Wild Hair Road Trip to Alamosa Cellars

In my post about Haak Winery, I mentioned picking up some wine for Jim Johnson (@AlamosaWineGuy) at Alamosa Cellars (@alamosawine). Wanderlust was getting the better of me this week, so I messaged Jim and Karen to see if they were going to be hanging around and ready to get their wine. We weren’t able to connect on Twitter until almost noon last Wednesday, but no other day would be available for us to head out to the winery for a couple of weeks at least.  Soooo… we climbed in Simon and pointed him towards Bend, Texas.

I am really tired of driving through Austin traffic to get past it, so I accepted Google’s most round-about way to Bend: US 290, TX 36, then over to US 190 to Lampasas. I had never been on that stretch of TX 36, so that was a bonus. Julie (@purplejules) will readily tell you that given any two roads to take, I will choose the one I’ve never driven on.

Alamosa opened a wine tasting room in Lampasas not long ago, so I made sure to verify with Jim that we would meet him at the winery and not the tasting room. The winery is not normally open during the week.

One thing to note: There is no reliable AT&T data connection at the winery, and if you don’t know the Alamosa WiFi password, as we didn’t, you most likely won’t have any internet – Twitter, SMS, Facebook – while you are there. Or when you drive up and need to let Jim know that you have arrived. Yes, we checked the doors and knocked really hard. Before I tried to call the winery to see if perhaps I had misunderstood where we were supposed to meet Jim, he walked out the back door looking to see if we had arrived.

When we had picked up the wine for Jim at Haak, he told us to make sure the Blanc du Bois was chilled when we got there.  The ice pack I had placed the Blanc in didn’t make the 5 1/2 hour drive as well as I had hoped, so although the wine was cool, it wasn’t really chilled. Jim opened it up anyway, poured three small glasses, and put the rest in his freezer.

I asked Jim if he had bottled anything new since our last visit and he mentioned the Tio Pancho Ranch Viognier. Although that is technically correct, we tasted the Viognier from the barrel during our last visit and had Alamosa deliver three bottles each of the Tio Pancho and Cherokee Creek Viogniers, both of which are great. I let him pour a glass of the Tio Pancho anyway. ;-)

I have to tell you, the Alamosa Cellars Tio Pancho Ranch Viognier is my favorite Texas Viognier, so I was relishing the Tio Pancho while Jim was really enjoying the Haak Winery Reserve Blanc du Bois. Raymond, in case you happen to read this, Jim said you did a great job on the Blanc. I always like hearing one Texas winemaker compliment another.

I mentally kicked myself for not bringing a bottle of Haak Jacquez Madeira to sample with Jim. We had procured a bottle of the 2006 Jacquez Madeira for him to keep, but I had wanted to bring my bottle of 2007 Blanc du Bois Madeira for him to taste and another bottle of the Jacquez for us to drink together. Perhaps that was for the best – I’m not sure that I would have been able to drive back to Houston after sharing a bottle of Madeira with Jim.

Jim suggested heading “into town” for dinner… I assumed that “town” meant Lampasas, but he said that there was a nice place in San Saba that would let us bring our own wine to drink. Cool! I asked if Karen would be able to join us – he had mentioned that she was kid-sitting their grandchildren and didn’t want to pull him away from her for the evening. That’s when he clarified, she was kid-sitting in Austin.

“So do they have steak?”

“You bet.”

Steakhouse in San Saba? Jim led the way. About 10 minutes later we pulled into the driveway of Gage BBQ and stepped out of the car into the most wonderful aroma of Texas barbecue. Jim surprised me when he ordered a medium rare ribeye – I didn’t see that on the menu at the counter. “Make that two, please, and one more cooked well through and through (for Julie).” OK, this is going to be interesting.

We found a table, sat down, and started talking while we waited for the steaks. Jim opened the Haak Tempranillo and poured some for us – except Julie; she has issues with the higher tannin content of most red wines, so she passed.

I asked Jim about how he got started “in the business” and he said that they start counting from the planting of their vines in 1997, but Julie remembered hearing him mention UC Davis before. When I asked him about pre-1997, he responded, “See, I figured that I was either going to be a winemaker or a crop duster and since I didn’t own an airplane, I figured I’d probably ought to learn how to make wine.” We love that about Jim…

Jim had also brought a bottle of his 2006 Palette, so he opened it up and poured me some. “Now that’s a serious wine.” Get this: Julie tried some of mine against my warning of strong tannins – and liked it. Maybe the Blanc Du Bois and Viognier we had at the winery had deadened her mouth some…

Before Jim and Karen started Alamosa, he had been the winemaker at Slaughter Leftwich Vineyards, then had helped with the harvest at Ste Genvieve. Still doesn’t tell me how he got started.

Jim had been a manager at an oilfield services company when Houston went through the domestic oil crisis and local companies were laying off people in waves. In one budget meeting Jim noticed that the required cut for his department matched his salary – he was let go the next day. He took a part time job at Wines of America (now Houston Wine Merchant) and somewhere during his three year stay asked one of the patrons, “How do you go about becoming a winemaker?” “U.C. Davis”.

Jim was telling us how he packed up an headed to U.C. Davis after completing some prerequisites in Houston when the BBQ shop owner informed me that Simon’s fog lights were on. Crap. Somehow I had left my Altima geek-mobile in “Accessory” mode and ran the battery very low. Fortunately, one of the restaurant cooks had jumper cables. Just as I was closing the hood on Simon, Jim and Julie walked out of the BBQ restaurant – we had closed them down – so we stood at our cars and chatted some more. We didn’t get any more of the story about U.C. Davis or how he landed at Slaughter Leftwich, so we have plenty of reason to go back soon.


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