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‘Tall in Texas’ Award Goes to Proprietors of Becker Vineyards


GRAPEVINE, Texas — The 28th annual Grape Fest kicked off with the Texas Wine Tribute, a black-tie gala and one of the most prestigious annual Texas wine industry events.  The Texas wine tribute presented the much anticipated “Tall in Texas” award to Dr. Richard and Bunny Becker of Becker Vineyards on Sept. 6.

The “Tall in Texas” award is bestowed to a Texas winery in recognition of the winery’s leadership role in the dedication to, support of and promotion of the Texas wine industry.

Becker Vineyards is one of the largest wineries in Texas, as well as one of the largest contractors of Texas grapes and fruits.  As tireless supporters of the Texas wine industry, Becker Vineyards is one of the leading advocates for Texas wines being produced from Texas-grown grapes.

“Bunny and I are very honored at the recognition,” said Richard Becker upon receiving the award.

Bunny and Dr. Richard Becker, proprietors, Becker Vineyards

Bunny and Dr. Richard Becker, proprietors, Becker Vineyards. (Photo courtesy of Becker Vineyards)

“It was very exciting.  There were other people in the Texas wine industry in attendance like Gene Estes of Lone Oak Winery and Jim Evans, president of the Texas Wine & Grape Growers Association.  It was a lot of fun!” Becker said.

Wines served for the Texas Wine Tribute Dinner included Becker Vineyards Viognier 2012, Reserve Grenache 2012, Reserve Cabernet Franc 2012, Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon Canada Family 2012, and The Clementine (late harvested Viognier) 2012.

For 20 years, the Beckers’ approach to winemaking has been to produce premium wines and to share their winemaking knowledge with others within the industry.  Known for taking a classically French approach to winemaking, Becker Vineyards ensures that during the winemaking process, all the necessary steps are taken to produce the highest-level premium product possible.  Becker Vineyards is credited with the being one of the earliest proponents of premium Texas wines.

From the winery’s earliest beginnings, Becker Vineyards has been a strong supporter of the Texas Wine & Grape Grower Association, joining the organization just after the Beckers began producing wine.  Dr. Becker served as the organization’s president in 1998 and has held consistent membership for 20 years.  Dr. Becker has also been a leader in the research of Pierce’s disease, working in conjunction with and financially supporting the Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service for 19 years.

Becker Vineyards 2013 Provencal cropped

Becker Provencal, a French-style dry rose’ that won double-gold medal for Becker Vineyards in 2014.

As a leader in the mentorship of other winemakers throughout the state of Texas, Becker Vineyards has hosted a variety of events and training sessions focused on their production methods, helping to educate other winemakers and to raise the awareness of premium wines.  In February 2014, Becker Vineyards hosted the Texas A&M AgriLife Grower Field Day and Benefit Dinner.

The event provided education for existing, new and future Texas grape growers and Texas wineries, Becker Vineyards has also been a continuous supporter of education through many collegiate programs, including those at Texas A&M University and Texas Tech University, as well as the Texas Center for Wine & Culinary Arts.

“Dr. Becker is one of the founders of the Buffalo Gap Wine & Food Summit and in 2011, Dr. Becker suggested that the Viticulture and Enology Program at Texas Tech be the beneficiary of their annual event,” said Dr. Ed Hellman, professor of Viticulture, Texas Tech University.

Becker-Vineyards-logo“Since that year, the non-profit has supported the Buffalo Gap Wine & Food Summit Graduate Fellowship with $2,500 each year, which is dedicated to supporting a graduate student studying viticulture and enology in the Department of Plant and Soil Science at Texas Tech.  The fellowship achieves two important goals:  one, training tomorrow’s leaders of the grape and wine industry, and two, supporting research to enhance grape production in Texas,” said Hellman.

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Becker Vineyards: Harvest Time, New Winemaker


Nairn harvester thrashes its way through the Sauvignon Blanc grapevines at this year’s harvest at Becker Vineyards. (Photo Courtesy Becker Vineyards)

By Nichole Bendele

Becker Vineyards’ general manager says this should be a year of good harvest.

