Curious? Here's some of what they're saying.
"This is the second vintage for the Reserve Viognier. As with our inaugural version, this Viognier received hands on treatment throughout and new French Oak for short cellaring. The nose on this vintage is a rich blend of honey, violet, and acacia with additional notes of cinnamon. On the palate you can detect vanilla, toast, and butter and a balanced finish.
"The grapes for the 2012 Viognier Reserve come from the Bingham and Reddy Vineyards of the Texas High Plains. Both vineyards have been a key part of the Pedernales winemaking program from the beginning and provide some of the best premium grapes from the Texas High Plains. These vineyards are currently our exclusive sources for Viognier.
"This wine recently won a Grand Gold award from the Lyon International Wine Competition, the only U.S. Winery to receive this honor. We are proud to represent Texas with this historic Grand Gold for the 2012 Texas Viognier Reserve in Lyon, France—right in the heart of traditional Viognier cultivation and winemaking."
Pedernales Cellars, one of the youngest Texas wineries, scored a major coup recently at the Lyon International Wine Competition, walking away with a grand gold for its 2012 viognier. "There were over 3,000 entries," said co-founder and president Fredrik Osterberg at the Buffalo Gap Wine and Food Summit at Perini Ranch Saturday.
"Out of approximately 200 grand golds, we were the only one from the U.S.," said Osterberg. "It's great for us, but it's a recognition for the Texas wine industry as a whole." Grand gold signifies not just a first-place finish, but unanimity among the judges. This, for a Stonewall winery barely eight years old.
I tasted it at the Tapas Crawl Saturday night - what a wonderful wine! With aromas of honeysuckle, lychee, orange blossom and pineapple-y citrus, it opens up into a bright, refreshing mouthful with just a hint of creaminess from highly restrained oak, and an undergirding minerality that I find characteristic of grapes grown on the High Plains. This Viognier taps the Reddy and Bingham vineyards, giving it a singular Texas profile.
"You can make world-class Viognier in Texas," Osterberg says, noting that Becker Vineyards' viognier brought home a silver and Flat Creek Estate's earned a bronze at the same Lyon contest.
These achievements underscore viognier's role as the other great grape story in Texas, the white muscle to tempranillo's red strength. (But winemakers and grape growers are uneasy about the 2013 crop, which sustained bud-killing frosts early in the season. We will know more in the coming weeks about its prospects.)
The Pedernales viognier also scored a silver medal in the Dallas Morning News TexSom Wine Competition, says Osterberg, and was deemed the best Texas wine at the Houston Rodeo Uncorked! International Wine Competition. "We didn't get the belt buckle," he says. "We got the saddle."
Look for it at Whole Foods Market, Spec's and Goody Goody.
After returning from a West Texas junket, I mentioned to my wife that I’d met Vijay Reddy, owner of one of the Lubbock area’s larger vineyards. “‘V.J.’ — what a great name for a Texas grape grower”, she responded, as she envisioned an iconic Texan using his initials — like Texas racing car driver, A.J. Foyt. But, in this case, my visit was to Reddy Vineyards owned by Vijay and Subada Reddy.
“I started my Vineyard in Terry County with five acres of Cabernet Sauvignon nearly 15 years ago. Now we are up over 200 acres of vines,” Reddy said.
With the help of Bobby Cox, Reddy experimented planting many other varieties of grapes. Cox was a prime mover of the modern Texas wine industry in the 1980s and now is the foremost high plains vineyard consultant and president of the Texas Wine and Grape Growers Association.
Reddy continued, “Bobby encouraged me to try varieties of grapes with unfamiliar names, but that made great wines in warmer regions around the world. When I was looking for a signature white grape, Chardonnay just wasn’t cutting it for growers in Texas. This was due to its tendency for early budding and susceptibility to our late spring freezes. So I went from Chardonnay to Viognier (Vee-ohn-yay).”
Many of the grapevines that Reddy oversees, like Viognier, derive from wine regions similar to Texas: Spain, Italy, Portugal and the Rhone Valley of France. These are places that have more of the rough sandy sizzle of Texas than the chromatic charm of California’s Napa and Sonoma Valleys.
Reddy grows for a long list of premium wineries. They literally start in his “backyard” including Lubbock’s Llano Estacado Winery and CapRock Winery and extend across Texas to Haak Vineyard and Winery in Galveston County nearly 600 miles away.
