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Harvesting Community and Fun at Texas Vineyards

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Most of us have experienced the joy of  sharing a lovely glass of wine with friends and at Texas vineyards, you can take that experience one step further by being part of the harvest.

Messina Hof

Messina Hof

Starting at the beginning of August, vineyards across the state began harvesting their grapes, rescuing them from the brutal summer sun and transforming them into beautiful vintages. Two years ago, I had the opportunity to participate in the harvest at Pedernales Cellars in Stonewall  and this year I joined the crew at Messina Hof in Bryan.

 

My friend Stacey at the Messina Hof harvest

My friend Stacey at the Messina Hof harvest

Harvest is truly a community gathering, with the vineyards relying on the extra hands of friends and family to race the clock of mother nature to ensure that they pick the grapes at their peak.

Family and friends pitching in at Pedernales Cellars

Family and friends pitching in at Pedernales Cellars

The grapes are collected in large bins and then processed through a sorter to remove the MOG (material other than grapes). From there, the the wine making begins.

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Grape collection in the fields

The sorter

The sorter

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Material other than grapes (MOG)

You can participate in grape stomp and harvest events at wineries around the state over the next two weekends. Don’t miss this chance to be part of your favorite wine from the start of its journey from vine to bottle.

Cheers!

(And thanks Lillian for pulling together this list of upcoming events!)

Texas Hill Country Wineries – great website with extensive winery events calendar.

Pedernales Cellars
Grape Stomp 2014
August 22, 23, & 24  Noon- 5pm

Messina Hof
Harvest Festival 2014
August 22-23, Bryan
August 29-30, Fredericksburg

Becker Vineyards 
18th Annual Grape Stomp!
August 23-24, & August 30

Fall Creek Vineyard
25th Annual Grape Stomp & Harvest
August 23, 11am-5pm

Stone House Vineyard
Time to Harvest! 
August 23, 6:30 am

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August Texas Food Events

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Chefs Erica Beneke, Bridge Bishop, Kenzie Allen, Hannah Love, Abby Yates and Alexis Chong at Eat.Drink.Empower dinner.

 

Texas Restaurant Weeks

August means restaurant weeks all around Texas! It’s hot, you don’t want to turn your oven on so get out and support your favorite restaurants or try a new one.

Houston Restaurant Weeks
August 1 – September 1

Eat Out for Good 
August 3 – August 13

DFW Restaurant Week
August 11 – August 17

San Antonio Restaurant Week
August 16 – August 23

Grub Trivia
August 17, 12-4pm

Whether you’re a cooking connoisseur, a food-biz wiz, or gastronome novice, Slow Food Austin Grub Trivia challenges you to join the second annual fundraising event full of food-focused, pub style trivia. Teams will compete to win the surprise grand prize and the honor of being named the quickest slow foodies in town. Register a team or attend with a general admisson ticket to enjoy the grub and watch the competition.

EAT. DRINK. EMPOWER
August 21, 6-10pm

MAX’s Wine Dive Austin is proud to present the second annual Eat. Drink. Empower event showcasing Austin’s top female talent coming together for a worthy cause, and to celebrate the growing number of female chefs on the rise. This year’s event will feature a 12-course menu with beverage pairings, all curated and designed by the talented team of female chefs and bartenders. A portion of the event;s proceeds will go directly to SafePlace’s domestic violence and sexual assault programming.   

 

 

 

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Diving into the wine world at TEXSOM

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I had the pleasure of attending TEXSOM, a wine education conference hosted in Dallas, for the second year in a row and was once again awed by how much there is to learn in the wine and beverage world.  I feel like such a novice in that crowd, but everyone is  generous with their knowledge and patient with newbie questions.  Here are a few of my “aha” moments from the conference.

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(These are listed in order learned, not necessarily importance.)

