Let's Talk over Drinks
I often hear people talking about the importance of “finding their tribe.” There are definitely benefits to belonging to a social group or a community of like-minded people. Many of us get a lot of benefits from that feeling of connectedness that comes with joining a group.
Fostering a community of wine lovers who want to learn more, enjoy excellent small-production wine, and know that they will have a lot of fun in the process is exactly what we aim to do with our Pedernales Cellars Wine Clubs. In addition to the importance of cultivating a community of wine lovers, we also want our wine club members to feel special with exclusive perks.
Here are the Top Five Reasons To join our wine club:
1. First Access to All of Our Events
Throughout the year we host not only exclusive wine club events but also fun and educational events that are open to the public. Our wine club members always get first dibs on tickets for all of our events. Each of our wine club pick-up parties features exclusive experiences for our members such as:
- Educational Seminars with our co-founder, Julie Kuhlken
- Signature Series Wine Tastings with our winemakers, David Kuhlken and Joanna Wilczoch
- The first tastes of our newly released wines
- Delicious food pairings with newly released wines
Our Fall Wine Club Pick-Up Party is happening this Sunday, September 25. Our Winter Wine Club Pick-Up Party will be held on December 4, 2022, on the gorgeous grounds of the winery in Stonewall, Texas.
Of course, our club members were the first invited to attend our Fall Feast Vintner's Dinner which is coming up on Saturday, October 29, 2022.
“I’ve been a member here for years. The wine is phenomenal, and the people are always, always so kind, knowledgeable, and thoughtful. I’ll never give up my membership. Pedernales Cellars is world-class wine and service. The Texas Hill-country view can’t be beaten either!”— Mary Longloy
2. Access to Library Released Wines
Pedernales Cellars offers a unique wine experience by releasing older vintages of our most-prized wines from our library exclusively to our wine club members. These Library Wines that we have carefully aged in our temperature and humidity-controlled cellar over the years exist in extremely limited quantities typically with only one or two cases still available. Once we notify our members, our Library Wines typically sell out immediately. Library Wine orders can be picked up at the winery or shipped to your home.
“The wines are great, but the staff are why we are still members.” — Cass and Carolyn Moore
3. Complimentary Wine Tastings
What is better than a glass of amazing wine? A free glass of amazing wine. Our wine club members receive a complimentary tasting or glass of wine with each visit to our tasting room. Enjoy!
“Always good wine, informative friendly staff and I love the laid-back vibe of the vineyard.”— Eva Vega
4. Savings on Wine, Merchandise & Events
Not only do our members get our best pricing of at least 20% off on every purchase of wine and merchandise, but we also offer discounts on our fantastic events like our Retrospective Viognier Tasting. We are hosting a retrospective tasting of our 100% Texas Viogniers with vintages ranging from 2015-2021 paired with cheeses. Join us on Sunday, October 2, 2022, from 11 am-1 pm for a guided retrospective tasting led by co-owner Dr. Julie Kulhlken.
“Always a pleasure visiting. The staff is very personal, makes you feel right at home.” — Heather Simons
5. Access to Member-Exclusive Wines
This Autumn, our wine club members are getting first access and exclusive wine club wines including:
- 2021 Viognier Reserve — We are excited to have this wine back again after not making a 2020 vintage. It is definitely one of our most sought-after wines, and the 2021 vintage is one not to miss. This wine has lots of tropical notes such as candied pineapple and kiwi, as well as golden delicious apple, pear, and hints of brioche. Wine Club Members get first access.
- 2019 Tempranillo Reserve — Our Tempranillo Reserve is always one of our most popular wines and annually gathers high praise at wine competitions. The 2019 vintage is one of the last blends to have our estate fruit in it before replanting the Kuhlken Estate Vineyards. It has lovely notes of chocolate-covered cherries, leather, black currants, cedar, black pepper and bramble, clove, and cigar. Wine Club Members get first access.
- 2018 Block Zero — This is the fourth and last vintage of this wine made with grapes grown in the front portion of Kuhlken Estate Vineyards planted by the Kuhlkens in 1995. It shares some similarities with Pinot Noir with notes of cherry cola, cherry kirsch, and new leather. It is fruit on the palate with menthol, cola, and green peppercorn with bright acidity. Available exclusively to wine club members.
- 2019 Carignan — This is the second time that we have released a varietal Carignan. However, first time was as a Nouveau-style wine within the Signature Series. This release is a larger bottling with cherries, strawberries, tomato leaf, hibiscus, and dried herbs are present on the nose. This wine is light-bodied, soft and juicy on the palate. Available exclusively to wine club members.
- Signature Series 2018 Farmhouse Petite Sirah — This single vineyard wine showcases what Petit Sirah can be on its own. The bouquet of this wine is rich with notes of ripe blackberries, blueberries, violets, white pepper, and bramble. On the palate rich dark fruit dominates with a velvety mouthfeel and luscious tannins. Available exclusively to wine club members.
We offer three different levels of club membership to suit your needs.
