Sunday, February 7, 2016

Ode to the Broncos--Colorado Wine

The beautiful state of Colorado is known for many attractions:  the picturesque Rocky Mountains, majestic Pike’s Peak, upscale Aspen, and (most recently) legal marijuana.  However, on days like today, Super Bowl Sunday, there is only one reason for which Colorado should be known…football…and the Denver Broncos!

As an ode to my neighbor state—the city where my daughter lives and the team that my son adores—I am revisiting some of the fabulous wine times I have had in Colorado.  It is a wonderful place, a beautiful place, a fun place…a place everyone should visit.  Go Colorado.  Go Denver. Go Broncos!

Colorado's largest AVA, the Grand Valley, is a booming and budding wine region.  Though barely in its adolescence, the region shows signs of greatness in the years to come.

An early Grand Valley wine producer, Canyon Wind Cellars set the standard for other Colorado wineries making wine from estate-grown fruit.  Started in the 1990's, this winery shows what all Grand Valley wines can be. 

Kenneth Dunn at Hermosa Vineyards is a perfect example of what it takes to make wine.  Many winemakers start with their passion and curiosity, and this is true here.  Kenneth is also the quintessential small winemaker who greets his tasting room guests himself, with a huge smile!

Though the Grand Valley grows the majority of the grapes for the state, many wineries call the eastern side of the state home.  Denver gives an amazing backdrop for urban wineries to flourish.  Balistreri Vineyards in the Mile High City is the perfect mix of traditional and modern in a beautiful facility.

Infinite Monkey Theorem is one such winery that has embraced the urban winery vibe.  Fun and funky, IMT makes wine from Colorado Grand Valley grapes while being a pioneer in alternative packaging formats.  Such an obvious success has been reached here that a recent expansion to Austin, Texas continues to show the truth of the expression, "Yes, we can." 

Today, I will forgo the beer and enjoy the Super Bowl game with a Colorado wine in hand.  My Ode to Colorado will continue with a glass of Canyon Wind Cellars high end line Anemoi with an Anemoi Notus, a blend of Colorado Petite Verdot and Syrah.  Cheers to Colorado, its wines, and its football!

Go Denver Broncos! 

Monday, February 1, 2016

Let’s Get It Started—Press Start, Rapid City

           Tony DeMaro and company were on a mission:  a mission to create a total adult play land in Rapid City…a mission to put the final touches on projects started years ago...a mission to give the Black Hills the best entertainment.

First there was Murphy’s Pub and Grill, the cool, modern sports bar with forty beers on tap and contemporary pub-style food. 

            Next there was The Blind Lion, the ultra-hip speakeasy hidden below Murphy’s with frequent live music and delicious menu options to pair with the best, hand-crafted cocktails.

            Then there was Kol, the trendy eatery featuring the beautiful coal-fired oven that cooks up the tastiest tidbits to eat while sipping on beautiful concoctions from the bar.

            After this, there was Ignite, the Vegas-style night club that takes over after Kol closes, with pumping DJ beats and a VIP section for bottle service, all while watching acrobats swing from the ceiling.

Yet something was missing.
            Where was the casual spot to meet friends for a cheap beer?  The dive bar where everyone wants to hang out?  The one-of-a-kind place to impress friends with…great gaming skills?!

            Finally, all Tony’s bases are covered to provide any type of entertainment on Main Street, Rapid City.  Though it is the latest step in what many consider adult Disneyland, Press Start is definitely more of a beginning than an end.

            Press Start rocks a whole different vibe than Tony’s other establishments.  Saying it is a dive bar is actually quite a stretch.  True, what many consider “cheap” beers are on tap:  Schlitz, Hamm’s, Pabst Blue Ribbon, Bud Light, and Old Milwaukee.  These beers are served in nothing other than red Solo cups.  However, the full bar also features a Boulevard beer, an O’Dell IPA, an oatmeal stout, and other quality selections. 
Beer + the red Solo cup = drink up!

