Thu April 17, 2014 4:37 pm By Jessica Dupuy

While many Texans were up late watching the Blood Moons, grape growers in the High Plains and the Hill Country spent their nights tending vines and hoping for the best. Both regions experienced below-freezing temperatures Sunday, Monday, and Tuesday nights, and late spring freezes like these are the sort of weather events that panic the Texas wine industry, which is carefully nurturing the delicate and young buds on the vines. Fresh spring buds, which usually appear in late March and early April, are the first step in the life of a grape cluster. Once this “bud break” has occurred, if those buds freeze and die, it means the wine growing season is off to a dismal start. 

“We had already seen a number of warm days this spring that pushed pretty much all of the buds to grow in both Hill Country and High Plains vineyards,” said Lydia Wessner, vineyard manager for Grape Creek Vineyards in Fredericksburg. “If a freeze happens that reaches those buds, there’s nothing you can really do about it. They’re pretty much going to die.” 

In the life cycle of a flowering vine, there are generally three opportunities for a bud break. The first, which has already occurred throughout Texas, can eventually develop into quality grape clusters that are optimal for wine making. If these buds freeze or break off from other weather events such as hail, there is a chance for the vine to push forth a second bud break. And while this second break may still produce grape clusters, the energy the vine has used to produce it lessens the quality in fruit you would get from a first bud break. While a third tertiary bud break is possible, it really only creates foliage for the vine to help it survive through the summer, leaving no fruit for a grape grower to harvest. 

Already across the state, there have been reports of these late spring freezes destroying many vineyards. Wessner reported that Grape Creek’s Hill Country vineyards missed the freeze by a mere two degrees and are still in good shape, while areas north and west of Fredericksburg managed by William Chris Vineyards and Lewis Wines experienced a total loss. 

“If you take all of the vineyards we have spread out throughout Texas, we’re looking at potentially a fifty percent loss,” said Chris Brundrett of William Chris Vineyards. “It will be interesting to see what the next few weeks will bring.”

While many grape growers can still hope to recoup fruit from a second bud break this season, the spring is still far from over, and many are fearful that another freeze could develop in coming weeks. Last year, in the first week of May, the wine regions were hit with a very late spring freeze following a series of April freezes that sealed the fate of the 2013 growing season. The result left many wineries without an ounce of Texas wine to produce, and many other wineries scrambling outside of the state to source juice to make something to put on the shelves. If another freeze hits vines in coming weeks, grape growers and winemakers alike fear they may have to zero-out production for 2014 as well.

The Hill Country seemed to fair better than the High Plains this week, with temperatures staying just above freezing. But in the High Plains, reports were coming in as early as 8 a.m. Monday morning from grape grower Bobby Cox of Pheasant Ridge Winery that snow was beginning to blanket the vineyards. On Tuesday morning, Cox was notifying his community of grape growers and wineries that temperatures were hovering in the twenties. 

Dave Reilly of Duchman Family Vineyards received reports on his grapes at Bingham Family Vineyards that his Viognier was pretty much wiped out, but that things appeared to be holding steady with his Italian varieties Montepulciano, Aglianico, and Vermentino. 

“Thankfully our flagship wines are faring well,” said Reilly. “They tend to break bud a little later than other grapes, which has allowed them to survive. But it’s still too soon to tell what we’ll be dealing with for the season.” 

Following a dismal 2013 growing season, many Texas grape growers have tricks to help mitigate potential losses due to freezes. In the Mason County area in the western Hill Country, grower Drew Tallant has long implemented a frost-protection plan of using sprinklers to keep buds wet throughout a freeze. Counterintuitively, if ice forms on the buds prior to a hard freeze and continues to form from consistent sprinkling until the temperatures rise again, the buds themselves will avoid freezing. But sprinkling through a freeze requires a lot of water, a resource that the High Plains doesn’t really have. 

“I wish I could use sprinkler’s like Drew does,” said High Plains grower Andy Timmons of Lost Draw Vineyards. “He’s got a great vineyard with consistent crops, but we just can’t compete with that up here.” 

In previous years, the relative newcomer to Texas grape growing has seen his neighboring colleagues use everything from helicopters flown close to the vineyards to blow cold air off of the vines to torching hay bales near the vines to keep them warm. But Timmons caught on to a different idea. 

