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The Texas wine class

To paraphrase a noted troubadour, we’ll be tasting across Texas on June 10.

As a way to tell the long and involved history of Texas wines, we’ll be pouring and telling stories about some notable Texas wines that day at You’re So Crafty, which is at 208 S. Austin St. — on the square — in Seguin.

“Texas Wines and Their History” starts at 3 p.m. and goes till the last question is answered and the last wine is tasted. It’s just $30, including the tastings.

While the actual wine list is a closely guarded secret, we can offer some hints:

  • The port-style wine from the state’s oldest producer
  • The wine that made Lubbock famous
  • Blends from a second-generation Texas winemaker
  • A big surprise from the wilds of West Texas

You can sign up online at the You’re So Crafty website or call 830-379-0730.

Winery U turns 10

Logo for Winery U at Dry Comal Crek VineyardsThe year 2017 will mark the 10th year for the Winery U wine classes at Dry Comal Creek Vineyards, so to change things up a little, all the classes will have a theme of 10.

They still will include lots of info, as well as wine tastings, but the approach and the content will be new. Here’s the rundown, with registration opening soon at the Dry Comal Creek website.

Jan. 21: The 10 insider tips every wine lover should know

There aren’t any secret handshakes or coded passwords to learn, but there are some secrets, some history and some well-established principles that can enhance every glass and every bottle, no matter what your level of vinous experience.

Feb. 11: 10 wine and cheese pairings that will shock and amaze

As far back as grapes have been fermented and milk has been solidified, the two wonders of nature have been a match. You’ll learn the concepts of getting wine and cheese to make beautiful music together and learn to appreciate the huge variety of both.

March 4: The 10 things you should learn in every tasting room

Texans are blessed with an abundance of wineries and tasting rooms within a short drive of home. And while getting to sample wines is great, your experience can be even more rewarding if you know what kinds of things to ask about when you step up to the bar.

April 1: 10 things you can learn about wine without opening the bottle

Wine has a language of their own – one that often looks like a foreign language. But with some basic knowledge, you can find out a lot about what’s inside a bottle by looking at the outside.

May 6: 10 food and wine pairings that will knock your socks off

Matching food and wine doesn’t require an advanced degree, just a willingness to follow some simple concepts. You’ll get to taste those concepts in some unexpected ways, as a jumping-off point for developing your own pairings.

June 3: Winemaking in 10 (sometimes easy, sometimes difficult) steps

The basic process of growing grapes and turning them into wine is simple, but the number of variables involved can make your head spin. Learning the process is great if you want to make wine at home – or just appreciate what’s in the bottle even more.

July 8: 10 French wines every wine lover – especially the frugal ones – should try

The French make huge quantities of wine every year, including some of the world’s most expensive bottles. But you don’t need to break the bank to appreciate the huge variety – and the quality – of products from the world’s preeminent winemaking country.

Aug. 19: The 10 most influential people in wine history

Wine has been around for thousands of years, and millions of people have been involved with wine in one way of another. But there are 10 people through the ages who have a made a difference, some in surprising ways.

Sept. 9: A 10-step guide to wine tasting, with no spitting

Using all your senses can enhance the experience of drinking wines in ways you might not expect. You’ll learn the keys to sight, hearing, smell, taste and touch, to make every sip a little bot more of heaven.

Oct. 7: 10 Texas wines and the tall tales behind them

Texas is a state full of stories and storytellers, and the Texas wine business is no exception. You will taste some of the state’s best offerings and learn the stories about the wineries and the winemakers that make Texas wines unique.

Nov. 4: How to buy 10 truly amazing wines for less than $10 each

Like winemaking, wine shopping is both a craft and an art. You’ll find out what to look for and where the bargains are when it comes to wines that won’t break the bank.

Dec. 2: 10 accessories every wine lover needs (or needs to get for Christmas)

One of the great joys of wines, besides the drinking, is the accessories. From a wonder of physics to the most basic of tools, find out what every wine lover needs to have around the house – just in time to put them on your wish list.

Top 10 reasons

It’s the 10th anniversary of Winery U at Dry Comal Creek Vineyards in 2017, so everything has a common theme, from the subjects of the classes to our little video, with the top 10 reasons for signing up today:

This blessed old house

Shallot bulbs

Shallot bulbs

When Patty and I bought our first home way back in 1983, we were blessed in many ways.

At the time, the house was 60 years old, which means it had been built by craftsmen, using hand tools and locally grown lumber. It was a solid if small place, one that held much potential for growth.