“This year the yields are up.  The vines are loaded with grapes,” said Bret Perreoud, general manager, about this season’s grape harvest. “We are predicted to harvest about 1,000 tons of grapes … similar to 2010.”

Last year Texas encountered a drought year.  Grape tonnage was down across the state not because of lack of watering, but instead from factors like triple-digit numbers for 86 days, birds, raccoons and dust storms.

“Because of drought conditions, there wasn’t enough vegetation to hold the dirt down in the Texas High Plains. Some of the grape growers experienced fierce dust storms which basically sand blasted the grapes off the vines, said Perrenoud.

“Monday morning (July 9) we harvested 3 ½ tons of Sauvignon Blanc from the vineyard in front of the winery,” said Perrenoud.  “But we will officially begin full harvest either July 15 or 16.”

The popular tasting room/gift shop in full swing, at Becker Vineyards

Meanwhile, a new winemaker has joined Becker, while the former consulting winemaker, Russ Smith, has headed for exciting new challenges in Spain.

Smith worked the past 13 years at Becker Vineyards. He recently purchased a vineyard in Spain. The six-acre property is in the Montsant District, about a half-mile from the Priorat region and has 40- and 60-year old Carignan vines.  He will be growing grapes and making wine under his name. He and his wife, Susan, plan to divide their time between Spain and Texas.

Jonathan Leahy joined the Becker Vineyards team last month as winemaker.  Leahy hails from California where he was winemaker at Terroir Napa Valley in St. Helena – a 95,000-case production winery – as well as a consulting winemaker at Inspiration Vineyards in Santa Rosa, CA.

Although Leahy is a native Californian, his family is from Texas.  He has relatives in  Grapevine, Flower Mound, and San Antonio.  His father was in the Air Force, stationed in San Antonio and then transferred to March Air Force Base in Riverside, Calif. where Jonathan was born.

He is excited to be closer to family and to make wine in Texas.  He has been impressed with both the quality of the grapes and as well as the wines in Texas.

The Leahy and Becker team will also be working with the two other vineyards, one in Ballinger and one in Mason, that seem promising this year. The Ballinger vineyard was purchased in 1997; Jesse Pena is the vineyard manager there. “This vineyard has some of the oldest Cabernet Sauvignon vines in the state – 30 years old,” said Perrenoud.

“There is extraordinary fruit across the state of Texas,” says Leahy. I tried some great (Texas) wines and then visited the grape growers. They take great care in growing the grapes and are fastidious about their grape culture. It solidified the wine I had tasted in the glass,” he said.  “Texas is poised — a grand boom is about to take place.”

The Mason vineyard was purchased from Beverly Cartwright in February 2011.  Perrenoud mentioned the 12-acre vineyard produces some of the limited production wines only available in the Becker Vineyards tasting room, including the Pinot Grigio, Barbera, Zinfandel, and Albarino.  Clay McCrea, Vineyard Manager (of the Mason vineyard), said, “The Pinot Grigio grapes are ripening up.  We will be about two weeks early for harvest also.”

Becker Vineyards is open 7 days a week, Monday thru Thursday 10 a.m. – 5 p.m.; Friday and Saturday, 10 a.m. – 6 p.m., and Sunday, Noon – 6 p.m.  For more information visit www.beckervineyards.com or info@beckerwines.com.

Nichole Bendele is Becker public relations director and tasting room coordinator.

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Griffin to Go: A Taste of Texas Wine Offers Something Beyond the Same Old Chardonnay


Kim Murray McDonald of flutiemcd.com and Sarah Vernetti of WanderingOff.com enjoy the wines at the Taste of Texas Wine.

Veronique Barretto of VinouslySpeaking.com

Steinheimer’s Lounge at the Westin La Cantera features a treasure map on the ceiling that supposedly points to hidden gold. But on Friday night, the gold was found in glasses, as the bar was the setting of a Taste of Texas Wine Tweet-Up.

