Two weeks ago, I moderated a panel during Culinaria’s Third Coast Cocktail Summit. Panelists were Jennifer Beckmann of Re:Rooted 210 Urban Winery, Jennifer Syma of Becker Vineyards, James Smith of Château Wright, and Anisa Elizondo with the Texas Department of Agriculture. The discussions centered around Texas wines on Texas restaurant lists. Each panelist brought expertise to the discussion, and I was blown away by non-industry audience feedback after the session regarding how interesting and eye-opening the topics were. Topics included the benefits of having Texas wines on Texas restaurant lists, ways to increase interest from sommeliers and wine buyers, the challenges and opportunities for distributors and wineries, preparedness for a potential increase in demand, and more.
Ultimately, if you want to eat local and support local, drinking local is a big component. Texas wine is an agricultural product.
There is a lot of work to do to get more Texas wines on Texas restaurant lists across the state. For consumers, if there is a restaurant you frequent, take a look at the wine list. How many Texas wines are on the list? Consider asking for more Texas wines. But if you ask, be ready to purchase if and when the wine makes it to the menu. And keep in mind that different Texas wineries are at different stages with distribution.
To all the Texas wine fans – thank you for supporting local. Let’s spread the word. #AskforTexasWines
P.S. Follow the AskForTexasWines Instagram page!
As of September 8, and we have received approximately 280 tons of grapes and are about halfway through harvest. Here are some highlights of the 2023 season so far.
The first harvest of Charbono in Texas was from Tallent Vineyards on August 25, yielding 3.21 tons. Charbono that is grown in the United States has the same DNA as Bonarda that is grown in Argentina. Bonarda and Charbono are the same as the orginal Corbeau grape variety from the Savoie region in the French Alps. Bonarda is the second most planted grape variety in Argentina next to Malbec.
Charbono was also widely planted in California until the Judgment of Paris in 1976, and the success of Cabernet Sauvignon. Many Charbono vineyards were uprooted to follow the popularity of Cabernet Sauvignon, but you can still find some wineries in Calistoga and surrounding areas making fantastic Charbono wines.
Bending Branch has been producing a Charbono from the Sierra Foothills that is made at Ursa Vineyards in California then transferred in barrels for additional aging and bottling in Texas. The Charbono wines have been a longtime favorite of club members, and we’ve been eager to make this wine in Texas. Both Charbono and Bonarda were planted on the original Bending Branch Estate Vineyard, in 2014 and 2011, respectively. The 2011 planting of Bonarda did not survive because of the hottest and driest summer in Texas in a century. Pierce’s Disease took the Charbono vines before there was a viable crop, so more vines were purchased, and an arrangement was made with Drew Tallent of Tallent Vineyards to plant them in Mason, at his premier vineyard.
Three secret wine projects are in progress. In the throes of Bending Branch’s largest harvest, Dr. Bob had two pioneering ideas (along with a spin-off) that he wanted to explore, all of which are showing promising starts and will have fun stories to accompany them. More to come later, when the time is right.
With Winemaker Chris Missick spearheading the white and rosé wine programs, his expertise in sparkling wine production using traditional methods is at good work at Bending Branch with two sparkling projects. Within the first week of joining the team, one ton of Picpoul Blanc from Camledge Vineyard was harvested for a small-lot sparkling wine. The Crimson Cabernet from the Bending Branch Estate Vineyard was also harvested early for a rosé, like last year, but this time with the intention to sparkle.
We work with many vineyards that are multi-generational family operations. When the grapes are harvested, the sense of family is on display when you see parents and children working together. It’s also special when the grandparents and great-grandparents are part of it, too. Each harvest with families and friends participating is a highlight.
This has been an outstanding harvest season so far, and we are thankful for all of the growers and harvest volunteers for their dedication.
The Bending Branch winemaking team has been doing an incredible job, and team members in every area of Bending Branch's business have been contributing to harvest and production. It takes a lot of great people working together to make exceptional wine. Cheers to the successes during the first half of harvest!
Pictured left to right: Chad Kurtz, Dr. Bob Young, Greg Stokes
COMFORT, TX (July 17) – This season, Bending Branch Winery will have its largest harvest to date, bringing in more than 30 grape varieties from over 30 vineyards for Bending Branch and custom crush clients. While one of Bending Branch’s important vineyard partners in the Texas High Plains saw devastating hail a couple of months ago, overall, the harvest yields are up across the state.
Bending Branch received its first fruit – Blanc du Bois – on July 8. Bending Branch Vineyard Manager Melvin Mendez hand harvested the Blanc du Bois to be crafted as a Floc de Gascogne-style sweet aperitif wine. More Texas Hill Country fruit is being harvested this week; the tentative harvest dates for the Estate vineyards range from the end of July to the first week of August. This season, Bending Branch will also receive the first-ever Charbono harvested in Texas.
Bending Branch boasts the talents of four winemakers this harvest: CEO and Executive Winemaker Dr. Bob Young, Winemaker Greg Stokes, Assistant Winemaker Chad Kurtz, and Consulting Winemaker Christopher Missick.
Known as a pioneer in the Texas wine industry for his work with unique grape varieties and innovative winemaking techniques, Dr. Bob Young will work his 14th harvest season with Bending Branch. A grape extraction expert, he closely plans when to utilize natural tools like Cryo-Maceration (freezing the grapes to extract approximately 50% more color, tannin, and flavor) and Flash Détente (rapid heating then cooling to extract approximately 100% more color, tannin, and flavor). He routinely experiments in the vineyard and cellar, experimenting with types of wines that are new to Texas such as Tannat, Souzão, Picpoul Blanc, Crimson Cabernet, and Camminare Noir. Dr. Bob holds a Winemaking Certificate from University of California, Davis. Now CEO and Executive Winemaker at Bending Branch, Dr. Bob charted a distinguished career encompassing family practice in underserved rural communities, serving in public health administration as chief executive of two state health departments, and pioneering a new specialty in inpatient medicine called Hospitalists.
Dr. Bob and Brenda Young hired Greg Stokes as a consultant for Bending Branch in 2007. Greg and his wife Deborah, Winemakers at Ursa Vineyards in the Sierra Foothills, were the first to make Tannat in California. In addition to being a highly regarded viticulturist and vineyard consultant, Greg is an extremely talented winemaker. When Bending Branch was founded in 2009, its first wines were made by Dr. Bob and Greg at Ursa Vineyards. The Young family purchased the Ursa brand in 2014, making Greg a permanent part of the team. This year is Greg’s 39th crush and he has been immersed in harvest in two states per year for over a decade. For five years, he crushed in both Arizona and California, and this is his eighth year crushing in Texas and California. Greg will be in Texas often for the Bending Branch harvest, and he returns to California in September for Ursa’s harvest season.
Chad Kurtz starts this crush with 11 prior Texas seasons under his belt. Chad runs the day-to-day cellar operations, managing nearly 500 tons of fruit expected this harvest season for both Bending Branch and its clients. He is an expert in the nuances of working with Texas fruit, as he has extensive experience implementing and refining extraction protocols.
Pictured: Chris Missick
Chris Missick joins the team this harvest as Consulting Winemaker where he will spearhead the white and rosé wine programs. Chris and his family have just recently moved to Boerne after many successful years as Winemaker at Missick Cellars, formerly Villa Bellangelo, in New York’s Finger Lakes region. Chris is known for producing incredible white wines and has pushed the envelope with traditional method sparkling wine production. He is looking forward to making wine in Texas and to starting this season with the Bending Branch team on July 19.
