you’ve run into? 

WM: On a commercial scale, most people assume cider is sweet. But that’s not the case. And that’s something I love to dispel. As more great producers come online, that’s becoming a more commonplace thought. 

A lot of people don’t realize that there are a lot of styles of cider that are made much more like wine. The fruit is pressed, the cider goes through malolactic fermentation, and it’s aged. There’s a lot of effort to go into the bottle.

TM: What type of cider do you produce and what brought you to this production style?
WM: We make dry styles across the board. For me, it’s a personal preference, sweets don’t appeal to me. As far as production, it’s a matter of yeast selection and fermentation. Nothing that we make is pasteurized or filtered. It runs its course for fermentation and then it generally needs to be consumed young.

That’s because we want the yeast character to stand. It makes it more interesting and brings out a lot more wine characteristics. 

TM: Where do you source apples?

WM: We source a little from Medina and in the past have gotten a bit from the Panhandle. As of last year we started going to a grower out of Arkansas, where I’m from,  for the majority of our crop. For our fermentables line, we’re sourcing from all over country to keep an annual supply. 

What sets us apart is that we press all of our apples here. We don’t just buy juice. We bring all of the apples in for our large format cider and I’m here all the time; just pressing apples. 

We use commercial strains of yeasts, but there are always natural yeast flora floating around out here in the Hill Country and it gives our large format ciders these crazy layers of flavor. 

TM: How is dry cider as a food pairing? 

WM: That’s actually another reason we make it dry. I prefer dry beverages with food because they’re great palate cleansers. For instance, if you’re eating a rich cheese, you need something to act as a palate cleanser. But at the same time, something really delicate, this won’t overwhelm some tomatoes with olive oil and shallots. Enough fruit, but not too apple juice assertion to overwhelm what you’re eating. . 

TM: Where can people find your cider?

WM: We have limited distribution on our large format bottles as well as 12-ounce bottled and draft “Fermentables,” which fall more in the beer category and come in $10 six-packs. You can find them at places like Whole Foods Market and Central Market. 

Fri July 10, 2015 2:55 pm By Jessica Dupuy

Who Likes It: Matthew Pridgeon, General manager of Underbelly, in Houston
“I’m a fifth-generation Texan that grew up around the agriculture business in East Texas,” says Pridgeon. “I found a passion for wine while attending college in Houston, and have been in the restaurant business ever since. I’ve always had a healthy respect for the farming business, and so does Underbelly’s chef, Chris Shepherd. He’s allowed me to focus our wine list on small producers that have a strong connection to the land and vines they tend.”

The Wine:
Yellow City Cellars, Dead Flowers Rose, High Plains, 2014
  
The Grapes:
“Bo Salling set out to make a rosé, and only a rosé, so this is not a by-product of red wine production,” says Pridgeon. “The blend consists of quite a few grapes—Cinsault and Mourvèdre make up the bulk of the blend, but it also includes Grenache, Syrah and a handful of other red and white varietals.” 
  
Why You Like It:
“I’m a sucker for French wine and love the rosés from southern France. With its subtle red and stone fruit notes, light minerality, and mouthwatering acidity, this wine reminds me of some of the wonderful blends from Provence,” says Pridgeon.

Suggested Pairings:
“This rosé, like most, is incredibly versatile with food. I love it with the house-cured charcuterie, as well as the grilled cantaloupe and smoked beef carpaccio at Underbelly. It also pairs wonderfully with a nice porch, good friends, and a great Texas sunset,” says Pridgeon.
  
On Down the Road:
“Texas wine has come a long way in a relatively short amount of time,” says Pridgeon. “I think with the increasing quality and variety of wines produced, Texas wine is perched to have an ever increasing place at tables across the country.”

Note from the Winemaker: Bo Salling,Yellow City Cellars
Salling worked as a winery assistant for Lubbock’s Kim McPherson of McPherson Cellars when Kim was head winemaker for CapRock winery. Now Salling, who is in wine sales, has been able to realize his own dream of making a wine of his own. In 2012 he was able to source enough grapes to make Dead Flowers Rosé. 

“For a long time, Kim McPherson has made wines with Mediterranean grapes like Cinsault and Mourvèdre, which are known in France for making beautiful rosé wines, ” says Salling. “I wanted to take on the challenge of making a pink wine in Texas that would blow peoples’ minds. Just like one you’d find in southern France. Once I was able to source the fruit and work with Kim to make the wine, I was focused on releasing a wine that was elegant, dry and lean. My hope is that we can get wines like this outside of the state borders to show the rest of the country that Texas can make some serious wines.” 

