Welcome to Wine Wanderings. Today, I have Dr. Bob Young, MD, co-owner of Bending Branch Winery in the Texas Hill Country and Comfort, Texas. Welcome, Dr. Bob.
Dr. Bob Young, MD. Co-Owner, Bending Branch Winery (Dr. Bob):
Thank you, Tricia. It's really exciting to be with you today.
I've enjoyed so much my three visits to your winery. You really know how to hold a great wine tasting and your annual Kentucky Derby party is legendary. I know last year in 2020, of course, every winery had challenges, but you did many virtual tastings as well. I want to tell our readers a little bit about your background. As a background on Dr. Bob and Bending Branch, they're making wine from some outstanding grape varieties full of antioxidants. Dr. Bob was drawn to the beauty and legacy of the wine regions of Europe and South America and the US. As a physician, he found the art and science of winemaking intriguing, as well as the increasing research regarding red wines’ impact on health. He progressed from a course in Viticulture and Enology to a property search in the Texas Hill Country near where his daughter Allison was starting a family. He enrolled in the rigorous winemaking certification program at the University of California at Davis, an international leader in winemaking, academics, and research. He and his wife Brenda founded Bending Branch Winery in 2009. And along the way, the Bending Branch wines have won numerous international wine awards, and the winery was voted “Best Winery” for the sixth consecutive year in the San Antonio Express-News Readers Choice Awards. He's had enormous success with Tannat grapes, and additionally, Tempranillo, Malbec, Picpoul, among other grape varieties. Dr. Bob became a 2009 Renaud Society inductee and he's a member of the American Society of Enology and Viticulture and the Texas Wine and Grape Growers Association. As a Phi Beta Kappa, Dr. Young holds a bachelor’s degree in Chemistry, a Doctor of Medicine, a master’s degree in Public Health and Healthcare Administration, and is boarded in Preventive Medicine. He serves on the Board of Directors of the Comfort [Texas] Area Foundation. That's quite a background. Dr. Bob! Recently I wrote a newsletter in Wine Wanderings on wine and health, and you responded back to me [positively.]
Tell us what you are doing with your wines today in the analysis of polyphenols, antioxidants, and resveratrol properties.
Well, Tricia, thank you for that great introduction. And, also, thank you for doing that wonderful article, The Healthiest Red Wine-–Cheers to a Glass of Antioxidants. I found it very informative and it is good to have a comprehensive review of wine and health out there about: 1)The discussion of antioxidants, resveratrol, and procyanidins. 2)The discussion about some of the “healthiest wines”: Tannat and Sagrantino, etc. 3) The points that were made about increased maceration times tending to be one of the factors that enables more of those polyphenols to be extracted.
But, here at Bending Branch in Comfort, Texas: I started on the “healthy wines” path before we actually bought the property in 2009. That path was chartered by Roger Corder who's now a good friend of mine. As a physician, I was always reading lots of medical literature, and I got interested in the impact of wine on cardiovascular health and otherwise. I came across this article that was published in Nature in 2006, by Dr. Corder, Queen Mary School of Medicine and Dentistry in London, where he demonstrated that a chemical in red wine called procyanidins had a positive effect on the vascular system. So, of course, that entry piqued my interest. He followed that up a year later with the public publication of his book, The Red Wine Diet. I really dug into that. It's probably one of the most dog-eared books that I have. And one of the most underlined books. It's just full of great information about red wine and its impact on health. I highly recommend it to your followers.
I got so interested in that topic that I attended the Renaud Society conference in Walla Walla, Washington, in 2008. One of the speakers was Dr. Corder! He gave a brilliant presentation of the research that he had done on the impact of procyanidins. I said, “Why not try to make wines that are high in polyphenols, and high in procyanidins?” They have become one of the features of Bending Branch wines. I'm a physician. I've been involved in public health, and it just seemed like the right thing to do. All of this background with Roger [Dr. Corder] had a terrific impact on some of the initial varieties that we decided to plant on the estate. I chose varieties, most of them mentioned in his book, that were high in polyphenols, tannins, anthocyanins, color compounds, and procyanidins. These were Tannat, Malbec, Sagrantino, and Cabernet Sauvignon to name four. My goal was to produce really high-quality red wines from Texas. But to produce wines that had high levels of procyanidins, I set about trying to figure out how to do that.
