by Robin English-Bircher, Senior Writer, Texas Wine and Trail Magazine
There are a number of spots in the Texas Hill Country that are gaining more and more attention, especially among Texas wine fans. Dripping Springs, nestled between Austin and Johnson City along Highway 290, is just such a place. So it is no surprise that the Dripping Springs Chamber of Commerce would host its own wine festival, Dripping with Taste: Wine & Food & Arts Festival. Attended by two of three area wineries, Westcave Cellars and Bell Springs Winery, and three close neighbors, McReynolds, Duchman Family Winery, and Driftwood Estate Winery, as well as twenty-one additional Texas wineries, this festival draws fans from throughout Texas. And 2013 saw the city’s sixth festival.
This year, attendees found themselves at a new location, the brand new Dripping Springs Ranch Park. The new event center provided plenty of space for live music, specialty vendors, a juried art show, and of course Texas food and drink. Last year, the festival was held at the Texas Hill Country Olive Oil Company. Though the location was beautiful, a number of amenities were lacking, worst of all a lack of space. In a warehouse area in the back of the main building, the festival housed most of the restaurants and wineries. The space was cramped. With the exceptionally large crowd, it became impossible to stop and talk to the winery representatives and actually learn about the wine. Eating the food was a feat; people quickly swallowed the food and moved on due to lack of space. Worst of all was the heat; it got terribly hot and uncomfortable. This year, that was all a thing of the past. The new space generally provided room. The wineries had large spaces and people could stop and meet with them, as there was still space to move. The restaurants were given plenty of elbow room, which obviously aided with keeping the temperature down, but best of all were the tables set about for people to put their wares down and eat their food. This year’s change provided a far better tasting experience.
That isn’t to say the new location doesn’t have its problems. There were free classes held within the same space as the tastings, and the allotted room was small and cramped. Also, the new space isn’t good for noise, not as if the old space was better. It was hard to hear Jerel Van Bibber, a certified wine specialist and H-E-B merchandising manager, who facilitated a Wine 101 class. Even on the tasting room floor, it became difficult to hear anyone. Now, when it wasn’t too busy, the space had little problems. Luckily, I had a chance to see it before the crowds and during the less busy periods towards the beginning. However, by 2p.m. it became exceptionally crowded.
For a short while, it was hard to move around or do much of anything. In fact, some places were nearly impossible to get near. Due to placement, I never had much chance to get to the Duchman table. They found themselves in the crossfire, next to the most popular food vendor, Crepe Crazy (the longest refreshment line and people’s choice winner for best food), the demo “room,” and the line for additional tickets.
At the festival, there was plenty of entertainment, with the main draw of course being the wineries. Twenty-five total wineries were there, many from the nearby Texas Hill Country. However, a number of last year’s attendees from the area did not choose to attend this year. Those that did choose to come provided a varied selection of Texas wines. Some of the new faces were excited to be at the festival. Jennifer Beckmann from Bending Branch was excited to be at the festival. She commented about the relaxed and congenial atmosphere, saying that she was able to enjoy herself and pour a lot of wine. Other first time attendees seemed to be enjoying the crowd and the diverse selections, including Hilmy Cellars and Lewis Wines.
Among the wine crowd were many familiar faces. The top of the Hill Country Wine Trail came with their owners in tow. Alamosa Cellars, Wedding Oak, and Texas Legato were all smiles all day. And of course, the irrepressible Alphonse Dotson and his wife Martha Cervantes brought the brightest sight of all, their 2010 Gotas de Oro. For them, this was a big deal as their winery will open later this fall followed by a release of their first red.
Most of the wineries brought more than just their wine. Many were represented by owners and winemakers; I only noted one attending winery with no representative. Having such crucial and knowledgeable members of each winery there was a real treat, and considering how busy many of them are, a wonderful gesture. One such person was Allan Fetty, winemaker from Westcave Cellars. He decided to come, for his first time, after having been working on some of his reds. He was surprised by the size of the crowd, but later seemed comfortable once he started pouring his wine.
There were also some nice surprises as well. A number of wineries made a long drive to come to the festival, including Haak Vineyards, Piney Woods, Pleasant Hill Winery and Dionsio Winery. And most interesting of all was the winery that isn’t even open yet, Hawk Shadow. This winery will join the other three Dripping Springs wineries this fall. All of the owners came out and brought their only TABC available wine, their Orange Muscat, but they were eager to share their future selections, which include some wonderful reds; unfortunately, we all have to wait until their open house in November.
