Discovering Texas Wines
Tehuacana Creek Vineyards
Ulf and Inga-Lill Westblom
Like many Lone Star State residents, Ulf and Inga-Lill Westblom weren't born in Texas but they got here as quickly as they could. Both natives of Sweden, the husband and wife came to America 26 years ago.
"We were living in Missouri and thinking about opening a winery in California when we came to Texas on vacation in 1993," explains Ulf. "Among other things, we visited the Messina Hof Winery. We became fascinated with the Texas wine industry and decided we didn't have to go all the way to California to grow grapes."
Three years later the couple moved to Waco when Ulf became associate chief of staff at the VA Hospital in Temple. It was only another year before they started planting the grape vines that have become the backbone of their Tehuacana Creek Vineyards.
"I come from a wine-making family," Ulf adds. "My mother made lots of fruit wine and my grandfather made barley wine. I made my first wine when I was in college back in Europe in 1974."
Tehuacana Creek Vineyards WinesThose European roots are deeply woven in the Westbloms' winemaking philosophy. "We know what we're looking for in a wine and we spend a lot of time blending our wines to get them exactly the way we want them. All our wines are blends. I think it's almost impossible to make a perfect wine from just one type of grape or just one part of the vineyard because there's always something that isn't exactly the way you want it. By blending different batches or even different grapes you can achieve something that's greater than the sum of the parts. We spend a lot of time blending and tasting to come up with what percentages of which grapes we want in our final product. Once we have it figured out on a small scale in the glass, we reproduce it on a large scale in the tank. Even though we only have four types of grapes, we can produce about a dozen different wines."
The grapes Inga-Lill grows on the vineyard's 1,400 vines are a combination of very old and very new. Black Spanish and Blanc Du Bois grapes, known for their resistance to Pierce's Disease, a pathogen that ravages grapes throughout Texas, are two of the varietals the Westbloms grow. The other two are Favorite, a clone of Black Spanish, and Herbemont, an almost forgotten grape from the 1800s.
"It used to be the grape most frequently used to make white wine in the United States," Westblom explains. "If you look at the old literature, it was considered excellent wine. When prohibition came along Texas' vineyards were all ripped out. Unless you had a special permit to make sacramental wine you had to plow your grapes under. Most of the Herbemont grapes disappeared.
"Only the Val Verde Winery near Del Rio had a sacramental wine permit. By the time prohibition was repealed, there was a new generation of wine makers. They didn't know anything about Herbermont grapes so when they started replanting the vineyards, they didn't plant them.
"I thought if these grapes made excellent wine in the 1800s, think what we could do with them now. I bought 200 vines from the Val Verde Winery and planted them up here. That was four years ago. We're going to start making the wine this year. We've made some to sample already and it was delicious. We have high hopes for those grapes."
Another example of the Westbloms' links to their European heritage is their dedication to port wines. Ulf estimates he made 90 gallons of red port last year to go along with a scant 40 or so bottles of white port.
"I'm planning to increase the red port," he says. "I wanted to enter it in the Dallas Morning News's wine competition last year. I thought it was good enough to win a medal. Lots of people were telling me to enter. When I was filling out the paperwork, it said you had to make at least 125 gallons. So here I was with my 90 gallons of what I thought was an award-winning port. I know I'm going to make at least 125 gallons this year."
Westblom's 40 bottles of white port were made from his Blanc Du Bois grapes. While white port is rare in Texas, it's well-known in Europe. "When people think of white port here, they think of jug wine. White port is well-respected in Europe. The last of those 40 bottles I made were sold to a woman who drove all the way from Houston to get it.
"I'll make some more this year but I'm not sure how much. It will still be a small amount. It's very concentrated and takes a lot of my grapes."
Tehuacana Creek's non-fortified wines are all aged in stainless steel, a step Westblom says helps them maintain their fruitiness. "I think a lot of today's wines are over-oaked. If you use too much oak it kills the fruit. The wines are not as refreshing. I think the crisp fruit and clean finish of our wines are what makes them so popular. They're refreshing wines and I think people enjoy that."
Tehuacana Creek made only 200 barrels of wine last year. Westblom intends to more than double that production this year. "We've sold out of just about everything. That's a nice problem to have but it means we don't have any wine to drink."
The cougar in the winery's label is what Westblom describes as a long-distance mascot.
"There are at least seven of them around here. There's a female we've been seeing since we moved here. And she's had four cubs that have grown to adulthood. There's somebody making her pregnant so that's six and several of our neighbors have spotted a black cougar that we haven't seen yet, so there are at least seven in the area.
"We see them pretty regularly, sometimes a little too close for comfort."
In a bowl, combine flour and salt. Add potatoes; stir until coated. In a medium saucepan, bring broth to a boil over medium heat. Using a serving spoon, scoop a rounded spoonful of potato mixture, about the size of an egg. Press 1 cube of ham into center, covering completely.
Using a slotted spoon, carefully lower dumpling into hot broth. Quickly shape remaining dumplings the same way and lower into broth. Adjust heat to maintain a simmer but not a hard boil. Simmer at least 45 minutes, turning over dumplings after about 25 minutes. Use slotted spoon to lift dumplings from broth. Serve hot with melted butter; garnish with parsley.
Makes 16 dumplings. # # #
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