Wineslinger Searching for Texas Terroir Sat, 10 Dec 2016 02:21:23 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Staging a Texas Renaissance: The Wineslinger Chronicles Sun, 01 Dec 2013 18:07:01 +0000 T

Staging a Texas Renaissance: The Wineslinger Chronicles

Forward by Doug Frost MS, MW

If you picked up this book, you’ve already demonstrated a keen awareness for the sleeping juggernaut that is Texas wine. Perhaps you’re curious about Texas’s current role in the wine industry, or at minimum, the evolution and likely future of Texas wines. If so, you’ve got a remarkably thorough guide in Russell Kane, the man who’s been dubbed the “Texas Wineslinger.”

Russ could have written authoritatively on a myriad of subjects, but wine–particularly Texas wine–clearly fires his passion. For those of us who are aficionados of America’s wine industries, this is an invaluable tome. But here’s the thing: that’s not why you should buy and devour this book.

Texas wine has been stuck in first gear, or to compare it to the Houston Astros game on my TV screen, it’s as if Texas wine has been caught somewhere between first base and second. It hasn’t decided whether to go for the steal–hoping to slide in under the throw–or retreat. For too long, the choice has been boringly obvious: safe at first.

Russ’s book has its fair share of cautionary tales, of “ghost wineries” and of “winegrowers’ prayers.” But there are so many new vineyards and wineries that diversity is happening, whether or not the collective Texas wine industry has intended to diversify beyond the same ol’ Chard and Cab. Russ tells the fascinating stories ranging from Spanish missionary days to the determination of emigrant farmers to bring wine culture to their new Texas homeland.

Texans, as you’ll read in these pages, like their wines, so much so that the rest of the country rarely gets to see the best of Texas. Read on: you’ll find out why and how, and you should probably keep a pen and paper handy because you’ll find a Texas trail you will want to travel and the wines waiting for you at the end of the road.


Coming to America Wed, 05 Sep 2012 20:26:05 +0000

Coming to America

Scenic hills with tall pine trees fringed my East Texas path to produce a cloistered environment with an emerald cast. As I drove, I thought about how modern man conjoins with nature on a grand scale in Texas: acres under barn, vast countryside dedicated to row crops, white wooden fences extending to the horizon guarding the domain of domesticated animals.

My path circumnavigated the sprawling East Texas city of Tyler, following four-lane thoroughfares into the piney woods. Once at Tyler’s southern reach, I entered what I soon realized was the “Province of Kiepersol,” the domain of Pierre de Wet and his daughters. A man of immense vision and strength, Pierre, with his daughters Marnelle and Velmay following closely in his footsteps, has crafted a new life and realm…

After our introduction, Pierre said, “Sense of place, terroir, for me it’s very different than the old conception that you read about in all your wine books. With modern-day technology, man can change the terroir. I’m a good enough farmer to change it to get what I want.” His voice carried the interesting intonation of his South African homeland, but his message was pure unadulterated American freedom….

To finish the tasting, Marnelle and I trekked down into the barrel room for a sample of her 2008 Cabernet Sauvignon still in barrel. From one taste, it was obvious that she had reached the level of a confident winemaker, something that only comes with courage and even a bit of cellar room bravado to coax every last bit of fruit and character the grapes have to give.

Excerpt from The Wineslinger Chronicles – Chapter 14

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The Supreme Expérimentateur Sun, 01 Jul 2012 19:54:17 +0000

The Supreme Expérimentateur

I headed out across the vast prairie on Highway 81 past Decatur in the region once dominated by this seemingly impenetrable forest. The land opened around me with only remnant fingers of dense Cross Timbers brush tucked into prairie folds, the last vestige of this barrier once called the “iron forest.” Hawks were positioned like sentinels atop the dense vegetation, scanning wide-eyed in search of their prairie buffet. I was on my way to visit with Les Constable—grape grower, winemaker, and owner of Brushy Creek in Alvord, Texas.