Sara Potter, Executive Marketing Coordinator
The Bending Branch Estate Crimson Cabernet vineyard was planted in 2019. Crimson Cabernet is a genetic cross of Cabernet Sauvignon and Norton. Along with being Pierce’s Disease tolerant, this grape variety is also cold hardy because of the Norton component. Norton is thought by many to be the best non-Vitis Vinifera American red grape variety.
While we intend to craft red wine from this vineyard, we elected to make a rosé from the first harvest, which took place on August 20, 2022. The wine was recently bottled, and it is a knockout. The limited bottling will first be available to customers who adopted vines in the vineyard (vine parents).
Today, the vineyard team led by Melvin Mendez, has been working on thinning and opening the canopy. With the recent consistent rain showers, it’s important to optimize the air circulation around the leaves and grape clusters. This also allows the organic compounds that are sprayed in the vineyard to be more effective. Right now we’re being proactive about preventing fungus and black rot.
Also, the chickens are active in the vineyard taking care of pests. In a few weeks, netting will go over the vines to attempt to detract birds and raccoons from eating all of the fruit.
Meanwhile, our new block of Camminare Noir vines are blossoming in their grow tubes. The vines had been on order for roughly five years before they finally arrived. We planted 800 of the 1200 vines that were expected. Now the remaining 400 should arrive next year.
Of the grape varieties available that have proven to be resistant to Pierce’s Disease, this one was selected because it has characteristics of two of Executive Winemaker Dr. Bob Young’s favorite grape varieties: Cabernet Sauvignon and Petite Sirah. It is 94% Vitis Vinifera and is a Walker clone.
Whitehall Lane in Napa is known for producing outstanding Cabernet Sauvignon wines, and their bottling of 2019 Camminare Noir is luscious. Tasting this wine further enforced the decision to plant Camminare Noir at Bending Branch Estate Vineyard.
Veraison is taking place in the Estate Crimson Cabernet vineyard. Veraison is the onset of grape ripening -- when the grapes begin to turn from green to red/purple. We generally expect that harvest will take place about six weeks from the start of veraison.
This morning, bird netting was installed. As the grapes change color and sweeten, the birds become very interested in them. In the original vineyard at Bending Branch, the first grape variety to begin veraison in 2011 was Tempranillo. The word tempranillo translates to “little early one,” which references its early ripening. From the start of veraison to the next day, the entire lot of grapes disappeared thanks to the birds. So it is no surprise that the vineyard team was quick to net the Crimson Cabernet vines today.
Another factor the Crimson Cabernet vines have been facing is extreme heat. There is a reduction in vine photosynthesis, and the sugar accumulation slows during ripening when the heat is excessive. In fact, over 100 degrees, photosynthesis in the vines shuts down. These factors can create challenges in phenolic ripeness development.
Last year, vine parents and staff harvested Crimson Cabernet for a knockout rosé. Only 22 cases were produced. We are expecting a larger harvest this year and are still determining if the grapes are destined to make another rosé or a bold red wine. Vine parents and friends: Be on the lookout for this year’s harvest information around the start of August.
Last month, as part of initiatives with the Texas Department of Agriculture (TDA) and the Southern United States Trade Association (SUSTA), Bending Branch wines and bourbons were presented at FOODEX JAPAN. For wines, we featured Texas Tempranillo, Texas Cabernet Sauvignon, and Texas Tannat. For bourbons, we showed Bending Branch 1840 High Rye and ChickenDuck High Rye.
Top Tokyo Takeaways:
Very quickly, I learned the term “Oishii.” I kept hearing it over and over again after Japanese tasters tried the Bending Branch wines and bourbons. It generally means, “Very good.”
Bending Branch Master Blender Alison Young has long been a fan of Highballs, sparkling water mixed with bourbon. This is one of the most common cocktails at restaurants and bars in Japan. ChickenDuck High Rye or Wheated Bourbon is perfect for a Highball because of the big flavor profiles.
Texas Tannat with American Beef. Texas Cabernet Sauvignon with Japanese Wagyu Beef.