Now, as you know, there's some controversy and debate in the literature about resveratrol versus procyanidins. Resveratrol, obviously, is a really great chemical that has some positive impacts. The question is:”Is there enough of it in high enough concentrations that, if you have wine or two glasses a day, will that really make an impact?” However, procyanidins are in much, much higher concentrations. At least Roger Corder’s theory is that they might be more impactful on cardiovascular health than resveratrol. That's one of the reasons I decided to focus on the procyanidins side of things.
So, to talk about Texas a little bit. We're in a very, very hot climate. What I learned early on is that in most years, the sugar maturity in the grapes happens early. Or, in winemaker-speak, the Brix become mature early. But the phenolics, the tannins, the polyphenols and the color compounds [the maturity]-- they're delayed. They're not [highly] phenolic in maturity. Here, more often than not, the red grapes, out of necessity, because of the sugar level, get picked before they are phenolically mature. That means if you do a traditional fermentation, you're not going to get the highest levels of polyphenols extracted from the fruit. I put on my science hat and said, “How do we deal with that? What's the solution?” Well, the solution I came up with was going back to what you talked about in your article: maceration techniques. It is to try some new maturation techniques.
When we first started making wine, I would do research side-by-side fermentations of what I call regular fermentation, which is actually open-top half-ton bins that are hand punched down. It's kind of the old traditional way of making wine hands-on. I would compare the results of that with the other two maceration techniques that we use. (Tricia - if you would put the first slide up): It's called cryomaceration. I learned about cryomaceration in my studies at UC Davis when I was trying to learn maceration techniques to increase extraction. I found a paper that is now probably 15 to 20 years old that was published in the French medical literature. They took Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, and, I think, Merlot, and they froze some of the fruits. Then, they did their regular fermentations, and they compared the results of the polyphenols, the tannins, and the color compounds. They found roughly a 50% increase in the cryomaceration test group compared to the regular controls. We started doing that here. See Cryo-Maceration Slide Above.
This is just a picture of the surface of a half-ton bin that's been in the freezer for several weeks, and frozen. What happens here, we think, is that the ice crystals that slowly develop during the freezing process, break open the cells in the skin and cause an increase, leaching out if you will, of the polyphenols. When we make wine in this way, we thaw it out first, then ferment it exactly the same way. And our results! Earlier studies are here. At Bending Branch, we got 25 to 50% increase overall in polyphenols using that method. The second method that we use is not that well known, but it's actually available all over the world. And it's called flash detente (would you put up that slide, please?) See Flash Détente Slide Above.
Flash detente is a process that's over 20 years old now. And I use it. This is the piece of equipment here that that we use. We have the only one here in Texas. It uses rapid heating of the grapes to 185 degrees Fahrenheit, and then a rapid cooling in a vacuum down to about 90 degrees. The heating weakens the cell walls of the skins. When it hits the vacuum chamber and cools off, then basically the cells explode, and they open up. The vacuoles inside the cytoplasm open up, you literally get [in our research over about five years], on average, about a 100% increase in the release of polyphenols. This was our solution; or two solutions. If [the grapes] aren't phenolically mature in the growing process, then you use the winemaking process to solve that problem--to get those chemicals out. And, not just the discussion of the health side of things, but just from point of view of making bold red wines that are going to be well-structured. [For wines] that can age well and have good color, you have to have those polyphenols extracted.
The next thing I want I want to show is, just to double check our results, I decided to send 18 wine samples, wines of different vintages, different varieties, using these different maceration techniques to Dr. Corder’s lab. We sent him a case and a half in December 2019, just before the pandemic was about to kick off, and he examined them all in his lab. We got some really exciting results out of it. (Tricia, would you put up the third slide now?)
