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.

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.

Pruning Fundamentals

By Sergio Cuadra | Fall Creek Vineyards Director of Winemaking

1st Quarter

Winemakers are much like pilots, as we both are people who have to be aware of the weather. Staying on top of weather conditions may not be a matter of human life-survival, but it will be an important aid in making the best decisions to benefit the coming grape season.

This time of the year might seem to be of lesser importance in terms of weather condition and, to tell the truth, it’s not precisely the most crucial.  Nevertheless, it is good to keep track of what’s going on in order to get a better picture of what to expect next Spring.

Let’s see, according to the latest weather data, I presume I don’t need to point out that we are experiencing a colder than usual fall/winter time. The second part of November’s average temperatures, which includes those pleasant days that ended on the 21st, was 4.32ºF lower than the month’s average, 58.5ºF.  However, taking data from November 22nd on those last nine days of last month averaged only 44.3ºF.  Last December we experienced colder than usual temperatures as well, though closer to the month’s average, 46.2ºF measured for a 50.4ºF historic average.  All these temperatures are according to the readings at Bergstrom International Airport.

Does this have anything to do with our vineyards?  Yes, vines, like basically all other deciduous fruit trees, need to sort of “register” cold.  In fact, there is a list of species and their winter cold needs (called “cold hours”) that lets you know where they would perform as expected.  Only until enough cold time has been felt are they able to wake up “ready” with the warming temperatures of spring.  This adaptation keeps them from not bud breaking too soon after the next mid-winter heat wave.

Since this process occurs at bud level, we don’t have to worry about pruning; all remaining buds would have the ability to start with the right stimulus.  Now, the good thing about this cold weather we are experiencing is that it promotes good “cold registration” among plants/buds, which usually results in a more even bud break in the vineyard.  This, while not fundamental, is highly desirable by the viticulturist who can assess the right timing for all sorts of canopy interventions, which would be  best throughout the season and eventually we can end up having an even ripeness at harvest time, which is highly desirable for everybody.

So, let’s gear up for the cold and let more come, for it well may mean a good start this year!

Sergio Cuadra
Fall Creek Vineyards Director of Winemaking

2013 Texas vs. The World Recap

By Ashley Johns and Daniel Kelada

Texas wines have really hit their stride in the last several years. The state is the 5th largest wine-producing state in the country.  The Texas Hill Country is the second most traveled wine region in the country and one of the top ten wine destinations in the world according to Wine Enthusiast Magazine. Yet, in spite of all this, Texas wines are still mostly unknown throughout the United States and even within the state, which presented an opportunity to get involved and make a difference in the awareness of the great wines being produced.

Setting up for Texas vs. the World tasting.
   Setting up for Texas vs. the World     

In 2013, the Texas Wine and Food Consortium, along with GUSTO Tastings, sought to continue the growth and expansion of the Texas vs. The World tasting series that debuted for the first time in 2012 by offering more tastings, featuring more wines and producers, and doing it in more cities around the state including Austin, Dallas, Fort Worth, and Houston. In total, 144 wines were featured and 328 guests attended the series throughout the year.

The intent was to show how Texas wines perform against other world-class growing regions producing wines made with similar varietals found in Texas. The tastings started out as a comparative tasting where tasting participants knew exactly what they were sampling and could compare it to the wine next to it. However, starting in October, the format changed into a completely blind tasting where both consumers and professionals in the trade rated wines on a 100-point scale based on wines organized by peer group (i.e. varietal and/or region). Each public tasting also featured a Texas producer that could share their story to an audience of enthused wine lovers eager to see how Texas wines would stack up. The series featured the following producers throughout the year:

  • Inwood Estates Vineyards – Tempranillo
  • Becker Vineyards – Cabernet Sauvignon
  • Messina Hof Winery – Cabernet Sauvignon
  • Bending Branch Winery – Tannat
  • Spicewood Vineyards –  Roussanne
  • Calais Winery – Roussanne
  • Texas Hills Vineyard – Sangiovese
  • Pedernales Cellars – Viognier
  • Lost Oak Winery – Syrah

To view all the wines featured throughout the year, click HERE.

The Aftermath of Texas vs. the World
                          The Aftermath of Texas vs. the World

The Consortium decided to transition to a blind tasting format because the ratings collected would present an opportunity to expose a larger audience to Texas wines in an informative way, even if they didn’t experience the tastings themselves. Daniel Kelada, the Vice President of the Consortium, stated it this way: “We want to go head-to-head with other great wines from around the world in a profound way. I don’t care if we win or lose, I think the value comes in seeing where we stack up, because it shows very clearly where we excel and where we need improvement; all while building awareness.”

Ron Yates of Spicewood Vineyards speaking on Roussanne at Texas vs. the World.

Ron Yates of Spicewood Vineyards speaking on Roussanne at Texas vs. the World.

Roussanne was the first varietal to be put to the test under this blind tasting format. Roussanne is classically not a grape made into a varietal wine, much less even being well-known outside of the Rhone Valley in France where it is typically blended with it’s sister grape, Marsanne, in wines from the Hermitage and Châteauneuf-du-Pape. It’s a difficult grape to grow as it’s vulnerable to mildew, drought, wind, and late or uneven ripening.  In warm climates, it creates wines that are rich and full-bodied with honey and pear flavors. It is more floral and delicate in cooler climates. These distinctions also make it an interesting grape for the tasting.  Here we have an unfamiliar varietal that can taste very different based on its growing region.

