Discovering Texas Wines
La Cruz de Comal WineryGenuine Texas Wine
by Randy Lankford
If Lewis Dickson can't make what he calls genuine Texas wine then he just won't make any. It's that philosophy that keeps his La Cruz de Comal winery small. It's not a typical Texas winery in a lot of ways.
For one thing, it's not open to the public. He doesn't have a tasting room and there aren't any cellar tours. He doesn't host special events and he doesn't have any meeting facilities. He and partner Tony Coturri are making wine, not hosting weddings.
Secondly, his wine, much like his attitude, is hard core Texan.
"Wine," says Dickson, "like many food products, should be a regional thing. Do what you can do. That's what makes it interesting. It's not interesting to copy what someone else has done, especially if you have to reveal what you had to do to try to get there, including adding grape concentrate for color and oak chips and oak dust and all the other things people do to try to get that heralded 95 point wine.
Dickson is passionate about the regionality of his wine. La Cruz de Comal, in Startzville, produces only authentic Texas wine from grapes grown in the Texas Hill country. The wine is fermented on natural yeasts with no additions such as acid, sugar, grape concentrate, powered tannins, artificial coloring agents, reverse osmosis or filtering.
"When I say my wine is unfined and unfiltered, I don't mean it was minimally filtered. I mean if you buy a bottle of my wine and throw it in your truck and it slides under the seat and rolls around all day and you want to drink it that night, you're going to have some cloudy wine."
La Cruz de Comal Wine AvailabilityLa Cruz de Comal wines are available in a few restaurants and Dickson occasionally opens his doors to people who have tasted his wine and shown enough interest to ask for more information about it.
He says his wine is allowed to be what it wants to be. Winemaking, according to the Houston-based attorney, is not wine creation, anymore than it is wine fixing.
"Good wine is not created," he says, "and bad wine cannot be fixed. Our view is that a winemaker is merely a custodian for yet another phase of the vineyard. He or she must have patience with and respect for Mother Nature. A potentially unique, fine wine is lost the moment a winemaker's intervention derails in from the track destined by Mother Nature."
Dickson developed his passion for wine early while growing up in Houston. "I was probably a senior in high school when I first became interested in wine. It always seemed like a cool thing to do on dates, order a bottle of wine with dinner. I thought I was James Bond."
Dickson says the state is having a hard time creating its own reputation. "It's hard to say what makes a Texas wine different from others. Without an identity, it's hard to recognize. If you're asked to pick a suspect out of a lineup and none of them have a face, it's hard to choose one. That's the situation with Texas wine.
"I think the Hill Country is a better area for merlot than for cabernet, generally speaking. I think the High Plains are better for cabernet than for other grapes. We should be starting to learn what does well in certain places in Texas. The problem is, economically, people don't care. The wine business is getting in the way of wine discovery.
"I guarantee if you go to Italy, you're not going to find an Italian winemaker using French grapes, even though it's right across the border and you get a good deal on it. What's the point?"
The same philosophy should apply to Texas, according to Dickson. "If you're going to make wine using grapes from all over the place and cultured yeast, what's the point? You can make that in Texas, Oregon, Washington, New Mexico. How is that a Texas wine, just because it's made in Texas?
"I made 375 cases of wine in 2005. The vineyard where I buy some of my grapes lost 80 percent of its crop in 2006 due to frost and hail damage. This year I'm probably only going to make around 112 cases.
Even though Dickson is adamant about his wine being 100 percent Texan, he appreciates what other winemakers are doing.
"I like that people have different philosophies about how they make their wine. That's why there's vanilla and chocolate and that's what makes the world go round. But you need to know what you're doing and you need to know why the other guy's doing what he's doing. If you don't know either, what you're doing or what the other guy's doing, then you've got problems."
Duck and Okra Gumbo
Gently heat a large heavy based saucepan. Add duck, skin side down and cook until golden. Turn and brown the other side. Remove and set aside to drain on absorbent paper. Add the sausage and sauté until browned. Remove and add to the duck. Remove all but 2 tablespoons of the fat from the pan. Add the flour and cook, stirring occasionally for 30 minutes or until dark brown. Add a little olive oil if necessary to make a sauce-like consistency.
Add the onion, capsicum, celery, garlic, tomatoes and thyme or oregano. Cook for 3 minutes. Gradually add the chicken stock. Return the duck to the pan. Bring to the boil and reduce heat. Simmer for 2 hours or until the duck is tender.
Remove duck from pan and cool slightly. When duck is cool enough to handle, remove the flesh from the bone. Return to the gumbo. Gumbo can be refrigerated overnight. This helps develop flavors and allows the fat to solidify on the surface so it can easily be removed the next day.
Return the gumbo to the heat. Add the okra and bay leaf and cook for 25 minutes. Add the prawns and cook on medium heat for 3 minutes or until prawns have cooked through. Season with salt, pepper and Tabasco sauce. Stir through parsley and serve with rice.
See also David Bulla's full article on Gumbo: The Basics.
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