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"As a wine maker, you have to represent the fruit." - Shawn Bruno
Tucked away in the historic oil town of Sour Lake, Texas, North of Beaumont on Hwy. 105, is Bruno & George Wines, in business here for more than 12 years. Its owner, Shawn Bruno, a multi- generational Italian,
started this winery in hopes of sharing with the public his family's fantastic Raisin Wine.
Raisin Wine is old as life itself. Shawn's grandfather brought his Raisin Wine recipe from Salaparuta, Sicily when he immigrated to the United States in the early 1900's.
When Shawn began setting up his winery, he found an antiquated law on the Texas books prohibiting the selling of alcohol made by using dried fruit. It seems that during Prohibition the making of elicit alcohol with dried fruit could be easily hidden. He succeeded in getting the Legislature to change
this law in 1999.
In 2005 he successfully got the US federal government to add a new category - Dessert Raisin - to the liquor laws, allowing for the raisin wine, which has a higher alcohol content of 14 percent by volume. During this time, Shawn was honing his skills in the art of making fine wines from a variety of fruits as well as successfully blending grape varietals into some exciting new wines.
Recently we had the opportunity to go to Bruno & George Wines for a tasting conducted by Shawn Bruno himself. "As a wine maker, you have to represent the fruit", Shawn said, as he described each of his wines. Pouring generously, Shawn explained the creation of each wine - where to buy the best fruit, which barrel to use, and the best pairings for each wine.
Not seeing any barrels in his vatting room, Shawn explained the use of "barrels" to impart a certain spice to a particular wine. A vintner can bring oak to the stainless by using barrel staves, chips, or powders.
The best oak is French, American, or Hungarian.
The tasting room here is steadily becoming covered with medals and awards for the various wines. Clearly, Shawn Bruno knows what he is doing when it comes to making wine. There are no grapevines growing here. As was explained to us, a lot of wineries are in the business of creating the wine from grapes grown elsewhere, and in the case of Texas, is becoming a profitable agricultural product. Bruno & George Wines specialize in the creation of fruit wines, with a few grape wine blends available also. Shawn explained how fruit from different locations can yield a completely different tasting wine. For instance, blackberries from Illinois will produce a completely different wine than blackberries from Florida. It's not that one is bad, it is that each is very different. Shawn has taken the time to explore each available fruit to find the best fruit for each of the fruit wines he produces.
We started off tasting the Candlelight Strawberry, a light flavorful wine with the taste of fresh strawberries, a great finish, and no aftertaste. This is a great aperitif. Next came White Orchard Pear, full of ripe pear aroma with almost a floral taste. This wine is heady enough to pair well with grilled salmon. Signature Peach was next with a pretty yellow color and great peachy aroma. This light wine would pair well with many cheeses. As a matter of fact, we enjoyed the Peach with flavorful Manchego cheese from Spain later that evening and it was a great pairing.
Featured on Texas County Reporter, the Holiday Blueberry is a standout with a great aroma and pleasant aftertaste. It is exceptional with wild game, especially wild duck. Shawn offered two different tastings of Arapaho Blackberry - the first being made with blackberries from Illinois, yielding a more fruity, blackberry taste; a great dessert wine. And secondly, one made from blackberries grown in Florida, which has more of a floral taste and aroma and a beautiful light aubergine color.
Preparing to taste the Yellowjacket Raspberry, Shawn handed each person a square of dark chocolate. We were instructed to take a bite of the chocolate and chase it with the Yellowjacket Raspberry. Wow - a pairing made in heaven. This fragrant wine could be a dessert all by itself. Served at a fine restaurant in Beaumont, its beautiful red/orange amber color and full fruity raspberry flavor begs to be enjoyed with a chocolate dessert.
Coming down from our Raspberry high, we wondered what Shawn had in store for us next. We were not disappointed. Shawn poured the Cardinal Cranberry which, true to its name, was a beautiful cranberry color with a slight amber hue. Refreshingly tart, this wine is a good middle-of-the-road wine that could easily pair with dessert or a hearty meal. The Bruno & George Wines are carried in Spec's Liquor stores all over the state and the Cardinal Cranberry is especially popular during the holidays with the stores stocking more to cover demand for this popular wine.
A nod to the Italians came from Salvatore's Red Plum, made from Italian plums grown in North Carolina. This fragrant wine is somewhat dry with more of a grapeish flavor. A good wine for wine snobs who only think good wine comes from grapes. Moving on, Shawn presented Three Rivers Red, a red wine blend of Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc. This fruity, slightly woodsy wine is great for those wine drinkers who haven't found a red to enjoy. It is slightly dry and pairs well with many foods, especially a great steak. We enjoyed this wine with a Sour Lake Goodfella's pizza later and it was wonderful.
Now, we have come to the piece de resistance - the OTS Raisin Wine. This wine is delightfully light, and not too sweet. Its beautiful tawny golden color is reminiscent of a tawny port. Shawn told us this wine is best made from California brown raisins. Served at room temperature, this wine is equally good as a sipping wine after dinner or paired with a tasty Italian pasta meal. It was obvious that Shawn was proud to pour this wine, representing generations of his Italian heritage. And well he should. This is a great wine.
Shawn let us know he had just finished blending a new wine that he would be labeling and getting out to the market within the next few weeks. It is Southern Belle - a blend of Chardonnay, Muscat and Riesling with elder flower. This beautiful golden wine is not too dry with slight floral notes and is very refreshing with no lingering aftertaste. This is a good sipping wine that could also pair well with any seafood or pasta dishes. It could also be combined with chopped fruit for a sangria-like drink. We think Shawn has another winner to bring to market for us to enjoy.
It is evident from Shawn Bruno's enthusiasm for his wine that he is creating a quality product for the public to enjoy and proving that excellent high quality fruit wines are a welcome addition to our table. We are excited to promote his wines and encourage others to contact Shawn for a tasting and look for his wines in the store. We do not think you will be disappointed. Call 409.983.8235 to schedule your tasting. For more information go towww.brunoandgeorge.com
About the Author
Mary Flowers is the senior editor for the Waxahache Journal. She was also a technical writer and copy editor for IBM.