The Botanical Research Institute of Texas’ (BRIT) international sustainable winegrowing competition produced a new winner in 2019 – Bending Branch Winery! Located on a 56-acre estate winery outside Comfort, Texas with an Ursa Branch on High tasting room on High Street in Comfort, this winery has been winning awards since 2014. In recognizing both the winemaker and the grower, BRIT promotes sustainable practices worldwide in the vineyard and winery and puts Texas wineries on the map. The first grape vines were planted in 2009 and wines were immediately made – the first customer was served in August 2010.
Robert (Bob) Young is the winemaker and the operation is undertaking innovative processes and actions toward sustainability which is a complex formula involving economic, social and environmental aspects. Fifty-plus sustainable components have been implemented and led to Bending Branch winning the competition. The team is planting more sustainable grape varieties that are resistant to Pierce’s Disease, collecting rainwater for use on property, growing organically, and planting native grasses and wildflowers between rows. Bending Branch produces about twenty thousand cases annually and make wines for other Texas wineries.
Daughter Alison has made sustainability a priority since 2009. She provides professional leadership and inspiration and has an MA in Environmental Management. Bending Branch provides health insurance for all full-time employees and offers liveable wages as well. The thirty full- and part-time employees are given an opportunity to further their education in the business. It is a leader in the community and supports the Comfort Area Foundation to improve lives of its neighbors. Charitable contributions are made to many organizations. Young drives a sustainable car, a Tesla, which is seven years old and all electric. It is one of the original models and can travel up to 250 miles on its battery life.
Other examples of sustainability include the beautiful tasting room bars hand-hewn from one of the trees devastated by oak wilt. The limbs of the huge tree were re-purposed into portable bars. All of the stone used in the house, buildings and walkways were quarried off the property. Using local products the old buildings were re-purposed eight to ten years ago. The two families live on the property, one in the original 1840s cabin. The main tasting room was built in the 1920s as a maintenance garage. All storing and processing methods throughout the winery are a nod to sustainability – from the low-flow faucets and toilets which conserve water to the four rainwater collection tanks that are hooked up to irrigation lines. Soon the winery’s main project building will have 350 solar panels installed with Bandera Electric Company’s offer to sell back whenever more energy is produced that the winery can consume. The wine barrels are set out during rainy days to soak up the moisture instead of spraying them with water. This helps to expand the wood so they don’t leak when filled.
The Youngs have always enjoyed wine and over the years traveled to Europe and California to wine-making areas. Young is a fan of bold red wines and makes the boldest reds in the State. He got his start from California grapes at a small winery in the Sierra Foothills. He made wine there with their winemaker, put it in barrels, and brought them back to Texas to age and bottle. “Every year we make a higher percentage of Texas product with two-thirds Texas grapes. We still make and keep a few California products that customers like so much. I learned the academic expertise of wine-making at the University of California/Davis which is ‘the wine-making school of the U.S.’ in an online program for two and a half years on nights and weekends while getting practical experience.” Young hired Greg Stokes, a consultant from the same winery in California and experienced the practical side from him. Young now owns that California winery to make and sell the Ursa brand at the Comfort storefront. Greg and Deborah Stokes won awards in California as winemakers. The Tannats are the favorite hearty red grapes Young pioneered in Texas.
Bending Branch has an Italian-made processor to obtain 100 percent of the polyphenols or color compounds and tannins to make the bold red wines. In Texas there is a hot growing season and grapes mature quickly developing sugar content but not peak polyphenol content. A good supply of compounds doesn’t get extracted fully with normal techniques. The winery also freezes fruit for a few months before thawing and fermenting to obtain 25 to 50 percent more polyphenols. The facility has a new energy-saving freezer. The barrel room was designed with thermal mats on the floor and soy-foamed walls for insulation as a means of providing energy efficiency. The laboratory enologist does 95 percent of the work onsite with a high tech spectrometer which analyzes the wine prior to bottling.
Young was a physician with training in public health sustainability and practiced population medicine. He was a director in two state health departments and ran a family medicine practice in under-served areas of Kentucky and West Virginia. He pioneered the newest specialty in American medicine: Hospitalists. Young is a big fan of tennis and hosts tennis tournaments and pro/am fundraisers. The Youngs moved to the area when daughter Alison moved here and started a family.
The Wine Club lounge will be expanded this year and additional outdoor patio seating will be installed. Visit the Bending Branch Winery’s tasting room and Bending Branch on High. Go to http://www.bendingbranchwinery.com for more information or call 830-995-5850.