Wine Tasting - And The Wine Maker on the Other Side of the Table
Checking in on the 2017 Barrel Samples.

Last night, we set up a dozen glasses to taste through red wine barrel samples from the 2017 Harvest.  While we are close to releasing our first red wine, Travis, we are also working on a range 2017 vintage wines that will be released in 2019-20.  

Our sampling session reminded me of one of my first tastings in France, where a veteran winemaker poured his wine and told our of group of young students, "this is my wine. You may taste it, but I really don't care what you think about it.  If you don't understand it, that is not my problem!" 

Well, more than ever, I can empathize with this man!

Barbara and I have tasted wines through a number of professional programs over the years, from the Wine School of Philadelphia, the Court of Master Sommeliers, and a few terrific Texas Winery and club programs.  Barbara continued her education through the Winemaking Certificate Program at Texas Tech and in the cellars of a few of our colleagues. And, for my part, I have tasted thousands of barrel samples with the Union des Grands Crus de Bordeaux, and with professional wine writers at the top of their field, for 10 years.

Last nights's tasting - assessing our own wines - well, this was something entirely different, for both of us.  

The difference is not just the personal stakes -- this is our wine, destined for your trial and appreciation, which is of course, quite motivating.  It's also the variations and stages of evolution of foundational barrel samples that - trust me on this - individually, you just don't encounter in finished wines... wines that are yet to be blended, then bottled, over the next two years. The :30s video gives you a simple idea of these variances.  But the two hours of tasting that followed is not so easily conveyed!  

It's one thing to assess a dozen wine samples from top Grand Cru properties in Pauillac, looking for nuances between blends and terroir, and between vintages and chateaux (It's also a privilege to make such assessments!). You quickly can pick up patterns and look for certain markers to create a strong view of what the finished wine will become. Plus you have a well-trained group of tasters who have a long history at this sort of thing to exchange views.

In this case, however, there are just the two of us.  And, we are assessing raw materials in early stage, building blocks that may very well be combined in ways we have not contemplated.  By definition in Texas, these are very young vines, new plantings for the most part.  We do have a going-in plan, again on paper, but the wines in the glass have other ideas.  Surprises to the upside or the downside, and on particular days one will taste completely different than it will on another day.  Samples pulled from barrels just recently stirred, or racked, will behave quite differently today than they will two weeks from now.  No matter, the show must go on!

One of the fundamental questions is, should we commit to a particular blend now, at this point, combining the barrels together and setting an irreversible course now?  Or should we follow each wine on its own trajectory, and defer the blending options until we decide to bottle?  Obviously these are not new questions for any wine maker, but for wine tasters, the implications of such questions rarely cross your mind.  It's not your problem, and by the time you are poured a glass of wine, it's fait accompli!

Another factor -- A small winery does not have "safety in numbers" that allows larger wineries to specialize, blend away, or even declassify multiple barrels or entire parcels and still create a very good expression of the Grand Vin de Chateaux, or a particular wine program.  In our case, each barrel has a critical future, a role to play, a performance to give.  It's our job to maximize that potential, and then identify the best way to bring it to bottle. Obviously, the wine will not age itself or blend itself.  Left to its own in barrel, wine will (1) settle, (2) begin to oxidize, (3) commit itself to a course, and eventually (4) evaporate. 

Knowing the inevitability of these natural forces at work, and the choices that remain, it falls to the wine maker to monitor, guide, intervene, interdict, or redirect the trajectory of each barrel, and work out the plan for combining (or deferring) the barrels to showcase a vineyard site, a varietal expression, or a house style.  So the glasses in front of us now are scrutinized with specific intent -- not just what the expressions are, but how committed they are, what they lack, where one barrel might help another, whether tonight's sample is a true picture of the wine, and what might be the next action to take.  Options abound -- do nothing (you may be surprised how often this is employed, and how well it works in the world of wine!); rack to a different barrel, give it a good stir, top with a similar wine, blend into a combination you had not considered, or send out for testing.  Or retaste in two weeks.

If Blind Tasting is the great leveling experience for wine critics, then foundational barrel tasting is the great humbling experience for ANY wine taster.  As we tasted these samples, we learned a lot about what we don't know, even with our "experience".  But we are resourceful, and can work through any problem..., that is clear in the determination I see from Barbara, which always inspires me to be at my best.

Take a look at the photo at the top of Siboney Passion.  That was taken after tasting two wines that would make even the most stoic jaded wine taster give in.  You can see the bottles in front of us.  Its hard to imagine those winemakers at one point in their careers working through the beginning stages of new wine programs.  But they all do.  One day, we fully expect to earn the right to say, "WE all do".  Just. You. Wait.

