Tue 13 May 2014
The young man pictured here is John Lewis Sims, and by “young” I mean that he just turned 21, making him old enough to drink alcoholic beverages in Texas. That stricture has not kept him from making wine, however, which he has been doing since he was 14. When I was in the High Plains of Texas last week, Sims showed up at a party where my writer colleagues and I were about to fall upon some magnificently tender and juicy beef brisket and simultaneously taste a raft of the state’s wines, many fashioned from grapes grown in the High Plains AVA. Sims cradled a bottle of his own wine with the attention a recent mother gives to her newborn, but there was nothing shy about his fervor.
“Making wine is all I ever wanted to do,” he said. “I love this place, and I want to grow grapes and make wine that reflects the nature of the vineyard. The main thing is allowing the original grapes to express themselves. I mean, isn’t that what it’s all about?”
It might be difficult for outsiders to understand the almost fanatical devotion that High Plains inhabitants evince for a geographical phenomenon that is relentlessly vast and oppressively flat, where the summers are hot and the winters cold, and where the wind blows ceaselessly and is often laden with sand and dust sucked up from abandoned fields. “The people are tenacious,” said Sims, “and the wines are tenacious.”
Sims works for the Binghams — always referred to as “the Binghams,” as one might say “the Mondavis” — and for his uncle Dusty Timmons, a well-known grower. The bottle that Sims brought to the party was made from two rows of tempranillo grapes that he tended in Timmons’ vineyard in Terry County. The tempranillo grape is increasingly important in the High Plains, as growers turn away from the chardonnay, cabernet sauvignon and merlot planted 30 and 40 years ago toward southern European and Mediterranean grapes more suited to the rigors of the High Plains climate.
Was the young man’s tempranillo a great wine? Well, no, but it was attractive and drinkable and subtly complex. The color was deep purple shading to magenta; it was ripe and plummy, a little dusty and briery, with a plethora of graphite and granitic elements, hints of lilacs and violets and sappy, rooty red and black currant and raspberry flavors. Alcohol content is 14 percent. I’d buy a case if it were available, but Sims made only two or three cases.
“I really want to stay in High Plains,” said Sims, “and establish it as a distinctive and reliable region.” Could we ask no less from any winemaker?
This post is the initial entry in a series that I’ll be writing about my visit to the High Plains AVA.