Blanc du Bois Symposium – 2015

The Texas Wine Journal is hosting a Blanc du Bois Symposium at the 39th annual Texas Wine and Grape Growers Association conference being held on February 19th from 11:15am-12:15pm and 3:15pm-4:15pm at the Embassy Suites in San Marcos. The Symposium will be structured as a moderated panel discussion featuring Dan Gatlin- winemaker at The Vineyard at Florence and Marta Sanchez Lastowska- winemaker at Haak Vineyards and Winery in the first session. The panel in the second session will comprise of Tim Drake- winemaker at Flat Creek Estate, Chris Brundrett- winemaker at William Chris Vineyards and Rob Nida- winemaker at Compass Rose Cellars. Both sessions will be moderated by Daniel Kelada, tasting director for the Texas Wine Journal.

The goal for the Symposium is to gain further insight on best practices for dealing with Blanc du Bois in the vineyard and winery and how that reflects what eventually becomes bottled. In addition to a moderated discussion, each session will feature a flight of wines that will be tasted with the direction of the respective winemaker as well as a question and answer period for the audience. This Symposium is the first ever breakout session offered during the annual conference that features a tasting element. 

A day pass to attend the Blanc du Bois Symposium as well as the trade show and any other session offered that day is $150. For complete details of conference schedules and to purchase tickets visit the TWGGA website at www.txwines.org

A Look Back. And A Leap Forward.

To date, the panel has evaluated and rated five varietal/style categories: Syrah, White Blends, Red Blends, Merlot and Dry Rose. Next week, the panel will meet to taste through Blanc du Bois and Sangiovese with Cabernet Sauvignon, Tempranillo, Fortified and Dessert categories to follow.

YTD Jouranl RatingsAs it stands, 107 wines across 37 producers have been evaluated and rate, and while this maybe a small population size to say anything definitive at this point, it does say a lot — or, rather, leaves you asking questions like, “Could this be what a classic red blend from Texas is?” or “What does it mean when eight out of the ten top rated white blends contained Viognier; all of which rated 80 points or higher?”

The panel is the key. Being able to analyze the ratings from a group of professional judges versus the palate of a single judge gives us an objective framework to track varietals, wine styles, producers, vintages and even typicity. And as the number of submissions increase, the more layers we can peel away to better understand what it is to be a great Texas wine.

In this period of going from 0 wines to 107 wines tasted, we have expanded the scope of the data observed to include:

  1. IMG_3823Wine Score (20-points and 100-point)
  2. Category Average
  3. Average Wine Deviation: The consistency in the style of wine across a category
  4. Single Wine Deviation: A measure of panel consensus for a single wine
  5. Panel Consensus:  Represents how well the panel tastes as a judging body
  6. Typicity Across Category: A measure of typicity.
  7. Appellation Tracking: Breakdown of Texas vs. Texas High Plains vs. Texas Hill Country
  8. Vineyard Tracking
  9. Texas vs. The World Comparisons
  10. Year-to-Date Breakdown

We also had an opportunity to re-evaluate our best practices and rating methodology to insure that we are producing the most accurate, fair and objective results as possible. As more results came in, we gained more insight. When combining this with greater consumer interest and national trade exposure via the partnership with the SOMM Journal, an interesting observation became apparent, which is that the Journal process of rating wines is a grueling one. It produces comprehensive and objective insights, but if it didn’t crossover from the producer world to the trade and consumer worlds in a fair and consistent way, it would hinder the core functions of the Journal, which are to provide producers with objective evaluations and ratings and to provide a platform to publish those ratings to drive trade and consumer awareness and, ultimately, sales.

After considering all the questions that needed answers and after gaining valuable perspectives from expertise across the industry, we developed and implemented a new rating methodology. The methodology encompass the following parameters:

  1. A 20 point producer score
  2. A 100 point commercial score
  3. A consumer recommendation (no score listed)
Brian Phillips, Advanced Sommelier tasting through the Red Blends category.

Brian Phillips, Advanced Sommelier, tasting through the Red Blends category.

The 20-point score allows us to capture more exact information and in a quicker way. We have developed our own form designed to capture information such as typicity, balance, complexity, concentration and intensity, while at the same time allowing for more subjective input that is not weighted in the final score, such as ageability, quality and structure. The form is broken down into four categories – Appearance, Smell/Aroma, Taste and Overall, worth 3, 6, 7 and 4 maximum points respectively. This approach to evaluation allows us the ability to publish both a 20 point score in the format as “20(3,6,7,4)” and as “100”. Viewing the entire breakdown of the 20 point score allows for a more exact analysis as well as allow the viewer of that expanded 20-point score to place more emphasis on one area more than the other if both wines score the same 20 points – i.e 15(2,6,5,2) and 15(1,5,7,2). See the TWJ 20-Point Evaluation Form to better understand how it works.

