by Robin EnglishBircher for Texas Wine and Trail Magazine, July 22 2313
Texas is definitely home to unique grape and wine varieties, and as of July, Texas can now put the little known Picpoul Blanc on the list. On a relatively mild July night, invited guests and wine club members came out to Bending Branch Winery in Comfort, Texas to try the first ever Texas grown Picpoul Blanc. The small first production – 24 cases – went quickly. This award winning wine – it earned a silver medal in the Lone Star International Wine Competition in June – truly represents the strength and ingenuity of Texas grape growing and winemaking.
Bending Branch and Picpoul Blanc
From the beginning, Bending Branch made the Picpoul Blanc one of their signature wines. The first Picpoul, and the one visitors to the winery sample, is sourced from Hall Ranch Vineyards in California. This wine is an important part of the winery’s portfolio, along with the Tannat. Like the Tannat, there has been some experimentation (last year saw a Tannat port). A few years back, Bending Branch began to age some of the Picpoul in some slightly used bourbon barrels to create the Single Barrel Picpoul Blanc; this particular version of the wine is used in making Mint Juleps for the winery’s annual Kentucky Derby party. And like the Tannat, winemakers Bob Young and John Rivenburgh wanted to bring this grape to Texas, and they accomplished this with the new Estate Picpoul.
Picpoul Blanc, or Piquepoul Blanc, is a relatively rare grape in the United States. This grape originates from Southern France but found its way to coastal France, Spain (known as Avello), and Portugal (Picapoll). The grape is best known for its high acidity, one of the reasons the wine is called the “lip stinger.” Finding Picpoul in the US is difficult, as few California wineries and no noted other states grow the grape; it is no surprise to Texas wine lovers that Texas has now successfully joined that elite group.
In fact, Picpoul Blanc seems to be a good fit for Texas, at least by John Rivernburgh’s estimation. As John explained, there are three qualities that help this grape succeed in the difficult Texas environment. First, its leaves help to protect the grapes; the thick, leathery leaves aid against insects and disease. Next, the grape knows when to shut down during its growth. Like Tannat, this grape knows when it has reached its ideal state and doesn’t continue developing. Also, this wine has a very aggressive fruit stock. This could mean that it grows excessively and wild, but instead, there is something unique here that leads the grape to end up equal and balanced. In fact, this first estate Picpoul was picked at a rather high pH, especially in regards to Texas grapes; due to Texas’ odd growing season, most grapes have a low pH. In the case of the estate Picpoul, it came out about as perfect as can be with a nice balance of sugar and acid.
Bending Branch’s Estate Picpoul
As for the wine, one guest remarked that the Estate Picpoul holds true to the variety, and of course, it was a pleasant wine for summer in Texas. One of the most remarkable elements is the acid. This particular vintage has noticeable acid from beginning to end, adding a bite and crispness that is refreshing. In fact, the wine almost seems as if it was carbonated; the acid creates an effervescent mouth feel.
As for the aroma, it is a soft, subtly herb scent with a hint of lemon, maybe lemongrass. This moved well into the taste, which is predominately lemon. For me, the wine is more of a sour, rather than sweet, lemonade. This lemonade flavor is the understated sort, almost as if it has a mild hint of lime; at one point it makes me think of a bit of lemonade with Sprite. While talking to other guests and Jennifer Beckmann, the winery’s Director of Marketing and Certified Sommelier, we turned to the other flavors, particularly the herbaceous element of the wine. Jennifer described the sort of lemons used in hot toddies –ones steeped with a cinnamon stick. I think this description fits well, as it suggests the pleasant but refined sour lemon taste with the balance and lightness created by the herbs.
The Estate Picpoul, the first estate wine for Bending Branch, was a hit at the release party. The strength of this estate grown wine has made fans of the winery eager for more. Later this year, Bending Branch will also release an Estate Tannat, joining the RF, EM, and Texas Tannat, as well as a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Aglianico, and Tempranillo. This is good news for Texas wine.
Unfortunately, this first round of Texas grown Picpoul will have a rather limited audience. Hopefully, it is only a taste of things to come because this bright wine with delicate tones matches well with Texas. There is something bold in the acid as it stings the lips and incites the taste buds. The subtle, harmonious flavors are not so different from a scenic drive through the hill country. Bending Branch has added another wine to Texas’ extensive portfolio, one that has great potential.