Betty Bingham On Pruning and New Plantings

by Betty Bingham
Bingham Family Vineyards & Pheasant Ridge Winery


bingham 1We have had a nice, cold winter here on the High Plains of Texas allowing the grapevines to sleep through and the elimination of harmful insects. Now is the time for those vines to start waking up and budding out.

Some varieties, such as the Viognier, are just beginning to bud out. This is good, because we may have more freezing weather in April that could kill the buds. Hopefully, we will not have any freezing weather in May like we did last year. We can prepare for the freezing weather we normally expect on the High Plains in April by delaying our pruning and thus delaying bud break. We prune our different varieties in the approximate reverse order that we think they will bud out. Thus, our Viognier is the last to be pruned.

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Before pruning the vines start out rather scraggly looking

Screen shot 2014-05-08 at 10.35.55 AM A mechanical pruner doing the major, rough pruning before workers go through to do the fine tuning.

Screen shot 2014-05-08 at 10.35.55 AM
A mechanical pruner doing the major, rough pruning before workers go through to do the fine tuning.

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Then the vines are pruned using the spur pruning method as these vines show. Here you can see the “T” shape of the spur pruning.

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Here is a vine that has been reduced to two spurs which are arched and then tied down using the can pruning method. 

This year, we are pruning some of our vines using the cane-pruning method. We’re trying this on all of our Vermentino and two-thirds of our Viognier vines. For this method, workers go through the rows making two main cuts to get rid of the old cordons. They then select two to four new canes to tie down later and eliminate the others.

We planted 20 acres of Tempranillo and 10 acres of Trebbiano on the 24th and 25th of March. The touches of spring are very encouraging.

bingham 6The circle system shown  serves as a reminder to us of how our vineyards are slowly replacing our row crops because of the reduced availability of underground water, which we use to farm row crops. The green that you see in the field is Rye, which was planted between the rows to keep the fields from blowing. The underground drip, bamboo, wires and end-posts have not been put in yet. You can’t even see the grape plants because they are covered in dirt to keep the warm until they push out into the world in a few weeks.

We haven’t had much rain this winter, but the underground drip irrigation has been watering the grapes to prepare them for a good season of growth this summer. This isn’t the time of year when the vineyards are most beautiful, but there are touches of spring to encourage us that this summer will be a good growing season.


White Blends – 2014

The White Blends category featured wines from across the state including the two prominent Texas AVAs; the Texas High Plains and the Texas Hill Country. Most of the wines submitted however (15 out of 20), were simply labeled under the state appellation name. The prices of the wines submitted ranged from $13 to $30 and included the following; 1 from the 2010 vintage, 14 from the 2012 vintage, 2 from 2013, and 3 were multi-vintage wines. All the wines submitted were the producer’s current release or soon to be released white blend.

The White Blends category tasting featured 20 wines and was held on March 18th at the offices of the Wine and Food Foundation of Texas located in Austin Texas. The Texas vs. The World category tasting featured 10 wines and took place the following month on April 22nd. Only the top rated white blend from Texas would represent the state in a tasting that also featured white blends from France, Italy, Spain, United States, Greece, Lebanon and South Africa.

All wines in Journal tastings are evaluated and rated under controlled, blind conditions, using a standardized evaluation form where the judges taste and rate based on peer groups. The panel comprises of 12 judges of which a minimum of 5 are required to reach a quorum . The White Blends category tasting included 7 of the 12 panel judges and the Texas vs The World category tasting featured 6 of the 12 panel judges.

In regards to the overall White Blends category it is safe to say that this category, to date, was the most difficult to judge. The result was much more variance and deviations across the panel’s scores, which was not something entirely unexpected considering the nature of the category. Having the panel evaluate and rate this category for the first time is the initial step to uncovering what is normal (if such a thing exists) or should be expected (in terms of quality) from white blends in Texas. Only future tastings will provide a deeper level of insight.

That being said, there were still some interesting trends uncovered that are worth mentioning, namely;

  • Four out of the 5 (or eight out of the ten) top rated white blends contained Viognier; all of which rated 80 points or higher.
  • Three out of the five (or six out of the ten) bottom rated white blends did not contain Viognier.
  • Only two wines (2013 William Chris ‘Mary Ruth’ and MV Pleasant Hill ‘Collina Bianca’) out of the twenty wines tasted scored 80 points or higher when Viognier was not some percentage of the blend.

