High Plains Road Trip, Day 3 – Llano Estacado

We got a late start this morning – too late to catch breakfast at the hotel – so we headed to Llano after consuming potent concoctions of various stimulants purchased from a local chemist.

Not really. I had my Quad Venti 3-pump Vanilla Latte (QVTPVL), and Julie had her four-phrase-limit-busting Quad Venti 3-Pump White Mocha Nonfat Light Whip. In Pearland, these are called the “Jim and Julie Specials.” Yes, they actually train the new hires how to make them. I think Jason and crew in Pearland must have warned the Lubbock Starbucks to expect us because they made it flawlessly here.

With caffeine in body and cameras, camcorders, iPhones, iPads, and MacBooks (Air & Pro) in back seat and other places, we headed to… Cap*Rock again.  I had forgotten to get their #GoTexan Texas Winery passport ID when we were there yesterday. I did take some more pictures while we were there, so it wasn’t just an embarrassing moment of, “Oh, by the way, can we get your passport number?”

Fortunately, Llano Estacado is right around the corner – in Lubbock farming area lingo. We would have been door-to-door in five minutes if we hadn’t become enamored with the cotton and sunflowers growing in the fields on the way. More pictures.

Ah! Llano Estacado! By the way, for those of us who are familiar with the Texas city called Llano (pronounced Lanno with a short a), Llano Estacado should be pronounced like Coronado did when he and his surveyors planted the marker stakes in the High Plains area. Sounds like “Yahno”. In fact, as many of you probably already know, Llano Estacado means “staked plains”. But did you know why it was called that? Huh? I didn’t know either, to be honest.

Scioscia (“Sosha”) greeted Julie and me as we entered, probably thinking that we were there, like most people, to taste the wine. She seemed a little surprised when the first thing we asked was if we could tour the winery, so I told her the short story of how we are crazy about Texas wines and want to visit every winery and vineyard that we can – or at least those who produce Texas grapes and wines from Texas grapes. I think that I could have stopped at “how we are crazy…”. Poor Scioscia.

I brought about half my complement of cameras in with me. The Konica/Minolta Maxxum 7D (6.0 MPixel DSLR), my Sony HDR-XR500 (with 12.0 MPixel camera in addition to 1020p HD recording onto a 180GB internal hard drive and a zoom that’s almost scary), and my iPhone 4. Well, I also had my iPad 2, but I rarely use the camera on it. Like you wanted to know all that. At least I tried them all enough to realize the I get the absolutely BEST photos from the Sony camcorder. Go figure.

Scioscia let me wander around (within limits) and take pictures while Julie became the designated listener. I was able to keep up with most of the converasation, but really got into the photographer part. I did pick up that Llano was originally established by Dr. Clinton McPherson and Dr. Roy Mitchell of Texas Tech, and investor Robert Reed. Clinton is Kim McPherson’s (McPherson Cellars) father. We’ll talk more about that tomorrow after we visit McPherson Cellars.

They had just finished crushing some Syrah when we got to the back of Llano, so we were able to see the crushed grapes sitting in the juice ready to be put into a vat. Or pressed. I’m not sure what the fate of those particular grapes would be. Since we just started really digging into Texas wines last September, we haven’t had the opportunity to witness a harvest or any processing of grapes other than tasting from a vat here and there, and from a couple of oak barrels at Alamosa and Grape Creek. This is exciting stuff for us! I know.. POST PICS!!

I’m sure Scioscia was glad when I finally let her know that we were ready to start tasting. Little did she know…

There are so many wines on the Llano “menu” that we had to select just a few to taste, so we split up and Julie took whites and sweets while I took reds, mostly dry. What we learned during this process is that Llano buys locally whenever possible. They do get some of their grapes from New Mexico, but we agreed that Texas should annex NM and call it West West Texas, so we’re good. Julie is a “For Sale In Texas Only” detector and I didn’t hear her alarm go off, so their labelling is “honest” which is a step up from “legal”.

You’d think that we spend more time on the tour than the tasting. Think again. We talked about every wine: the grapes, the oaking, the varietals in the blends, the source vineyards for each varietal… Tasting was a good two hours. And it was nothing but awesome. Scioscia treated Julie and me very well, but always within her boundaries as a tour and tasting guide. We didn’t slip behind any ropes or doors closed to other guests, but at the same time we received a thorough tour of the facilities, information about the winery’s history and operations, and well-informed tasting. Make sure you look Scioscia up, and Llano, you have a winner there.

Wine standouts:

  • 2009 Viviana – described as a non-traditional blend using aromatic white varieties, what really stood out to both of us is that our nose and palate were convinced that it was a little sweet. But it’s bone dry. My note on it: “Honey Lemon Butter”. Not a buttery mouth feel, just a slight buttery hint in the palate.
  • 2008 Texas Cabernet Sauvignon – What is fascinating here is that I tried the 2008 Cellar Reserve Cab before this one. Scioscia mentioned that many people had commented more favorably about the non-reserve Cab, thinking that the 6 extra months in the bottle rather than the barrel has allowed the wine to recover better from the bottling process and has softened the tannins. That could be it, but the Reserve Cab was full of black cherry notes while the non-reserve nearly shouted “PRUNE!!!” OK, to a snob it would be “dried plums” – a way to express the concentrated flavors of plums, but aren’t dried plums called “prunes”? Besides, if you have ever had prune juice, you know that prunes have a much darker, richer flavor. This Cabernet Sauvignon was a dark, rich, wonderful prune. Very good. Two bottles, please.
  • 2009 Cellar Reserve Tempranillo (Newsom Vineyards) – Have I mentioned that I think the Tempranillo grape when grown in Texas and treated just right could very well replace Merlot in my list of standards? Well the Llano 2009 Tempranillo made that point to me today.  Just the right oakiness and smokiness and tannin bite. In fact, I got some of the complexity that you normally get from blended reds in this varietal. I should check my notes to see if Scioscia mentioned any additions to the Temp in the reserve, but I don’t remember any. Two bottles, please.

I should make an admission here… I had judged Llano months ago based on the wines available at my local H.E.B. For some reason, be it the labelling or something else, I had the impression that there would be no passion in the Llano wines. I was wrong.

Tomorrow: McPherson Cellars

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