Wine from Haak, Becker, Alamosa and Inwood Estates.

Resort sommelier Steven Krueger and Vintage Texas wine blogger Russ Kane led a tasting of four uniquely different Texas wines, each made from grapes that extend far beyond the California classics, Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon.

“Texas is its own growing region, unique,” Krueger told the audience of local bloggers and tweeters. “You walk into a Texas winery and you don’t know what they’re going to serve you … and that’s a challenge.”

Grapes with names like Aglianico, Touriga Nacional and Vermentino aren’t household favorites, Kane admitted. Yet these seem to be among the grapes that are proving to be perfect for the state’s climate and great for those “locapours” out there who want to drink locally, he said.

“Our wine experience is not going to be what a California wine experience will be,” Kane said.

Westin sommelier Steven Krueger leads the discussion.

California has cast a giant shadow that the rest of the wine growing regions in the nation all have to operate under, Krueger said.

But Texas winemakers are making strides with lesser-known varietals that are offer great flavors in the glass.

To prove that, Krueger started the tasting with the 2009 Haak Vineyards Blanc du Bois, which was steely and bracing with a citrus edge. “Lemon meringue pie,” pronounced Veronique Barretto, who writes the Vinously Speaking blog.

Blanc du Bois is a grape that was introduced in 1987. It was developed in Florida to withstand harsh growing conditions while being resistant to Pierce’s disease, a bacterial infection that has wiped out countless acres of vineyards in the U.S. and beyond. With a grape so new, “there’s not a history or tradition of making it,” Krueger said.

So, people like Raymond Haak of Haak Vineyards are writing that history with their attempts. Though the version poured at Steinheimer’s was dry, Haak also produces a sweet Blanc du Bois.

The main point of the event was to spread the word about Texas wine, which the various writers did with their tweets. The gathering included Heather Hernandez of GeeketteBits.com; Lauren Madrid, @ohmypuddin; Kim Murray McDonald of flutiemcd.com; Emily Stringer, @definedelicious; Stacy Teet, @steet; and Sarah Vernetti of WanderingOff.com.

While the bloggers tweeted away, our attention turned to the 2010 Becker Vineyards Viognier, all viscous and full of peach or apricot flavors. This is another grape that grows well in Texas, so well, in fact, that “it has kind of become our Chardonnay,” Kane said.

Richard and Bunny Becker have been pioneers of the grape in the state, Krueger said, adding that Bunny deserves credit for pushing for the grape’s growing acceptance among wine drinkers and growers alike.

Heather Hernandez of GeeketteBits.com (from left), John Madrid, Lauren Madrid of ohmypuddin and Stacy Teet of @steet

Third was the Alamosa Wine Cellars Palette, a Rhone-style blend that winemaker Jim Johnson likes to call “Chateauneuf-du-Bend,” a reference to the grapes’ Texas home town. This blend features Syrah, Cinsault, Grenache and Mourvèdre, with a touch of the aromatic Viognier added for good measure.

Kruger said the wine showed Johnson’s “Old World soul” in its rustic yet elegant nature, with a slight touch of barnyard on the nose.

The tasting concluded with the 2007 Inwood Estates Tempranillo, another grape that is gaining great reviews for its robust flavors and adaptability to Texas soil. Tasting this made me want a large glass alongside venison with a blueberry or huckleberry sauce.

Russ Kane of VintageTexas.com tweets.

Barretto pointed out an almost Port-like quality to the wine, though it was dry. That could be because the Tempranillo grape is related to Touriga Nacional, the major grape used in Port, Kane answered.

When the wine opened, huge aromas of toffee, caramel, cajeta and other sweet and creamy combinations seemed to explode from the glass, all the while maintaining its fruit flavor.

But don’t take my word for it. Or Krueger’s, Kane’s or any of the bloggers on the scene. Only you can tell you what kind of wine you’ll like. And you can sample four Texas wines for $10 every evening from 5 to 6 p.m. at Steinheimers in the Westin la Cantera, 16641 La Cantera Parkway. Krueger changes the selection regularly, so there’s always something new to taste.

