|By Paul Heidelberg
|The 1096 Reserve Port is made from Black Spanish grapes and is aged in barrels outside in the the elements year-round for 1096 days.|
Since 1993, Houser had two different plantings of rootstocks wiped out by Pierce’s Disease, also known as PD, a lethal disease caused by the bacterium Xylella fastidosa that is spread by certain kinds of leafhoppers known as sharpshooters.
“One varietal I planted was supposed to be Pierce’s Disease-resistant,” Houser said. “I found out it wasn’t. The one varietal I have had success with against this disease is Black Spanish.”
And Houser and Comal Creek Vineyards winemaker Jeff Ivy have had great success with the grape, which produces an intensely dark wine.
The winery garnered Texas Grand Star Winner and Texas Competition Gold Medals at the 2006 Lone Star International Wine Competition in Houston.
Houser said he has spent many hours researching the varietal, but he is still unsure of its exact origin, but that it came to Texas with Spanish missionaries in the 16th and early 17th centuries, when they brought cuttings with them to make communion wine.
The grape is also resistant to the phylloxera louse, which devastated European vineyards in the late 1800s (many of those vineyards, such as those in France’s Charente Region, where Cognac is made, were saved by phylloxera-resistant rootstalks brought to Europe from Texas; Texas professor T.V. Munson was named a knight of agricultural excellence by France for his help in saving French vineyards).
Houser said the Black Spanish grape, also known as Lenoir or Le Noir, produces four to five tons of fruit per acre, with bunches often one to two pounds each, larger than any other wine grape. He said he gets his rootstalks from a nursery in Fredericksburg.
Houser has five acres planted in Black Spanish grapes – he has produced an award-winning wine under the name Dry Comal Creek Black Spanish and also uses the grape as a basis for his port wine, which he ages in barrels outside his temperature-controlled cellars, for three years and one day, thus the name 1096 Port (he also makes a 1096 Sherry, white port). With the outdoor aging, the wine is influenced by all the elements of nature, including heat and cold.
“Black Spanish grapes produce a very dark wine,” Houser said. “We leave the skins in contact with the juice for three or four days maximum. With cabernet sauvigon, we may go 14 or 15 days. But if we leave the Black Spanish skins in contact with the juice for more than three or four days, we get a wine that literally stains your teeth. You take a few sips and your teeth turn blue.”
Houser also imports refrigerated grapes and juice from such places as New Mexico and California to produce such wines as cabernet sauvignon, cabernet franc and French colombard, which have also won awards at many wine competitions.
PHOTOS BY PAUL HEIDELDERG