The 100-point commercial score allows for a Texas wine judged under the Journal’s rating methodology fair judgement in the commercial marketplace. The 100 point score is a quick way to understand a wines overall quality or characteristic – it does not provide nearly the level of insight the 20 point score does. In order for the Journal to operate on the same level as Decanter Magazine (the only other publication that establishes it’s ratings based on averaged scores from a panel), we will be using their 20 point to 100 point conversion chart to determine the 100 point equivalent of the Journal’s 20 point scale. See 20 to 100 point conversion here.

A consumer recommendation will be broken down into “Recommended” and “Highly Recommended” wines. This approach has the benefit of being expanded overtime (if warranted) into a star system without affecting the 20 point and 100 point scores. The primary purpose of this level of rating is to insure that even wines that don’t score high enough to be considered “excellent” wines (90+ by Journal definitions) don’t get overlooked in the consumer marketplace, when they are, in fact, perfectly good wines. This type of rating places emphasis on the fact that a wine is recommended by a juried panel of professionals, with the goal being to increase consumer confidence when buying a Texas wine.

All categories going forward will be evaluated according to this new methodology and the finalized 20-point evaluation form, which has gone through three iterations (performance tests) over the course of the Red Blends, Merlot and Dry Rose categories. Results for all three of the categories will be released this month and later this fall.

How Is This Year’s Grape Harvest Looking?

Last week, Jessica Dupuy put together an informative roundup for Texas Monthly on this year’s grape harvest. Though some vineyards experienced excellent quantities (namely, Messina Hof’s Bryan vineyards and the William Chris vineyards in Hye), many wineries are reporting lower-than-hoped-for yields but excellent qualities.

As with 2013, late spring freezes struck a number of the Texas Hill Country and Texas High Plains vineyards, but it appears that this year was kinder to the grapes compared to the trials and tribulations of last year. Some of the choice quotes making us very excited about the wines to come include:

“Other than the April freeze, everything has gone our way with the weather, and the great news is the quality is going to be astronomical. I can’t wait to try these wines when they’re ready.” – Neal Newsom, Newsom Vineyards

“I really wish there was more this year because the quality is off the charts. But this is Texas. We’ll take what we can get and do the best with what we have.” -Dave Reilly, Duchman Family Winery

“We’ve seen some great things in the Hill Country this year. We manage Round Mountain vineyards, and we were blown away by how good the fruit is. We just keep having good years here. I’m in love with the place. It’s only it’s fourth growing season, but it’s fun to see the hard work we’ve put into it really paying off. We have Touriga Nacional, Tinta Cao, and Tempranillo. I think this will be the best Touriga crop we’ve ever had.” – Doug Lewis, Lewis Wines

Be sure to click the link above to read the full roundup, to see what other prominent Texas wineries are forecasting.

 

In Response to Tyler Colman’s ‘A Critical Time’ by Tyler Colman

by Daniel Kelada- Tasting Director of Texas Wine Journal

I recently read Tyler Colman’s End Post in the current issue of Vineyard & Winery Management titled A Critical Time. I find the topic discussed to be incredibly interesting, particularly because I review Texas wines and direct a panel of judges that evaluates and rates Texas wines on a pointed scale for the Texas Wine Journal.

2014JA_Cover_72As I read the article, I find myself both in and out of agreement with several points. I agree that the sheer number of critics and magazines that rate wines is a bit overwhelming, but I also know that not all critic and magazine ratings are created equal (according to my palate), which helps narrow the field some. It should be no surprise that a 89 point wine in Decanter may be the equivalent of a 92 point wine in Wine Spectator; the system of rating is completely different. I’m a firm believer that the value and the objectivity of ratings starts with the system in which the ratings occur; and if there are not checks and balances, the ratings become subject to the opinions of a single person. This in its entirety is not a bad thing, but it is not an objective approach, even if the critic has extensive experience with the wines being tasted. The most that can be gained from the ratings of an individual is a deep understanding of the wine types and style preferences preferred by that individual. If the consumer has similar preferences, then it is a critic worth following.

When you add more scrutiny to the process and then combine or average the scores, it makes it that much harder to achieve a 90+ point rating. Where this is a good thing is that with increased scrutiny comes a more comprehensive result. Based on ratings published on Wine-Searcher.com, the average ratings by each critic or magazine vary considerably. For example, Decanter‘s average rating (deduced by a three-judge panel) is a 16.6 (which converts to 83 points on a 100-point scale) while that of Wine Spectator and Wine Enthusiast is 88.3 and 88.0 respectively. If I’m to believe that there is a big difference between an 89 -point wine and 92-point wine, then surely I must think that a five-point spread between one critic and another is significant enough to warrant an investigation, or at least raise an eyebrow about which is more accurate, and by accurate, I mean objective.

ratings.jpgI also agree that the era of the hyped and inflated scores by what seems like celebrity critics is reaching a plateau, which might possibly (hopefully) lead to an eventual decline in their popularity, but I don’t see the two ever going away. I do believe that points have their place in the world of wine marketing. Points help guide and direct consumers and the trade, particularly for new wines, regions and producers that have yet to achieve the level of notoriety that other wines, regions and producers have garnered. Recognition is really what a rating system provides; in the case of Texas Wine Journal, producer insight is our primary objective and mission.  Ratings have the added benefit of providing consumers a quick overall assessment of a wine when considering a new varietal, region or producer for the first time.

