Texas wineries dominate at prestigious California wine competition

Brennan Vineyards' 2015 Reserve Viognier won a best of class award at the San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition.
Brennan Vineyards’ 2015 Reserve Viognier won a Best of Class award at the 2017 San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition.

At the largest competition of American wines in the world, Texas wineries proved they can hold their own against some of the top wine producers in the country — taking home seven best-of-class awards for their wine and a total of 158 medals.

The only state that topped Texas’ unprecedented wins at the San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition was California. Texas taking second place overall, beating out lauded wine regions like Oregon, Washington and New York, is a well-earned victory for winemakers who have fought derisive perceptions of Texas wine since the 1970s.

“Texas wine may have reached a tipping point, in its development and national reputation, with the recently released results” of the wine competition, Pat Brennan, owner of Brennan Vineyards in the Hill Country, said.

One of his wines, Brennan Vineyards’ 2015 Reserve Viognier, won a Best of Class award, while two others, the 2015 Roussanne and the 2014 Tempranillo, got gold medals. (Best of Class tops gold as the highest honor to receive.) Brennan’s and other Texas wines were up against more than 7,000 wines from 28 states, all tasted blind by a panel of 60 wine experts. There were more than 100 categories for the wines to be entered into.

Brennan noted that California winemakers earned accolades in the San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition for their chardonnay and cabernet sauvignon wines — two French varietals that the Pacific Coast state typically dominates at making.

Texas winemakers, however, have discovered their niche elsewhere: in more warm-weather varietals such as tempranillo from Spain, which has a climate similar to ours. These often lesser-known grapes, coupled with Texas terroir, are helping to cement Texas’ status as a wine region that can compete with the best. For winemakers like Brennan, that’s been a long time coming.

“Unfortunately, many Texans do not realize the some of the best wine in the United States is made right here in the Lone Star State,” he said. “We hope more and more people will ask for Texas wine at their favorite restaurants, visit Texas wineries and pick up a bottle at local retailers.”

Here are the seven Best of Class winners:

  • Brennan Vineyards 2015 Reserve Viognier
  • Haak Vineyards & Winery Tempranillo 2015
  • Los Pinos Ranch Vineyards Sweet Blush Colibri
  • Messina Hof Winery Merlot 2015
  • Perissos Vineyards & Winery Dolcetto 2015
  • Trilogy Cellars Malbec 2015
  • Wedding Oak Winery Sweet Alyssum 2015 (white blend)

Oregon’s Willamette Valley, top producer of pinot noir, showcases wine at Austin tasting

Photo by Serge Chapuis. Domaine Drouhin Oregon is one of the Willamette Valley wineries showcasing its wines at the Pinot in the City event on Jan. 26.
Photo by Serge Chapuis. Domaine Drouhin Oregon is one of the Willamette Valley wineries showcasing its wines at the Pinot in the City event on Jan. 26.

Texas isn’t the only state with a burgeoning wine region. In Oregon, the Willamette Valley makes arguably some of America’s best pinot noir — as well as other wines that have the world’s wine experts excited about the Pacific Northwest.

On Thursday, more than 60 of the Willamette Valley’s winemakers will be at Pinot in the City, a 6 p.m. tasting that will showcase their pinot noir, as well as other top grapes like pinot gris, chardonnay and pinot blanc. The winemakers, along with winery owners and other notable people in the industry, will pour their wines to introduce local oenophiles to a place that Wine Enthusiast recently named as the Wine Region of the Year.

About an hour south of Portland, the hilly region is relatively young, having gotten officially approved as an American Viticultural Area in 1983, but already, “Willamette Valley Pinot Noir can challenge Burgundy in its ability to capture the nuance and power of the grape,” according to Wine Enthusiast’s article about the honor.

That’s no surprise for people like David Millman. He’s the general manager of winery Domaine Drouhin, which has made a name for itself with a philosophy of “French soul, Oregon soil” and specializes in — you guessed it — pinot noir.

Having lived in Oregon for 12 and a half years, he’s noticed that many wine lovers are still learning about Willamette Valley wines but love them once they do.

“There is still this sense of discovery about Oregon wine,” he said. “Oregon feels like this exciting place because it is, and there’s a lot of energy reflected in the wines and the range of wines that we make. For people raised on certain styles of wines, they suddenly have a huge diversity of often elegant, earthy, place-driven wines to dive into that are beautiful, that they can connect with, and they do.”

Like Texas, a majority of Willamette Valley wineries (total, there are about 530 of them) are family-owned to this day and making 5,000 cases or less, Millman said. The goal for them in making wine is to celebrate the lush, fertile land and cool climate that has rewarded grape growers there with a flourishing crop. Oregon winemakers are collaborative, “just alive with curiosity and passion, and there’s still a pioneering spirit,” he said.