And if you hear me say, "this is our wine, I don't care what you think", just slap me!
 

2018 #TxWine Growing Season Underway - Spring Report

As the growing season for the 2018 Vintage is ramping up, we traveled to the High Plains AVA with Doug Reed of Hawk's Shadow Winery, and visited with our vineyard partners.  A brief report from Siboney Cellars, Miguel Lecuona:

Hill Country- On our way to the High Plains we visited Drew Tallent in Mason.  We checked on Drew's Cabernet Sauvignon and Tempranillo, which we harvested last season and plan to follow up again for 2018.  Drew's site is one of the premiere Hill Country vineyards, a sloping terrain with good drainage on granite and quartzite sandstone.  Drew has a long history of growing quality grapes for several wineries we admire, including Becker Vineyards and Lewis Wines.  We jumped on the opportunity to secure small parcels from relatively young vines so as to get a good read on what is possible from a Hill Country AVA for two of our long term favorite grapes. The Tempranillo looked to be pretty well balanced for fruit production and vine vigor, while the Cabernet shows a bit more fruit blossoms on the vine (which make for a wonderful aroma!).  We will monitor that and assess ways to reduce yield so all the fruit has a better opportunity to ripen fully within the growing season.

High Plains - So far, in the High Plains, 2018 has been quite dry, even by High Plains standards, and our vineyard checks confirmed this, particularly between the rows where cover crops have not rooted, and the soil looks quite thirsty!  That said, the first part of the spring growing season are favorable for many vineyard blocks, which came through a cold winter and avoided Spring Frosts.  Of course all eyes now look to the skies not just for beneficial rains, but for the potential for towering thunderstorms that bring the ever-present threat of hail.  Indeed, as soon as we left the High Plains, we encountered a spectacular storm in San Angelo, and rode the lightning all the way back home.  So it is touch and go over the ensuing days!  

  • Narra Vineyards -- Our visit with Owner Nikki Narra on May 14-15 confirmed this weather pattern.  Happily, vine health and spring blooming look quite nice, progressing on track. While we were there, Nikki and her team were working on nutrient levels, irrigation management, and assessing potential cluster thinning.  We discussed the prognosis for 2018 for Viognier, and the potential for two varietals of interest to our expanding program -- Sauvignon Blanc, and Tannat.  We are encouraged, and know with Nikki we are in strong hands and look forward to visiting her regularly to assess progress
  • Lahey Vineyards -- we truly admire, and to be honest, are somewhat awestruck, by the size and scale of the operation at Lahey Vineyards.  With over 600 acres under vine, and managing more than 2 dozen varietals, Doug Fairbanks is one of the busiest in the industry.  We are working with a few blocks at Lahey - Syrah, and Bordeaux Red Varietals.  Doug also indicated a very dry spring in his vineyard, and is dodging storms while assessing early growth and blooming. 

    Miguel Lecuona
    SIboney Cellars
January 2018 - Blending Trials Underway!
Siboney Cellars is a new Texas Winery, co-located with Hawk's Shadow Winery in Dripping Springs. Blending Trials are underway for the premiere Spring Release. Sign up for details and allocation opportunities at www.SiboneyCellars.com. Winery Owners: Miguel and Barbara Lecuona

Everything is coming into focus -- Barbara's blending trials are now at hand. Tasting through samples from our 20 barrels resting in the cellars at Hawk's Shadow -- red, white, rosé, and our aforementioned port -- the way forward points directly to a Spring Release of our premiere wines. And we can't wait to share it with you!

Sign up for allocations, wine releases and invitations to release event

Blending trials are fascinating, and give us even more respect for winemakers all over the world.  Whether assembling a final blend from 90 lots for an amazing 2015 Bordeaux, or working with a vineyard plot that hung just a little too long, winemakers sweat the details.  We approach this task with a plan in hand as we taste, test, and talk about each sample. But the wine in the glass has the final word.  And this must be noted: some of these lots are just too beautiful to blend!  Like a classroom of students, each lot holds the potential for a delightful future.  Some are obvious in their strengths, others require a certain amount of guidance.  But all are gifted and talented!

Meanwhile, we are ordering bottles, glasses and have just taken delivery of our corks.  Our closure is a 2" natural cork from Scott Labs.  It features our branding on the cylinder and a fire-vintage imprint on both ends.  We know you will delight in pulling this cork very soon!

