Episode 26: Texas

Howdy Partners!  Welcome to another episode of the Make America Grape Again Podcast!  This time around, we’re looking at Texas, through the lens of the 2016 Petit Sirah from Grape Creek Vineyards, located in Fredericksburg, Texas.

Texas actually holds a very special place in the history of wine not just in America, but in the world as a whole.  It was in the high plains of Northern Texas (in what is now the Texoma AVA) where horticulturist Thomas Mundson used indigenous American varietals to create hundreds of hybrid grapes, as well as finding particular root stocks that were immune to the Phylloxera epidemic of the late 1800s. This saved the French wine industry (indeed, possibly most of the Vinifera wine industry worldwide) from total ruin.  (I hope to go in depth about him in a future episode in a later season.)

The History of Texas Wine begins in a similar fashion to other landscapes in the American Southwest, with Franciscan priests and friars planting Mission vines in the deserts near El Paso for use as the Eucharist.  The industry grew, culminating in Thomas Mundson’s heroic labors to save the industry as a whole.  Yet Texas, like the rest of the United States, thanked its native son with the institution of Prohibition; one which still strongly affects the state today: a quarter of Texas’ 254 counties still have Dry Laws on the books.  (A few wineries did survive through this time, namely Val Verde winery, which made medicinal and eucharistic vintages.) The wine industry in Texas really only began to recover in the 1970’s, with the founding of Llano Estacado and Pheasant Ridge wineries in what would eventually become the Texas High Plains AVA, along with the La Buena Vida winery in Springtown, Texas.  The first AVA in Texas was the Bell Mountain AVA in 1986.

With 436 Wineries and approximately 4,500 acres of vineyards total, the state of Texas is actually the fourth largest producer of wine in the United States. The problem is that most people do not know about this because Texas wine is not widely distributed, and shipping outside of the state is notoriously difficult for local wineries.  Texas also has 8 AVAs, scattered across the state.

As a note: Texas Wine Geek has a great explanation of what For Sale in Texas Only actually means.  In short, while confusing as all hell from a consumer standpoint, it is crystal clear from the standpoint of federal legislation–something which arguably matters as much, if not more, from a wine sales standpoint.  After all, you need your federal approval if you’re going to sell wine at all, to begin with.  In short, when you see that label, know that it is a wine that is made in Texas, probably from mostly Texas grapes, probably scattered from among multiple AVAs.

In this episode, we talk a little about what “For Sale In Texas Only” means, and a bit about the concept of terroir, as we drink this side by side with an Arizona Petit Sirah from D.A. Ranch.  My friend Megan Looser (who is also a CSW) brought this bottle while on a recent trip to see her favorite band in concert.

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American wine shines big and bright, deep in the heart of Texas. *clap* *clap* *clap*

Episode 24: Utah

Mysterious, ancient, and full of both Uranium and Mormons, you would expect the Utah landscape to be hostile to winemaking, and among the last places one would imagine wine to be made in the United States.   And… in some ways, you are absolutely correct.  Utah is indeed somewhat hostile to winemaking these days, both climatically and politically. Perhaps that is why the wine in this particular episode was vinified in Colorado at Sutcliffe Vineyards (the same vineyard who produced the Cabernet Franc in our Colorado Episode) from Grapes grown in Montezuma Canyon, near the Four Corners area. This white blend is made of Chenin Blanc, Viognier, Riesling, and Chardonnay; percentages of each grape within this vintage were not available.

The Mormons weren’t always hostile to the grapevine, though; the earliest wine grapes here were planted in the 1860s, right after Mormon settlers colonized the area.  However, the Mormons enthusiastically embraced Prohibition, and it was not until 1989 that hope was rekindled.  The winery which opened that year, Castle Creek Winery, produced 1,500 gallons of quality wine off the bat. Today, there are several small estate wineries producing both vinifera and French-American hybrids, as mentioned in this episode. Vineyards in Utah tend to be located in mountain valleys, with elevations up to 6,000 feet, which create a unique set of circumstances and challenges for growers and winemakers. Winters here are cold, so winter kill and frost damage are real risks; therefore protecting vines in the winter and keeping a watchful eye towards the sky are essential for success.