Wine on Tap

The first time I saw the wine one tap at Second Bar and Kitchen, I thought Chef David Bull and crew had lost their minds, but then I listened to their reasons and kind of got it. For a mid-range bottle, kegging the wine minimizes the amount of spoilage and makes service easier. And, the wine was good (this isn’t Franzia, folks). I wasn’t surprised when I started to see the new service option at other venues and was delighted to find it in retail outlets like Whole Foods where you can pick from a variety of sizes to take home with you, not stuck with the standard bottle size.

Free Flow Wine kegs - photo courtesy of Free Flow Wines

Free Flow Wine kegs – photo courtesy of Free Flow Wines

But, I didn’t really get how powerful this alternative for wine service could be until I talked to Free Flow Wines Co-founder and Chairman Dan Donahoe at the conference.  When he told me that a major hotel chain in Las Vegas was saving five tons of garbage a year by using kegged wines instead of bottles, the light bulb went off.  Granted, a restaurant isn’t going to save that volume, but it is still a significant consideration if you are thoughtful about how much waste you are creating.

No, you aren’t going to keg a fine reserve vintage, but that isn’t the majority of wine that is served on a daily basis.  Yay for wine on tap!

Etna and Austin’s fabulous Master Sommeliers

I learned all about Mount Etna in high school Latin and geography, but my teachers neglected to mention that the side of this active volcano is peppered with vineyards. You think Texas winemakers have it tough, these Sicilian wineries are battling an active volcano.  Now that’s extreme farming.

Austin’s Master Sommeliers, Craig Collins of Arro and Devon Broglie of Whole Foods, did an outstanding job guiding us through this region that is quickly growing in popularity. (Apparently, Etna is the new black among wine geeks.)  The wines were lovely with a slight taste of ashy volcanic rock and a bit of salinity from the Mediterranean Sea. Even more fun than discovering these new-t0-me wines, was the engaging presentation by Craig and Devon.  Our master somms are great educators and, if you have a chance to attend a talk by either, you should jump at the opportunity.

Intricacies of Bourbon

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Bourbon mash mixes and a piece from a charred bourbon barrel

I have been drinking bourbon since I was old enough to drink. (Ok, maybe a little bit before that, but let’s not get caught up in details.) My dad always had a bottle of Weller’s in the liquor cabinet and it was our family pour.  I’ve attended other sessions about this beloved libation, but nothing with the depth presented by Master Sommelliers Brett Davis of Doc Crow’s Southern Smokehouse & Scott Harper of Bristol Bar and Grille, two Kentucky gentlemen with a deep understanding of bourbon.

Taking us through a tasting that demonstrated how the combination of corn, rye and wheat impacts the flavor (hint: rye makes it spicier, wheat evens it out) and that the position in the rickhouse (where they age bourbon) changes the quality.  In fact, most of the bourbon on the shelves is made by twelve distilleries and the difference between the bottles is the mix of the ingredients and where the bourbon is aged.  It was a fascinating tour of my favorite spirit.

Texas takes on Tannat 

bending branch wines

Bending Branch wines

To be honest, I’d never heard of Tannat when I signed up for this session, which was all the more reason to learn about this hearty red grape that has been historically grown in the Basque region of France and Uruguay.  Because of it’s tenacity, the varietal has been used throughout South America and California as a blending grape and has now made it’s way to Texas.

We sampled a spicy award-winning Tannat from Bending Branch Winery in Comfort, Texas that would have paired perfectly with a juicy steak or  barbecue.  The winery has been consulting with several other Texas vineyards on growing Tannat and you can expect to see more of this varietal popping up around the state.

Taste Texas Hospitality Suite

texas winemakers

Jeff Ogle (Duchman Family Winery), Pat Brennan (Brennan Vineyards), Kim McPherson (McPherson Cellars) and Fredrik Osterberg (Pedernales Cellars)

Texas wines aren’t new to TEXSOM, but in some ways this year was a bit of a coming out party for our wineries. Often looked down upon by their coastal cousins, Texas wineries have had to prove themselves to the naysayers.  And, with a proper amount of Texas pluck and hard work, the wineries are earning their due.