All credit goes to Roger Corder for the slides that he put together for us. I thank him for giving us permission to use them. So, this is the comparison.
See Dr. Roger Coder Laboratory slides I and 2 above comparing OPC’s in Various Grape Varieties and Sources including Bending Branch Winery.
(Sorry for the confusion, on the slides).
There are two charts here. And these are a comparison of wines from Bending Branch to previous history of analyses that he has done in his lab--wines from all over the world. I’ll just explain these charts a little bit because, if you're not used to these charts, you are going to say, “What does this mean?” Well, each little red dot is a single wine that's being analyzed for either total polyphenols, on the left, or, on the right side, for OPCs, which is another name for procyanidins, or “oligomeric procyanidins,” and they're in milligrams per liter. And, if you look on the left of the chart at the Cabernets, these are the Cabernets in his database. You can see they are solid areas in the middle that look a little bit like a grape cluster, doesn't it? Anyway, there are so many wines tested that, you know, they overlap, and you get that solid center. Then, if you look over to the right side of that slide, or that chart, you'll see that Tannat. He's analyzed a lot of Tannat, and it has the same effect. On the other hand, if you go back to Malbec, you can almost see every single circle that he has tested. And, pretty much the same thing for Sagrantino. Looking at polyphenols on the left, first, we only had two Cabs [Cabernet Sauvignon] in this sample. I'd like to send them more. You can see how their level of polyphenols and those of two Cabs fared. The one up at the top, there was ours, and it looks like the second highest wine in his database. If you go over to the Malbec and compare a Bending Branch Malbec, we had three samples. You can see they're all pretty much at the high end. One of them looks like it’s the highest. All three of those samples of Malbec were flash détente [technique.] For the Sagrantino, you can see we had four for those that were tested. Two of those four were very, very high compared to the others there. It looks like we had the last wine [tested]. That wine, by the way, is a 2018 that that we haven't bottled yet. That was that was grown here. All these are grown in Texas.
Dr. Bob, I'm gonna interrupt you because Sagrantino is one of my absolute favorite grape varieties. So when you bottle that will you reserve one for me, please?
Absolutely. Will do that. Now, Sagrantino, I haven't worked with it in many years. It seems to struggle a little bit to grow as well as we'd like here. It may be that we just haven't found the right microclimate here in Texas. We're getting good grapes. But you know, I think they could improve and grow it better. Ditto on Tannat. Of course, we're known as the “Tannat house” in Texas. We grow and produce all kinds of Tannats, from red wines to rosés to frizzante’s to ports. You name it, we use Tannat. I'm really excited to see our high levels of polyphenols. Most of these are high too. I'm going to go to another slide. We'll get to it in a minute, a slide that shows more detail about Tannat. I'll talk more about that when we get there. On the far right are the procyanidins, the chemicals that Dr. Corder found that [caused] the vascular improvement. It turns out that they actually block an enzyme in arteries and veins that may be a mechanism of action of how this actually works. So, my goal is: “Let's try to get as much of these procyanidins in our fruit and wines as possible.” So again, if you look first at Cabernet, you can see that wine of ours [Bending Branch] was the second highest in OPC’s. That was 2016 Newsom Vineyard Cabernet which we used flash detente on. If you go over to my Malbec, you can see the OPC’s on our Malbec’s are all three very high. Again, the 2016 Newsom flash [Cab flash détente] was the top one. The second highest one was 2019 Lahey Vineyard flash détente. Then moving over to Sagrantino. The results are very, very high on the procyanidins. You can see that that in the OPC’s we have with two of the OPCs that look like the highest compared to his database. I can tell you from tasting these Sagrantino’s that they have to be aged a little bit longer than anything else. We can't turn them out quite as fast because they they're so loaded with polyphenols. Then with Tannat, you can see that the top four of ours are among the highest. Actually, we had two out of the three highest in procyanidins. And he's tested a lot of Tannats. The interesting thing is that the top four circles of ours are flash détente [technique] and the next five are cryomaceration. The bottom two are basically the control method, which is the regular fermentation process. You get an increasing extraction, going from regular to cryomaceration, and then the last in flash detente.
