2013 was the second year of the current incarnation of the Austin Food and Wine Festival and by all accounts, much improved. The festival is, in its way, much like an excellent fine wine…a bit expensive but ultimately satisfying and hedonistically rewarding.
Today, Facebook is awash with photos of the grape harvest across the northern hemisphere. I look forward each day to beautiful pictures of grape clusters, men and women picking grapes as the sun rises across the vineyard and free-run juice on the winery crushpad that will soon be the wine in my glass. As a wine-writer in Colorado and Texas, I dream of being more than a chronicler, I want to be part of the action. This desire is never more pronounced than when I see harvest pictures posted by my winemaker friends in California and Texas.
This year I decided enough with the wine dreaming. It was time to get dirty and pitch in a for a few days with winemakers Chris Brundrett and Bill Blackmon of William and Chris Vineyards in the Texas Hill Country near Fredericksburg. Chris is regarded as one of the real up and coming young Texas winemakers while Bill offers the hand of experience from many Texas grape harvests. They make a hell of a winemaking team creating predominately blended wines with 100% Texas fruit using a minimal intervention approach. Together, Bill and Chris have a sort of yin and yang quality. Chris is full of energy and a “get ‘er done” approach while Bill has a very calm Zen-like quality about him.
Before you say, Texas, wine, what? Texas now is home nearly 250 wineries (up from only 45 a decade ago) making it the 4th or 5th (depending on who’s counting) largest wine producing state. The Texas Hill Country AVA sits behind only Napa and Sonoma as the most visited wine region in the U.S.
In 1960, John Steinbeck set out to reconnect with America accompanied by one companion, an “intuitive” standard poodle named Charley. The tale was recounted in the now classic book “Travels with Charley.” Steinbeck met the idea of the expedition with both excitement and trepidation. In July of 2012, I set out with my daughter, Whitney, to reconnect with the teenager turned young woman who had so matured, since leaving home for college three years earlier. My stated objectives were to celebrate her 21st birthday and introduce Whitney to the wonders of wine country. This father/daughter excursion was one I met, much like Steinbeck, with both excitement and trepidation.
It was the birth and adolescence of our children that slowed the wine-stained part of our lives and seemed to bring it all into perspective. While my passion for wine and winemaking never died, for the next 20 years it often took a backseat to soccer and volleyball games, golf tournaments and ski races as by then we had relocated to Colorado to find a simpler lifestyle in the mountains.
But a true passion, like a long lost love, never dies. And while we may stray from our roots, it is those very roots that anchor us and call us home. Those two roots for me are wine and Austin, Texas. As the children left for college, Donna and I began to migrate back to the wine-stained lifestyle we enjoyed so much, now more mature and less prone to excessive hedonism. And we purchased a small place in Austin and reunited with many of our wine friends there, if only part-time. It was not long before my smoldering passion for wine reignited into an all engulfing conflagration.
The years that followed my wine revelations at the hands of Charlie Wagner continued to advance both my zeal and enthusiasm for the gospel of the grape. Austin’s wine scene grew exponentially, due in no small part to the hi-tech boom fueled by the meteoric rise of Dell Computers and the literally thousands of “Dellionaires” (many from California) looking to spend their good fortune on wine, food and a party time. Winemaker dinners, wine bars, wine friends and a few more trips to wine country filled the rest of the 1980’s and well into the 1990’s, often to excess. That period saw the birth of the Texas Hill Country Wine and Food Festival, a wonderful series of winemaker dinners at the newly opened Four Seasons Hotel and a bevy of restaurants with great wine lists and bars in the newly re-envisioned Warehouse District, near downtown.