As we drove his golf cart into the vineyard, Les said, “These varieties of grapes do all right and make good wines,” he continued, “but it’s hard work for me. I’ve been looking for vines that in Texas with its heat and sun and that can still handle the freezes that burn us here.”

He readily admits to anyone and everyone that he’s made lots of mistakes in his vineyard, but he learned something important from every error. As we got still deeper into the vineyard, Les stopped again and looked out for a few moments. Pointing forward, he said, “Now, these vines are happy campers.”

A Strong Texas Brand Mon, 18 Jun 2012 18:58:48 +0000

A Strong Texas Brand

No sooner did I arrive at the winery than a barrage of words shot in my direction without any encouragement or provocation from my side. “I’ve been doing this for far too long . . . I get rocks thrown at me. Why? I guess that I just don’t play nice in the sandbox. But, hell . . . why play? It’s getting harder and harder to create a truly Texas wine. Harder and harder and harder!”

The first time I met Kim McPherson was several years ago at the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo where he was pouring his then CapRock wines at the barbecue cook-off. I was surprised and frankly somewhat impressed by how many syllables he could give to the monosyllabic word SHIT after I asked him to comment about the romantic life of a Texas winemaker.

Looking around me, the McPherson winery appeared an eclectic mix, much like Kim himself. It was a bit of postindustrial Coca-Cola and Zen-like bamboo, with elements of historic Texana beside modern art….

Excerpt from The Wineslinger Chronicles: Chapter 9: A Strong Texas Brand

Sun on the Skins Sat, 25 Feb 2012 19:30:02 +0000

Sun on the Skins

This high, flat plain [around Lubbock] didn’t exactly conjure up the image of wine country to me. The scenery was dominated by shades of burnt red below and indigo above. At the conjunction of these two domains, lean and well-drained soil combines with intense high-altitude sun, a little water, and copious amounts of manual labor to define this agricultural region. Surprisingly, cotton and other commodity crops, the local mainstay for generations, now share space with some of the most sought after grapes in Texas.

Fresh high-plains air in my nostrils and strong hot coffee in my belly primed me for the day’s activities. The first stop was at the Newsom family vineyards. Neal [Newsom] admitted that after his first encounter with Professor Roy Mitchell, his association with another Texas Tech professor, Clint “Doc” McPherson [over 25 years ago], encouraged him to allocate some of the family’s land for a vineyard.

As we talked, Neal showed off his grape harvester [above] an odd-looking bulky blue tractor with a high cab and a possumlike underbelly that first shakes the vines and then whisks the berries with a deafening blast of air to overhead bins.

Excerpt from Chapter Eight: Sun on the Skins

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Blood, Sweat and Tears Sat, 11 Feb 2012 18:22:40 +0000

Blood, Sweat and Tears

Bobby Cox is a larger-than-life character both in stature and reputation among grape growers and winemakers. He’s something like a Texas version of Paul Bunyan, and Neal Newsom’s large blue grape harvester parked beside him appeared as the mechanical equivalent of Bunyan’s large blue ox, Babe. While Bunyan was a legendary lumberman in the American northland, Bobby’s a bona fide virtuoso of grape growing here in the Southwest.

Bobby was beaming, bright eyed with an ear-to-ear smile. You could see that this was not just any bottle of wine by the manner he and his wife, Jennifer, cradled it as they brought it to the table. The bottle was labeled 1982 Pheasant Ridge Cabernet Sauvignon, but it obviously contained something so much more than wine.

Pheasant Ridge Winery, with its estate vineyard in the Lubbock area, was once Bobby’s baby. The vineyard he planted in the 1970s is one of the oldest in Texas, with sixty acres of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, Chenin Blanc, and Semillon.

Excerpt from Chapter Seven: Blood, Sweat and Tears

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Deep Roots in Texas Thu, 02 Feb 2012 04:30:11 +0000

Deep Roots in Texas

Looking out from the road, the isolation in this part of Texas provides little to identify the era. It could be the present day, or just as likely the countryside of the nineteenth century when Frencesco Quaglia and his Italian immigrant countrymen scouted this area.