This year he invested in four large wind machines to stand 45 feet above forty acres of his vineyards, a practice used in many of the world’s wine regions. The large eighteen-foot fan panels are designed to propel enough wind over the vines to keep temperatures a few degrees above the actual temperature. 

For Timmons, this week’s freeze proved he’d made a good investment. Of the forty acres covered by his machines, only about fifteen acres on the edges of the fan perimeter were effected by the harsh freeze, allowing him to salvage more than sixty percent of his vineyard. Last year, he would have had to count those as a total loss. 

Timmons, who is fast becoming one of the largest High Plains grape growers—he estimates he’ll have 1,000 acres planted in coming years—is determined to be as prepared as possible with each new growing season. 

“If I’m going down, then I’m going down swinging,” says Timmons. “I’m not just going to be an observer when Mother Nature decides to throw us a curve ball.” 

Grape selection also seems to make a difference in the case of some wineries. Those grapes that tend to break bud later in the season do have a better chance against spring freezes. While Duchman Family Winery looks to a few hearty Italian varieties, others look to French Rhone red varieties like Cinsault and Mourvedre to sustain even the hardest of seasons. 

“I personally love Mourvedre,” says Doug Lewis of Lewis Wines who sources his Mourvedre from Timmons. “I think it’s going to be a great grape for Texas simply because it’s so tough. Last year Andy didn’t have his wind machines yet and after the May freeze, he was still able to bring in four tons to the acres of Mourvedre. Everything else was lost.” 

While reports from this week to provoke a level of trepidation about the 2014 vintage among Texas wine industry insiders, the next few weeks will really bare out the reality of the season. For Grape Creek’s Lydia Wessner, it’s simply a waiting game. “It’s still hard to tell what we can expect and there’s really not a lot you can do, except hope.”

“In times like these,” said William Chris Vineyards’ Chris Brundrett. “All I can do is crack open a Texas beer on the back porch to remind myself of where I’ve decided to farm.”

Thu April 17, 2014 9:59 am By Patricia Sharpe

If your Saturday evening is open and you live in Austin, you can still get tickets for a four-course dinner that will be prepared by four Austin chefs to help raise funds for a film chronicling the life and work of Diana Kennedy, the 91-year-old James Beard award-winning cookbook author and expert on Mexican cuisine. 

Kennedy is the author of a score of cookbooks, starting with The Cuisines of Mexico, in 1972, that captured the imagination of a generation of Americans—especially Texans—and introduced them to interior Mexican food, as opposed to the more Americanized styles, i.e., Tex-Mex, that was universal at the time. Her influence was nationwide and she has often been referred to as the Julia Child of Mexican food.

The chefs are Rene Ortiz and Laura Sawicki (formerly of La Condesa and Sway), Fany Gerson of La Newyorkina, and Jorge Hernandez of Qui. Each guest will go home with a copy of one of Diana’s award-winning cookbooks, Oaxaca al Gusto or My Mexico, which will be personally signed by Kennedy at the end of the evening. 

The event will raise funds for the production of a feature documentary on Kennedy and her culinary legacy. It will be held at a private home in West Austin on Saturday, April 19. Tickets are $175— including dinner, wine, cocktails, and a donation—and are available here.

Fri April 11, 2014 4:11 pm By Layne Lynch

The much-anticipated Live Fire announced its chef lineup this week, and if fast-selling tickets are any indication, this will be yet another stellar year for the annual culinary benefit. This marks the fourth year since the event was first launched by the Austin Food & Wine Alliance to raise funds for culinary grants, and since 2012, the Alliance has distributed over $45,000 to local artisans and purveyors.

This year’s Live Fire will place at the Salt Lick Barbecue Pavilion in Driftwood where an assortment of Texas chefs will prepare enticing platters of beef-centric bites over flames, coals, smoke, and other forms of live fire, including sugar cane-skewered beef tongue, beef torchon with escargot, beef taquitos with ribeye, and more. Check out the roster of attending chefs below:

  • Aaron Franklin of Franklin Barbecue
  • Matt McCallister of FT33
  • Jason Dady of Jason Dady Restaurants
  • Timothy Rattray of The Granary ‘Cue and Brew
  • Rene Ortiz & Laura Sawicki of Angry Bear
  • Ronnie Killen of Killen’s Barbecue - Killen’s Beef Ribs & Brisket.
  • Jesse Perez of Arcade Midtown Kitchen
  • Josh Watkins of The Carillon
  • Rick Lopez of La Condesa
  • Kendall Melton of Contigo
  • Lawrence Kocurek of Trace
  • Brandon Fuller of Café Josie
  • Kristine Kittrell of WeatherUp  
  • Ben Runkle, Bryan Butler and Josh Jones of Salt & Time Butcher Shop and Salumeria
  •  Mari Soto and Mark Morales of Whole Foods Market
  • Scott Roberts of Salt Lick Bar-B-Que
  • Jeff Martinez of El Chile Café y Cantina
  • Monica Glenn of Qui
  • Callie Speer of Swift’s Attic

In addition to sampling chef-designed hors d’oeuvres, guests can expect a spread of wines from Sommelier Paula Rester, brews from the likes of St. Arnold’s Brewery, cocktails from local establishments like Dripping Springs Vodka, and live music from country music artist Leo Rondeau.

Live Fire takes place Thursday, April 17 from 6:30 p.m. to 9 p.m. Guests can purchase tickets through this link.

Tue April 1, 2014 1:35 pm By Layne Lynch

Food & Wine magazine revealed its 2014 list of the Best New Chefs in America on Tuesday morning via social media, and Texas chefs clearly came out swinging. Out of the twelve chefs (from ten restaurants) honored, three hailed from the Lone Star State. This is a record for Texas, which has previously had two chefs on the annual list but not three.

Justin Yu of Oxheart (Houston), Paul Qui of qui (Austin), and Matt McCallister of FT33 (Dallas) were singled out by Food & Wine editor Dana Cowin, who dropped a hint before the list came out:

Other chefs honored include Cara Stadler of Tao Yuan (Brunswick, ME), Greg Denton and Gabrielle Quinonez Dentonof Ox (Portland, OR), Matthew Accarrino of SPQR (San Francisco), Eli Kulp of Fork (Philadelphia), Ari Taymor of Alma (Los Angeles), Dave Beran of Next (Chicago), and Walker Stern and Joe Ogrodnek of Dover (Brooklyn).

All the chefs will be featured in the magazine’s July issue. 


Thu March 27, 2014 11:01 am By Jessica Dupuy

In February we reported on the Dallas Morning News/TEXSOM Wine Competition, when judging was well under way. This week, the results of the heralded competition were released. Of the more than 2,700 wines entered from from around the world, the total tally of gleaming medals included 227 gold, 629 silver, and 852 bronze—meaning roughly 60 percent of the entries walked away with a “tip of the hat” from a distinguished judging panel made up of Master Sommeliers, Masters of Wine, wine journalists and wine makers.  

The good news is, Texas wines made a good showing as well with a total of 98 medals awarded to Texas appellation wines from 30 different Texas wineries. (All of these wines were made with a minimum of 75 percent Texas fruit, rather than fruit from other states.) Of the 98, eleven of them took gold (see below for the list of winners). 

Nabbing a medalespecially a goldis no small feat. The panel of judges selected to size up wines from the Texas appellation was made up of two Master Sommeliers and two Masters of Wine. These are people who are regularly tasting wines from around the world, and whose palates can quickly ascertain which wines are hitting the mark, and which ones are not. 

“Texas wines do well when produced in an “Old World” style. Interestingly, most of the great Texas wines are made from European grape varieties that often don’t travel outside their home territory,” says Texas panel judge and Master of Wine Christy Canterbury. “I was absolutely blown away by the [Duchman Family Winery] Sangiovese I tasted this year. I don’t know if it was the vintage, the vine age or the winemaking confidence, but that was a particularly motivating flight. When the DMN/TEXSOM results for Gold were published, I was tremendously excited to see two Sangiovese wines—both Texan. And nothing from Italy.”

But let’s not forget silver and bronze medal winners. Often people overlook these, but it’s important to note that these wines still fall in the upper tier of more than half the wines submitted to the competition, not to mention the credibility they receive from this particular panel of judges. 

James Tidwell, Master Sommelier and co-founder of TEXSOM contends that there’s not much point in having silver and bronze medals if they don’t actually mean something. 

“Just because someone put effort into making a wine, doesn’t mean it gets a bronze medal,” says Tidwell. “It should have style and depth.” 

