Tastes of Texas
Texas wine for Texas cowboys at Rodeo Austin's Off the Vine
Nothing represents the archetypal spirit of Texas better than a cowboy: rugged, hard-driven, dependable and connected with the land. For 75 years, Rodeo Austin has brought some of the nation’s best cowboys to town to compete in the arena. For the second year, they gathered another group of daring, adventurous rebels — Texas winemakers — for their own competition.
On Thursday, January 12, Rodeo Austin hosted the second annual Off the Vine wine and food tasting, mixing the attitude of the Texas cowboy with the harvest of the Texas winemaker.
The event was inspired by the strong tie between the wine industry and agriculture. The wine industry has grown significantly since its humble start in the 1970s and has really come on strong in the past decade, contributing $1.8 billion in economic impact to the state.
Jennifer Paladino, marketing coordinator for Rodeo Austin, described the event as “a great way to help promote one of Texas’ finest agricultural assets. Also, we pride ourselves on providing unique events to the diverse community we live in and a wine event seemed like the perfect fit for Austin.”
The wine tasting event, in combination with other Rodeo Austin events, is used to raise money for Rodeo Austin's scholarship fund. In 2011, Rodeo Austin awarded 46 students $442,000 in college scholarships, and a total of $1.9 million to the youth of Texas through scholarships and the Youth Auction.
The 2012 Off the Vine is expected to net several thousand dollars — a fat sack more than last year — through ticket sales and a silent auction.
Event vice chairman, Drew DeBerry, who is also the Texas Deputy Commissioner of Agriculture, says “Rodeo Austin is one of the top five economic drivers in Austin, contributing north of $68 million annually, drawing more than 300,000 visitors.” DeBerry is thrilled to be a part of generating revenue to provide educational opportunities for kids in Texas and sees Off the Vine as one more way that the rodeo connects people with the agricultural sources of food and drink.
Texas winemakers are passionate about taking their crop all the way from the field to the bottle in one of the harsher climates for growing grapes, and it was clear at Off the Vine that people are really glad they go to the trouble to do it.
Rodeo Austin executive committee member Hap Feuerbacher says they started Off the Vine “to reach people that the rodeo might not ordinarily reach.” He’s probably right. The event attracted an enthusiastic, eye-catching crowd of people wearing a mix of evening wear and cowboy hats — all of whom were really interested in wine.
Last year's eager and engaged crowd enticed many of the participating wineries to come back again this year. This year's event featured 31 wineries, 24 of which were from Texas. A unique event, iconic California wineries like Silver Oak and Caymus Vineyards stood shoulder-to-shoulder with small up-and-coming Texas wineries like William Chris Vineyards and Torre di Pietra.
It was a great way to try new wines from small wineries that don’t have broad distribution and take home a few bottles of the new discoveries. Stand-out wines from small Texas wineries at this year's Off the Vine event included:
Perissos Vineyard 2009 Tempranillo Blend
This wine had luscious flavors of raspberry and chocolate with a silky texture. It sells for $25 a bottle and can be found at the winery and at Spec's. Proprietor, grower and winemaker, Seth Martin, started the winery in 2006 with the first bottling in 2007. They now produce 3,200 cases a year using 100 percent Texas-grown grapes and practice organic methods.
William Chris Vineyards 2011 Blanc du Bois
Crisp, floral with a hint of honeysuckle, this wine would pair well with Texas barbecue on a hot summer day. Jack Gilmore selected it as one of the wines he will serve in the James Beard Award dinner in New York. Bottles sell for $28 online and at select restaurants in the Austin area. Winemaker, grower and owner William (Bill) Blackmon has been making wine for two years, but growing grapes since 1983. The winery makes about 1,800 cases with all Texas grapes and will make about 4,000 cases of the 2011 vintage.
Dotson-Cervantes 2010 Gotas de Oro
A blend of 61% Muscat Canelli and 39% Chardonnay, this wine has a smoky nose and flavors of lychee fruit and tangerine. It's big, smooth and slightly sweet: a perfect wine for desert. It goes for $28 a bottle at Austin Wine Merchant and Spec's. Former NFL star, Alphonse Dotson, father of NFL star Santana Dotson, and his wife, Martha Cervantes, made about 1,000 cases of this wine in its second bottling. They made 800 cases of the 2009 vintage.
Sandstone Cellars 2009 VII
This wine is made of 100 percent Touriga, the primary grape in Port. It has bold flavors of blueberries, sassafras tea and black bark. It’s available at Spec's on Brodie Lane for $30. Master Sommelier Drew Hendricks has selected Sandstone Cellars VII for his wine list at Pappas Bros. Steakhouse in Houston. Winemaker Don Pullum was the first person to plant grapes in Mason County, TX ten years ago. He now makes about 500 cases of wine with fruit grown in the county.
Though it was the highlight, the event wasn’t just wine. Eleven local restaurants served scrumptious nibbles including the award-winning Steiner Ranch Steakhouse lobster mac and cheese. Dzintra Dzenis, owner of Plate by Dzintra and a contestant on Season 6 of Food Network Star, served Kobe beef sausage in blankets. Jack Gilmore of Jack Allen’s Kitchen wowed the crowd with his farm-to-table magic.
Guests at the event were able to vote for their favorite red wines, white wines and restaurants. Taking home the coveted trophies were:
- Red wine: G Wine Cellars for its Zinfandel blend
- White wine: Braman Winery for its R10 Riesling
- Restaurant: III Forks
Organizers of Off the Vine plan to showcase the talents of local winemakers and chefs in an even bigger event next year. Watch for it.
Participating wineries included:
- Becker Vineyards, TX
- Bogle Winery
- Braman Winery, TX
- Cap Rock Winery, TX
- Dancing Bee Winery, TX
- E&J Gallo
- Fairhaven Vineyards, TX
- Fall Creek Vineyards, TX
- Fiesta Winery, TX
- Fredericksburg Winery, TX
- Freixenent USA
- Georgetown Winery, TX
- Homestead Winery, TX
- Landon Winery, TX
- Mandola’s Italian Market, TX
- Messina Hof Winery, TX
- Nice Winery, TX
- Perissos Vineyards, TX
- Pillar Bluff Vineyards, TX
- Pleasant Hill Winery, TX
- Precept Wine
- Salado Creek Winery & Vineyard, TX
- Sandstone Cellars, TX
- Solaro Estate Winery, TX
- Spicewood Vineyards, TX
- Texas Legato Winery, TX
- The Vineyard at Florence, TX
- Torre di Pietra Vineyards, TX
- Westcave Cellars, TX
- William Chris Vineyards, TX
- Wines of Dotson – Cervantes, TX
Participating restaurants included:
- Carmela’s Ristorante Italiano
- Carmelo's Ristorants
- III Forks
- Jack Allen's Kitchen
- Mandola's Italian Market
- Plate by Dzintra
- Quality Seafood Market
- Ranch 616
- Steiner Ranch Steakhouse
- Vivo Tex Mex