To start to understand the difficulty of this category and to decipher these results, let’s start with the understanding that there are no ‘classic’ or ‘traditional’ white blends in Texas as compared to the classic blends found in France, Italy and Greece. And according to the Texas Wine and Grape Growers Association website there are 12 different white varietal species grown in the state; any combination of those can be used to make a wine; that’s 479,001,600 different possible combinations!

There were however, some varietals more prominent in the blends than others including, Blanc du Bois, Chenin Blanc, Pinot Grigio, the Rhones (Viognier, Roussanne, Marsanne) and the Muscats (Canelli and Orange).

To understand why Viognier, more than any other varietal, is having such an impact on the quality of the white blends evaluated, the structural characteristics of Viognier must be looked at. It is a varietal that is highly aromatic, can throw its weight (body) around, can be rich and round or lean and crisp all while maintaining the ability to produce moderate to high alcohol levels. It has the ability to offer blends four critical structural characteristics (Aroma, Body, Acid and Alcohol) to create balanced wines around; regardless if it is the informing grape in the blend or not. This characteristic plays out in the results. For the most part, the wines that did not contain some percentage of Viognier seemed to lack balance and cohesion between the parts and the whole; particularly for alcohol – a counterbalance to sugar (which also seemed misplaced among several of the wines) and viscosity and a complement (either balanced or extreme) to acid and tannin. To put it into perspective, nine out of the ten lowest rated wines all had 13% ABV or less; again, six of those ten wines were blends that did not contain Viognier as part of the blend.

Even though Viognier is having an impact on the blends evaluated in this category tasting, it must be noted that just because Viognier may not be included in the blend does not mean a quality or high scoring wine can’t be produced. We see this imparticularly with Blanc du Bois and Chenin Blanc led blends (see 2013 ‘Mary Ruth’ and MV ‘Collina Bianca’).

After both categories are tasted and rated the scores across the panel are averaged, which creates a scenario where it is very difficult for a wine to score above 90 or below 70 points. Averaging the scores creates a consensus across a wide range of palates and produces a final rating that is more objective; even when category and panel deviations are considered. To that point, only 5% of the wines rated were defined to be ‘Very Good’ wines by Journal definitions (scoring 84-89 points), 45% were rated ‘Good’ wines (scoring 80-84 points), 30% were ‘Average’ wines (scoring 75-79 points) and 20% were ‘Below Average’ (74 points or less).

The 2012 Solaro Estate ‘Miscela Bianco’ (the top rated Texas wine) that scored 86 points in the initial category tasting scored 89 points in the Texas vs. The World category tasting (within normal deviation limits), coming in second after a Viognier based blend out of California. Coming in last with 83 points, was the Sauvignon Blanc, Semillon and Muscadelle blend from the Graves region of Bordeaux.

For more information on the Journal’s definition of ratings click here.
For more information about the panel of judges and to match initials below with names click here. 

White Blends Banner

Solaro Estate Texas High Plains, ‘Miscela Bianco’ Reserve, 2012Brennan Vineyards Texas, ‘Austin Street - Three White Chicks’ 2012McPherson Cellars Texas, ‘Les Copians, 2012William Chris Vineyards and Winery  Texas, ‘Mary Ruth’ 2013Pedernales Cellars Texas, ‘Texas Cinco’ 2013Brennnan Vineyards Texas, ‘Lily’ 2012

Hilmy Cellars Texas High Plains, ‘Doo-Zwa-Zo’ 2012Pleasant Hill Winery  Texas, Collina Bianca, MVLewis Wines  Texas, Viognier-Chenin, 2012Lost Oak Winery Texas, ‘Tres Uvas’ 2012Westcave Cellars Texas, ‘Spectrum’ 2012Wedding Oak Winery Texas Hill Country, High Valley Vineyard, ‘TerreBlanc’ 2012Pilot Knob Vineyard Texas, ‘PK Cuvee’ 2012
Llano Estacado Texas, ‘Viviana - Superiore  Cuvee’ 2012
Duchman Family  Winery, Texas, ‘Texas Bianco’ MVKiepersol Estates Texas, ‘Texas Vit’ 2012


