In late 2010 I was at a wine tasting at Stephan Pyles Restaurant in Dallas when DMN scribe Kim Pierce caught my attention. “Oy,” she said. “Try the Texas Vermentino.” The Italian white grape Vermentino is being made in Texas? I had not heard of such a thing. I turned to ask her more about it but before I could say anything she was gone, popping back down below a paywall, probably to publish a story that I’d tipped her off to. (I hope she remembers to give credit.) Fortunately, the 2009 Vermentino she was talking about was just a few tables away. It’s the product of Duchman Family Winery in Driftwood, Texas (the winery name is pronounced “Dukeman”). I tried it, and found a very well made example of the grape that would stand up well against examples from its ancestral home of Italy. The nose has hints of pear and the taste has lemon, pear, and a light herbaceousness. It is a high-acid wine in the style of Sauvignon Blanc, but lacking the herbaceousness commonly found in that grape. It is best enjoyed with seafood or chicken dishes. Alternatively, try it with vichysoisse, gazpacho, or green vegetable soups.
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I made a mental note to check out this winery and finally got the chance to visit them last month. Duchman is situated 30 minutes southwest of Austin, just south of Driftwood. From Dallas the drive takes three and a half hours. The winery building has a large modern pseudo-Italian style set up for tasting room visitors and events such as weddings. Winemaking takes place at the back where there is more room to expand capacity than in most Texas wineries. There is also a well equipped laboratory for wine analysis.
At the front of the building is the small estate vineyard of 16 acres planted with Montepulciano, Muscat Blanc, Barbera, Sangiovese, Nero d’Avola, Vermentino, and Aglianico. Most of their grapes are purchased, but all come from Texas. The Vermentino that had been so impressive last fall came from grapes grown at Bingham Family Vineyards at Meadow in the Texas High Plains AVA (American Viticultural Area). Its successor, the 2010, was grown in the same place. It is as good as the 2009 and has a similar character. Winemaker Dave Reilly took me through a tasting in the cellar and talked about future plans. One thing I found out was that Duchman is a lot more than just Vermentino.
We started with 2010 Viognier, Texas High Plains AVA. This fruit came from Bingham Family Vineyards. It had clearly defined varietal character, a perfumed nose (as you would expect from this grape) and aromas of peaches and ripe apples in the mouth. This wine was ready to bottle so it will likely appear on shelves (check here) anytime now. I asked Reilly if he had ever considered making a Viognier in the style of a California Chardonnay (i.e. barrel fermentation, aging in new French oak, etc.), remarking that just such a wine from respected California winemaker Richard Arrowood had been a stand out at a Viognier tasting I once attended. Reilly beckoned me over to a single oak barrel standing deep in the back of the aging area. He extracted some of the white liquid and filled my glass. The color was more gold than the previous wine, indicative of the effects of oak aging. The mouthfeel was of a wine with more body. The floral notes in the bouquet had retreated and were replaced by lemon and pear aromas and a bouquet of faint vanilla and wood. This intriguing creation is his first cut at an Estate Vermentino Reserve. The ‘estate’ denomination reflecting that the fruit came from the winery’s own vineyard out at the front of the tasting room. The oak is from six months of aging in wood that is French, but fairly neutral (it has seen 5 vintages already so most of the flavor components have already leeched out), so it is not the ‘New World Chardonnay’ style through and through. However, it reaffirms the diverse prospects for Vermentino as a grape in the Lone Star State. I was to find on this trip that Reilly is generally conservative with the amount of oak in his winemaking. I’d like him to go oak-postal on a small batch of Viognier next year as a demonstration of what can be done. I also suspect it would be a runaway commercial success as those people who currently subscribe to the mantra of restrained oak in winemaking discover the wonderful things that it can do -J.
There is no release date for the oaked Vermentino yet, but probably before the end of the year.
The 2010 Pinot Grigio, Texas High Plains AVA comes from grapes grown at Vijay Reddy’s vineyards near Brownfield. It is a solid example of the grape, in the style of Oregon Pinot Grigio. I expect it to prove popular given its bargain price tag (less than $10).