 

 

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Bring a Healthy Appetite: Chefs & Cellars Set for Sept. 18


Jesse Perez

Culinaria presents several of the city’s best chefs at the exclusive event, Chefs & Cellars, which is set for Sept. 18.

Five chefs will be featured this year — John Brand, Jason Dady, Johnny Hernandez, Jesse Perez and Andrew Weissman. Each will be cooking a multi-course meal for 12 guests. Each course will be paired with fine wines donated from local residents’ private cellars.

The meal will be presented at the Culinary Institute of America. Tickets cost $300 a person. So, get your tickets before they’re gone. this event always sells out, and for good reason. Call 210-822-9555.

The food, wine and spirits festival has scheduled its Hole in One Golf Classic for noon Oct. 18 at the Quarry Golf Club. The event begins with registration and lunch, followed by a shotgun start at 1:30 p.m. Fine wine and food will be featured at a reception afterwards.

The cost is $125 a person. Corporate foursomes cost $1,000 and come with team recognition and other perks.

The ever-popular Totally Tejas returns to Rio Cibolo Ranch from 1 to 5 p.m. Oct. 30.

A salsa cook-off and salsa dancing has been added to the festival this year, and salsa dancing will also be featured. Texas vendors, plenty of food and wine will also be on hand as well as ranch activities, live music and more. The cost is $35 for adults, $10 for those ages 6-21, and free for thsoe ages 5 and under.

And here’s a last reminder that Culinaria is presenting Rambling Rosé this Saturday at Becker Vineyards. Seminars are 2 and 4 p.m. Dr. Richard Becker, Westin La Cantera sommelier Steven Krueger and SavorSA’s Bonnie Walker and John Griffin will be among those on the panel this year.

For more information on Culinaria events, click here.

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Wine Dinners for All Tastes Are Happening Thursday


Culinaria, the city’s food and wine festival, gets under way this week with a series of events designed for every taste. On Thursday, four wine dinners and a tequila dinner have been scheduled for a number of restaurants around the city.

The wine dinners will be at Las Canarias, the Lodge Restaurant of Castle Hills, Max’s Wine Dive and Francesca’s at Sunset, wihle chef Johnny Hernandez is hosting an Ambhar Tequila dinner.

David Launay, director of Chateau Gruaud Larose; Jean-Christopher Calvet, president of Aquitaine Wine Co.; and Dr. Richard and Bunny Becker of Becker Vineyards will host the six-course dinner at Francesca’s at Sunset in the Westin La Cantera, 16641 La Cantera Parkway. Highlights include wild salmon and prosciutto with Chateau St. Andre Corbin 2007; South Texas Antelope with Larouse de Gruaud 2007 and Becker Vineyards Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon 2009; and Texas Akaushi Beef with Foie Gras and Chateau Gruaud Larose 2006. Dinner is at 7 p.m. Cost: $110 a person plus tax and tip. Call 210-558-2253 for reservations.

Las Canarias at La Mansion del Rio, 112 College St., will feature the wines of Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars in a four-course meal plus cocktail reception. Highlights include Georges Bank Skate Wing with Karia Napa Valley Chardonnay 2008; Lavender Honey Lacquered Breast of Sonoma Duck with the Napa Merlot 2006; and Strube Ranch Wagyu with Artemis Cabernet Sauvignon 2007 and Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon Stags Leap District 2007. Dinner begins at 7 p.m. Cost: $85 a person plus tax and tip.Call 210-518-1017 for reservations.

The Lodge Restaurant of Castle Hills, 1746 Lockhill Selma, will present wines from Erath of Oregon and Texas’ McPherson Cellars. highlights include Heirloom Tomato Gazpacho with Goat Cheese, Brioche and Basil with Erath Pinot Gris; Seared Diver Sea Scallop with Spring Farmers Market Palate and McPherson Viognier; Duo of Duck with Yukon Potato-Foie Gras Agnolotti plus Erath Pinot Noir and Erath Pinot Noir Estate Grown; and Porcini-crusted Sous Vide of Rack of Lamb with both McPherson Sangiovese and McPherson Tre Colore. A pre-dinner reception begins at 6:30 p.m. Cost: $85 a person, plus tax and 20-percent tip. Call 210-349-8466.