TXvTW White Blends BannerPine Ridge Vineyards California, Chenin Blanc and Viognier, 2013Solaro Estate Texas High Plains, ‘Miscela  Bianco’ Reserve, 2012Bockenhoutskloof Western Cape, ‘The Wolftrap’ 2012Domaine Maby Lirac, ‘La Fermade’ 2011Ruffino Orvieto Classico, 2011Ixsir Lebanon, ‘Grande Reserve’ 2012Barcelona Celler Catalunya, Vino Bianco, 2012Skouras Peloponnese, White, 2011Pro.mis.Q.ous Wines California, MVCh. Graville-Lacoste Graves, 2012



Ross Burtwell: An Ambassador for Texas Wines

By Ginny Bell

There is perhaps no better ambassador to the flavors of the Texas Hill Country than Chef Ross Burtwell.


As executive chef of The Cabernet Grill, located in Fredericksburg, Texas, Burtwell is known for his Lone Star State-inspired preparations of wild game, Texas Gulf Coast wild-caught seafood and seasonal produce sourced from neighboring farms. In his recently released cookbook, Texas Hill Country Cuisine, The Cabernet Grill’s Chef Burtwell offers a culinary tour of the Texas wine country through a collection of recipes celebrating the local ingredients and vibrant flavors that inspire him.

While many Texas-inspired cookbooks tend to stick to Tex-Mex and barbecue, this book’s collection of recipes offers a diverse reflection of Texas cuisine. While there are plenty of modernized recipes for tried-and-true Texas favorites, there are also a number of recipes that embrace the rich and distinctive cultures of the Lone Star State. Burtwell ties his collection of recipes together through his use of local ingredients and traditional flavor profiles in new and interesting ways, such as in his recipes for Curried Pheasant Sausage and Apple Chowder and Maple Cured Pork Tenderloin with Candied Pecans.

While Chef Burtwell’s food has received much well deserved acclaim, it’s his decision to offer an exclusively all-Texas wine list that truly makes The Cabernet Grill distinctive. Over the past several years, the restaurant industry, especially in Central Texas, has been quick to embrace locavore style of dining. In fact, it is almost difficult to find a menu that doesn’t tout its use of local or seasonal ingredients these days. However, a surprising minority of the wine lists at these same restaurants offer even a single Texas wine – let alone an entire list devoted to the region. By emphasizing Texas wine, Burtwell has not only helped to raise the profile of Texas wineries but has also created a way for his guests to truly experience the best flavors of region.


As with his restaurant, Texas wine plays a starring role across the pages of Burtwell’s cookbook, which also includes a section devoted to exploring the Texas wine country. Burtwell opens each recipe with a short note detailing recommendations for both ingredients and a Texas wine pairing. With these tidbits, Burtwell helps his readers truly explore the tastes of Texas from terroir to table.


Beautifully photographed and personal, it’s the type of cookbook that could belong on a coffee table – that is if weren’t too busy being put to use in the kitchen. A perfect addition to the cookbook collection of every Texan or Texan at heart!

Order your copy of theTexas Hill Country Cuisine: Flavors from the Cabernet Grill Texas Wine Country Restaurant (Creative Noggin Press) cookbook online here.

Burtwell will be doing a number of events across Texas over the next few months, starting with a food sampling and wine tasting at East End Wines on Friday, May 9. The schedule then includes the following stops around the Lone Star State.

Saturday, May 10, San Antonio, Gaucho Gourmet (food tasting)

Saturday, May 24, Tow, Fall Creek Vineyards (food and wine tasting)

Saturday, May 31, San Antonio, The Twig (food tasting, to coincide with Pearl Farmers Market)

Tuesday, June 10, Fort Worth, Winehaus

Wednesday, June 11, Dallas, Veritas

Thursday, June 12, Fredericksburg, Fredericksburg Farmers Market (cooking demo)

Saturday, June 14, Johnson City, Texas Hills Vineyard (food and wine tasting)

Friday, June 20, Houston, Houston Wine Merchant (food and wine tasting)

Saturday, June 28, Stonewall, Pedernales Cellars (food and wine tasting)

Saturday July 5, Fredericksburg, Torre di Pietra (food and wine tasting)

To experience his food in person, visit Chef Burtwell at The Cabernet Grill at The Cotton Gin in Fredericksburg.