The tasting ended up showing a mixed bag of results. Twelve of the seventeen wines featured in the Roussanne tasting were from Texas and their scores ranged from second place to second to last. California wine rankings were also very diverse indicating that winemaking takes a much more important role than the region in creating a great Roussanne.

Top Overall Statewide – Consumer Rated  

  1. Truchard, Carneros, Roussanne, 2011
  2. McPherson Cellars, Texas, Roussanne, 2012
  3. Calais Winery, Texas High Plains, ‘La Cuvee Principale’ Roussanne, 2011
  4. Bending Branch Winery, Paso Robles, ‘Comfortage’ Roussanne 2011
  5. Château de Beaucastel, Chateauneuf du Pape, Blanc, 2010

For complete Roussanne results click HERE.

Texas Wine Fans Enjoying Themselves at Texas vs. the World
               Texas Wine Fans Enjoying Themselves at Texas vs. the World

The second varietal to fall under the blind format was Sangiovese. As a classic grape, Sangiovese is grown all over the world and is most known in Italy, where it is the most widely planted red grape variety. Sangiovese has shown itself to be adaptable to many different types of vineyard soils, but seems to thrive in soils with a high concentration of limestone. The grape requires a long growing season as it buds early and is slow to ripen.

Gary Gilstrap of Texas Hills Vineyard Talking Sangiovese.

Gary Gilstrap of Texas Hills Vineyard Talking Sangiovese.

The consumer tasting featured twenty wines, thirteen of which were from Texas. The results of this tasting were much different than that of the Roussanne tastings. When such renowned wines as the Antinori Tignanello and the Ciacci Piccolomini d’Aragona (a Wine Spectator Top 100 wine in 2013) are included in the lineup, you hope for the best, but really just want to come close to being on the same level as those great wines. It turned out that four Texas wines would beat out the Tiginanello and eleven would reign supreme over the Ciacci.

Top Overall Statewide – Consumer Rated 

  1. McPherson Cellars, Texas, Sagmor Vineyards, Reserve, Sangiovese, 2009
  2. Flat Creek Estate, Texas, Super Texan, 2011
  3. Solaro Estate, Texas High Plains, Reserve, Sangiovese, 2011
  4. Natale Verga, Chianti Classico, 2011
  5. Brushy Creek Vineyards, Texas, Sangiovese, 2012

 Top Texas – Trade Rated

  1. Wedding Oak Winery, Texas High Plains, Sangiovese, 2010
  2. Flat Creek Estate, Texas, Super Texan, 2011
  3. Llano Estecado, Texas, ‘Viviano’, Superiore Rosso, 2008
  4. Duchman Family Winery, Texas, Sangiovese, 2010
  5. Landon, Texas, ‘The Texan,’ 2011

 For complete Sangiovese results, click HERE.

David Kuhlken of Pedernales Cellars Speaking on Viognier.

David Kuhlken of Pedernales Cellars Speaking on Viognier.

Next in line was Viognier; a grape found in the Rhone Valley and made famous in the region of Condrieu. It also is a grape that comes with its fair share of issues, including a propensity to powdery mildew, low and unpredictable yields and the ability to dramatically change the character of a wine if the harvest is too early or too late. When it is harvested too early, wines fall short of reaching the full extent of their aromas and tastes. When picked too late, the wines seem oily, missing fruit character and being dominated with alcohol and floral notes.

Jeff Ivy of Hye Meadow Winery Talking About Viognier and the Texas Climate.
Jeff Ivy of Hye Meadow Winery Talking on Viognier in the Texas Climate.

Again we saw a dominant performance of Texas Viognier against some stellar counterparts including E.Guigal and Zaca Mesa. The results really speak for themselves.

Top Overall Statewide – Consumer Rated 

  1. Lost Oak Winery, Texas High Plains, Bingham Family Vineyards, Viognier, 2012
  2. McPherson Cellars, Texas, Viongier, 2012
  3. Bonterra, Mendocino County, Viongier, 2011
  4. Lewis Wines, Texas High Plains, Viognier, 2012
  5. Lost Oak Winery, Texas, Viognier, 2012

Top Texas – Trade Rated

  1. Pedernales Cellars, Texas, Viognier, Reserve, 2012
  2. Lewis Wines, Texas High Plains, Viognier, 2012
  3. Hye Meadow Winery, Texas High Plains, Bingham Family Vineyards, Viognier, 2012
  4. Lost Oak Winery, Texas, Viognier, 2012
  5. Spicewood Vineyards, Texas High Plains, Viongier, 2012

For complete Viognier results, click HERE.

The Texas vs. The World series ended 2013 with Syrah. The results of which will be published in next month’s Journal.

What’s In Store For 2014

The blind format that debuted in 2013 showed a lot of truths about Texas wines not realized before from the previous format; like how consistently Texas wines can compete with other great wines of the world. The goal for 2014 is to bring this truth to light in a bigger way by tasting and rating more wines that can be published for the world to see.

The consumer Texas vs. The World tasting will be limited to just one grand tasting in December that will highlight the top wines rated throughout the year by the Texas Wine Journal’s panel of judges.