Let’s go to the Next Slide – Slide 2. This is a comparison of two Tannats from Bending Branch (from his database) with ones from Southwest France, which is where Tannat originated. There was lots of early interest in Tannat because of [the interest] from the people in Gers, Southwest France. The Blue Zone, National Geographic report and Dr. Corder's book [stated] that in that region they had twice as many men that live past 90 years of age than the average across the rest of France. There's an association. They're not a cause and effect, but it's an interesting association. Because they drink mostly Tannat wines there. In Uruguay, the national grape there is Tannat--about 40% of everything they grow is Tannat--and they make a lot of them. You can see the profiles of the polyphenols on the left there from the Uruguayan Tannats. Then you see on the far right are the Bending Branch Tannats. Again, the top four of the Bending Branch wines were all flash detente. The next five were cryomaceration [technique.] Then, the last two were the regular fermentation. So, moving finally over to the procyanidins, comparatively speaking, they are what I'm most excited about. Again, we've got the Madiran, Southwest France on the left. You can see, in general, those are higher in procyanidins than the Uruguayan Tannats. Compared to ours, we've got some pretty good results there particularly with the flash detente, which again, is the top four circles on there. It looks like we've got two out of the three highest in his database, in procyanidins. The second highest one and the top two there are about the same as you can see, but the wine on the left is a 2018 Newsom Tannat which we're getting ready to bottle. I just pulled some out of the barrel, and this is what it looks like (Dr. Bob shows the dark wine.) And you would say, “Wow, that must be really tough to drink,” but actually it's quite smooth. The interesting thing in the world of tannins and procyanidins is not only the potential health effect, but also they are also the smoothest tasting tannins for “mouthfeel.” That's all a good thing.
I love these slides and congratulations on your results.
Dr. Bob, thank you for going over your research. I know it's continuing, as are Dr. Corder's results.
Tell us just a couple more things [your winery is doing] coming out of the pandemic. Will you be doing anything different in 2021?
Well, we're starting to open up. We've been very, very conservative from a public health perspective out here. We were totally shut down for a long time. The only way people could get wine was to drive-by/pickup. Then the next stage, which was a couple of months or so ago, we opened up outside [the winery], but we still had people wearing masks. We were spread out, good for social distancing. We used Ozone and UV light to clean the inside areas. We did not let customers inside. To be the safest we're still going [mostly] outside, but we're opening up even more now. It is really exciting to see people back out here. We had our first wine dinner on Saturday, last weekend, which was amazing to be able to do that again with people. We're going to be starting to do our events. We have a party coming up. Of course, next year we hope to do the [Kentucky] Derby event that you mentioned. We're also hopeful this year that we're going to have a new variety. It's not a red wine. It's a white wine, but it's also from Southwest France. It's a very aromatic, fragrant, white wine called Petit Manseng--so excited about that. It has very high acidity, which is good in Texas because of the heat. We'll get our first crop of that. We also have a new red variety that we're experimenting with called Crimson Cabernet. It's growing here on the estate. We're growing it organically. It's resistant to Pierce's Disease, which is a perennial problem here in South Texas. It's a cross between Cabernet Sauvignon and Norton. We're excited to see what kind of results we can get with that new variety. We'll have our first harvest this year.
Well, you have quite a bit going on in 2021, don't you? I'm going to conclude our interview. But I want to ask you wine more thing. What's your favorite quote about wine?
I would say my favorite one, particularly given our discussion today, is that “wine is the most healthful and most hygienic of beverages,” said Louis Pasteur. Of course, he's the guy who did all the magic with helping us understand how fermentation works. So that's all quite appropriate. And, interestingly enough, he was also a pioneer with vaccinations. I can't think of a better person to quote than Louis Pasteur.
We were all very grateful to him for his very early research. Dr. Bob, thank you so much for joining us on Wine Wanderings.
You're so welcome. This is a lot of fun. I so appreciate you having me here.
You can follow this conversation by subscribing to the comment feed for this post.