Wine history lessons

After 40 years of practicing law in the big city, Franklin Houser thought he would buy some acres and set up a country practice. He planted some grapes on that land and built a small building for his office. Before he knew it — and before he could set up his practice — his office was filled with cases of wine. The country law practice never came to fruition, but in 2000, Bonnie and Franklin Houser opened the Dry Comal Creek Vineyard up to the public.

After the vineyard suffered through Pierce’s disease, a grape-destroyer that is endemic to this area, Houser replanted. He came across the Black Spanish grape, which is resistant to Pierce’s disease. What resulted was the vineyard’s Black Spanish wine, asoft and medium bodied wine with a violet hue and aromas of cherry.

Dry Comal Creek Winery is one of only a few wineries that make Black Spanish Grape wine.

The Black Spanish grapes often are used as an ingredient in baby food. “(It’s) because then they can say ‘no sugar added,’” he said.

Another Dry Comal Creek wine, Comal Red VII, is the winery’s most popular wine, according to sales. The demi-sweet wine offers aromas of blackberry, cherry and chocolate.

“It is great with Italian food, Cajun food, barbecue, meats or at the end of the meal, with a chocolate dessert, flan, red berries or even dark roast coffee,” Houser said.

For someone who started relatively late in the winery business, Houser is a walking encyclopedia of wine and vineyard knowledge.

“Don’t try to start a business when you are 65,” he joked. But grapes are now his passion.

He will go on to tell visitors to the winery that in the 1800s, a horticulturist from Denison named T.V. Munson discovered that Texas grapes were resistant to phylloxera — a mite that was attacking the roots of thousands of grape plants in Europe. Munson sent thousands of cuttings to Europe.

“He was the only non-Frenchman to be awarded an agricultural award from the French,” Houser said.

Munson’s work wasn’t just advantageous in the 1890s, however. Houser said Texas root stock now can be found around the world, and all plants in Europe are still planted on mite-resistant root stock. A certain percentage of that root stock has Texas roots. All those famous European wines have some Texas history in them, he said.

While Houser is basically self-taught, he also works with a wine consultant.

He says there are really two things you must have to get started in winemaking: a good nose and a good palate.

“Otherwise, you can be a damn genius and still be a poor winemaker,” he said.

Houser likes sharing what he knows about wine. The story of the Black Spanish grape can be found on the back of the label of Dry Comal Creek’s Black Spanish Wine. Houser also shares his knowledge at Winery U, classes at Dry Comal Creek designed to educate participants about wine. As the Dry Comal Creek Web site states, Winery U offers “a series of decidedly non-pretentious classes designed to wring the snobbishness out of wine.”

David King, certified wine specialist and author, shares Houser’s enthusiasm for wine and teaches some of the classes.

Recently the winery offered “Your Nose Knows: An Introduction to Tasting Wines” and King told participants that he began reading everything he could about wine after a trip to Italy.

Students John Dorost and Megan Junice said they found out about the class on the Internet.

“I’ve been to one class before, and it was a lot of fun,” said Dorost, who lives at Fort Hood. “I was also interested in going on the tour and learning how wine is made.”

John and Debbie Manchaca from were hoping to learn more about selecting wines.

“There are so many different wines,” John Manchaca said. “And we go on a lot of cruises. So many times, we depend on the maitre d’ to select our wine. We would like to do our own selecting.”

And like Houser, King can provide all the interesting facts about wine — without the snobbery.

“The thinner the rim of the glass, the better it is to taste sweet German wines with,” he tells the class.

He also tells the class they can train their noses to develop a keener sense of smell.

“Stop and appreciate the wine,” he says.

So, what do you do if are going to dinner tomorrow or serving dinner and you haven’t taken that class yet? King says there’s a simple rule to follow: usually, the suggestions include pairing lighter wines with lighter fare and red wines with heartier foods.

But in the end, King says, “Drink what you like.”