Without a doubt, critics have molded the expectation of consumers and, to some extent, the trade, to believe that only good wines are 90+ points. But what about the 82-point wine that really might become your favorite wine? I would argue that instead of the point system fading away that we begin to pay more attention and place emphasis on how the ratings were carried out and their implication on the final score; because an 82-point wine rated within a system of checks and balances may just be equal to a 90+ point wine in a system without one.

 

How Will the Napa Quake Affect the Texas Wine Industry?

This past week, KSAT-TV, the ABC affiliate in San Antonio, ventured out to Bending Branch Winery in Comfort to talk about the recent earthquake that rocked the Napa Valley, wondering how it might affect wine production there, and how that might impact Texas wine prices.

Bending Branch founder John Riverburgh started the story expressing sympathy for the winemakers in Napa, noting that wineries who lost barreled and bottled wine due to the quake lost literally years of work. Riverburgh, like many other Texas winemakers, faced challenges last year due to freezing weather across the state that diminished harvest yields. He noted that there could be a silver lining for Napa winemakers — there might be “a mystique” around the 2014 Napa wines now that they’ll be in more limited supply.

Though Riverburgh didn’t think what happened in Napa would affect wine prices in Texas, he did think that wine tourism in Texas might actually increase due to some people’s hesitation to travel to the region. As Riverburgh told KSAT, “‘Maybe they might (say,) ‘Earthquake? Let’s go to Texas'” Rivenburgh said.

The full story (which includes some praise for Bending Branch from visitors) is available on the KSAT site here.

Washington Post Praises McPherson Tre Colore In Today’s Column

Dave McIntyre, the wine columnist for the Washington Post, recently attended TEXSOM and had a number of nice things to say on Twitter about the various Texas wines he tried during his stay in Dallas. Now, he’s taken to his weekly column to recommend one of his favorites today, as part of a roundup of recommended summer wines.

He praised McPherson Cellars Tre Colore 2013, describing it as “A delicious Rhone-style blend of mourvedre and carignan, with the white grape viognier thrown in to brighten the wine’s aromas. McPherson is Texas’s most consistent winery, and all its wines are worth trying.”

We’ll be releasing what we think of McPherson Tre Colore, and other red blends from Texas wineries, in the coming weeks. The red blends ratings will be the first ones we publish using our newly-adopted system, which uses a 20-point rating system accounting for appearance, smell, taste and overall impressions, which is then converted to the 100-point rating system that consumers are more familiar with. To learn more about our rating system, visit this page of the site.

 

TEXSOM: Ten Years of Touting Texas Wines

All of us at Texas Wine Journal would like to raise a glass to TEXSOM for celebrating 10 years this past weekend. Ari Auber at the Austin American-Statesman had an excellent preview last week on the Liquid blog, talking about the importance of the wine education conference in growing the profile of Texas wines. The growing number of wineries, award-winning wines, and recognition from wine experts across the nation and around the world are all fantastic. But the growing number of sommeliers in the state — including some of whom participate on our judging panel — are helping to educate and steer Texas wine drinkers to better-informed choices, and is elevating the entire industry. Though there’s a lot of interesting news coming out of the conference, check out Auber’s preview if you haven’t done so yet; it gives some good perspective on how TEXSOM’s progressed in its first decade.

Somm Journal to Partner With Texas Wine Journal to Feature Texas Wine Ratings

To help in its mission of building greater awareness of Texas wines, which includes providing credible, juried ratings, the recently launched Texas Wine Journal has announced a partnership with Somm Journal. Starting with  August 2014, the bi-monthly publication – published by the same professionals with the Tasting Panel Magazine, with a distribution list of more than 60,000 wine professionals throughout the United States – will publish Texas Wine Journal ratings of Texas wines.

The Somm Journal, which also has a growing international audience of wine writers, sommeliers, and other wine authorities due to its online presence, will publish wine ratings regularly, and then, starting in the first quarter of 2015, will feature TWJ’s top-rated wines of the year in an annual issue.