For information on the dinner at Max’s Wine Dive, call 210-444-9547. For information on Hernandez’s tequila dinner, call 210-822-9555.

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WalkerSpeak: Culinary Uses for Lavender Bring Sweet Rewards


Lavender is sold for hobby, as well as culinary uses.

The first time I tasted lavender used as a culinary ingredient was at a wine luncheon at Becker Vineyards.  The meal included a touch of this fragrant herb in nearly every dish served, from the salad dressing to dessert.

When I returned home, I pulled down a book to read more about using lavender in cooking. My natural choice was “Southern Herb Growing” (Shearer Publishing, $29.95), by Madalene Hill and her daughter, Gwen Barklay, and Jean Hardy. This beautifully photographed compendium of herbal lore is a treasure for cooks as well as gardeners.

In the book, published in 1987, there was a only a brief discussion on using lavender in cooking. They did offer the instruction to use only the young growth tips of the plant for cooking.

Some 23 years after this book was published, attitudes toward lavender have changed. Many cooks, especially those who grow herbs, use the fragrant plant as an ingredient in many thing, from salad dressing and vegetables to roast chicken and ice cream.

I took a tour of several farms in an area area south of San Antonio recently with a group from the food organization, Les Dames d’Escoffier. The topic of herbs came up and someone asked Nichole Bendele, who works at Becker Vineyards, whether one could use “any” lavender found for sale, including that from a hobby store, for cooking. Becker Vineyards has its annual Lavender Festival this weekend.

“Not a good idea” was her response. The handling of the herb for culinary purposes is more strictly regulated than lavender that will be used for potpourri, dried bouquets or sachets.

Here are a few more tips on using lavender in cooking, from Bendele:

  • Purchase culinary lavender.  It’ll be pesticide-free, and it will not have stems and leaves attached.  It will be just the florets.
  • When cooking with lavender, use sparingly —a little goes a long way.
  • Lighter blossoms have a lighter flavor, darker (as in more gray) blossoms more flavor.
  • Lavender is also related to rosemary and sage.
  • Lavender sprigs can be used as skewers for shrimp and veggies on the grill.
  • Want to add a little flavor to simple rolls?  Sprinkle a few lavender florets in the dough before baking.
  • And, for a medicinal use:  Lavender oil is good to use as an antiseptic (small cuts, light abrasions).

For a recipe, try Lavender Vanilla Ice Cream

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Becker, His Wines Win Awards


Becker Vineyards of Stonewall and its founder, Richard Becker, have received several awards recently.

The winery’s 2008 Fleur Sauvage, a Chenin Blanc, received a gold medal and was named class champion at the Houston Livestock Show & Rodeo Wine Competition. The 2008 Viognier and Fumé Blanc were silver medal winners while the 2007 Claret, Prairie Rotie and Raven Malbec and the 2008 Chardonnay Reserve, Provençal rosé and Syrah won bronzes.

Becker was given the Louis F. Qualia Award at the annual Texas Wine & Grape Grower Association conference. The award was named in honor of the founder of Val Verde Winery in Del Rio and recognizes a pioneering spirit in a Texas winemaker or a grape grower.

“It has always been a team effort at our winery from top to bottom,” Becker said. “I feel I accept this award for all of us at Becker Vineyards.”

It’s been a good year for Becker Vineyards. The winery also earned the Best of Show Red for its 2007 Becker Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve Wilmeth Vineyard in the KLRN Wine Competition.

Becker Vineyards is at 464 Becker Farms Road, Stonewall. For more information on Becker Vineyards, visit www.beckervineyards.com or call (830) 644-2681.

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Griffin to Go: Making Do With Raisins


NWWFF-RedsDuring a discussion of red wines at the New World Wine & Food Festival, Twomey winemaker Ben Cane spoke of “the protocol of determining the ripeness of grapes.”

It can cover the taste of the grape, its reflection of its surroundings, the tannin level it displays, or the brix or sweetness level.

“One thing we never want is raisins,” he said.

Yet raisins is what Cane and the rest of the panel had to deal with Saturday morning when it came to glassware.

The right wine glass can make all the difference in the world, as has been demonstrated in countless presentations featuring Riedel stemware. A superior glass can enhance a wine.

The same is true in reverse. Pour a fine wine into an inferior glass, or one that has been improperly cleaned, and all kinds of flaws could emerge.

The first wine of the morning was the first and perhaps the most egregious example of this: the Twomey Sauvignon Blanc 2008. It’s a flinty little gem with plenty of bright citrus fruit when served cold and in a glass that allows its aromatics to be released naturally.

In a stumpy glass with a tiny opening and served at room temperature, this crisp, lively wine turned into something sour with a mouth-puckering SweeTart finish and far too much alcohol on the nose. Not something I’d want to spend $28 on.

Yet I would recommend this wine because of a prior tasting. It’s complex, with plenty of aromatics ranging from jasmine to a touch of vanilla, and a flavor profile that mingles mineral with fruit beautifully. But I’d also recommend you treat it in the way you’d treat something from its sister winery, Silver Oak.

The glass distinction could happen anywhere, even with excellent stems. Some glasses pick up the aroma of the box in which they are stored. Others retain some soap suds from a dishwasher. Some glasses are just not right for wine. I’ve had a finely aged Chateau Pétrus  in a bad glass that masked any greatness the wine may have had. It’s not always easy to determine what went wrong.

An uncomplicated, pleasant wine like the Vallformosa Sauvignon Blanc, perfect for quaffing on a hot day, showed well in its glass.

But the red seminar featured seven wines fighting valiantly to rise above the glasses in which they were showcased.

Dr. Richard Becker of Becker Vineyards was dismayed at the nose of his Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve 2007 from the Canada Vineyard in Plains, located near the New Mexico border. Rightly so, as an odd green bark scent tended to dominate the aromatics. Yet the flavor was much richer than the nose led you to think. In the right glass, who knows what the full expression of this wine would be. (It showed much better later that day at the Grand Tasting at the Grotto.)

I also wonder if the Chalk Hill Sonoma County Cabernet Sauvignon 2005 would so heavily suggest freshly brewed coffee in another glass. At 11 a.m., that aroma was most welcoming, however.

In terms of flavor, a pair of wines from 2004, the Brown Estate Cabernet Sauvignon and Silver Oak Alexander Valley, managed to rise above the glassware limitations.

Becker went so far as to declare the elegant Silver Oak a reminder of what made California Cabernet Sauvignon of the 1970s so memorable. What happened between then and now that caused the wines to change, he asked Cane.

“Mr. Laube and Mr. Parker,” Cane replied, referring to two influential critics, James Laube of Wine Spectator and Robert Parker, both of whom have praised heavily extracted wines with increasingly higher alcohol content.

The resulting “trophy wines,” as Cane called them, are not food friendly – some can overpower even the heartiest steak – and are “not so much made for drinking all the time.”

Yet the critics have power for the good, because they can bring wine drinkers’ attentions to labels they might not otherwise know.

Ed Curry of Hall Wines certainly had nothing bad to say about Wine Spectator. The magazine recently featured the Hall “Kathryn Hall” Cabernet Sauvignon 2006 on its cover. It awarded the wine a 96 rating and called it a bargain at $75 a bottle.

The winery also achieved another level of status by being included among Neiman Marcus’ fantasy gift list for this holiday season. For $20,000, a couple will be able to enjoy three days at the winery during which they will create their own proprietary blend. They can design a flavor profile for inside the bottle as well as a label for the outside. Six cases will be created and shipped. You can bet the glasses at that event will be spectacular.

For more on the fantasy package, click here.

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