- Our Hilltop Club lets you stay on top of all of the wine club-exclusive wines at Pedernales Cellars with quarterly shipments of 3 bottles chosen by our winemaker.
- The Vista Club gives you a broader vista on Pedernales Cellars wines, with quarterly shipments of 6 bottles chosen by our winemaker.
- Join the Panorama Club if you want to drink in the full panorama of what we do at Pedernales Cellars, with quarterly shipments of a customized case of 12 bottles selected by you. In addition, our Panorama Club members receive 25% savings on wines.
Each quarter your wines will be available for pickup at our club events or they can be delivered straight to your doorstep.
We are looking forward to welcoming you to our tribe!
One thing defines this year’s grape growing season: drought. Sure, year-in and year-out we have weather challenges with viticulture in Texas, but this year the lack of rain was the most significant factor impacting our vineyards.
Let me put this in perspective. In a normal year, we get about 32 inches of rain on our Kuhlken Estate Vineyard just north of Fredericksburg, Texas. This year by the end of July, we only had 3.5 inches of rain. The rains never came. The driest year I’ve ever farmed.
The drought and extensive heat were really hard on the vineyards in the Texas Hill Country. The lack of rain began impacting the vines during the winter, causing a delay in bud break this Spring. Budbreak came about two to three weeks later than usual, which is the latest I’ve seen in 17 years of farming.
Kuhlken Estate Vineyard is in a phase of rebuilding. We have replanted significant portions of the property over the past two years with almost 6,000 new vines in 2021 and close to 7,000 more this year. The drought made it hard on the young vines. We had to irrigate with well water almost non-stop to keep them alive. We were in survival mode. The one-year-old vines had better root structures and were more drought tolerant, but the newly planted vines needed a lot of water. We were watering in 12-hour stretches across 14 zones for 11 weeks straight.
Despite the late bud break, we had an early harvest in the Hill Country and in the High Plains. The intense heat spurred the grapes to ripen quickly pushing up the sugar levels. We are three to four weeks ahead of our typical harvest dates. In 2019 we harvested in mid-October, but this year we were done by the end of August. We usually have a lull between completing the harvest in the Hill Country and starting our work in the High Plains. Not this year. We were bringing in grapes from both AVAs at the same time, which required more planning and logistics to bring in the grapes and process them in the cellar. It was a fast-paced harvest.
Small Lots in the Hill Country and High Plains
We did not harvest grapes from the Kuhlken Estate Vineyards this year with the acreage all replanted in the past two years. Our Petite Sirah started producing second-year fruit, but we cut it to allow the vines to continue to mature for future vintages. We expect to get more than a ton of grapes from that block next year, and 3 to 5 tons an acre in a couple more years.
We manage Loyal Valley Vineyards near Fredericksburg, and we picked a beautiful crop there this year. The Mourvèdre looks excellent with larger, high-quality clusters. I can’t wait to taste this vintage when it is ready in a few years. The Cabernet vines produced a pretty light crop with small, tight clusters. I’m confident it will make stellar wine.
Our team worked closely with our grower partners in the High Plains. David Kuhlken, as always, was our field general in the vineyards directing our work. I made decisions on the ground about when to pick grapes in each block that we manage in the High Plains. Fortunately, we had excellent crops from the blocks managed by our long-term growers at the Bingham Family Vineyards and Reddy Vineyards. The Viognier, Graciano, and Tempranillo all look fantastic. We got excellent Roussanne and Tempranillo from Lahey and other vineyards. We also picked a beautiful lot of Mourvèdre and gorgeous Grenache for rosé from Desert Willow Vineyards near Seminole, Texas and look forward to these wines.
And Then the Rains Came
We were very lucky that we were able to pick all of our fruit before the rains came in late August and early September. There has been seven inches of rain since we harvested. It looks like Spring at Kuhlken Estate Vineyards now with all of the rain. We have wildflowers now. It is a blessing to have this rain, as we still have two months of growing season for our baby vines. This will give the vines a nice long rest before they need to begin producing next year. We will guard against winter damage by watering and applying Zinc.
Small But Excellent 2022 Vintage
While we had high-quality fruit from our vineyards, the crop yield tonnage was down across the board for all vineyards that we work with. We had smaller clusters, and smaller berries on the vines, resulting in lower weight of the crop per acre. Where we typically have harvested four 4 tons per acre, we picked two tons this year. A huge benefit from smaller berries is that we get more skin with each lot, which leads to greater structure, color and more phenolics in the wine. The wine will be awesome in this vintage, but we will just make less of it.
Even though the overall quality of the grapes is excellent, we have some challenges. Much of the fruit came in with high pH, and low acidity. High pH is difficult because if the juice isn’t handled with care, it allows for bacteria to get into the wine. With the compressed harvest schedule and fruit coming in from both regions at the same time, it was a tricky year for winemakers, and our winemaking team was certainly up for the challenge.