The pinot noir, you’ll find, is the best of both Burgundy and California: balancing the minerality and higher acidity of Burgundy pinot with the brighter, more fruit-forward profile of California pinot.

“Pinot noir is almost synonymous with Oregon,” Millman said.

Become enchanted with Willamette Valley wines — from wineries including Erath Winery, King Estate Winery and Moffett Vineyards — starting at 6 p.m. Thursday with $75 general admission. Pinot in the City will take place at the J.W. Marriott at 110 E. Second St. and will have pinot-friendly appetizers and hors d’oeuvres to pair with the wines.

A portion of the proceeds will benefit the Austin Food & Wine Alliance.

How to make the most of Texas Wine Month

Shelby Tauber / American-Statesman. During Texas Wine Month, check out wineries like William Chris Vineyards in the Hill Country.
Shelby Tauber / American-Statesman. During Texas Wine Month, check out wineries like William Chris Vineyards in the Hill Country.

It’s pretty simple: Texas Wine Month, also known as October, is the time to go out and explore Texas wine, whether that’s at a bar or restaurant, your own home or at the wineries in the Hill Country themselves.

Wineries like Spicewood Vineyards, Duchman Family Winery, Fall Creek Vineyards and Bending Branch Winery are consistently good bets as both wines to pick up and places to check out during day trips.

If you’re looking to go out and explore them and approximately 50 other wineries that dot the Hill Country landscape, the Texas Wine Month Trail is a guaranteed good time. It runs through Oct. 31 and is easy to do.

Just purchase a ticket ($40 for individuals, $70 for couples) on the Texas Hill Country Wineries website, and you’ll be able to visit any of the participating wineries during their tasting room hours. The tickets include a free sampling of their wines and a 15 percent discount on three bottle purchases — though you can’t visit more than four wineries per day.

Here are some other events that individual wineries will be offering throughout the month.

The Texas Chocolate & Wine Experience at 4.0 Cellars: Chocolate truffles paired with wines from 4.0 Cellars (a fourth winery from McPherson Cellars, Brennan Vineyards and Lost Oak Winery)? That sounds hard to resist but is fortunately available Monday-Friday at selected times; just make a reservation at least 24 hours in advance.

Friday Night Flights at Fall Creek Vineyards: The winery’s Driftwood location regularly has this tasting from 4 to 7 p.m. Fridays as a way to kick off your weekend. You can enjoy flights of either red wines or white wines, many of them award winners.

Library Tastings at Becker Vineyards: One of Texas’ oldest wineries highlights the best of its wines with this intimate look at Becker. The event includes a behind-the-scenes tour of the production area and will conclude with a wine-and-cheese pairing. Sold yet? The tasting is $60 ($50 if you’re a wine club member); make an appointment for an upcoming Saturday at 1 p.m. The Library Tastings were put on hold during harvest but have returned for Texas Wine Month.

The Wine & Food Foundation of Texas’ A Taste of Texas Fine Wine. Members of the Texas Fine Wine group will be presenting a diverse array of their wines at this discussion led by Spicewood Vineyards’ Ron Yates, whose winery is one of the group participants. Tickets for this Oct. 12 event range between $35-$45 in price.

Texas Wine & Bites at Dine: This free Oct. 13 tasting at the Radisson Hotel’s restaurant on East Cesar Chavez Street will have wines from Bending Branch Winery, Brennan Vineyards, Duchman Family Winery, Pedernales Cellars and Spicewood Vineyards, with Texas-centric appetizers from chefs David Garrido and Justin Mowery. Make sure to RSVP ahead of time.

For Texas Wine Month, enjoy a dinner with the Texas Fine Wine wineries at Spicewood Vineyards on Oct. 14.
For Texas Wine Month, enjoy a dinner with the Texas Fine Wine wineries at Spicewood Vineyards on Oct. 14.

3rd Annual Texas Fine Wine Dinner: Spicewood Vineyards is hosting this $80 Oct. 14 feast with four courses featuring flavors of the Texas Hill Country and wines from Spicewood, Brennan Vineyards, Pedernales Cellars, Duchman Family Winery and Bending Branch Winery.

Fiesta Winery’s 6th Year Celebration: It’s time to party with this Bend-located winery, which is having food trucks, live music and dancing — and wine, of course — to herald six years of Fiesta. Tickets are only $10, and Fiesta wine club members can bring up to three guests for free.

Singing Water Vineyards’ Fall Festival: Love autumn? The Comfort-area winery is throwing the fest for you. Singing Waters will have two days of live music, food and an art show starting at 11:30 a.m. Oct. 22 and ending 6 p.m. Oct. 23.