Next up was 2010 Muscat, Texas High Plains AVA. Surprisingly for this grape in general, and for Texas Muscat in particular, this wine is dry (i.e. not sweet). In fact, the first thing that came to mind was a Moscato d’Asti in the style of Procecco. That is, use this as the base wine to make a dry sparkling wine. The state needs a good sparkling wine, and this Muscat has the fruit quality and balance to make one. You would never guess this it was 15.3% alcohol. The grapes came from Jet Wilmeth’s vineyards in Tokio, Texas.
On to the reds…
First up was an experiment: 2010 GSM, Texas. GSM is an acronym popularized by Australians who frequently blended Grenache, Syrah and Mourvèdre. The Grenache comes from the Martin Vineyard in the Texas High Plains but the Syrah and Mourvèdre come from the Salt Lick Vineyard, just down the road. Yes, that is the Salt Lick of barbecue fame and you can eat your brisket outside by the pit and overlook the vineyard. Remember it’s cash only and BYOB. This would be the ideal wine. It is 60%-65% Grenache and equal parts the other two grapes (but given its experimental status the blend is subject to change in future years). This wine will not be released until next year and is aging in old oak in the interim. Therefore, expect a very resolved and fairly fully aged wine that is a far cry from the fruit bombs of The Antipodes when it finally hits the shelves. Since the oak is old, there will be little oak taste in the wine, just the effect of slow cask-aging.
The 2010 Aglianico, Texas draws fruit from Reddy Vineyards and Oswald vineyards, co-fermented. It is currently in barrel but due for release in the fall. This is a tannic wine with good acidity, suggesting ageability. The fruit is complex containing blueberries, cherries and varietal character. If you drink it on release, choose a fatty steak such as rib eye or strip to ameliorate the tannins. As I have said before, I regard Aglianico as one of the grapes with greatest promise in Texas.
A 2010 Zinfandel, Texas from Jet Wilmeth’s vineyards was an ambitious shot for Texas. The grape has a poor record here and most winemakers who have tried it have abandoned it. This one will probably be released in 2012.
A 2010 Tempranillo, Texas from Bear Family vineyards and vines that are less than two years old. The wine was aged in a mixture of French and American oak barrels from October. Given the youth of the vines, this wine was very good. It had bright red fruit and a layer of complexity due to the oak aging. I hope Duchman can make more Tempranillo from these vines as they get older. It will be interesting to taste the cohort effect of maturing vines.
Dave Reilly, both as winemaker and as former trainee under Mark Penna, has done a lot of experimentation with different grape varieties. He has finally started to settle on what he sees as the winners. In the future, Duchman will focus on four reds (Aglianico, Dolcetto, Montepulciano and Sangiovese) and four whites (Pinot Grigio, Trebbiano, Vermentino and Viognier). A sweet red will likely be offered and a “Vintner’s Collection” line of premium wines like the GSM and Zinfandel will be offered on a more ad hoc basis.
Although they have received most of their recent publicity from their Vermentino, Duchman’s Montepulciano deserves equal credit. Interestingly, both are now being offered ‘by the keg’ at Whole Foods Wine Counter and The Commissary. I was somewhat suspicious of this method of packaging, reminded of what it kegs had done to real ale. However, the meaning of ‘keg’ is different here. It is really just a change in the delivery mechanism. The wine is stored in kegs of just under five gallons. The winemaker fills these to the brim upon leaving the winery in order to avoid oxidation. At the bar where the wine is served, the wine is pumped out by nitrogen which backfills the space above the top of the liquid, preventing oxidation of partly empty kegs. Nitrogen is totally inert (80% of what you hear from Dallas Morning News staffers is nitrogen) so the system preserves the freshness of the wine, at least it is supposed to. I will report on a Bottle vs. Keg Taste Off in the near future (possibly involving SideDish readers).
Duchman’s prices will come as a pleasant surprise. Whites are under $10 and reds under $15. Specials (such as the GSM, above, on release) will be more. The owners, Drs. Lisa and Stan Duchman, and winemaker Reilly, are on the same page regarding objectives; The best possible wines from 100% Texas grapes. Based on what I have tasted they are clearly one of the aspirational wineries in the state and worth watching in the future.