As Tidwell explained before judging began: Gold medals represent a classic style that are showing up there with the best in the world for typicity and character; Silver medals represent outstanding wines with superior character; Bronze medal wines exhibit unique character and distinction. Tidwell tasked the competition judges to be mindful of not being too lenient in bestowing bronze medals, or too stingy in awarding gold medals. 

For Canterbury, silver and bronze winners had to have a few key factors, “Gulpability. Complexity. Harmony. And a must-have-more quality.” 

“In my book, Tempranillo is the red variety Texas should hang its hat on. Tannat has been getting more exciting in the last few years as well,” says Canterbury. “For whites, Rhône varieties (Marsanne, Roussanne, Viognier) rule. There’s also a rock star Pinot Gris this year and some solid Vermentino.” 

Here are the lists Texas winners: 

Gold Medal Winners

Bending Branch Winery, Texas, Tannat 2011
Brennan Vineyards, Texas, Tempranillo 2011
Duchman Family Winery, Texas, Martin Vineyard, Sangiovese 2011
Duchman Family Winery, Texas, Reddy Vineyard, Sangiovese 2011
Eden Hill Vineyard, Texas, Roussanne 2012
Haak Vineyards & Winery, Texas, Semi-Sweet, Blanc du Bois 2012
Lewis Wines, Texas High Plains, Viognier 2012
Messina Hof, Texas, GSM, Grenache-Shiraz-Mourvedre NV
Spicewood Vineyards, Texas Hill Country, Estate, Tempranillo 2012
Stone House Vineyard, Texas Hill Country, Reserve, Claros, Norton 2012
The Ranch Wines, Texas High Plains, Reserve, The Grey Ghost, Pinot Grigio 2012 

Silver Medal Winners

Arche, Texas High Plains, Yellow Rose 2012
Becker Vineyards, Texas, Reserve, Cabernet Sauvignon 2012
Becker Vineyards, Texas, Viognier 2012
Bending Branch Winery, Texas, Tannat 2010
Blue Ostrich Winery Vineyard, Texas, Rosato Moscato NV
Brennan Vineyards, Texas, Lily, (Roussanne, Viognier, Grenache) 2012
Brushy Creek Vineyards, Texas, Oswald Vineyard, Roussanne 2010
Driftwood Estate Winery, Texas, Longhorn Red, Cabernet Sauvignon/Syrah 2011
Driftwood Estate Winery, Texas, Sangiovese 2011
Duchman Family Winery, Texas, Bayer Family Vineyard, Tempranillo 2011
Duchman Family Winery, Texas, Bingham Family Vineyard, Vermentino 2012
Duchman Family Winery, Texas, Limestone Terrace Vineyard, Sangiovese 2011
Duchman Family Winery, Texas, Montepulciano 2011
Fall Creek Vineyards, Texas Hill Country, Meritus, Cabernet Sauvignon/Merlot 2010
Fall Creek Vineyards, Texas Hill Country, Salt Lick Vineyard, Tempranillo 2011
Haak Vineyards & Winery, Texas, Malbec 2012
Kiepersol Estates Vineyards, Texas, Bridge, Sweet Mengsel NV
Legato, Texas, GCP Mirtillo, Blueberry NV
Lewis Wines, Texas High Plains, 52% Viognier-48% Chenin Blanc 2012
Llano Estacado, Texas High Plains, Reddy Vineyards, Cinsault Rose 2013
Lost Oak Winery, Texas, Blanc du Bois 2012
Lost Oak Winery, Texas, Viognier 2012
McPherson Cellars, Texas, La Herencia 2012
Messina Hof, Texas, Barrel Reserve, Cabernet Franc 2012
Messina Hof, Texas, Double Barrel, Private Reserve, Cabernet Franc 2012
Messina Hof, Texas, Double Barrel, Private Reserve, Merlot 2011
Messina Hof, Texas, Double Barrel, Private Reserve, Reflections of Love 2011
Messina Hof, Texas, DRZ, Dolcetto-Zinfandel NV
Messina Hof, Texas, Private Reserve, Blanc Du Bois 2013
Pedernales Cellars, Texas High Plains, Tempranillo 2010
Pedernales Cellars, Texas, Kuhlken Vineyards, Reserve, Red 2011
Pedernales Cellars, Texas, Reserve, Tempranillo 2012
Red Caboose Winery & Vineyards, Texas, Range Rider, Tempranillo Blend 2011
Red Caboose Winery & Vineyards, Texas, Some of that Red NV
Spicewood Vineyards, Texas High Plains, Viognier 2012
Sweet Dreams Winery, Texas, 60% Honey, 40% Pear NV
Sweet Dreams Winery, Texas, Sweet Heat, Jalapeno NV
William Chris Vineyards, Texas High Plains, Mary Ruth 2012 