While we wait for the 2022 vintage to be ready, we get to enjoy the wines made from the beautiful harvests of 2018 through 2021. Open a bottle with your friends and family and raise a toast to another successful harvest.
We love the Texas Hill Country. There’s a reason we built our winery where we did—views for days! Driving through the Texas Hill Country, one can feel their shoulders relaxing, their jaws unclenching, and the stress just melting away.
Summer is a busy travel season, and we know many of you will be visiting our neck of the woods soon. We welcome you to swing by! Whether visiting the Texas Hill Country for the first or fiftieth time, we want to give you a few ideas to make the most of your visit.
Our Pedernales Cellars winery and tasting room in Stonewall, Texas is a perfect place to start or end your Hill Country adventure. Our property is nestled in the heart of the Texas wine country, on 145 acres of oak-shaded land, with unparalleled views of the beautiful Pedernales River Valley. Enjoy a tasting experience of select wines guided by our knowledgeable staff, and then take in the scenery on our spacious patio or expansive lawn with wine by the glass, or by the bottle. We feature live music by local artists each Saturday. We welcome leashed pets on the patio or the lawn while you enjoy our wine. We are open seven days a week and encourage reservations to enjoy a tasting at the tasting room bar.
Places to Stay
Rose Hill Retreat: This charming bed and breakfast just happens to be our next-door neighbor. It’s very convenient to check into your suite or cottage at Rose Hill and then meander over our way for a wine tasting. Or you can pick up a bottle to enjoy later in your room.
Stonewall Motor Lodge: This funky retro motel down the road from us was built in 1964, and the recent remodel and update harkens back to that era stylistically while providing all the modern amenities for its guests. Rent a room or a private cabin or dock your RV in one of their RV slots.
Blue Skies Retro Resort: If you love the idea of staying in a retro trailer, this is where you want to be. Lodging at the resort is at one of several updated retro trailers, and they have a pool on the property. Winding down at the pool with a bottle of Pedernales Cellars wine is a perfect end to a summer day in the Texas Hill Country.
Driving tour of the LBJ Ranch at LBJ Ranch National Park: Right now the Texas White House is closed for touring, but you can still drive through the ranch and see the house and LBJ’s boyhood home from the outside. It’s a fun way to spend an hour or two.
Stonewall and Fredericksburg peaches: You can expect to see German culture and wineries year-round in the area, but summer is special because our famous peaches are in season! Enjoy a tour of a peach orchard and buy a bag of peaches.
You can pick your own peaches at Jehnske Orchards in Fredericksburg. Vogel Orchards, Gold Orchards, and Burg’s Corner are great places to visit in Stonewall. Any of these places are fun to visit and are great places to buy peaches. Look out at these spots and around the Fredericksburg town square for the ever-popular peach soft serve ice cream—it’s a refreshing way to cool down on a hot summer day.
Pedernales Falls State Park: This is a glorious spot, especially for anyone who loves hiking, mountain biking, and swimming in a true natural setting. The Pedernales River is in the middle of the park and reached by a hike along a steep and rocky trail about a quarter of a mile in. There are also fun spots for geocaching if you are into that. Always check the website for trail closures and other safety info.
Shopping in Fredericksburg: Hit up Main Street or the Warehouse District for boutique stores to find Texas treasures to take home with you. Invest in some comfy cowboy boots or grab some Texas-made gourmet items like BBQ sauce, chocolate, and olive oil. You can also find plenty of kitschy items that make fun gifts for those back home or make a nice memento of your trip there.
Places to Eat
Hye Market Bistro & Deli: This local favorite up the road in Hye is a super popular spot, open for lunch only. They source as much local and in-season food as possible, so expect the menu to change. They are encouraging online ordering during the busy season.
Bryan’s on 290: Open for dinner only, Bryan’s on 290 is for when you want to get dressed up and enjoy an elegant night out. Bryan’s is in Johnson City, which is also nearby on “Wine Road” 290. Chef Bryan Gillenwater has made a name for himself with his live-fire specialties. They also host wine-paired dinners from time to time.
Ottos’ Grill: With Fredericksburg’s German history and the abundance of local farms in the Texas Hill Country area, this farm-to-table German restaurant makes a lot of sense. They are open for dinner and Sunday brunch. The menu changes but is sure to offer the best local ingredients and German recipes.
Cabernet Grill: Another high-end option in Fredericksburg is this classy restaurant boasting the largest selection of Texas wines, so be sure to ask for pairing recommendations. Chef Ross Burtwell brings style and flair to his Hill Country fare. Make sure to save room for dessert here, as they are sublime.
Martini’s Seafood House: This Fredericksburg spot is for when you have a craving for delicious seafood. The Spicy Lobster Roll is recommended. They also have a selection of raw oysters, crab cakes, and a seafood tower for sharing.
Pedernales Cellars: Of course, we think you should fit a wine course in every day! We have a lovely cheese and charcuterie board to snack on with your wine. It will tide you over until dinnertime.
We do hope to see you at our winery soon. There’s nothing quite as serene as watching the sunset in the big Texas sky over the Texas Hill Country! We often find ourselves catching our breath when we watch it from our property.
During the winter, when the vines are dormant, we spend time pruning the vines to ensure the vines have the right balance between the number of shoots and the number of buds, which eventually produce grape clusters. Thankfully we escaped serious winter freezes this year, so there was no damage to the vines as there was last year with “Snowmageddon.”
Now that Spring is in full swing, the vines in Kuhlken Vineyards have sprung back to life. We started to see bud break on some vines, like our grenache, in mid-March. By early April, many of our vines were pushing leaves and shoots with the fresh, vibrant green colors invigorating the landscape.
We are currently revitalizing the whole vineyard at the Kuhlken Ranch. Last year we planted almost 6,000 new vines. This season we are training those baby vines into trunks with two-buds. We just started planting close to 7,000 more vines, which will help us to be close to filling our 12-acre site. Let me tell you, planting 7,000 vines requires quite a lot of drilling and digging soil. This year we are planting several of our preferred varietals including Graciano, Tinta Amarela, Tempranillo, Alicante Bouschet, and Teroldego.
At the Mercy of Mother Nature
Our growing season this year will be impacted by the extreme drought at Kuhlken Ranch. Until this week, our last rain was on November 24, 2021. Thankfully we had a good downpour this week, but it hasn’t erased the drought. I’ve been irrigating a lot to give those baby vines a drink. Irrigation is necessary because of the early development stage our vines are in. Young vines do not have the root structure of a mature plant and the roots can dry out very quickly. We’ve had to reprioritize a lot of our work this Spring to fix our drip tubing to make sure each vine is getting the water it needs.
The drought has also affected our bud break this year. I have never seen such a late occurrence as this year with our buds breaking about 3 weeks later than in a typical year. The later bud break could also move our harvest schedule from August to well into September. The summer weather will dictate our harvest dates.
Loyal Valley Vineyards
We are very excited to add Loyal Valley Vineyards near Fredericksburg, Texas to our farming schedule and vineyard management. We kicked off our pruning season at Loyal Valley in February and have been managing the early stages of growth now in Spring. Loyal Valley Vineyards has 1.5 acres of Cabernet Sauvignon, 1.5 acres of Mourvèdre, and 2 small blocks of Tempranillo and Tannat. The vineyard is close to 12 years old and has some nice mature vines. We are expecting to harvest six to nine tons of high-quality fruit from Loyal Valley Vineyards this year.
After we finish planting we will focus on vine training at Kuhlken Vineyards and canopy management at Loyal Valley. I’m really looking forward to getting our new vines trained and bringing in some exceptional fruit from Loyal Valley.
We love blending to create finished wines. That is where our winemaking team really shows off their talent. Pedernales Cellars typically release seven to ten red blends each vintage, such as our Rhône-style GSM Mélange and our Family Reserve. Even many of our varietal wines involve blending. In our Texas High Plains Tempranillo, we blend in grapes such as Mourvèdre and Syrah, and in our Texas Tempranillo Reserve, Touriga Nacional, and Graciano.
We have something new up our sleeves for the current vintage. We are bottling five single-vineyard Tempranillos that showcase the expressiveness of the fruit from specific locations. The crazy growing conditions and scarcity of fruit from some of our vineyards in 2020 had a silver lining. The reality that we had very little quantities of some of the grapes that we normally blend, such as Graciano, Grenache, and Mourvèdre, led us to pursue new sources of grapes to make wines with 100 percent Tempranillo. We had the opportunity to secure incredibly high-quality Tempranillo from various growers around the state that were new to us, such as Tab Daniel, Canted County, and Pepper Jack. We’re incredibly excited to share the results with you.
This year we will bottle five vineyard-designated Tempranillos, in addition to our Texas Tempranillo and the Reserve Tempranillo.
2020 Daniel Vineyard Tempranillo
We were fortunate to connect with Tab Daniel, a vineyard owner whose young site lies within the Lubbock city limits. While it is located in the Texas High Plains, it bears little resemblance to the large vineyards in the area as it is surrounded by a suburban community rather than cotton fields. The well-managed five acres of meticulously maintained vines produced intense Tempranillo fruit. We cold soaked the grapes for an extended period, which helps bring out a darker, more robust color and boosts the flavor and tannin. The result is a wine with floral notes, dark fruit, and big juicy fruit flavors, as well as firm tannin structure. It was aged in neutral American oak barrels. We just bottled this wine, and it will be released in 2023.
2021 Daniel Vineyard Joven Tempranillo
During a recent trip to the Rioja wine region of Spain, I was inspired by tasting incredible Joven, or “young” wine at a Michelin Star restaurant that was incredibly refreshing with my meal. The fruity wine was much like Beaujolais meets Tempranillo. Our new Daniel Vineyard Joven Tempranillo started off with a very similar profile to a Joven Rioja and emulates that exquisite wine that I enjoyed in Spain, so we decided to release it as a young wine with minimal aging in neutral American oak barrels. It is bounding with fruit flavors and has great structure, even without a lot of oak tannin. Tempranillo bottle-ages well, so it will be fun to see how this wine, spending a short time in the barrel, will age in the bottle.
2020 Lahey Vineyards Tempranillo
We have long sourced fruit from Lahey Vineyards in Brownfield, Texas to blend into our Texas High Plains Tempranillo as well as use as a single vineyard Graciano for our Signature Series. It is the largest vineyard in Texas and is an important partner for Pedernales Cellars. However, this is the first time we have released it as a single vineyard Tempranillo. We chose to blend in a smidge of Alicante Bouschet, Cinsault, and Graciano all from Lahey Vineyards. We’re really happy we did. The nose on this wine is incredible, followed by rich black fruit flavors and plenty of tannin, making it optimal for aging. The wine was aged in second and third use American oak barrels, giving it a touch of oak influence.
2020 Canted County Vineyards Tempranillo Reserva
My trip to Spain also influenced how we are making this beautiful Tempranillo with grapes grown in the Canted County Vineyards located in Lomesa, Texas. We are following the Spanish rules for a Reserva Tempranillo, which requires the wine to be aged for a minimum of three years with at least one year in casks. We harvested two different clones of Tempranillo at high brix (grape sugar content), leading to a bold wine. It has a big, jammy nose with rich flavors of black cherry, concentrated red cherry, cocoa, and vanilla, with a complex finish and a bit of smoke. It was aged in a combination of new and second-use American oak barrels.
2020 Canted County Vineyards Tempranillo Gran Reserva
In our continued homage to the Spanish traditions of Tempranillo aging, we are creating a Gran Reserva with Canted County fruit which requires the wine have spent at least two years in oak casks and three years in the bottle. The tannin in this wine is firm and expressive. At bottling, we chose to hold back some of this wine to re-barrel it and further age it in French oak barrels, where it will rest until Fall 2022. We will then bottle it in Winter 2023 and will release it in Fall of 2025. The fruit flavors are so big on this wine that we expect the flavor to still be fresh, but with mellower tannins. It will be super fun to taste this side-by-side with the Reserva, so don’t forget to cellar a couple bottles of it to open when we release the Gran Reserva.
Taste the Terroir
It has been exciting to create these wines that express a sense of place from each of these distinctly different vineyard sites. Marrying the Spanish traditions of aging Tempranillo with vineyard-specific Texas terroir is bringing new styles to our Tempranillo family. We just started bottling these wines in March 2022 and we can’t wait for you to taste them as we begin releasing them later this year and into 2025.
What’s the big deal with barrel-aging wine? Winemakers age wine in barrels for numerous reasons. Some reasons are practical, while others border on mystical. Here are some thoughts on the barrel aging process and how it’s important in making our Pedernales Cellars wines.
Pedernales Cellars Barrel Program
Our barrel program at Pedernales Cellars is ever-evolving, based on our experience and the varietals we are working with any given season. Sure, you could throw any old wine into any old barrel and call it a day, but we have been keenly focused on making the best oak selections for each variety and vineyard. The types of barrels we keep in our rotation for barrel aging make a difference in the way the wine tastes. And that’s why it matters at the end of the day.
Practical vs. Mystical Reasons
The practical reason for barrel aging is that barrels are generally a safe place to store large amounts of wine over time. As long as the barrels are clean, we feel confident that the wine isn’t going to be overly exposed to oxygen or spoilage organisms. As a result, we don’t need to pay a lot of ongoing attention to the barreled wine. We check our barrels once every eight weeks or so. Tanks, on the other hand, need to be monitored a little more regularly to ensure they are tightly sealed or that the headspace is gassed. We check our tanks weekly, at a minimum.
The mystical reasons for barrel aging involve a lot of confusing chemistry and language that even I can’t understand half the time. But the gist is that a number of chemical reactions occur during the aging process. Proteins, tannins, acids, and other compounds react amongst themselves, each other, and with oxygen to alter the structure of the wine. OK, maybe we can call it science rather than mysticism.
One of the most important and obvious effects of barrel aging is the “softening” of a wine. Tannins — the naturally occurring compounds that exist in grape skins, seeds, and stems that give wines their characteristic dryness or astringency — polymerize during aging. This means they are forming longer chains and structures that help in smoothing the texture of the wine and making it more pleasant to drink. At least we hope it becomes more pleasing to the palate after being aged in the right barrel for the right amount of time.
The Effects of Barrel Coopering
Aside from structural changes, different barrels contribute different aromatics and flavor compounds to a wine. American oak is famous for contributing vanilla, coconut, and even dill, while French oak has a more subtle effect and can help boost the fruit profile of wine (generally speaking) while also contributing dark chocolate, and roasted coffee bean flavors. Aside from the origin of the wood, the importance of coopering cannot be understated. Coopering, or the barrel-making process, includes the toasting and seasoning of the barrels where we will age the wine. This process is critical and varies by cooperage or barrel-making company.
A French oak barrel made with wood grown in Allier by one cooper may have a completely different effect on the same wine as an Allier French oak barrel from another cooper. This is why we frequently experiment with different barrels and cooperages as well as types of oak and barrel sizes.
American oak can be sourced from Pennsylvania, Missouri, Minnesota. These American oak barrels can be toasted with fire or convection. They can be toasted lightly, medium, medium-plus, or heavy. The coopers may accomplish these toasts quickly or slow and low. The barrel heads may or may not be toasted. You get the idea. here’s a nearly endless number of combinations. Each barrel is unique.
Experience: The Best Teacher
The factors above are why it is incredibly helpful to have experience working with specific vineyards and varietals over time. It allows us to plan, as much as possible, for what type of barrel might be best matched with what variety. While one vineyard’s Tempranillo might be perfectly ready after 12 months in neutral oak, another block might be better served with 18 months in new French Oak. Winemakers learn through regularly tasting their wines and tracking changes.
Progress can be slow in winemaking. After all, we only have one time a year to experiment on each block, so it’s important to make the most of it and take good notes throughout the process. Ideally, our experience and knowledge of the effects of barrel aging on the specific varieties and blocks we are working with help us perfect the wines.
Your Homework Assignment
Open two different wines side by side and evaluate the flavors. Roll it around in your mouth and see if you can taste subtle differences in the types of flavors that barrel aging can impart. Our 2018 Texas Tempranillo Reserve is aged for 18 months French and American oak. Do you pick up coconut notes? How about chocolate? Compare that to our 2018 Texas Mourvèdre that is aged in stainless steel rather than oak barrels. Do you taste a difference? Not all science is boring.
What is Fine Wine?
In a recent article, New York Times wine writer Eric Asimov describes the definition of “fine wine,” which he prefers to refer to as “great wine.” As he puts it, “Greatness has classically been associated with wines that showed complexity and nuance, that were able to age and evolve over many years, that touched the emotions, inspired contemplation, and provoked discussion.” That sounds like the kind of wine that I want to drink.
What is Texas Fine Wine?
Some of the major wine-producing regions of the world have a long head-start on producing wine over Texas. The French, Germans, Italians, and Spaniards have had centuries of experience to achieve greatness in winemaking. The post-prohibition wine industry in Texas got started less than 50 years ago.
It is perfectly understandable that people would have doubts that such a young wine region would be able to produce fine wine. To dispel those misgivings, the Texas Department of Agriculture (TDA) funded marketing for the wine industry in the 2000s featuring programs such as the “Texas Two Sip” where Texas wines were tasted blind along with fine wines from around the world, such as a Texas Sangiovese vs. an Italian Chianti Classico of the same vintage.
One such Texas Two Sip tasting was held in 2009 at the TEXSOM Conference, a premier educational event for sommeliers and wine professionals. This is a tough audience of wine experts. Most had never tasted Texas wine. It was very eye-opening for attendees because, during the blind tasting, many could not always distinguish the Texas wine from its international counterpart.
Unfortunately, the Texas Legislature cut TDA funding for the wine industry in 2011, and with that, all the marketing for our industry came to a halt.
Not deterred by this setback, wine PR professional Denise Clarke organized several wineries to host a hospitality suite to showcase Texas wines at TEXSOM in 2012. We jumped at the opportunity to pour our wines alongside McPherson Cellars, Brennan Vineyards, and Duchman Family Winery to ensure that wine professionals from around the world had an opportunity to taste fine wines from Texas while they were visiting our home state. The suite was hugely popular, and again, wine professionals were excited to try Texas wines!
The tasting at TEXSOM in 2012 was eye-opening because we could immediately see the support that we had from the Somm community. They know how great Texas wine can be and want to see it shine.
After that successful TEXSOM event, we decided that Pedernales Cellars would take the lead in creating a group of like-minded wineries to continue marketing our great wines. We knew we were making fine wine, but there was a lot of work to be done to get people to know it. Without the support of the state to provide marketing funds for a broader Texas wine marketing program, such as those in wine regions in New York, Washington, and Oregon, we needed to self-fund a program. Fortunately, a core group of wineries, all of whom have stellar reputations for their wines, guest service, wine clubs, and special events, were eager to participate.
In 2014 Texas Fine Wine was born.
The original members included Pedernales Cellars, Duchman Family, Brennan Vineyards, and Bending Branch Winery. Spicewood Vineyards joined in 2016. In 2021 Brennan Vineyards left the group to accommodate Pat and Trellise Brennan's retirement plans. Sadly, Pat Brennan died this Fall, and the Texas Fine Wine wineries honored him with a donation to TWGGA.
Today Texas Fine Wine is still a privately funded marketing initiative representing four of Texas’ most distinguished wineries: Bending Branch Winery, Duchman Family Winery, Pedernales Cellars, and Spicewood Vineyards. Our goal is to show the world that our wineries are producing benchmark wines from Texas grapes. Or to put it in Mr. Asimov’s terms, we are creating wines of greatness with complexity, that evolve with age, are touched by our passion, inspire contemplation, and show a definitive sense of place. I am confident that I am always pouring great wines when I serve wines from these wineries, and this is true vintage after vintage.
Great wine is made by great people. The folks involved with Texas Fine Wine are some of my favorite peeps in the Texas wine business. They are dedicated, smart, and funny.
We know we are achieving that goal not only by winning accolades at the most prestigious national and international wine competitions but also by winning the praise of discerning wine consumers like you.
Get Your Texas Fine Wine
Texas Fine Wine is offering a special four-bottle 2021 Holiday Pack of wines that will pair great with your holiday table and is a terrific gift. The pack includes these exceptional wines:
- Pedernales Cellars 2018 Tempranillo Reserve — Blend of Tempranillo, Touriga Nacional and Graciano with notes of black currant, black cherry, and vanilla
- Duchman Family Winery 2020 Roussanne, Oswald Vineyard — 100% Roussanne with notes of ripe pear, lime, stone fruit, and minerality
- Spicewood Vineyards 2018 The Independence — A blend of Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot with notes of black plum, black cherries, and dark chocolate
- Bending Branch Winery 2018 Cabernet Sauvignon, Newsom Vineyards — 100% Cabernet Sauvignon with notes of black cherry cola, baking spices, clove, and vanilla
Orders placed by December 8 will arrive in time for Christmas.
Most of us are accustomed to buying wine made in the U.S. by the name of the grape such as Merlot, Tempranillo, and Viognier. However, wine made in other major wine regions, such as Bordeaux and the Rhône Valley of France label their wine by region rather than by grape variety. These wines are made with a blend of several varieties of grapes with complementary characteristics to create wine whose whole is greater than the sum of its parts.
At Pedernales Cellars we make wine in both ways: with single varietal wines, as well as wines that are a blend of several grapes. Generally, all of our white wines are made with one grape varietal except the Lyla. We make seven to ten red blends each vintage such as our Rhône-style GSM Mélange. There are advantages to making wine in both ways. However, blending wine is where a winemaker can really show off their artistry.
Pedernales Cellars has an extensive program to determine which lots of grapes are blended to make our final wines. We taste through each wine lot countless times and at regular intervals throughout the year while the wine is aging. Each time we taste we take detailed notes of each wine's strengths and weaknesses, aromatics, structure, and aging potential. By the time we are ready to begin blending, these records help guide the process
The 2020 growing season had challenges, and we harvested less fruit or no fruit from many of our long-time vineyard partners. To augment that reduction, we secured fruit from several new vineyards, which has become an exciting opportunity to experiment with blending (or not) wines with different qualities than “usual.”. We’ve been getting Teroldego from Narra Vineyards for the last couple of years, but also received some Teroldego from Pepper Jack Vineyards in 2020. This vineyard is 40 miles further north of Narra, and while both lots share the same rich black fruit, opaque color, and velvety tannins, the Pepper Jack Teroldego has a distinct minerality to it. We are excited to share both with our guests and look forward to hearing their reactions to these lovely and unique wines.
Sometimes we blend grapes that complement each other to make a complex wine. Other times we make a blend to highlight a specific grape.
Better Together Blends
One of our blends that we make each vintage, the GSM Mélange, is going to be awesome for the 2020 vintage. It is equal parts Grenache, Syrah, and Mourvèdre this year. We’ve had stellar Syrah the past few years, and it is marrying beautifully with the Grenache and Mourvèdre from the High Plains. We also harvested some great Montepulciano from a new-to-us grower, that will be blended into our Valhalla.
Star of the Show Blends
An example of blending to highlight a specific grape is our Reserve Tempranillo. While Tempranillo is the main grape, we add in other grapes to accentuate various qualities. For example, the 2018 Tempranillo Reserve is comprised of 77% Tempranillo, 12% Touriga, and 11% Graciano. Touriga and Graciano help boost the structure and complexity of Tempranillo, without overpowering it.
The first wines to be blended are our “Reserve” wines – this ensures we have all our highest quality lots available to make these wines special The Reserve Tempranillo is started with our highest quality Tempranillo lot, and then we blend in traditional pieces to complement those grapes. We look for qualities for proper body, alcohol levels, and primary tastes that are characteristic of exceptional Tempranillo. We want medium to higher tannins, balanced medium to high acidity with acidity for a complex structure, as well as the rich cherry flavors that are characteristic of Tempranillo.
I’m excited about our 2020 vintage as we had several vineyards produce excellent fruit with intense flavors and structure. We have three additional grape varietals that are excellent blending components that increase the age-worthiness of the wine while making sure it is approachable to drink right away. We’ll blend Tempranillo grapes with Graciano, a traditional blending grape used in Rioja, Spain that adds beautiful aromatics, along with Cinsault for softness, and Alicante Bouschet to give the wine a deep, rich color. This year we chose to co-ferment the Alicante Bouschet with the Cinsault because the two had complementary chemistry that bring out the best in each other.
