This was our first year to attend the Fredericksburg Food and Wine Fest, so Julie and I didn’t know what to expect from the various events at and around the festival. When we pored over the event list for the festival itself, we decided to check out the Friday evening Celebration of Food and Wine at The Herb Garden and the Patron’s Brunch on Saturday morning. The festival also offered a “Vintner’s Experience” Saturday afternoon during the festival hours that we bypassed – we had a full-enough schedule already!
When we got to Fredericksburg, we headed for Vaudeville, a new bistro that we had visited the last time we were in town (and loved), and as soon as we were downstairs heard our names being called. We had walked into an informal get-together of some local winemakers, grape growers, and all-around winery people. John Rivenburgh from Bending Branch was sharing their new 2010 Texas Tannat with Chris Brundrett (William Chris), Miguel Lecuona, and a few friends, most of whom we had not met before. They introduced Julie and me to Dusty Timmons (Texas Custom Winery), Doug Lewis, and Lydia Wessner (Grape Creek’s vineyard manager).
John was eager to have me taste the Tannat as I am a HUGE fan of Tannat, especially Texas-grown, and agree with him that it is a grape that will help “make Texas”. Be sure that I will follow up with a Visual Tasting™ of the bottle he sent home with me. I am also very eager to visit Bending Branch to try their just-released Tempranillo and non-vintage Texas Tannat (a blend of 2009 and 2010 grapes)!
As the lunch broke up, we went upstairs and “stumbled” into the tail-end of another event being held on the patio of Vaudville, where they were hosting a more formal introduction of Bending Branch’s Tannat and other Texas wines with gourmet courses… Richard, the owner/manager of Vaudville very graciously welcomed us, set a couple of places, and served us the actual course they had paired with Becker’s Prairie Rotie, a Black Truffle Stuffed Pasta with Wild Mushroom Fonduta. It was – as usual for Vaudeville – delicious. I had tasted last year’s Prairie Rotie at Becker and was not very impressed; however, this one was delicious with the Pasta.
We made our way back downstairs to the bistro and sat with Bob Young, the founder and winemaker for Bending Branch, and Jennifer Beckman, their Marketing Director (and Certified Sommelier). We had met Bob briefly last year when we drove to Bending Branch, but were able to chat with him for a while. Jennifer had hosted Bending Branch’s Spring release party at Memorial Wine Cellar in Houston earlier this year that included their old-vine Petit Syrah (O M G Good) and Souzao (Stunning!) as well as their California grown 2010 Tannats (Yummy).
We spent Friday afternoon exploring the 290 side roads, meeting new people, and trying to keep track of the time; nevertheless, we were late for the Friday Evening “Celebration of Texas Food and Wine”, billed as an evening of “heavy hors d’ovoures” paired with fine Texas wines. We met up with Darlene and Roger Bruckbauer, some fellow Texas Wine Lovers that we have known through Facebook but not met face-to-face until then. Oh yes, they are “one of us”. The wines highlighted at the Friday evening pairing were:
- Ed’s Just Right White
- Pedernales Cellars’ Viognier
- Bending Branch (you guessed it) Texas Tannat
- Sister Creek Chardonnay
- Singing Water Freedom
- Grape Creek Cabernet Blanc
And the winner IMO, was Bending Branch’s Texas Tannat with Pedernales Cellar’s Viognier taking “silver”. Lest you think my opinion was tainted by my love for Tannat, I based the call on the continuous line of people seeking seconds (and thirds and fourths..) at the Bending Branch and Pedernales’ tables.
Saturday morning’s Patron’s Brunch started at 11:30, so we got in line at 11:00 – a very good call as the line grew quite long before the doors opened. Since it was our first time for the event, we befriended the couple in front of us, twelve-year veterans of the festival. They gave us the inside scoop on where to go and what to do, which really helped since the food and wine were served in two different areas of the park. We stopped to pick up our name tags and when we told the attendant our names, we heard, “Hey, we’re Jim and Julie!” Sure enough, there were two name tags next to ours with “Jimmy” and “Julie” on them. Guess who we “palled” around with during brunch.
