Picking grapes with Tony Coturri in Texas

Above: The cowboy hat that Melvin Croaker gave me isn’t just for show. I can probably do more damage at computer keyboard than I can with pruning shears in the vineyards but this singing cowboy managed to fill a crate or two with Blanc du Bois in the Texas sun yesterday.

There are many mysteries in this big ol’ world and many of them leave me scratching my head. But one of the ones I find the hardest to fathom is why every single wine professional in central Texas doesn’t head down to Comal County to get a glimpse of natural winemaker Tony Coturri, who arrives promptly each year to harvest grapes and make wine with maverick winemaker Lewis Dickson of La Cruz de Comal winery. (For a recent and truly wonderful interview with Tony, please see this excellent post by my friend and blogging colleague and fellow Californian-Texan Amy Atwood. And for a profile of Lewis and his wines, please see this post I did for the 32 Days of Natural Wine.)

Above: No, that’s not Billy Gibbons, it’s Tony on “the Gator.”

It was a thrill for me and Tracie P to get to “rub shoulders” with Tony in the vineyards and the thought of getting to hang with him even got us out of bed on a Sunday morning at the crack of dawn (can you believe that?). Harvest of Lewis’s Blanc du Bois grapes began yesterday at daybreak in Comal County on the southern side of Canyon Lake (about an hour and half from our place in Austin).

cruz de comal

Above: Tony and Lewis destemming the Blanc du Bois harvest. From the quality and quantity of grapes, it appears that Cruz de Comal will have one of its best vintages of Blanc du Bois, which is used to make the winery’s Pétard Blanc, one of my favorites and white with remarkable aging potential.

In case you don’t already know Tony, he’s a leading Californian grape grower and winemaker and a pioneer of natural winemaking in the Golden State… AND he makes killer wines. I love what he said to Amy in the interview she did:

    The basic principles and procedures of my winemaking haven’t changed over the years. I have remained a believer in natural, and traditional and additive free winemaking. If anything, refining the natural process has been the change. As my understanding of the development of all aspects the vineyards through the use of organic and biodynamic practices deepens I realize that I’m not so much a “winemaker’ but a custodian of grapes. The wine is made in the vineyard. My job is to take care of it. The magic is in the vineyard not the winery.

O mamma, you’re speaking my language!

cruz de comal

Above: A little grape porn for ya’ll.

Tracie P and I are both a little sore from picking those grapes yesterday but we’re no worse for the wear. And what a good night sleep you get after a day of working in the vineyards in the sunshine and fresh air! Man, I can’t wait to taste that wine…

I’d rather trust a man who works with his hands,
He looks at you once, you know he understands,
Don’t need any shield,
When you’re out in the field.

—Peter Gabriel (can anyone name the tune? Thor, I’m counting on you!)

Amphora-aged Primitivo, pozoles and old Rioja, and a Texas wine I liked

Above: This week, Tracie B and I attended our first holiday party of the year at the home of Texas “natural treasure,” author, radio personality, blogger and all-around delightful host, Mary Gordon Spence.

Man, has it been a crazy week — between work, Tignanello triage, the new Amarone DOCG, and the holidays upon us!

Above: Everyone who knows me knows that I rarely eat sweets. But homemade flan? Mary Gordon found my weakness!

Tracie B and I are headed to La Jolla for the weekend, a good thing since snow is expected today in Central Texas!

I’m working on my “interesting wines coming out of Tuscany these days” post and I received a lot of great recommendations from a bunch of Italian wine professionals and bloggers. Thank you, all. I’ll post them next week.

Above: George O brought this bottle of what I’m guessing is a dried-grape red wine from the Texas Hill Country made by Tony Coturri at the La Cruz de Comal winery. It was a great pairing for the flan.

If you haven’t seen it already, please check out this wonderful post authored by Franco (and translated by yours truly) on the amphora wines made by Vittorio Pichierri in Sava (Manduria, Apulia). Amphora wine is all the rage these days. Gravner started making wine in amphora in the late 1990s? Pichierri has been aging his wines in interred amphora since the 1970s and beyond (he uses an ancient format called capasone).

Above: We were joined by the inimitable Bill Head, whose tall Texas tales alone are worth the price of admission (seated next to Tracie B), his lovely SO Patricia, and George O. Jackson (right), photographer and author of a photo collection I am dying to see, Essence of Mexico 1990-2002, images of folklore he captured traveling through rural Mexico.

Dinner at Mary Gordon’s was just the excuse I’d been waiting for to open some older López de Heredia that a client gave me. The 1990 Tondonia white was stunning, as was the 1991 Bosconia. We opened both bottles as we sat in Mary Gordon’s living room and munched on jícama and chips and salsa: I couldn’t help but think about how great these oxidative wines are with food. The 2000 Bosconia Reserva was great with Mary Gordon’s excellent pozoles.

The conversation turned from tales of larger-than-life Charlie Wilson from Bill’s years in Washington to Mary Gordon’s memories of working for President Lyndon B. Johnson, to George O’s adventures in rural Mexico. I spent the whole evening on the edge of my seat. Maybe it’s because I live here now but it always impresses me how Texas often finds itself at the center of the American collective consciousness and American iconography.

Thanks again, Mary Gordon, for such a wonderful evening! And happy holidays to all ya’ll!