And grow it did. Through the years, we added a bathroom and a bedroom, expanded another bedroom, expanded the living space and remodeled the old one-car garage at least three times.

But it was much more than just a place to expand. It was the place where we were blessed with two sons, sons who grew up in that house, who grew up into the fine young men we miss every day.

We also were blessed with fine neighbors. There was a young couple next door who had moved their small house onto the lot a couple of years before. And we also had neighbors who had been in their homes almost from the day they had been built.

One of those homes was owned by Mr. and Mrs. Grosgebauer. That’s always how we referred to them, Mr. and Mrs. they were sweet people who had moved to New Braunfels many years before to work at what everyone simply referred to as The Mill, the cotton mill directly across the Guadalupe River from our neighborhood.

They had worked there and there only for 40-plus years, and they had been retired and on their mill pensions for 10 years or so.

Mr. Grosgebauer was exactly 50 years older than I was, a wiry man who always wore a hat outside, to protect  his head from the sun. He was not one of those people who gave you a big greeting every time he saw you, but there always was a wave, and more than a few talks over the back fence.

They had a huge garden that butted up against that back fence. It was tended immaculately, and they even had built a shield that kept their tiller from throwing dirt when they plowed. Mr. Grosgebauer’s only enemy in the world, best I could ever tell, was the “bermoody grass” always trying to sneak into his plot.

Patty and I had grown gardens before, but we were especially motivated at the sight of theirs. We built raised beds and compost bins and tilled and weeded, and some years were plentiful. The ones that weren’t, the Grosgebauers would offer some of their production.

What reminded me of our neighbors today was a trip to our current garden. Some plants are struggling after our weird year of weather. But I was thrilled to see that one thing we had planted this fall  was thriving — three little rows of shallots, which you can  treat kind of like a  perennial onion, clipping off the greens for cooking and leaving the bulbs in the ground.

I can’t remember the last time we tried to grow  shallots, if ever, but I do remember the inspiration. The Grosgebauers always had them in their garden. “Shalloten,” he called them, using a German word he had picked up while working at The Mill. Always a bushy green plot, closest to their back door.

So here’s to a winter of shalloten tops — and to the blessing of good neighbors.

The judges have decided: 170-year-old Champagne was a taste and scientific revelation

Champagne glasses 6-30-15At first blush, the reviews of the 170-year-old Champagne discovered in a shipwreck in the Baltic Sea were less than appealing.

“Animal notes,” was one expert’s observation. “Wet hair,” was another, and some described the ancient bubbly as “cheesy.”

But then, as the rare find was exposed to more air, it began to get better in the opinions of the professional wine tasters. It took on characteristics of traditional, expensive, aged Champagne: Spicy, smoky, fruity and floral.

Beyond the sensory curiosity of tasting a wine made 170 years ago, though, the discovery and subsequent analysis of the Champagne by French and German scientists provided significant insight into a field called archaeochemistry.

A total of 168 bottles were recovered from the wreck off the coast of Finland, and they were identified by their corks as coming from three French Champagne houses in vintages from 1832-40.

In addition to being taste-tested in comparison to modern Champagne, the wine also was analyzed chemically. The chemical testing displayed the change in the French climate since the early 1800s, as well as differences in yeasts and winemaking techniques.

But it also showed that the process of making Champagne, which involves at least two periods of fermentation, in many ways has not changed significantly in almost two centuries. The ancient wines were made to be free of contamination, and even with a higher sugar level than modern Champagne, they still were palatable.

“Owing to molecular insights acquired by comparing the Baltic Champagnes to modern ones, we managed to decipher a clearer view of the winemaking practices used in Champagne at the beginning of the 19th century and to compare it to the modern winemaking process,” the authors noted in a report on the study published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Cutlass Supreme

CutlassHe first noticed the car. It was sitting in the parking lot outside his office window.

You don’t see many of those anymore, he observed to no one in particular. It was a two-door, Olds Cutlass Supreme, the kind of car every guy in the ’70s wanted but most couldn’t afford. It was masculine, a muscular car inside and out. It spoke: I’m bold. I’m cool. I’m fast.

This one had been a glossy white when it rolled out of Detroit, decked with a balance of color and a hint of chrome. Tires with raised letters, rare in those days. Wheels with a subtle message: get the hell out of my way.

Now the paint was freckled with rust. A foot-long black mark scarred the back quarter panel, the losing side in a fight with a post. The body bore an uneven coat of gray road grime. Off-color dings pocked the door. The dingy chrome reflected nothing. The tires had rolled past their primes.