Holiday Wine Release at Pedernales Cellars: The winery founders like to celebrate the Swedish they’ve added to their family tree, so they’ve got Glögg, traditional mulled wine, available at Pedernales and sister winery Armadillo’s Leap starting well in advance of the holiday rush. Pick up a bottle or two of the tempranillo-based wine starting Oct. 22.

Old Vine Petite Sirah Vertical Tasting: Bending Branch Winery’s Branch on High has a special tasting for fans of this red wine. It’s one of the few varietals that the winery has made in every vintage since 2008, and you’ll be able to try vintages 2008-2013 as well as a 2008 Port-Style Petite Sirah. The Oct. 22 vertical is $45.

Halloween Costume Contest at Torre di Pietra: Halloween might be on a Monday this year, but you can bring out your costume early for this “spooktacular” party on Oct. 29. There will be prizes for the best ones, as well as live music from the Shelley King Band, wood-fired pizzas and wines by the glass or bottle.

Halloween Masquerade Ball at Messina Hof Hill Country Winery: Elegant yet spooky — what more could you want from a masquerade ball at a winery? The night will start with a three-course dinner paired with Messina Hof wines, followed by spooky Halloween music for dancing and a masquerade mask contest. The Oct. 29 party has tickets for $80.

Balcones Distilling in Waco named best whiskey distillery in U.S.

The popular HGTV show “Fixer Upper” isn’t the only thing making our neighbor to the north, Waco, a cool place to visit. So is the whiskey distillery Balcones Distilling, which recently received the honor of being named the top craft whiskey distillery in the country by readers of USA Today.

The publication’s “10Best set out on a mission to find the best craft and small-batch spirits producers — family-owned distilleries, grain-to-glass operations or distillers using only the best local ingredients in their products,” according to the 10Best editors.

To find them, USA Today asked spirits experts, from bartenders to judges to journalists, to nominate distilleries in a variety of different categories based off the spirits they make: whiskey, rum, vodka, gin, tequila and specialty spirits. Then, readers chose their favorites from each list. The Waco-based Balcones, which moved into a much bigger facility this spring to make a lot more whiskey — or, as the distillers there spell it, whisky — ultimately topped the other nominated whiskey distilleries.

Balcones' Texas Single-Malt is just one of the brand's award-winning whiskies.
Balcones’ Texas Single-Malt is just one of the brand’s award-winning whiskies.

And for good reason, according to 10Best.

“When you pick up a bottle of Balcones whiskey, you’ll notice it has been individually stamped in wax and labeled with a handwritten batch number,” the 10Best editors wrote. “Balcones Distilling’s whiskey lineup includes a Texas Single Malt, Baby Blue blue corn whiskey and Brimstone Texas Scrub Oak Smoked corn whiskey. Limited-release single-barrel whiskeys highlight unique variants and experimental whiskeys found nowhere else.”

Balcones also wasn’t the only Texas whiskey distillery to make the list. Garrison Brothers Distillery, in the Hill Country, earned the sixth spot. As I noted in a column last year, the state’s whiskey makers have been producing top-notch aged spirits that are only getting better each year.

In the tequila category of USA Today’s 10Best list, the Austin-based Dulce Vida Tequila placed ninth. The company (whose distillery is technically located in Mexico, where all tequila is produced) makes award-winning, 100-proof tequilas like the Lone Star edition of its añejo. Recently scooped up by the former makers of Deep Eddy Vodka, the distillery has branched out to make a line of flavored tequilas.

Each distillery was ranked after four weeks of voting. And for Balcones Distilling, being selected as number one was humbling.

“It was an honor be nominated by a respected panel of whisky experts, and to win the national vote speaks highly of our friends and fans,” Balcones head distiller Jared Himstedt said in a statement. “We are humbled by the outpouring of support that was given to us throughout the voting.”

Why Texas is made for rosé wines

In Texas, it’s never been easier to enjoy rosé all day.

Photo by Arianna Auber / American-Statesman. Texas-grown rosés were spotlighted at a recent wine event.
Photo by Arianna Auber / American-Statesman. Texas-grown rosés were spotlighted at a recent wine event.

The inaugural Texas Wine Revolution on Sunday brought together a variety of these Texas-grown wines — each with their own flavorful nuances and refreshing, beat-the-heat qualities.

William Chris Vineyards’ event proved that Texas excels at making this increasingly popular style of wine. In fact, grape growers and winemakers in the state are now deliberately setting aside acreage to make rosé, which used to be (and sometimes still is) a mere byproduct in the production of making red wine. By growing grapes for rosé — which isn’t made the same way as its red counterpart — producers are raising the quality of the wine.

