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Tag Archives: Texas wine

Winebits 425: Pierre de Wet, grape shortage, fake rose

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pierre de wetTexas wine pioneer:  Pierre de Wet, who died last month at the age of 61, was one of the bravest Texas winery owners I knew. He planted vinifera — chardonnay, cabernet sauvignon, and so forth — in the heat and humidity of East Texas, even though Pierce’s Disease kills vinifera just as surely as I drink coffee in the morning. This never deterred the South African native, and he used to enjoy taking visitors around his Kiepersol Estate vineyards in a golf cart to show them where Pierce’s had destroyed the vines and where it hadn’t. And, somehow, Pierre’s daughter, Marnelle Durrett, used those grapes to fashion quality wine, including a very nice syrah. The other thing about Pierre that I admired? He understood the scourge of tasting room palate, a regional wine affliction that blinds winemakers to the flaws of what they make, and worked hard to overcome it. He was constantly asking others for their honest assessment of his wines, a quality all too rare in regional wine.

Lots and lots of grapes: Most of the reporting detailing the 2015 California grape harvest said it was five percent less than the 2014 harvest, which got the panic mongers started. One even went so far as to say there would be a grape shortage thanks to the smaller harvest and wildfires that gave the grapes smoke taint. Fortunately, the Wine Curmudgeon is here to point that the smaller harvest was still the sixth biggest ever, and that grape prices have actually declined — which wouldn’t happen if there had been a shortage. So if wine prices increase this year and next, it won’t be because there aren’t enough grapes. It will be because producers are trying to make up for the last decade, when they didn’t raise prices.

Pink fraud: It was bound to happen, given the increasing popularity of rose. One French producer has been fined some $11,000 for making rose by mixing red and white wine, which is not only illegal in France but results in crappy wine. Rose is typically made with red grapes, and the grape skins give the wine its pink color depending on how long they’re left in the grape juice. Ironically, reports the France 24 news site, there was a 2009 proposal to allow rose to be made by mixing red and white wine, but it was rejected after protests by French winemakers.

2016 Virginia Governor’s Cup

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Virginia Governors CupIt’s not the high quality of the wines that impressed me when I judged a preliminary round in the 2016 Virginia Governor’s Cup earlier this month. Rather, it was the consistency. There were almost no undrinkable wines among the five dozen or so wines we did, a far cry from the first time I did the competition in 2010.

If this is not unprecedented, it’s certainly rare in any state that’s not on the west coast. One of the biggest difficulties for regional wine, given that most local producers have too little experience and too little money, is consistency and improving toward that consistency. It’s not enough to make one great wine every three or four years; for regional wine to succeed, it must make drinkable wine every year. If it can do that, the great wines will follow on a regular basis.

And my panel saw that consistency earlier this month, allowing for the small sample size and that we judged blind. Especially impressive — but not surprising, given past experience — were the viogniers, where I though three of the five wines deserved gold medals (though medals won’t be awarded until the final judging in February). The other two were well worth drinking, too. Every wine was fresh and varietally correct, and even the two that had been oaked were nicely done. The oak complemented the wine, and was not its reason for being.

The half dozen cabernet francs, another Virginia specialty, were surprisingly fruity, without the elegance I have come to expect. But they were enjoyable and two were worthy of silver or gold meals.

Even those regional wines that usually fare poorly, like chardonnay and dry rose, were professional and competent. The former are usually under-ripe and over oaked, while the latter are usually just a mess. But though simple, they were drinkable, and that’s not damning with faint praise given the difficulty in making those wines drinkable.

This is the slow, steady improvement that we haven’t seen in Texas for several years, and is one reason why I despair about the Texas wine business. But if Virginia, Texas’ arch-rival, can do it, maybe we can be motivated to do it as well.

Four highlights from the 2015 American Wine Society conference

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American Wine Society conferenceLast weekend’s American Wine Society conference reminded me that U.S. wine drinkers aren’t the stereotypes the wine business wants us to be. What a pleasure to be around curious, intelligent, and passionate wine drinkers for two days, people who want to learn more about wine and who are open to something that isn’t what they’re told they should drink.

Yes, it’s a small sample size, and yes, anyone who attends something like this isn’t going to be exactly typical. But when I mentioned the grocery store Great Wall of Wine in my first presentation, there was more than one nodding acknowledgment from the audience. Which means every wine drinker, no matter how experienced, faces many of the same problems.

Among the highlights:

• I took a lot of kidding when I offered to do a Texas wine seminar at an East Coast event, but it sold out almost immediately. The McPherson rose, the Llano Estacado Harvest tempranillo, and the Haak dry blanc du bois were the biggest hits, each speaking to Texas’ terroir and what happens when Texas winemakers make Texas wines. But that’s the point, isn’t it? That Texas wine will only grow and get better if the focus is on making Texas wine, and not California (or wherever) wine that comes from Texas.

• The other key from the Texas seminar? That people elsewhere seem eager to buy the wines, and that it’s time — if the grape harvests cooperate — to start exporting Texas wine to the rest of the U.S. The days when 95 percent of Texas wine was sold in Texas, and everyone was content with that, appear to be over.

• We aren’t scared of weird grapes, even though the wine business does its best to terrify us. That the hybrid blanc du bois impressed so many, with its clean citrus flavors, was one thing, but that the Augusta chambourcin was one of the hits of the regional wine seminar says even more. Chambourcin, a red hybrd, is notorious for its off, foxy aroma, but winemaker Tony Kooyumjian has solved that problem. This is probably the best chambourcin in the U.S., with spiciness, dark Rhone-style fruit, and a wonderful Missouri elan.

• The best wine that almost no one has ever tasted is the Edmunds St. John Bone-Jolly gamay from California’s Sierra Foothills. It seems so simple, but there is so much going on that it’s difficult to believe. Most winemaker tasting notes don’t say much, but Steve Edmunds is exactly right: “Juicy and precise on the palate, mouth-watering, showing lot of depth. The finish is long, and clean. This is already really versatile at the table, as always.” How much do I like it? It’s worth every penny of the $21 it costs.

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