It Was Better Than Yesterday's Communion Wine

     The reason for the early June flight to Austin was to meet up with an old friend and enjoy a couple days of great music.

      In Austin, one of the world’s great music capitals, that can mean anything from traditional country to “Americana” to rock and roll to jazz. The local music scene is as eclectic as the people, a mix of college students, long-time residents, relative newcomers (who have caused havoc with the traffic) and interlopers like me.

      My pal Rosie and I had a plan: Friday night, we’d head over to the

Cactus Cafe on the university campus for a double-bill featuring Tom

Russell and Gretchen Peters, two under-the-radar and under-appreciated

singers who have written songs that have been big hits for other


      Then on Saturday, we’d head out into the hill country and do some

exploring before arriving in Kerrville for that evening’s lineup of the

Kerrville Folk Festival. Russell and Peters would be there, along with

Laura Love, Ruthie Foster and others.

      Now, you might not think that folk/mericana concerts and

festivals would be havens for fine-wine drinking. And in the case of

the show at the Cactus Cafe, you would be correct. At the urging of a

couple of Cafe regulars, I was steered away from whatever wine was

being offered and toward an authentic Texas brew made by Shiner – which

has been crafting beer in the town of Shiner since 1909. On this hot,

muggy day, a big mug of Shiner Bock really hit the spot.

      The show was great, too, with Russell and Peters alternating sets 

– two apiece. They were generous with their music and their time, as

the 8 o’clock show didn’t end until around 11:30.

      You’ll find wine references in a number of Russell songs. On this

night, the most prominent reference came in the song “Stealing

Electricity, ” which is part of the “Love & Fear” CD. Anyone who has

ever had a glass of wine from a bottle that has been opened for a while 

– particularly a wine that wasn’t all that good to begin with – can

relate to this lyric:

     “He’s deader than yesterday’s Communion wine.”

      On Saturday morning, we began driving in the general direction of

Kerrville, with the idea of stopping in a place called Gruene. There,

the tourist brochure told us, we would find the historic music venue

known as Gruene Hall, as well as a wine tasting room called The


      If you’ve never been to Gruene, be aware that it’s easy to miss.

Road signs in the area are not great, and it turns out that Gruene is

not actually a town, but a part of the city of New Braunfels. No wonder

we couldn’t find it on any of our maps…

      After circling the historic district a couple of times, we finally

figured out how to get there. And we’re glad we did, because it turned

out to be a highlight of the trip.

      Rosie has the shopping gene, so she was happy to browse through

the eclectic collection of shops with colorful names such as

Grandmother Moon’s, Gruene With Envy (which will give you an idea of

how “Gruene” is pronounced), Miss Ruby’s and, my personal favorite,

Cotton Eyed Joe’s.

      The Grapevine offers a rotating selection of wines from Texas and

beyond, as well as the usual assortment of tasting room giftware.

Nothing spectacular to report on the wine front, but everything we

tasted was well made.

      We walked around Gruene Hall, said to be the oldest dance hall in

Texas, and picked up a schedule of upcoming concerts. Later in June,

Jerry Jeff Walker, Kelly Willis and Pure Prairie League would be

performing, but we kind of wished we had chosen a Monday to visit.

Every Monday in June (and perhaps beyond), the music at Gruene Hall was

being provided by a group called The Band of Heathens. (Wonder if they

know anything about da–old Communion wine?)

      Having a great time but still feeling a bit wine-deprived, we cut

our visit to Gruene short – to be late for the Kerrville Folk Festival.

It turned out we arrived in plenty of time, giving us a chance to check

out the bric-a-brac booths and food vendors before the music commenced.

      I fully expected to be sipping another Shiner Bock while soaking

in the sounds, but then came one of the more pleasant surprises of the

weekend. We walked up to the beer and wine vendor, and noticed that

they were selling wine glasses with the Kerrville Folk Festival logo on

them. Well, I just had to have one of those.

      Then came the difficult choice: Should I have it filled with a

non-descript red wine from an unknown (to me) Texas winery, or with a

non-descript white wine from that same winery? It was still warm and

still muggy, so I chose the well-chilled white – and it was very good.

      Perhaps it was the setting. “Wine of a place” always tastes best

in that place. Perhaps it was the music. I’ve always thought wine and

music were meant for each other.

      Or maybe… just maybe… this non-descript Texas white wine was

actually… good.

      But I’d spent enough time pondering this surprising development.

Tom Russell was about to take the stage, and I need to take my seat.


Posted in Editor's Journal
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