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From Vineyard to Bin to Barrel
20Siboney Barrel Work - Rosé Aug 2017.jpg

Barrel Rider

Getting our arms around this vintage


Siboney Cellars has completed the 2017 Harvest -- our very first -- and happily, at the high end of our volume expectations.  Now in the grand scheme of things, being above our modest plan doesn't amount to a whole lot, but when you are doing it all yourself by hand, you definitely feel it!  I should say, Barbara definitely feels it, as she is the one who has done substantially ALL of it!  Splitting time between our own harvest and that of our hosts, Barbara has now worked over 11 tons of grapes destined for Siboney Cellars, from vineyard to bin through fermentation and now to barrel.  

We have 20 barrels of 2017 vintage Texas Wine in our corner of Siboney Cellars.  We went into the harvest with a plan, and have emerged with a pretty good chance to bring that plan to market, and offer a couple of unexpected, hopefully delightful, surprises.  

  • With two white grape varietals in the cellar, Roussanne and Viognier, we have an opportunity to present two single varietals, or a blend, or potentially the blend and one single vineyard varietal.  
  • The bounty of red varietals in 2017 affords an opportunity to present a Saignée Rosé.  We fully embrace and applaud the Pink #TxWine efforts across the state!  We see consistent quality and thousands of happy wine lovers when they taste a great Texas Rosé, bright, balanced and dry, and perfect with gulf coast seafood.  We can't wait to join in.
  • Turning to Reds, the prospects are exciting.  We don't want to say too much at this point, but we plan to have a precocious early-drinking Red in 2018.  And, we are preparing at least two assaults up the steep slopes of the "serious" Texas Red Wine summit, in the style of classic wines we have come to know and love over the years.  With the varietals, quality, and sources under Barbara's care - now safely in barrel - we look forward to tempting you with wines for your own cellar.

MRL

Siboney Tempranillo and Barrel 1.jpg

Just. You. Wait.

2017 is in Barrel.  Our Barrel.

Siboney Cellars - The inspiration Behind the Name

Siboney Cellars takes its name from a personal metaphor that speaks to the journey of the owners, and is embodied in several meanings of the word, Siboney (See-Bo-NAY)

  • Siboney is a beautiful old Cuban song written in 1929 by Ernesto Lecuona.  A true child prodigy and prolific songwriter, Lecuona composed many classical pieces, theatrical plays, and ground-breaking Afro-Cuban songs.  Well known in Cuba, Latin America and the USA, nominated for an Academy Award, and inducted into the Songwriter's Hall of Fame, his musical career spanned 5 decades before his passing in 1963 in the Canary Islands.
  • Siboney  was adopted in Cuba as a cross-over song with great popular appeal (well before Fidel Castro), to the point where it became an unofficial national anthem -- the song is played by the television network at the end of broadcast each night.  
  • Siboney has been recorded in dozens of arrangements over the decades, and featured by artists including Placido Domingo and Bing Crosby, and more contemporary to Texas, The Mavericks (who one day we hope to meet).  Listen to the original classical version by Ernesto Lecuona, the flawless interpretation by virtuoso Thomas Tirino, and several by the Buena Vista Social Club. 
  • Lyrically, in English, Siboney is nothing more than a catchy pop tune evoking the rhythms of a Havana night club, crooned by Bing Crosby.  The original Spanish lyrics, however, written by Lecuona, are a different matter.  The Canto Siboney speaks of a man calling to his one eternal love, without whom he cannot live.  The one who he asks to come to him, the treasure in his heart valued beyond all.  That even in the murmuring of the palm trees in the breeze, he wishes to be thought of by his one true love.  Entreating for his love to hear his voice, his clarion call, his voice of crystal, and not to lose this calling amid the many distractions of life, he loves her, and without her love, he will die.  This, without doubt, is passion defined. Perhaps in a future post we will showcase the lyrics in Spanish, as we are seeking permission to feature a version sung in Spanish that is particularly haunting in its rendition.  
  • This life journey -- to discover, recognize and follow the clarion call – to hear life’s passions – and not to lose track of the fragility of this song in the midst of life’s chaos – this is the passion that brought the owners together 10 years ago.  And it happened on a trip in Bordeaux.  Since that moment, Barbara and Miguel have endeavored to stay in touch with this calling. 
  • Siboney Cellars is the embodiment of this journey.  Siboney Cellars is a life's passion. Pursued, realized, savored.

The composer of Siboney, Ernesto Lecuona, is Miguel's great uncle.  

Would you like to hear Siboney as it was originally composed for solo piano?  We have permission from BIS recording artist Thomas Tirino to feature his virtuoso recording of Canto Siboney here, and it is the only one we know of that faithfully replicates the version Ernesto recorded in 1954 for RCA, for there is no sheet music of this rendition. Mr. Tirino executed this recording through his own efforts by ear, in 1995.  Bravo Thomas, thank you for allowing us to feature you!