            One reason to come to Press Start might be for the old-school beer selection, but the real motive is probably for a totally different reason—the arcade.  Yes, most customers come to get started on the plethora of vintage video games housed underneath Kol.  Over 50 arcade games from the 1980s and 1990s dot the colorful, Tetris-style floor.  Tony partnered with Marc Lynn, owner of nearly 200 retro games.  Marc wanted others to enjoy his games as much as he did, and partnering with Tony for Press Start was the venue to allow this to happen.
The "ladies" room door, bar decor, and Tetris floor.
            The games one might expect are there—Pac Man, Ms. Pac Man, and Donkey Kong Jr.—but there are other unexpected options, too.  Tron and Dragon’s Lair are very rare selections; so rare, in fact, there are only 14 known Dragon’s Lair machines left in the world, making the one in Press Start very special.  There are also pinball machines, arcade shooters, and skee ball games…and the list goes on.
Vintage games galore!
Of course, patrons can play these games for personal satisfaction, but that is only half the fun.  Once a new high score is achieved on any game, the player gets a free drink.  If 50 tickets are earned on the shooting or skee ball games, a free drink is again awarded.  Most of these games still only cost a quarter, showing modern inflation who’s boss.  A few of the ticket games do cost two or three quarters, but even that is a steal of a deal in 2016!

Though I am by no means a gamer, one of my friends was back in his element.  He went straight to Q-bert to get in the video game groove.  Next, he moved on to Dig Dug as his senses became more accustomed to the dark room and bright lights.  Finally, he challenged himself with Frogger and had nearly reverted back to his college days of almost thirty years ago.  Then, as his video-game addiction nearly set in again, he remembered “having no girlfriends in college” (his quote, not mine) and stepped away from the machines just in time to go home to his beautiful wife.
Back to the glory days.
As for me, I went straight to Ms. Pac Man (females unite) to try my hand at this game for the first time ever.  (I know I mentioned I wasn’t a gamer, but did I mention my total lack of hand-eye coordination?) When I actually reached the second screen without losing all three of my lives, I felt as if I had conquered the world!  My coordination (or lack of) got the better of me on Dig Dug and Frogger, so I decided to make friends with some actual gamers.
Must. Document. Gaming.
Press Start has quite a following of regulars.  The two gentlemen I watched have had high scores (and won drinks) on multiple games.  Frogger and Pac Man are two of their favorites.  They see Press Start as a cool place to go with reasonably-priced drinks and entertainment.  They both love the ambiance that takes them back to a simpler time in their lives.  It’s fun and comfortable, lively but not obnoxious.  It is a way to play while still being social, qualities lost on today’s gamers glued to their iPhone or X-Boxes all alone at home. 
Gamers unite!
          Press Start is surely not the end of the ever-evolving entertainment provided by Tony DeMaro and his team.  They continue to prove they are no “one-trick pony” with each new business they open.  Murphy’s filled one niche, while The Blind Lion filled another.  Kol and Ignite definitely attracted additional patrons, but there was still a gap.   

          This gap has been filled.  Press Start has launched yet another revolution in downtown Rapid City entertainment…and it only takes a quarter to begin.            

Monday, January 25, 2016

It's All About Soul--William Chris Vineyards

           “Put your ear down close to your soul and listen hard,” claimed poet Anne Sexton.

            Yes, those who listen can hear souls.  The souls of people…the souls of animals…the souls of places.  Places do have souls.  The soul of a location is a reflection of its past, a representation of its present, and an anticipation of its future. 

William Blackmon and Chris Brundrett have found the soul of Texas in the wines they produce at William Chris Vineyards.  The two make wines that represent the soul of Texas itself.
Texas is known for its independence.  The state has flown under six different flags in its history—including being an independent republic for a time—yet has always fought to be its own, unique place.  Statements like “everything is bigger in Texas” and “don’t mess with Texas” are still around because they truly show the soul of the state.

This stubbornness, this strength, this individuality are all evident in William Chris wines.  The characteristics began with Bill and Chris, both good, strong Texans living their wine dreams.  They did it not in the way this dream would be lived in France or California, but only in the way it could be lived in Texas...a dream as unique and persistent as these two winegrowers themselves.
Chris in the tasting room.
Bill has over thirty years grape growing experience in Texas.  His agriculture degree at Texas Tech set the stage for him to be a Texas winemaker from the time he graduated in the 1970s.  He grew vineyards all over the state before finally settling in Hill Country and planting Granite Hill Vineyards, now a William Chris estate vineyard.