Bronze Medal Winners

Arche, Texas High Plains, Oswald Vineyard, Roussanne 2012
Becker Vineyards, Texas, Les Trois Dames, Claret 2012
Becker Vineyards, Texas, Reserve, Chardonnay 2012
Bending Branch Winery, Texas High Plains, Newsom Vineyard, Tempranillo 2011
Blue Ostrich Winery Vineyard, Texas, Orange Muscat 2012
Blue Ostrich Winery Vineyard, Texas, Viognier NV
Brennan Vineyards, Comanche County, Newburg Vineyard, Reserve, Cabernet Sauvignon 2010
Brennan Vineyards, Texas, Viognier 2012
Brushy Creek Vineyards, Texas, Sangiovese 2012
Brushy Creek Vineyards, Texas, Tempranillo 2012
Brushy Creek Vineyards, Texas, Texas Rose NV
Duchman Family Winery, Texas, Bingham Family Vineyard, Viognier 2012
Duchman Family Winery, Texas, Kinsey, Canto Felice NV
Eden Hill Vineyard, Texas, Sweet Dessert, Roussanne 2012
Enoch’s Stomp, Texas, Off Dry, Blanc du Bois 2011
Enoch’s Stomp, Texas, Off Dry, Blanc du Bois 2012
Flat Creek Estate, Texas High Plains, Newsom Vineyard, Reserve, Cabernet Sauvignon 2010
Flat Creek Estate, Texas Hill Country, Reserve, Estate Bottled, Syrah 2010
Haak Vineyards & Winery, Texas, Blanc du Bois, Port 2011
Haak Vineyards & Winery, Texas, Dry, Blanc du Bois 2013
Haak Vineyards & Winery, Texas, Jacquez Port 2009
Haak Vineyards & Winery, Texas, Madeira, Blanc Du Bois Dessert 2011
Haak Vineyards & Winery, Texas, Madeira, Jacquez 2009
Haak Vineyards & Winery, Texas, Reddy Vineyards, Tempranillo 2012
Haak Vineyards & Winery, Texas, Reserve, Blanc du Bois 2012
Kiepersol Estates, Texas, Cabernet Sauvignon 2009
Kiepersol Estates, Texas, Merlot 2009
Kiepersol Estates, Texas, Port 2005
Kiepersol Estates, Texas, Syrah 2010
Kiepersol Estates, Texas, Vit 201
Los Pinos Ranch Vineyards, Texas High Plains, Moscato 2012
Los Pinos Ranch Vineyards, Texas High Plains, Texican 2012
Los Pinos Ranch Vineyards, Texas, Blanc du Bois NV
Lost Oak Winery, Texas High Plains, Bingham Family Vineyards, Texas Trio 2012
Messina Hof, Texas, Barrel Reserve, Merlot 2012
Messina Hof, Texas, Father & Son Cuvee, Limited Edition, Paulo, Zinfandel 2011
Messina Hof, Texas, Late Harvest, Angel, Heavenly Sweet Riesling NV
Pedernales Cellars, Texas, George Bush 25th Anniversary, Reserve, Tempranillo 2012
Pedernales Cellars, Texas, GSM 2012
Spicewood Vineyards, Texas High Plains, Tempranillo 2012
Sweet Dreams Winery, Texas, Pawpaw’s Mayhaw NV
Sweet Dreams Winery, Texas, Summer T, Watermelon NV
Tara Vineyard & Winery, Texas, Dolcetto NV
Tara Vineyard & Winery, Texas, Tempranillo NV
Texas Hills Vineyard, Texas High Plains, Newsom Vineyards, Toro de Tejas, Tempranillo 2010
Texas Sake Co., Texas, Whooping Crane, Yamahai Tokubetsu Junmai NV
Valley Mills Vineyards, Texas, Vermentino 2012
William Chris Vineyards, Texas High Plains, Hunter 2012
William Chris Vineyards, Texas Hill Country, Block 500, Estate, Merlot 2012