“All of us at Texas Wine Journal respect the Tasting Panel Magazine and Somm Journal greatly, and we’re honored to be partnering with them,” said Daniel Kelada, co-founder and Tasting Director with Texas Wine Journal. “We’re excited about this opportunity to bring knowledge of Texas wines to a national and even international audience.”

“It’s important for us to keep our eye on Texas wines as the state develops as one of the nation’s premier wine producers, and Texas Wine Journal will help us do just that,” said Meridith May, Publisher and Editorial Director for the Somm Journal and the Tasting Panel Magazine. “We’re looking forward to our partnership with Texas Wine Journal in helping our readers learn more about Texas wines.”

The Texas Wine Journal is a publication created by the Texas Wine Consortium, a 501c(3) nonprofit organization; its mission is to create awareness for Texas wines through independent, credible and juried ratings and feature articles and content on the Texas wine industry. Wines are rated by a panel of judges, comprised of wine professionals from several different facets of the wine industry, to provide a comprehensive and objective guide to Texas wines. Each judge has an impact on the final score a wine receives.

 

 

 

“The Best Wines Are The Ones We Drink With Friends”: Pedernales Cellars’ New Reserve Room Tasting

Pedernales Cellars recently opened the doors to its new Reserve Room, with tastings every Saturday and Sunday. The experience is decidedly different than a standard Texas Hill Country winery tasting. First off, it takes place in a small cottage off the main tasting room. There are a maximum of six guests for each tasting, which spans close to a leisurely hour, on Saturdays and Sundays while the winery’s open (with reservations highly recommended). It features six library wines — wines that are typically only available to wine club members and for special events. We asked Veronique Cecilia Barretto of Vinously Speaking, who hosts the Reserve Room tastings, to tell us about her experiences hosting the new series.

PCReserveRoomPhoto: Julie Kuhlken

Any wine lover who enjoys exploring and drinking Texas wines has their favorites. One that sits at the top of my list is Pedernales Cellars, and it’s been there since my first visit to the winery in April 2011. Aside from the knowledgeable and ever-friendly service provided by their staff, what I enjoy most about Pedernales Cellars’ wines is the old-world style in which their wines are made, meaning the wines communicate a sense of place. You can tell each wine is made from grapes that express the terroir they come from.

It should come as no surprise that there are always Pedernales Cellars wines stocked in my wine cellar at home. I always carried a wide array of their wines when I owned my own wine shop in San Antonio, why I feature their wines at many public and private wine tastings I conduct, and why, when they approached me to join their team and help them run their newest winery addition, the Reserve Room, I responded with an exclamatory “YES!!”

The Reserve Room was created as a way for Pedernales Cellars to have a private tasting room to feature their reserve wines, wines that have limited production, and wines that need just a little extra time to tell their story to the taster. Guests are invited to make reservations to sit down in the stylish and welcoming front sitting room of the late 1800s Fredericksburg cottage on their property and taste through six wines with a personal wine guide, of which I am one.

While many tasting rooms exist to allow guests the opportunity to try the wines of the establishment, this Reserve Room has a unique aim in mind that sets it apart from others … to make a connection with both the wines and with the person guiding your tasting experience. It’s the opportunity to really dive into the story of each wine, the story of the person pouring it, and the chance to share your story with us.

When I welcome guests into the Reserve Room, I am beyond excited for the unique and enjoyable experience that will come out of the hour we will share. In the few short weeks that the Reserve Room has opened its doors, I’ve had that experience with every single one of them. I take great pride in the time I have to share the stories and educational facts about the wines set out in front of them, about Pedernales Cellars and its family, about the beauty of the Texas wine industry, and about the wine world in general.

Aside from the wine and the wine education that is shared during this time, I must say my favorite part of being behind the tasting bar and spending this time with each guest are the smiles and the laughter that inevitably ensue. I think Victor Borge said it best when he said, “Laughter is the shortest distance between two people.” I have such a great time with the guests that I have the opportunity to meet at each tasting, and I know my colleagues say the same. There isn’t enough I can say to describe the great stories we have shared, the wine experiences we gab about, and the tantalizing wine and food recommendations that always seem to be discussed.

I have taken to keeping a notepad near me behind the bar because I am always writing down recommendations from guests on the restaurants and wine places I need to go to next time I am in Dallas, Austin, Houston, New Orleans, and even North Carolina! I am constantly writing down names of musicians I need to look up because our wine talk has flowed into musical favorites. I am taking a trip to Napa & Sonoma and many guests have graciously shared their must-sees and must-visits, and the list of tangents is ever-growing.

I’m grateful to Pedernales Cellars for creating a space where I get to work with a staff that is rapidly becoming a family to me, where I get to make new friends with each hour I am behind the Reserve Room tasting bar, and where the wine in my glass is always delicious! I once read that the best wines are the ones we drink with friends, and that is exactly what Pedernales Cellars is providing for me and for each guest that walks through their doors.