As for the wines, there was a heavy emphasis on sweet wines, as most wineries brought one with them. I was honestly surprised to see so few Viogniers and Tempranillos, as well as the small number of dry reds. Whites were of course popular; it was hot after all. Sweets dominated, which was good because many people were specifically interested in the sweets. Many people I was in line with chose to sample the sweets; however, at the end of the day, Kerrville Hills Winery’s 2009 Purple Cab (a dry and approachable Cabernet Sauvignon) won over enough taste buds to be voted as the people’s choice. This makes me wonder why there weren’t more of the dry wines that showcase Texas terroir.
Along with the wineries were two wine-like entities, Texas Sake Company and Argus Cidery. Last year, these two were separated from the wineries, but this year they were nestled among them. Texas Sake Company, from Austin, brought two different rice wines (made from Texas rice). This Japanese favorite drew many a curious wine drinker, so much so that they ran out rather early. Argue Cidery also brought their current sparkling cider. Many people I know think of cider as a beer-like beverage, but at Argus, they use wine making equipment and techniques to turn Texas apples into liquid gold, so they were happy to be counted among the wineries.
And for the non-wine drinker, there were five craft breweries: Independence Brewing, Jester King, Real Ale Brewing, Twisted X, and people’s choice Thirsty Planet. Like the non-winery wineries, the breweries from last year were separated from most of the tasting, finding themselves most often among the vendors. This year, they were should-to-shoulder with the wineries. This helped the wine lovers to keep their beer loving companions close at hand, a nice improvement. And the festival was concerned that the beer lovers might not be there, choosing instead to stay home to catch one of the many games. Luckily, attendees could enjoy their favorite brew while relaxing in front of a number of games on a collection of big screens.
To make sure none of this went to our heads, food was readily available. There was a lot of barbeque to be had, especially pulled pork. The highlight in this area had to Linda Allen’s Pecan smoked brisket. The meat was tender and smoky, and eating it required a beverage because there was some sneaky heat. A number of other spicy dishes could be had from others, including John Soules Foods and Verdes Mexican Parilla. Sweeter treats, such as cakes from Sugar Shack Bakery, chocolate covered strawberries from Rolling in Thyme & Dough, and brownies from Duncan Team Catering worked well with the large quantities of sweet wines. And for something totally different, Celtic Seafare brought an array of salmon dishes.
Though most people spent their time indulging on the food, wine, and beer, there were other diversions. Three bands performed throughout the day. They actually greeted attendees upon arrival, set up near the entrance. Near the band stand were tables and chairs to relax and unwind after the exuberant environment of the tasting room. The space was large and more accommodating than last year. However, despite providing a wonderful respite, the area did get warm; the second band, Jumpstart, pointed out how hot it could get. Also, there was no place to safely dance, as the ground was all dirt.
On the other hand, this year the vendors were better accommodated. Last year, the vendors were set-up in the parking lot. Though it did allow for a nice breeze, the sun and the asphalt made it rather warm. The space this year made it more comfortable to actually stroll through the vendors, with a ceiling and ceiling fans. It also seemed to provide more space for the jewelry, furniture, food items, and wine accessories that made up most of the goodies.
This year also added a new aspect to the festival, a juried art show. Twenty-one artists were chosen to show their jewelry, paintings, collages, photography, and other unique canvases. There was art for all tastes available, and also all prices. I’ll admit I really wanted some of the striking cat photos as well as the landscape collages inspired by Japanese wood blocks, but these fine works were well out of my price range, costing several thousand dollars. To accommodate many, smaller works and prints were available at much lower costs.
This festival couldn’t exist without its many generous sponsors, who were also in attendance. Two area wine tours brought some of their vehicles. Discover Texas Wine Tours – with their bus and limo on display – were selling discount tours, as well as doing a giveaway. The brand new Slowpokes Wine Tours also had a giveaway with their unique modes of transportation. GoTexas was there to provide attendees help with buying Texas. H-E-B brought cheeses, meats, and truffles to pair with the wine, as well as provided two wine classes with some complimentary Prosecco. Williams and Sonoma provided a class on making ice cream. Also, Family First Chiropractic and Progressive Rehab of Dripping Springs provided free ten minute messages, which were just what I needed after carrying around a wine glass all day.
Dripping With Taste brought some of the best of Texas right to our fingertips. And I have to admit, cost of tastings (wine tastings for a single $1 ticket and food tastings for 1-3) were easy on the pocketbook. The new location and set-up allowed attendees to relax and enjoy themselves, as well as share conversations and meet new people (I often found myself meeting people when we stopped at a table to eat). The wineries may have been the star of the show, as they should be, but there was something for everyone. It was easy to lose track of time with so much to enjoy. Yes, there are still things that need fixing, but this year saw great successes. All of this suggests even better things for 2014.
For the list of awards, please visit Dripping With Taste!