It looked like a 40-year-old car. It made him feel old to know he could remember the days when it was shiny and new and he had wanted to roar up and down country roads in one, windows down and AM radio blasting.

When he looked up again a few minutes later, he noticed a woman behind the wheel.

She looked to be in her late 30s, but he never had been good at guessing ages. Her hair was a Medusa, long and wild and curly, a blend of colors, blonde mostly. She wore enough makeup for him to notice. She sat with her elbow out the window, like truckers used to sit before the days of air conditioning. Fire-truck-red fingernails glinted in the afternoon sun. She stared, with a look neither totally sleepy nor totally bored. Emotionless.

She turned away from him for a moment, then turned back and lit a cigarette with one of those cheap lighters from the convenience store. He knew the lighters in those old GM cars only worked when the engine was running.

The Marlboro glowed at the end, but it appeared she was smoking it more to kill time than to feed the need for nicotine. She flicked the ash out the window. She was left-handed, or at least smoked left-handed.

His mind wandered. Why was she there? Why sitting in a car built before she was born? Was she meeting a buyer for the Cutlass Supreme, someone who could turn it from a relic to a classic? Simply stopping for a smoke on the way from one point to another? Waiting on something?

His attention snapped back to work. When he looked up again, the Cutlass Supreme had disappeared.

The next afternoon, he looked up at about the same time, and it was back. His dormant imagination awoke, to mostly clichés. Why? Drug deal? Maybe a joint or a couple of pills, buy or sell. She had the look. Meeting a hoped-to-be handsome stranger from an online classified ad? Happened all the time. She had the look. Waiting to confront an ex? Meet a friend? Accost an enemy?

She did not look like she was selling Mary Kay out of the trunk of the Cutlass Supreme. And she did not, as most everyone else seemed to do in idle time, stare at the screen of a smart phone, a finger sliding up and down. No magazine, no newspaper. No time-killers, no diversions but the Marlboros.

Work grabbed him, and she had disappeared when he looked up a second time.

She was there again the next day, same time. Why? And the next. And Monday. And then she would be gone. He was out of scenarios. What had brought this woman back, again and again in the Cutlass Supreme?

The next day, as he watched her out the window, the back door of the pizza place across the parking lot opened. A girl wearing an ill-fitting, logo-embroidered, work-issued polo shirt from the pizza chain emerged. She was dusty from the beached-white crust flour. She looked to be 18 or so, but again, a guess. She lugged a black backpack, like she had gone to work straight from classes at the community college.

The girl strode the 20 paces or so to the passenger door of the Cutlass Supreme. He could read her lips when she reached for the chrome door handle.

Hi Mom.

That’s Dr. Brahms to You

Brahms, the comedian.

Brahms, the comedian.

In the last year or so, I’ve developed an interest in classical music, to the point of joining our local public classical music station.

But of course, classical music isn’t just on the radio. You hear it in Looney Tunes and assorted TV shows, commercials and the movies. Sometimes, it just takes you a while to make the connection.

Today, the connection was to “Animal House.”

Remember at the beginning of the movie, when we see a montage of the Faber College campus? There’s some vaguely academic-sounding music playing in the soundtrack, which I figured prolific movie-theme Elmer Bernstein had produced.

Turns out, it was written — well, rewritten — by somebody slightly different, noted classical composer Johannes Brahms.

In 1879, the University of Breslau offered Brahms, whom the school called “the foremost composer of serious music in Germany today,” an honorary doctorate. Brahms was happy to accept the offer — until he found out school officials wanted him to write a piece of music to honor the event. Then he wasn’t so sure.

It took some convincing, but Brahms eventually agreed, and in 1880 he wrote a piece called the “Academic Festival Overture.”

With the composer leading the orchestra, the music premiered in Breslau in January 1881.

A little less than 100 years later, a snippet of the “Academic Festival Overture” played over our introduction to Faber, which in in less than two hours of film time would be reduced to utter bedlam.

The tune fit the scene perfectly. Almost too perfectly, as it turns out.

You see, Brahms had a wicked sense of humor. To tweak the noses of the officials at the University of Breslau, his composition had been, essentially, a lovely mashup of German students’ drinking songs. The one we know and love as the Faber College theme was known by German college students as Wir haben gebauet ein stattliches Haus (in English, “We Have Built a Stately House.”)

OK, it’s not exactly Belushi’s impression of a zit, but it’s worth a laugh.

Here’s a performance of the “Academic Festival Overture.Wir haben gebauet ein stattliches Haus starts at the 1:49 mark: