“What do you want to be when you grow up?”
When I was first asked the question, I apparently thought “a Queen” was something you could apply for and I’d be a nurse on the side. Then I moved on to a teacher or a “beautician.” That term gives a hint as to my age. But if you asked me today, I’d say I’m still figuring it out. My passions change, limitations come and go. I’m learning as I go.
Reflecting on a recent media trip to three Hill Country wineries, it seemed that question, in both macro and micro sense, permeated the day.
What is Texas wine? Where is it going? What does it want to be when it grows up?
We visited Fall Creek Vineyards, Perissos Vineyards, and Wedding Oak Winery for an “en primeur” event. We tasted the 2017 vintage in barrel. The tradition is one in which members of the wine trade are able to taste and purchase wine in barrel. The buyers are able to hedge their bets on the quality of the vintage and get in on the game early. It requires one to be able to see the wine’s potential, to guess what it will become.
A major topic of conversation was the state of Texas Wine. Dispelling myths, preconceived ideas about what Texas wine is and isn’t. We talked about the ingenuity and passion poring into the industry, drawing in new players from around the country. We talked about where it is going, what is thriving and surprising.
For pioneers of the Texas wine industry, Ed and Susan Auler, their dream of growing wine in Texas may have sounded to others a little like my dream of becoming a queen. It required vision, forethought, experience. But through years of tenacity and dedication, by eliciting guidance from others and listening to the land, they’ve turned that dream into a reality.
While Fall Creek is a senior member of the Texas winemaking world, they continue to innovate, to experiment, to grow. We tasted with the Aulers, Director of Winemaking Sergio Cuadra and Winemaker Phil Price. There were seven wines in all, some classics, others were new and surprising additions to the line up. I think the highlight for many was the sparkling Lenoir. Also known as Black Spanish, it is a red-fleshed grape that is popular in Texas. But I’ve yet to see it done as a sparkling wine. It was fantastic. Also, keep an eye out for the Petit Verdot. They haven’t solidified plans for it but look for it whether on its own or blended. I think it would make an amazing fortified wine.
Talk to Seth Martin of Perissos and he will tell you how much his wines have changed since he began. With four recent Best of Class and Double Gold awards, he’s come a long way from what he would call “undrinkable” when he began. His goal is to create wines that reflect what the grapes foretold on the vine. Through trial and error, success and stumbles, Seth Martin has learned what does best on his estate. He is committed to producing 100% Texas wines, made from the “ground up.” He has incorporated the most sustainable practices he can, going beyond “organic” to that which is best for the land, the grapes, and all living things on his property. His desire is to leave the land better than when he began.
At Perissos we tasted 2017s side-by-side with the 2015s, a fantastic way to compare. We began with Viognier, tasted a white blend and a rosé then moved on to reds. Tempranillo, Aglianico, and Petite Sirah. Some wines were similar, but softened, refined by time in barrel. Others I found markedly different. Martin used the same barrel treatment on each, leading me to theorize that the more tannins, the more acid in the grape, the more it was able to absorb, soften, and change in barrel.
Our last stop was at Wedding Oak Winery in San Saba. Winemaker and Viticulturist Penny Adams has been in the vineyards nearly as long as the Aulers have been producing wine. She’s consulted with all the big names and mentored those just starting out. When asked where she sees Texas wine going, she thinks it’s too early to know. We’ve figured out some grapes that work really well, others that require more work. She continues to experiment with clones, hybrids, but has seen how well Rhone and Mediterranean varieties thrive.
Together with founder Mike McHenry and new Winemaker Seth Urbanek, Adams walked us through several wines from 2016 and 2017. Viognier, Tioja, Tempranillo, Montepulciano, and Petit Verdot. Reared in Texas, Urbanek comes to us from Sheldrake Point in the Finger Lakes.
Reflecting, I was reminded of a post I wrote a few years ago as my youngest entered school. I was struggling with potential changes, my new role, a changing identity. I had just finished a private tasting with the winemaker at Sheldrake Point. He spoke about wild fermentation of an ice wine, how he allowed it to take its own path and was rewarded with the results.
As the Texas Wine Industry continues to grow, to adjust, it is developing its own identity. The Fall Creek site states, “We started with the dirt and the vines took root!” And so it often is. An idea is planted, vision takes root. With time, experience, education, the plan is refined. Others I found markedly different. Martin used the same barrel treatment on each, leading me to theorize that the more tannins, the more acid in the grape, the more it was able to absorb, soften, and change in barrel. We can only control so much, we let nature take its own path.
An identity, on the other hand, is something that we develop over a lifetime. We nurture and focus on certain areas. Nature plays its role, beliefs and priorities change. We stumble, learn and dust ourselves off, hopefully growing through the process, and we hope.
On the Perissos site, we are given the story of its name. “Perissos” is Greek, found in the Bible (Eph 3:20). It refers to being blessed abundantly, beyond what is hoped for, imagined, or expected. A fitting name for this time, this place, for this industry as it develops its identity. An important ideal as we watch it become what it wants to be as it grows.
Many thanks to Matt McGinnis of Pen & Tell Us for being the consummate host, to each of the wineries who shared a piece of your world, to all the participants who made the day one to remember.