Several Japanese chefs tasted the three wines that we presented. For pairing suggestions, multiple chefs talked about pairing Texas Tannat with American beef and Texas Cabernet Sauvignon with Japanese Wagyu beef. These work for me!
Texas wine truly is a novelty.
“Have you ever tried Texas wine?” was the question that I asked hundreds of tasters, and about 99% of the time, the answer was “No.” The follow-up question from the tasters was, “Wine is produced in Texas?!”
So aside from the surprise that wine is being produced in Texas was the surprise that Texas wine is good!
Other Texas producers participating in FOODEX JAPAN and the TDA Outbound Trade Mission included Island Getaway Rum, Pecan Grove Farms, Veldhuizen Cheese, and William Chris Wine Co. Special thanks to TDA and TDA Program Director Nikki Jackson, and SUSTA for their work organizing and supporting Texas businesses.
We’re often assessing all elements of our business, and wine packaging is part of the assessment. Many club members and customers have noticed that some newly released wines no longer have foil capsules.
This is an increasing trend in the industry, as the original purpose of protecting the cork from undesirable conditions is no longer as relevant in today’s conditions. In fact, the foil now serves primarily an ornamental function. Our decision to only use capsules in rare instances moving forward is another step in sustainable winery practices. The elimination of foils means less waste in landfills, better use of personnel time, and superior wine value.
Another benefit of eliminating the capsule is that there is one less step to a great pour of quality wine landing in your glass. Farewell to foils, and cheers to you for supporting sustainable endeavors!
Bending Branch Winery is teaming up with Love Not Lost for an October 14th virtual fundraising event. Love Not Lost is on a mission to revolutionize the way we heal in grief. They do this through their photography program, community support program, and corporate care program.
Their photography program was inspired by Founder and Executive Director Ashley Jones’s personal experience. Ashley’s daughter Skylar faced a terminal illness and died at 21 months of age. The photographs that Ashley has from two professional sessions with her daughter continue to offer tangible comfort. Ashley has donated photography sessions for people facing terminal diagnoses since her experience. She says, “Not only do I hope to pay it forward, but I hope to change the way we look at grief and suffering so that we can love people better and bring healing through loss.”
CLICK HERE to read about Ashley’s story in greater detail. Photo of Skylar by Tessa Marie Photography for The Jones Family.
Ashley was introduced to Bending Branch Winery when she met Bending Branch’s General Manager, Jennifer McInnis Fadel. Jennifer was touched by Ashley and Love Not Lost because of her own grief journey, and she also knew there would be synergy between Love Not Lost and Bending Branch.
Bending Branch Winery Co-owners and Founders Dr. Robert W. and Brenda Young face their own grief from the loss of a child. Their son Phillip died in a car accident at the age of 18. It’s not something that they talk about often, but they continually do good deeds in their son’s memory through a trust in his honor.
Ashley and the Young Family share a connection to Atlanta. Love Not Lost is based in Atlanta, and Dr. Bob spent 16 years in Atlanta managing Meridian Medical Group practice. Also, along with a few other physicians in the United States, he developed a new specialty in inpatient medicine called Hospitalist at Eagle Hospital Physicians.
Like many nonprofit organizations, the COVID-19 pandemic has impacted the ability to fundraise, so virtually bringing together two inspiring business founders – Dr. Bob of Bending Branch and Ashley of Love Not Lost – seemed like a winning combination to impact good.
Participants of the virtual tasting will be guided through tasting three Bending Branch wines while hearing engaging conversations and stories. Participants will also receive a charcuterie package.
I’m very moved by the Love Not Lost mission and look forward to October 14.
We grieve deeply because we love deeply, and that love is never lost. – Ashley Jones, Love Not Lost Founder
It's here! The first release of Estate Tannat from Lost Pirogue Vineyard has arrived. Owners Bruce and Jana Colgate impeccably farm a 3-acre vineyard in Center Point that includes an acre dedicated to Tannat. The other two varieties planted, Picpoul Blanc and Souzão, have already seen their first wine releases with Bending Branch.