Chris is just as much an example of a Texas self-made man.  He went to Texas A&M to earn his degree in horticulture and gained experience in wineries all around Hill Country.  He helped his own family establish a quality vineyard—Brundrett Family Estate—which also grows estate fruit for William Chris.

Though from two different generations, the souls of these two Texans recognized similarities in each other.  They formed William Chris Vineyards in 2008 and began the journey to make wines unique to Texas and to Hill Country, to show the soul of the region.  They truly believe that “wine is not made, it’s grown,” and they strive to make “wines with soul” that show Texas terroir. 
Tasting barrel by barrel in the production area quickly showed this soul of the Texas terroir that Bill and Chris strive to display in every bottle.  It starts by growing grapes that fare well in Texas, even though these grapes may not be what’s coming out of California. 
Bill and Chris grow grapes that thrive in Hill Country and the High Plains, like Rousanne, Orange Muscat, Blanc du Bois, Cabernet Franc, Petite Verdot, Mourvedre, and Carignane.  These vines love the Texas heat and still withstand some of Mother Nature’s crazy antics every year.  They express the headstrong character of Texas.

William Chris also shows the soul of Texas hospitality by inviting people to the quintessential Texas tastingroom—a 1905 farmhouse.  When renovating and adding to the farmhouse, hundreds and hundreds of shoes were found under the floor.  These acted as old-fashioned insulation, and once again, added to the personality of the property.  The tasting space has many cozy rooms for sipping, as well as an indoor area with a beautiful view of the rolling Texas hills and an outdoor area for Texas-style picnics.
After experiencing this soul and hospitality, choosing only a few wines as super stars is difficult.  Every wine sipped, whether from barrel or bottle, was unique to the terroir yet true to the grape…a goal for which excellent winemakers strive.  William Chris produces everything from stellar blends, to single varietals, to rosès, to pet nat (petillant natural) sparklers.  There are so many excellent examples from which to choose, but here are a few that stood out as exceptional. 
            Shining Star Wine One:  2014 Mourvedre—Bill and Chris know that Texas can grow great Mourvedre.  Lighter bodied than one might expect, but filled complex flavors and smells of smoke, dust, dried fruit, coffee, and spice, this is a great wine.  (I am saving it for a year or two, but can’t wait to have it with a medium-rare ribeye…what a truly Texas pairing!)

            Shining Star Wine Two:  2014 Carignane—sourced from the High Plains of Texas, the red fruit, tart cherry, and orange pith join the dust and talc on both the nose and the palate of this wine.  That dust and talc are a sure sign of the Texas terrior that Bill and Chris like to showcase, one that I enjoyed identifying in many of WC’s wines.

            Shining Star Wine Three:  2014 Mary Ruth—this is a blend of white grapes:  Orange Muscat, Blanc du Bois, and Muscat Blanc.  The nose is full-on sweet honeysuckle, yet the palate is surprisingly filled with fresh flowers.  A light yet complex wine that would pair well with a Texas afternoon or a cheese plate, it is a worthy example that shows Texas can produce quality whites, too.

            Shining Star Wine Four:  Tatum Rosè—yes, another rosè makes the list of shining star wines, perhaps showing my bias for the color pink.  However, this pink is the prettiest shade of barely-there, baby pink.  This is assistant wine maker Josh’s “baby,” his special project for the tasting room. It is even named after Josh’s baby, his daughter Tatum.  It is a wonderfully dry rosè that would give any Provence pink a run for its money.
            William Blackmon and Chris Brundrett put their ear to the ground of Texas.  They listened to the land. They listened to their vines.  They listened to their surroundings. They listened to their customers.  In doing so, they found the soul of Texas wines, the soul that shows in each unique bottle of William Chris wine.  By putting their hearts into their home state of Texas, they found the soul of the Texas wine industry.