This year, four of our award-winning wineries who make Texas appellation wines (using grapes only grown in Texas) hosted a Taste Texas hospitality suite at the conference that was so crowded you had to go outside to hear yourself think.  It was fantastic.  You can read more about the event in my CultureMap article.

And, of course, the most important lesson learned at TEXSOM – do not try to keep up with the sommeliers. But that’s a story for a different day.

Want to know more about TEXSOM? Check out Jessica Dupuy’s piece about Austin Sommelier Scott Ota winning the insanely difficult best sommelier in Texas competition and Matt McGinnis’ What Are You Drinking blog for his take on the conference.

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Texas restaurant weeks invite you to get out of the kitchen

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It is hot – not grab a fan hot, but egg frying on the sidewalk hot.  It’s definitely too hot to cook and here in Texas we have another month or more of 100 degree days stretching ahead of us.

Fortunately, the local restaurants have come to the rescue in Houston, Dallas and San Antonio by hosting their restaurant weeks in August.  During the week(s), participating restaurants offer a two to three course prix fixe menu and donate part of the proceeds to a worthy non-profit.  It is a fantastic way to explore restaurants that are normally out of your budget or have been on your “to try” list for a while.

The stars have aligned so that I’ll be in Dallas and Houston to participate in their respective restaurant weeks.  Now, I just have to find an excuse to get down to San Antonio, as I’d hate to miss a special menu at Restaurant Gwendolyn, where I ate one of my best meals last year.  I still think about the strawberry sorbet; it was like biting into a fresh, ripe berry straight from the field.

I’ve enjoyed lovely meals at Haven in Houston and had so much fun dining at Grace, Lonesome Dove and Private Social in the Dallas/Fort Worth area.  Each chef has their own innovative way to incorporate local, seasonal ingredients and their Restaurant Week menus are inviting.

Haven - crawfish gnocchi

Crawfish gnocchi from haven

I’m going to focus my meals on visiting restaurants on my ever growing “to try” list.  I’ve been itching to go to Feast and Branch Water Tavern in Houston and I’m hoping to make it to CampO Modern Country Bistro and Rathbun’s in Dallas.

Following is a quick round up of details for each city’s restaurant week festivities, which non-profit they benefit and the restaurants that I know of that source locally.  If you have your heart set on a particular menu, definitely make reservations well in advance.  The hot spots book up fast.

Where will you be feasting during Restaurant Week?

 

Houston Restaurant Weeks,  August 1st through 31st with proceeds benefitting the Houston Food Bank.  Lunch and brunch are  2 courses for $20, dinner is 3 courses for $35.

Backstreet Café

Benjy’s (Village & Upper Washington)

Branch Water Tavern

Feast

Haven

Rainbow Lodge

Sorrel Urban Bistro

 

Dallas-Fort Worth KRLD Restaurant Week kicks off on August 13th.  The main event runs through August 19th, but some restaurants have chosen to extend to a 2nd (through August 26th) and even 3rd (through September 2nd) week.  Seven dollars from each meal will be donated to either the North Texas Food Bank in Dallas or Lena Pope Home in Fort Worth.

CampO Modern Country Bistro – through September 2nd

Grace – through September 2nd

Lonesome Dove – through August 19th

Private Social – through August 19th

Rathbun’s Blue Plate Kitchen – through August 19th

 

San Antonio’s restaurant week is sponsored through Culinaria, a non-profit that showcases wine and culinary events throughout the year to benefit culinary arts students and food related aid organizations. Restaurant week is 8/18-8/25 and features three course prix fixe menus for $15 at lunch and $35 at dinner.

Bin 555

Luke

Restaurant Gwendolyn

Tre Trattoria (Downtown & Alamo Heights)

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