Price:
~$15

Availability:
Select retail stores across the state. 

Wed July 1, 2015 2:56 pm By Jessica Dupuy

Looking for a festive way to celebrate Independence Day? We’ve got a roundup of summer sippers perfect for any patriot party. 


Jack Rose Shandy
Recipe by Michael Sammons of Houston’s Weights & Measures, 13 Celsius, and Mongoose vs. Cobra

2 ounce Laird’s applejack 
1 ounce lime
.5 ounce grenadine
2 ounces Texas Honey Cider by Eastciders

Combine ingredients in an Old Fashioned glass and serve over ice. 

Patriot’s Punch
Recipe by Edward Morgan at Travaasa Resort and Spa, Austin

1ounce pomegranate juice
1.5 ounces Dulce Vida Blanco Tequila
.5 ounces blue curaçao
1 lemon wedge
1 lime wedge
2 slices jalapeno

Pour pomegranate juice directly into a clean Collins glass, then add ice. Using bar spoon, add blue curaçao so it layers. In a separate glass, muddle citrus and jalapeño in with tequila, and strain into the pomegranate/curaçao mixture. The ingredients should layer. Finish with lemon wedge.

Bombs Bursting in Air 
Recipe by Jesse Torres of San Antonio’s  Mezcaleria Mixtli

1.5 ounce Montelobos mezcal
.75 ounce Lime Juice 
.75 oz Watermelon Cordial
Dash Blue Curaçao for garnish

Add all ingredients in a Collins glass and pack with crushed ice. Top with Blue Curaçao, add a straw, and garnish with seasonal berries.

Lone Star Lightning Bug
Recipe by Judd Fuia of Irving’s The Ranch at Las Colinas

2 ounces bourbon
.5 ounce Texas honey syrup (cut 2:1 with water)
.25 ounce St. Germain elderflower liqueur
.75 ounce lemon juice
loose handful of mint
2 ounce club soda

In a shaker, combine bourbon, honey, St. Germain, lemon, and mint, and shake with ice. Add soda. Strain over fresh ice into a collins glass. Garnish with a lemon slice and a mint sprig.


Two Drinks Coming

1 ounce housemade “Cuffs and Buttons” bourbon (see below)
1ounce sundried lime syrup (see below)
.25 ounce fresh lime juice
Garnish: 1 spent lime shell filled with 1ounce house Cuffs and Buttons Bourbon.

Shake all ingredients except garnish and strain into rocks glass over crushed ice. Place spent lime shell in the drink and fill with 1 ounce CB bourbon. Serve with a whiskey back.

*Cuffs and Buttons – 1 liter Bonded Bourbon, 3 pieces of dried apricot, 3 pieces of dried peach, 3 pieces of dried cherries infused for 3 hours and strained.

*Sundried lime syrup – 1 sundried lime, boiled down in a 2 cups of sugar and 1 cup of water.

Mon June 29, 2015 9:35 pm By Jessica Dupuy

The Wine:
Duchman Family Winery, Sangiovese, 2012

Who Likes It: Jennifer Eby, Rosewood Mansion at Turtle Creek, Dallas
A recent addition to Dallas by way of Botero restaurant at the Wynn Hotel in Las Vegas, Eby has been pleasantly surprised to explore the Dallas wine community as well as the wines of Texas. Having worked with a predominantly Italian wine list when she was living in Las Vegas, Eby was particularly happy to discover the wines from Duchman Family Winery, which produces a wide number of Italian varietal wines. 

“I have a special love for Italian wines and I was so delighted to learn that Italian varietals are doing so well in Texas,” says Eby. “I was thrilled to add the Duchman Sangiovese to our list at the hotel.” 

The Grape: 
Sangiovese is a common grape variety throughout Italy. (It’s the most planted red grape across the country.) But it has won particular favor in the Tuscan region where iconic appellations such as Brunello di Montalcino, Chianti and Chianti Classico produce some of the world’s most prized Sangiovese wines. 

Why She Likes It: 
“Showcasing a distinctive ‘sense of place’ is a tradition at all of the Rosewood properties, and this wine has wonderful terroir, which is the perfect wine descriptor for ‘sense of place,’” says Eby. “I really enjoy living in a state that is passionate about all things Texas, including its wines! Duchman makes a terrific Aglianico as well, which is a grape grown in Campania and Basilicata in Southern Italy. This is a winery that is on the right track with the Italian varietals and I would love to see them experiment with some Sicilian varietals in the future.”