As I slipped into Del Rio from the open highway, the landscape turned to stark urban concrete. After driving through the city center, I exited, like Alice through the looking glass, into a starkly different world. It was one of tall trees, wild green undergrowth, and the lush emerald rows of grapevines that surrounded the Val Verde Winery.

According to Tommy, Frank came over a hill just outside Del Rio where the splash of green surrounding the springs came into view much like it did for me as I crossed what is now the center of town.

Excerpt from Chapter Six, Deep Roots in Texas

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Wine in a Carafe or Barrel Fri, 27 Jan 2012 23:33:55 +0000

Wine in a Carafe or Barrel

When I finished my Ste. Genevieve wine-tasting anecdote, Pat [Predergast – President of Ste. Genevieve Winery and Mesa Vineyards] leaned back and said, “That’s a great story. I certainly like that wine. It’s a blend of Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay. The Fumé Chardonnay can be a bit harder to find than most of our wines, but it’s worth it.”

As we talked, Pat [Predergast – President of Ste. Genevieve Winery and Mesa Vineyards] discussed the different mindset that’s needed in a “big boy” winery like Ste. Gen. As the discussion started, we munched Pizza Hut pizza and pasta on paper plates. This seemed like fitting cuisine for a winery that takes great pride in keeping its wine a value in the marketplace, and something that complements everyday cuisine.

I told Pat, “Call me crazy, but I just can’t fathom the French wanting to open a winery in, of all places, Texas.” Pat told me what he suspected was the reason…”

Excerpt from Chapter Five, Wine in a Carafe or Barrel

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Chihuahuan Love Wed, 25 Jan 2012 17:53:43 +0000 Chihuahuan Love

My stop on this trip, over a hundred miles to the east [of El Paso, TX], a mere stone’s throw in Texas terms, was Dell City and the Mont Sec Vineyard nearby. This vineyard, first planted over two decades ago and now consisting of over two hundred acres of wine grapes, constitutes the largest private vineyard in Texas, but Texas wine drinkers barely know it exists…

When I saw my Dell City turnoff, I was on the high plain of the Chihuahuan Desert between the garnet Cornudas mounds on my left and the hazy cerulean slopes of the Guadalupe Mountains on my right.

Despite Mont Sec’s appeal, there are other issues to be reckoned with. Greg [Bruni of Llano Estacado Winery] said, “Out here, when it’s hot, it’s really hot. When it’s wet, the rain comes in torrents, and when the wind blows, it can sandblast the skin right off the vines.”

As he started to pour, Greg said, “This wine is from grapes that experienced my personal brand of ‘Chihuahuan love’.”

Excerpt from Chapter Four, Chihuahuan Love

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A Sip with the Good Friar Mon, 23 Jan 2012 21:55:33 +0000

A Sip with the Good Friar

“When we entered the region, we saw grapes growing wild along the rivers of Tejas and they looked like I imagined they did for hundreds of years. The vines were thick, hanging from the trees on the river banks, and sometimes covered rocks and ledges.”

This is how Father Garcia de San Francisco y Zúñiga recalled the local landscape in 1659 as he, Father Juan de Salazar, and ten Christianized Indian families made their trek into what was then called Tejas. It was a raw, wild land that harbored Native American tribes. Both land and tribes were unforgiving to trespassers, especially those who were faint of heart or weak in faith.

They started a mission on the south bank of the river [Rio Grande]. It became known as Mission Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe. {Father Garcia said, ”

Father García said, “We cultivated the land around the settlement as part of our missionary work. We brought vine cuttings from which we grew grapes to make sacred wines for our masses.”

[My] ethereal tasting with Father Garcia took place on a patio just off the plaza near the Guadalupe mission in the shade of a lone live oak tree.

Excerpt from Chapter Three, A Sip with the Good Friar

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