“We have the perfect climate and weather for rosé,” Doug Lewis of Johnson City’s Lewis Wines said at a VIP panel before the Texas Wine Revolution officially kicked off. “Texas, especially the Hill Country and the High Plains, has a competitive advantage in making a good rosé. We’ve had to figure out what nature is giving us, and rosé seems to be one of those things. And it really doesn’t take long to make those wines.”

They are the money makers for many winemakers because “they don’t need time in the barrel or bottle,” he said. And with sales of rosé wine at a 52 percent increase, there’s even more reason for wine producers to make them.

Here are three (my favorites at the fest) that demonstrate Texas’ distinct ability to make good rosés:

  • Becker Vineyards Jolie 2014: A recent award winner, this dry everyday wine “is filled with floral notes of strawberry, peach and violet,” according to Becker.
  • William Chris Vineyards 2015 Cinsault Rosé: Made with a grape that’s showing promise in Texas, it lures you in with notes of berry and orange and keeps you hooked with fresh sage.
  • McPherson Cellars 2015 Les Copains Rosé: The Lubbock winery knows how to make a consistently good rosé, with crisp acidity and delicate fruitiness balancing out herbal notes.

Inaugural Texas Wine Revolution showcases state’s best rosés

Brennan Vineyards' 2015 Dry Rosé will be one of the delicious rosés at the Texas Wine Revolution.
Brennan Vineyards’ 2015 Dry Rosé will be one of the delicious rosés at the Texas Wine Revolution on Sunday.

In the Hill Country, William Chris Vineyards is bringing wine lovers an event that will allow us to enjoy rosé all day, a type of wine that has been in vogue of late.

And not just any rosé — the winery’s inaugural Texas Wine Revolution on Sunday will feature all Texas-made rosés from some of the best wineries in the state, including Bending Branch Winery, Brennan Vineyards and McPherson Cellars. (McPherson’s Les Copains Rosé is regularly regarded as a top choice among publications like Texas Monthly.)

William Chris Vineyards decided to put together the event, which runs from 1 to 4 p.m. at the winery’s Hye location, to showcase the distinct terroir of Texas.

“We are seeing a revolution in wine growing here in Texas, where winemakers are producing different styles of Texas grown wine reflecting more of our culture, terroir and cuisine,” William Chris winemaker and owner Chris Brundrett said in a press release. “Rosé is one of those incredibly versatile wines that goes with a wide variety of foods. This event will showcase where those wines are grown, who is making them and what local chefs are pairing with them.”

In addition to the more than 20 wineries showing off their rosés, the Texas Wine Revolution will also feature local food purveyors, live music and picnic areas “readied for guests lounging among the Texas vines,” according to the release.

The $50 tickets, which you can purchase at the Texas Wine Revolution website, will get you “a six-bottle tote bag, a souvenir wine glass, a booklet with information about each winery that will double as a passport, tastings of more than 20 Texas-grown rosés, the opportunity to purchase bottles and glasses from participating wineries, live entertainment, complimentary valet parking, and samples from local food vendors,” according to the release.

Future Texas Wine Revolution events are going to feature different Texas-grown varietals each year.

For more about why Texas rosés are just so good, check out this American-Statesman column I wrote last summer about them. And for more information about the event, visit texaswinerevolution.com.

Real Ale Brewing extends summer taproom hours

Real Ale recently celebrated 20 years in business. Throughout the summer, the brewery is offering extended taproom hours.
Real Ale recently celebrated 20 years in business. Throughout the summer, the brewery is offering extended taproom hours.

Starting on June 4, Real Ale Brewing will prove to be a fun drinking destination in Blanco with extended taproom hours for summertime.

The brewery will be opened from 12 to 6 p.m. Wednesdays and Thursdays, 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, and 12 to 5 p.m. Sundays.

And once there, day drinkers have lots of beer options.

You can build your own flight to try several of Real Ale’s 14 beers on top, or if you’ve brought friends, you can “share one of the six beers available in 22 oz. bombers,” according to a release. “Eight taps of year-round favorites and six rotating special taps means fans are likely to stumble upon a rare barrel-aged Mysterium Verum or your first taste of the salty summer seasonal, Gose.”

Plus, Real Ale specializes in cask-conditioned beers and tends to have at least one in the cask engine on weekends, offering fun beers like the Real Ale White with grapefruit or an Ancho Chili Oatmeal Stout.

The brewery recommends bringing your lunch to make a day of it. Or, on the second and fourth Saturdays of the month, enjoy barbecue from a Blanco food truck, Old 300.

To view the latest beer list at Real Ale ahead of time, visit realalebrewing.com/brewery/tap-room-tours/.