Suggested Pairings: 
“The Duchman Sangiovese is very Tuscan in style, with bright red fruits, aromas of smoke, earth, and herbs,” says Eby. “It will pair nicely with grilled and roasted meat, a nice juicy burger, charcuterie, tomato-based pasta dishes, cheeses, and of course, pizza!” 

Note from the Winemaker: Dave Reilly, Duchman Family Winery
“The grapes for the 2012 Duchman Sangiovese all come from the Reddy Vineyards, located in Brownfield (southwest of Lubbock),” says Reilly. “The vines were planted in 2006, and are still young, but only yield better and better fruit as the roots dig deeper into the dry Texas soil to look for water. Sangiovese is ideally suited to the hot, dry soil here, and this wine is proof of that.”   

Mon June 8, 2015 1:55 pm By Jessica Dupuy

As you stroll through the shelves of various wine aisles on one of your day-to-day wine-shopping ventures, you’ll probably notice them if you haven’t already—the opaque, almost black bottles displaying simple white oval labels with F, I, E, AR, or CA in large lettering on the front. And for a limited time this month, you may spot the latest addition to the lineup: TX. 

The wines are a novelty project from famed winemaker Dave Phinney of Orin Swift Cellars in St. Helena, California. In his Napa winemaking career, Phinney has made wines for Robert Mondavi, Opus One, and White Hall. His Orin Swift Cellars has garnered a cult following of wine aficionados who appreciate the bold flavors he blends in the bottle and his eclectic, artistic style.

The Locations brand was a separate project allowing him to select fruit from quality vineyards in specific locations around the world to make wines that reflect the authentic flavors of those regions. Much like the country-coded bumper stickers you may see on cars, the lettered labels represent France, Italy, Spain (España), Argentina, California, and now Texas. 

The Texas project was an idea Phinney tossed around with one of Texas’ most reputable winemakers, Kim McPherson of McPherson Cellars. The two met in 2013 at McPherson’s winery in Lubbock and, following a few glasses of wine and dinner at McPherson’s wife’s restaurant La Diosa, had the idea to add a Texas wine to the Locations lineup. 

“This is the first step in getting Texas more recognition as a great wine producing region,” says McPherson. 

To him, the only way Texas is going to make a name in the global wine market is for Texas wines to be distributed outside of the state. To date, few Texas wines make it outside of the state lines, most being consumed within the Lone Star State. The lack of national distribution is partly due to the small quantity of grapes produced in the state. While McPherson admits it’s a short-term problem, but he doesn’t agree that it’s a reason to hold back. 

“Right now, I’ve got just enough that we can at least get wines out there,” says McPherson whose McPherson Cellars label is currently distributed in Washington D.C., Maryland, and South Carolina in addition to Texas. “Getting national distribution helps solidify that we’re bonafide as a serious wine region. I’m getting tired of saying it when I’m traveling to other parts of the country. But if my wines are found in other states, that just helps.” 

What’s in the TX wine? A little bit of everything. It’s primarily a Rhône blend—Mourvèdre, Carignan, Cinsaut, Syrah and Grenache—making up about 88 percent of the wine of Texas appellation. To complete the collaboration, the remaining 12 percent is from Phinney’s California stock with Bordeaux reds and Petite Sirah to add rich color and a little more alcohol.  

As of last week, the Locations TX wine is on retail shelves throughout the state, but they’re likely to go fast. For this first run, McPherson only produced about 600 cases. Your best bet is to visit a store where you’ve already seen other Locations labels. (Whole Foods Market and independent wine merchants are a good place to start.) 

McPherson anticipates that the next release could be within the next year. And it’s likely to be close to double the production of this year. While Phinney has asked for 5,000 cases, a quantity of that size—roughly 50 percent of McPherson Cellars’ overall production—isn’t likely to happen for a few more years. 

The demand for McPherson Cellars wines alone has increased his 2015 projected production by 30 percent and he’s relying on friend and business partner Andy Timmons of Lost Draw Vineyards to help provide the fruit to make that happen. To date, Timmons has the most vineyard plantings in the state, but most his vines are young and not quite ready to deliver the bulk of what McPherson needs. In the next two to three years, things will be different. 

“This is a start. And I think it’s at the right time for Texas. Having our wines sold in other parts of the country is the sort of thing that will trigger 30,000 acres of vineyards in the state rather than the roughly 4,000 acres we have planted now,” says McPherson. “We’ve just got to pull that trigger.” 

Note: Don’t read into the number “3” printed on the back of the label. It’s part of a Locations labeling code. There aren’t any number “1” or “2” wines floating around out there.