Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Wine Country Texas - Bruno And George Winery

On my recent trip to Southeast Texas, I had the good fortune to meet winemaker Shawn Bruno at his winery and tasting room in Sour Lake, Texas - just 13 miles west of Beaumont.  Bruno is a very outgoing former actor and former football star at the high school I attended a few years before him.  The school is now just a memory, a victim of consolidation, but it was named after a well-known wine lover, Thomas Jefferson.

When the keeper of the old school mascot passed away, Big Buzz the yellow jacket was entrusted to Bruno.  Alumni will be happy to note that he had it completely restored and is ready to loan it to all class reunions.  You have to pick it up and return it yourself, but that's not a problem in Texas, where everybody seems to have at least one pickup truck.  If you are without one, it's your good fortune that in Texas, everybody wants to help.

Bruno decided to follow his heart and continue his family tradition of making raisin wine.  His great-great-great grandfather, an immigrant from Sicily, made it and Bruno's father and uncles passed the tradition to him.  It was not an easy path for Bruno, though.  He quickly found that it was against some Prohibition-era law to make wine from dried fruit in Texas.  Not one to be defeated easily, Bruno worked for two years to have the law changed to allow raisin wine.  Then-Governor George W. Bush signed the bill in 1999 and Bruno has a declaration of it hanging in his tasting room, along with a treasure trove of family memorabilia.

Bruno and George Winery opened in 2000 and is distributed well in Texas.  Bruno bought out his partner and the wine labels now show "Bruno Collection," although the winery's name still has George in it.  The big liquor/beer/wine chain Spec's carries his product, as do other locations.  The tasting room is not open all the time, but Bruno is more than happy to schedule a tasting by appointment.  Call 409-287-1212 or 409-963-8235 to schedule your trip today.  Don't go in thinking that the tasting will be over in a half-hour or so.  That was my mistake.  Our tasting was a three-hour affair.  One of Bruno's favorite expressions is, "I've got a story about that, too!"

I had a medium-sized group of family members in tow, and we had a great time tasting the wines - so great a time that a big lasagna dinner for the whole family had to be postponed until the following night.  The text that went out to other family members on the way home read, "No lasagna tonight.  Mama's drunk."  It was probably not the first time that a message like that was conveyed in the great state of Texas.

Here's the tasting menu for Bruno and George Winery:

Candlelight Strawberry - Fruit wine made from California strawberries, it shows real strawberry flavor with great earthy and herbal notes.  $12

Big Buzz
White Orchard Pear - Florida pears go into this one.  Floral aromas and the taste of full-bodied pear juice.  Refreshing.  $12

Signature Peach - The peaches come from California, and the wine hits 12-13% abv.  Schnapps on the nose with a big peach flavor on the finish.  $12

Holiday Blueberry - This is Bruno's only fruit wine currently made with Texas fruit.  A very deep blueberry flavor is impressive.  It's not like a juice at all.  Bruno pours this with the sidebar that it's "always a holiday at Bruno and George."  $12

Arapaho Blackberry - Huge blackberry flavor all the way through in this one.  $12

Yellowjacket Raspberry - Named after our high school mascot, the Yellow Jacket has a big fruit expression, and is a hit with dark chocolate.  $15

Shawn Bruno
Cardinal Cranberry - Maine fruit makes up this great holiday wine.  Big cranberry taste is just slightly tart.  A sucker for mascots, Bruno named it for the mascot at the Beaumont university, Lamar.  $12, a top seller.

Salvatore's Red Plum - Made with Italian red plums, Bruno was not allowed to state that on the label.  Alcohol regulators thought it would make people think it was an Italian wine.  Bearing an ancestor's name instead, the wine shows an excellent rosé quality.  It's reminiscent of Provence, with very nice, earthy finish.  $12

Other Than Standard Raisin - Other Than Standard is the category this wine fell into before Bruno lobbied for a change that made his raisin wine of higher than 14% legal.  It reaches 16.3% abv.  He can now claim it's a dessert raisin wine on the label.  The wine has actually won awards in the Port category. Vinified in a single fermentation, the wine is not overly sweet - it's nothing like Vin Santo.  It has a nice viscosity and is aged in a steel tank for three to four years.  Made from California raisins, it has a beautiful, rich color while the nose shows raisin, brown sugar and caramel. $12

The Bruno Collection fruit wine is non vintage, as prescribed by alcoholic beverage regulations.

One of the many stories Bruno told us during the tasting concerned an old vase.  It seems that during the construction of the tasting room, the old, green vase - adorned with grapes - was unearthed.  "They didn't hit anything else during all the digging, just that vase," says Bruno.  "I like to think it was divine intervention.  The way the raisin wine happened, there must have been somebody on my shoulder."  The vase still has a place of honor on the tasting bar, even if it is as a dump bucket.  I think his grandfather would be proud.

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