Tannat is Bending Branch Winery's signature red grape variety, and we've been highly anticipating the release of this special estate wine that was crafted from Lost Pirogue Vineyard's hand-harvested grapes.
The 2018 Estate Tannat is an elegant expression of skillful grape growing and artful winemaking. With notes of smoky dark berries, cinnamon, and clove, this wine will pair beautifully with your favorite cut of steak.
Also available starting today is the new release 2020 Estate Picpoul Blanc, the third vintage of elegant Picpoul Blanc from Lost Pirogue. The 2020 Estate Picpoul was fermented and aged in barrel, broadening the palate and adding complexity. Floral aromas mingle with pear, grapefruit, and creamy apricot in this spring sipper.
If dining with friends, either of these wines are sure to spark conversations about excellent Texas wine. Cheers to you, and bravo to the Colgates and the Bending Branch winemaking team!
Beautiful Tannat clusters from Lost Pirogue Vineyard
Book a live virtual wine and chocolate tasting on Valentine’s Day, and enjoy premium wine and chocolates from the comfort of your home. Not just for sweethearts, this experience works for long-distance family members, friends looking for a Galentine’s Day excursion, singles looking for a group event, and more.
Enjoy three premium bottles of Ursa Vineyards wines – 2018 Grenache (750 ml), 2017 Petite Sirah (750 ml), and 2015 Souzão Port-style wine (375 ml). The Port-style Souzão was just released and is a dessert wine aged in bourbon barrels.
Local confectioner Sweet Comfort infused dark chocolate with wines from Ursa Vineyards. Includes 2 Grenache-infused truffles, 2 Petite Sirah-infused truffles, and 4 Souzão-infused truffles.
Our wine professionals will lead the group of participants through tasting each wine and pairing the wines with the specially curated box of chocolates. The Zoom link and instructions will be emailed to participants prior to the tasting event.
Package is $125. Gold Rush Club pricing applies ($100). All package orders are eligible for $10 promotional shipping. Choose your time and purchase HERE.
Valentine’s Day is almost here! If your package needs to be shipped, timing is getting tight. If ordering to ship to a Texas location, we recommend submitting by 10 a.m. on February 10th. If ordering to ship to another state, please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org to verify shipping time.
You can also pick up your package from Ursa at Branch on High, located in historic downtown Comfort. In fact, if you prefer to wait until the last minute, Ursa at Branch on High will be open until 8 p.m. on Saturday, February 13th. Cheers!
Ursa Vineyards is set to release Angelica wine with the November 2020 Gold Rush Club release.
Angelica is a fortified dessert wine made from the Mission grape. The Mission grape was introduced to California in 1778 and was the primary wine grape for nearly a century. Angelica was originally made by Franciscan missionaries, and it was also a regular beverage of the gold miners during the Gold Rush.
Today, Angelica is known as one of California’s most historic wines. It is extremely rare with a very limited number of vintners producing it. The process of making the wine includes partially fermenting the grape juice before fortifying it with brandy. Angelica typically ages for at least five years in barrel before it is bottled. The long aging process is one of the keys to its rich taste.
The grapes from Ursa’s Angelica come from Rinaldi Vineyard, one of the oldest vineyards in the Sierra Foothills, and one of the few vineyards still growing Mission grapes. Original plantings in the vineyard date back to 1865. After crushing the grapes, the fermentation was barely started and then it was fortified with brandy. After aging in barrel for seven years, the 2013 Ursa Angelica was bottled.
With a taste as rich as its history, the 2013 Ursa Angelica is one to savor and share, especially during the holiday season. It can be enjoyed for up to a month after opening, if stored properly in the refrigerator. Ideal food pairings include toasted pecans or Italian cream cake. For a simple dessert, try drizzling Angelica on top of vanilla ice cream.