Natural wine grows (up) in Texas (and Franciacorta in Portland, Oregon Sept. 12)

SAVE THE DATE: Franciacorta Real Story tasting in Portland, Oregon at Nostrana, Monday, September 12. Click here for more details.

lewis dickson wine cruz texasAbove: I’ve followed Lewis Dickson’s wines for many years now. They’ve always been wholesome, food-friendly, and tasty. But they have really come into focus in recent vintages (photo taken in Austin, Texas in 2014).

It must have been four years ago when one of my best friends from Italy, a winemaker, came to visit us in Austin where we were still living on the corner of Alegria and Gro[o]ver in Brentwood.

It was his first visit to Texas and he had expressed an interest in tasting Texan wine. And so I brought home a bottle of Lewis Dickson’s Cruz de Comal 2011 Pétard Blanc, made from Blanc du Bois grapes grown in the Texas Hill Country.

We opened another wine that night: a macerated and oxidative white from one of Italy’s most celebrated natural winemakers. It was from one of said winemaker’s most widely praised and coveted vintages.

Ever the stickler for “technically correct” wines free from defect or blemish, our friend from Italy turned up his nose at the macerated white from Italy and its volatile acidity and gladly drank the Blanc du Bois instead.

“Texas wine is great!” he declared gleefully.

black spanishAbove: Dickson’s Troubadour is made from 100 percent Black Spanish grapes. No one really knows the variety’s origins. Some believe it was developed in the New World, others contend that it came from France. Most agree that it was widely planted in Texas before the founding of the Republic of Texas in 1836. Its legacy here gives it gravitas as a “Texan” variety. Look it up under “Jacquez” in Wine Grapes (Vouillamoz et alia, Ecco).

I was reminded of that evening when I met Lewis Dickson (above) last night in Houston to taste the latest vintages of his Pétard Blanc made from 100 percent Blanc du Bois grapes and his Troubadour from 100 percent Black Spanish grapes.

His wines have always been very good (albeit expensive) in my experience. But with his most recent releases, as his growing practices and his winemaking talents have evolved, he’s really begun to wade into the pool of greatness with his wines.

The Pétard Blanc was the most focused and elegant expressions of the Blanc du Bois that he grows on his estate in the Texas Hill Country. Its delicate floral and white fruit nose gave way to a wonderful balance of citrus and stone fruit.

But it was his 2014 Troubadour, from Black Spanish, that really blew me away with its chewy red and red berry fruit and the nuanced depth of its tannic character. This is a big wine at 14.8 percent (in alcohol content) but I was thrilled by how lithely it danced in the mouth. A truly original, lip-smakcing and delicious wine with serious aging potential.

Tracie P and I have always rooted for Lewis and his wines, which he makes with the help of California legacy winemaker Tony Coturri, one of the pioneers of organic grape growing and natural winemaking in the U.S.

As Lewis puts it, he doesn’t add anything to his wines beyond the grapes that he grows without the use of pesticides or herbicides. And he doesn’t sulfur them at all — not even at bottling.

But as I watched and listened to him interact with the staff at the wine bar where we tasted last night, he never presented the wines as “natural” or “zero sulfur.” His growing and winemaking practices came up, yes, by the way, as he fielded questions about the wine. But “natural” or “zero sulfur” were never badges that he wore on his sleeve.

No, he let the wine speak before the labels. And those wines revealed that great wine is made in Texas.

Click here for a profile of Lewis that I wrote for the Houston Press back in 2012. The arc of his narrative may surprise some readers.

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