He admitted that his main objective now is to try to optimize his grape growing to handle the capriciousness of the Texas climate.
“We have seen an amazing swing in the vintages over the past several years, Reddy said. “In 2009, our harvest was reduced by the hard spring freeze, but in 2010 we had a cool wet year that resulted in a big crop. 2011 was a drought year that left a small but high quality harvest. This year the growing season started early and Mother Nature helped us out with 2012 being possibly the largest Texas grape crop on record.”
Texas Wine of the Week
The Cap*Rock Winery 2010 Viognier (Reddy Vineyards), available at select Lubbock-area United Supermarkets and Market Street Stores, and Spec’s and HEB stores around Texas for about $11, offers refreshing nuances of citrus, peach and florals with a pronounced minerally character.
“When these Viognier grapes came from the vineyard, they required little adjustment, and just about made themselves into wine,” said Philip Anderson, General Manager at Cap*Rock Winery.
That’s a great statement on Texas Viognier as it is similar to what a Napa Valley winemaker once told me about his Chardonnay.
Vijay and Subada Reddy are another story in Texas high plains determination. They came from India to the USA for Vijay's advanced degrees in Agricultural Sciences. After Vijay received his Ph.D. in Colorado, they settled in Lubbock where Vijay opened a soils analysis laboratory. Vijay's interest in agriculture also got him started farming cotton and peanuts in the area. But, it was his friendship with Neil Newsom that set the hook into Reddy to grow grapes.
The Reddy's were long time cotton growers and started growing wine grapes in 1997 with five acres of Cabernet Sauvignon in the Texas high plains soil. But, it was his scientific background that led him to experiment by planting many other varieties of grapes with the assistance of Bobby Cox, a Lubbock-area vineyard consultants.
These are just three of the most important grape growers in the High Plains of Texas, but the trend is clear: each growing season, more acreage is devoted to grapes and the level of expertise and local knowledge increases. I think we can realistically expect to see High Plains grapes become an export item to other states' wines on a serious scale within a decade. In the interim, wine makers across the state get improved fruit, the key to making better wine.
Cliff Bingham, whose vineyards near Plains are among the best, used the term "happy grapes" to describe the varietals most suited for the high, dry and often difficult terroir. Note that the "name brands" are largely missing, although with extreme effort on the part of the growers, and exactly the right microclimates, cabernet, chardonnay and pinot noir will occasionally surprise us.
They're in the right place, Reilly said of his most prized grape sources. The Hill Country is a great place. I love the Hill Country. But nothing's better than the High Plains for growing grapes. And the guys up there are career farmers, not weekend hobbyists. Some of them have thousands of acres of cotton and peanuts. They know how important crop management is.
Randy Herron has returned to Messina Hof Winery in Bryan after being gone for 15 years.
Herron attended California State University in Fresno and received a degree in enology. While gone, Randy worked at Gallo for 10 years, eventually becoming Senior Winemaker and heading up the red wine production. Randy then went to the "land down under" working at Casella Winery, Australia's largest family-owned winery..
Friday, July 15th I headed out to Reddy Vineyards. I had talked to Vijay Reddy during the week & as crazy as it sounded, it seemed that his Pinot Grigio grapes were about ready to harvest. I always tell people that July 15th is the cutoff for vacations before harvest, but that is more about getting ready... not actually harvesting.
Winemaker Dave Reilly took a visit to the Texas High Plains and visited several of the grape growers in the region. While grapes are grown in several areas throughout Texas, the Texas High Plains offers a beautiful combination of climate, elevation, and soil structure that create some of the best conditions to grow grapes in Texas. We offer thanks to the hard work and dedication to all Texas grape growers. Duchman Family Winery wouldn't be called the most talked about winery in Texas, without quality grapes!
Few things excite Bobby Cox like a lousy field of cotton.
"See how small that cotton is?" he exclaims, as he hops out of his pickup to investigate a stunted stand of cotton near Brownfield, Texas, on the sprawling High Plains. "This would be a great grape site!"
It turns out the low-vigor soil that is forcing the cotton plants to struggle through the season is excellent for winegrapes.
Cox, once a pioneer grape grower and winemaker on the High Plains, is now a leading consultant for winegrape producers. He's also an engine behind the growth of a booming Texas wine industry that is producing wines capable of standing tall beside vintages from California, Europe, Australia and South America.