Since we were at the brunch, we missed the official “gathering at the gate” of the group of wine lovers we had planned to hang around with during the day. We caught up with them inside the wine tent, of course. Not long after we joined the group, several of them split off to attend the “Vintner’s Experience” at the festival, so we hooked up with Darlene and Roger for the rest of the day and had an absolute blast. It was really interesting as Darlene and Julie’s likes in wine were very close and Roger and my tastes were similar as well. At some of the booths we would try different wines and share our opinions to keep from “wasting” tickets, a plan that worked very well.
One thing I was disappointed with at the festival was the lack of wineries’ “A” wines at many of the booths. Julie and I dragged Darlene and Roger to a few winery booths expecting to get them tastings of exceptional Texas wines only to find out that they wines they brought were not their best. It wasn’t until we talked to a winemaker that chose NOT to present at the festival that we understood why many of them didn’t bring their “A” game. That’s fodder for another article, though.
Instead of visiting every booth and risking wine overload, we started eavesdropping on other people’s tastings to determine which booths to visit, and sure enough we heard some good comments about a winery that I recognized from my work on the Texas Wine Traveller database, but hadn’t visited yet. Crump Vallery Vineyards were presenting their “A” game and creating quite a buzz – a buzz that I amplified as soon as I tasted their Merlot. This was a fresh, fruit-forward, balanced tannin, and I assume “naked” Merlot that IMO took the show along with (who else) Bending Branch. I signed up for three bottles plus three more of their Phat Cat, a Bronze medal winner at Finger Lakes (and slightly addictive in the best way). After we carried our haul to the car, we went back to the Crump Valley booth and found out that they had sold out of the Merlot (I sure hope I contributed to the rush on it!); however, Jessica, their representative at the festival, had held one bottle back than she shared with us. Oh yeah, we’re fans!
Even though we had planned to join the wine lover’s group outing to Pedernales Cellars Saturday evening, we had received a verbal invite to the Four Point 0 (4.0) Cellars’ Grand Opening party from a friend who knew that we hadn’t had an opportunity to meet Kim McPherson, whose wines I have thoroughly enjoyed and written about. We left the festival for 4.0 not even knowing if we would get “in the door” when we showed up, but Pat and Trellise Brennan greeted us up front and welcomed us in. We quickly ran into some of our new friends, started chatting and found out that Kassie McPherson, whom we had met at 4.0 a couple of months ago, had moved to California to work at Chappellet Winery. Just then I heard, “Hey, that’s my daughter you are talking about,” and I turned around to see Kim McPherson behind me.
“You must be Kim!” I exclaimed, and when he acknowledged me, I stuck my hand out and told him, “When I tasted your Reserve Roussane at your winery, I decided that I’d never drink another Chardonnay.” That broke the ice and we started talking about my favorite topic: Texas wine. He thanked us for our devotion to Texas-grown grapes. After he greeted a few more people and the group got bigger, Kim said, “Let’s go get some food.” Oh yeah, I was in heaven.
When the official festivities began, Kim had to break off and participate, so we regrouped with Lydia, who introduced us to Allie Barratt, the new Cellar Master (“cellar rat”) at Hilmy Wines, another of our favorite hangouts. If you get to Hilmy, you need to find Allie and hear her story. She is a delightful and passionate addition to the already delightful and passionate Hilmy team. And part of our wine family now.
Allie wanted to make sure that she thanked Sylvia McPherson for inviting her – Allie and Kassie McPherson had become best friends before Kassie left for California – so I escorted her with Julie right behind. I hadn’t “connected the dots” when I told Sylvia about my comment to Kim about the Roussanne, but when she replied, “Yeah, he doesn’t let me carry that at the restaurant,” the light went on.. “La Diosa!! That’s yours!” Yeah, DUH, sometimes I’m a complete DOLT. You see, Julie and I had spent a couple of hours enjoying Tapas at La Diosa after our visit to McPherson Winery last year. It’s a really small world in this great state, and people like Kim and Sylvia (and Allie, Lydia, Chris, ….) are what makes this state GREAT.