Currently, Utah has six wineries–somehow making Utah now less of a Prohibition state in terms of viticulture than Nevada. (Go figure!) That being said, the local liquor board does have its own stranglehold on the industry, as it is state-controlled, and does not allow much exporting of finished products outside the state.  This will mean I will have to make a visit to Utah myself… soon.

This bottle was purchased by yours truly at Vino Loco, a wine shop located in downtown Flagstaff, Arizona.

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The 2014 White Blend from Sutcliffe Vineyards, sourced from Montezuma Canyon, is our First Utah vintage.

Episode 19: Arizona

Arizona, as you might have guessed, is the state I call home. It is the state I focus on with my other wine blog and podcast, The Arizona Wine Monk.  With two registered AVAs, a third on the way, and an additional fourth region of growers, Arizona is making some noise in the Arizona wine scene.  In an article by Vogue Magazine (yes, THAT Vogue), the Verde Valley of Arizona was listed as an up-and-coming wine region to visit… even if the two varietals they listed in that article, Zinfandel and Cabernet Franc, aren’t the grapes that Arizona is going to be known for in the long run, let alone in the Verde Valley.

Still, the point is Arizona is getting a lot of press right now. Right now there are about 1,000 acres under vine in Arizona, and as of the last time I checked, about 104 licensed and bonded wineries in the state; this number is increasing steadily. The two AVAs in Arizona currently are the Sonoita AVA, which was Arizona’s first, and the Willcox AVA, which is where the wine in question we will be exploring today is from. (The application for the Verde Valley AVA has been perfected, but has yet to be posted for public comments, or approved by the TTB.)

Say hello to the 2014 Malvasia Bianca from Sand-Reckoner.  Malvasia Bianca, in the opinion of many Arizona winemakers, is our best white grape in terms of reflecting local terroir; it is one of my favorite grape varietals, period.  This grape here in Arizona is known for its intense, aromatic character, which is why I sit with my friend Tiffany Poth (a.k.a. @wine_hippie on Instagram) with a Le Nez du Vin kit and talk about what we mean by wine aromatics and aromas.  We also talk a little bit about lees aging and what that means in wine.  Enjoy!

This bottle was acquired by yours truly from the winemaker himself at the Willcox Wine Country Festival, before the Sand-Reckoner tasting room in Tuscon opened to the public.

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The intense aromatic character of this 2014 Malvasia Bianca make it a fantastic wine to explore what we mean by wine aromas.

Episode Seven: New Mexico

In Episode Seven, we focus on New Mexico, Arizona’s Neighbor to the East. The wine in question is the 2015 Barrel Select Pinot Noir, from Gruet. Gruet Winery is one of the oldest wineries in New Mexico, specializing mostly in sparkling wines, but they have some still wines available also.

I will admit right off the bat that this wine blew me (and Gary) away, and neither of us are huge fans of Pinot Noir from the USA, as heretical as that might sound.  Take a listen, and learn about the oldest wine producing area in the continental United States–no, seriously, it’s older than California.

This wine was provided by Gary Kurtz, who acquired it from the Gruet tasting room in Albuquerque, New Mexico for this podcast.

2015 Barrel Select Pinot Noir
The 2015 Barrel Select Pinot Noir from Gruet is tasty, and beautiful.

Episode Two: Nevada

In Episode Two of the Make America Grape Again podcast, we will look at Nevada.

Nevada is a bit of a frontier in winemaking, due to the unwieldy nature of legislation focused on winery and vineyard production in this state.  Indeed, Nevada serves as an excellent example of the often ridiculous and Byzantine nature of alcohol legislation that can be a major challenge to winemaking in the United States; something we will explore in this episode.

The wine in question for this episode is the 2015 Silver State Red, a blend of eight different red varietals from Nevada Ridge winery; a label focused on Nevada-grown grapes found at Pahrump Valley Winery.  In this episode, along with exploring a textbook example of viticultural legislation as mentioned above,  we will also be examining the practice of blending wines, along with a discussion about what exactly makes a “good wine.”

This bottle was acquired directly from the winery by myself while visiting Pahrump Valley Winery with a dear friend of mine last year.

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Wine Number 2: 2015 Silver State Red, Nevada Ridge Winery