by Steven Doyle
photos by Robert Bostick
We attended a special wine dinner in Rockwall last night. These dinners are seemingly more popular these days and a terrific way to get to know a wine more intimately. Generally the dinners are hosted by great restaurants and feature a particular wine presented by a local rep. The reps are always knowledgeable and offer great information, but what made the dinner at Culpepper’s Steakhouse in Rockwall so unique was the fact that the actual vintner was on hand to present his wines.
Ryan and Crystal Waugh of Waugh Cellars were on hand to charm and educate the interested crowd of people gathered about their unique group of wines.
Ryan spoke through out the evening, first recounting the tale about how he became a winemaker. “About seven weeks into my freshman year at college I started reading about wine, and realized it came from grapes. It sounds silly now, but we all have to start some where – and I started at the very beginning,” Ryan laughed.
The young medical student was ever curious so he contacted wineries and found a job working for master sommelier Michael McNiell. He was soon put to work in a vineyard doing all the mundane tasks that make the grapes so wonderful. His first harvest was in his sophomore year in college and as he put it, “it blew my mind, I loved the fact you can take a piece of land that is nothing and make something people love, and share with friends.”
It wasn’t long before he left school and went to Australia to learn more about his passion. When he came back to California he soon produced his first bottle of wine, 100 cases of Chardonnay. Then he started doing something very unique to this couple, something Ryan calls the “George Costanza Model” because it’s exactly opposite of what is typical. They leased plots of land to grow their grapes. Ryan claims that many winemakers produce wine to supplement their real estate habit. Still to this day Waugh Cellars owns no land, and has little interest in becoming land barons, but instead they simply want to produce a good wine. Waugh is also not interested in medals, just very drinkable wine.
Today the would be doctor produces 4,000 cases of wine at 17 vineyards on 42 acres and is perfectly happy. Almost as happy as his guests were that enjoyed his wines that were paired that evening with chef Chad Bowden’s fun menu.
The first course the chef prepared was a seared duck and chicken liver mousse Wellington that had our table wowing, and was paired with a 2008 Waugh Riesling from their Fazio vineyard. The duck was ever so moist as evidenced by the generous that forkful that engaged the dish, setting off a crisp bite that oozed the pungent mousse.
Since we were at the Rockwall steakhouse we fully expected chef Bowden’s dry aged caveman-style ribeye, but instead he tossed a surprise at us by concocting a foie gras ribeye meatball that he served simmering with potatoes, carrots and parsnips. The dish was an exciting alternative to what we imagined might be a nicely charred slice of beef and paired well with the Napa Valley 2006 Waugh Cabernet Sauvignon that brought out the beefiness and nicely absorbed the foie.
In pairing the wine with the meatball the chef offered, “We needed a little bit of fat content into the wine because the wine was a little dry on the end and tannic, which is what we love about a Napa cabernet. So we wanted to do something crazy and ribeye has the most fat of any cut of steak, and we incorporated the foie into the meat for a crazy flavor combination that was tender and paired very well with Waugh’s cab. It was fun and has to go on the Fall menu.”
Our meal was finished off with a delicious espresso chocolate mousse dacquoise and plated with a strawberry plum salad and dashed with a cherry coulis. The fourth course was served with a 2007 Waugh petite syrah from Dry Creek that made us all linger and chat as we finished our meal.
Rockwall has these amazing restaurants and has been on our mind quite a bit lately. The city just past the lake might seem further away that reality, it took us just 25 minutes to fly past traffic in the HOV lane from the Galleria area of Dallas. This is no further than driving up to Frisco, and we are always met with fond surprises. Tonight is half price bottles of wine.