The actual percentage of each varietal used to make the final wine is selected to ensure that the wine tastes varietally correct with vibrant fruit flavors, proper complexity, and excellent structure with a balance of tannin, acid, and texture. We haven’t finalized the blend for our 2020 Tempranillo Reserve yet but will probably use three different lots of Tempranillo for approximately 75% of the wine with the remainder made up of Graciano, and the Alicante Bouschet / Cinsault blend. Over the course of two weeks, we will conduct at least five and up to ten blending trials with the winemaking team evaluating various ratios to determine the final blend. We’re confident that it will be an outstanding wine.
While you are waiting for the 2020 wines to be available, you can satisfy your thirst with our 2018 Tempranillo Reserve. It’s a perfect wine to share during the holidays. Because it is food-friendly, and a stand-out wine, we have included it in the Texas Fine Wine 2021 Holiday Pack. Orders placed by December 8 will arrive in time for Christmas.
Before joining our team at Pedernales Cellars, Mel Carter was a stay-at-home mom, and her family owned a peach stand in Fredericksburg. It was her role as a mom that led her to us. As fate would have it, two other moms in her children’s friend group both worked at Pedernales Cellars.
“They asked if I wanted to have adult time, says Mel. “I joined Pedernales Cellars as a tasting room associate on the weekends in May of 2013 and have loved every minute of it ever since.”
She loves working at our smaller, family-owned winery, where she can focus on customer service. Mel likes having time to talk with our customers to understand why they are here and how she can make their visit enjoyable.
Focused on Wine Education
Mel is a natural in the tasting room. She has a knack for sharing her passion for wine education with guests in a fun and engaging way. Over the years, Mel has not only shared the history of the vineyards and the winery with countless guests, but she has also helped shape the tasting room with her ability to get people excited about wine.
“When I first started, I didn’t drink wine at all,” says Mel. “As soon as I started, I wanted to learn everything I could about wine from what ‘terroir’ means and how it impacts the wine, to the differences between grapes grown in the Texas High Plains vs. the Hill Country to every aspect of what leads to the final flavor of each wine. It was eye-opening to learn how wine tastes different when aged in stainless steel, versus French oak barrels, versus American oak. Everything about how the wine is made plays a role in creating the flavor. There are a lot of factors that impact the flavor of a wine.”
Mel continues, “I love helping people get excited about not only enjoying wine but also learning more about it so they have an even richer experience. It is fun for people to explore the difference between the nose and palate of a wine, and how we can taste different aspects of the wine in different parts of our mouth. There is an art to tasting wine. It is not like going to a bar and having a shot of liquor. I walk our guests through the three phases of tasting: the first sip is to cleanse your palate, the second is to set your palate, and finally, the third sip lets us truly taste the wine. The most fun is meeting people who are new to wine and helping them learn about it. It is really rewarding to see them pick up nuances of the wine.”
Mel has been with the winery through several growth phases in the past eight years and has grown right along with us. She is adept at managing the changes in the industry and the curveballs that the pandemic has thrown at us. She has jumped right in to assist with our tasting room remodel and continual enhancements to ensure we offer the best possible experience for guests.
Mel's Favorite Sips
Mel readily admits that she feels spoiled to work at a winery where she loves the wine.
“I love our Tempranillo Reserve and our GSM Mélange. It pairs well with everything. I’m definitely a fan of red wines. When a non-wine drinker comes to the tasting room, I like to compare red wines to whiskey. Our heavier more oaked reds like the Newseaux and Family Reserve wines that are aged longer in oak can relate well to whiskey aged in oak barrels. These are my kind of wines.”
We invite you to visit our tasting room, meet Mel, and taste some of her favorite wines. Cheers!
Saying that we’ve had an atypical growing season doesn’t really capture the complexity of what we’ve seen in the vineyards in 2021. I think it is more accurate to say this is a very un-Texas harvest.
Let’s start with the biggest weather event of the year, the historic deep freeze in February. Believe it or not, it wasn’t catastrophic. Yes, we lost some vines, but it didn’t necessarily change what the amount or quality of the grapes was this year.
Hailstorms are another story. We completely lost our Teroldego and Sangiovese crop in our estate Kuhlken Vineyard in the Texas Hill Country due to spring hail damage. Sadly, we will not have these two varieties in our 2021 wines. We’ll also have much smaller than desired crops for Graciano and Syrah from the Texas High Plains because of that dastardly hail.
The result of hail and freezes in the spring is that we will have a much smaller overall crop than we had in 2019—which was a big year. However, overall, with fruit from both the Hill Country and High Plains, it will be a larger crop than we had last year.
Perhaps the most un-Texan aspect of this season is the cooler than normal temperatures. We have had far fewer days with temperatures in the 90+ degree range than in a typical season. Less heat means our grapes ripen more slowly. That and the late-season rains have delayed our harvest by a couple of weeks.
We are just getting started with harvest in the Texas Hill Country. We expect to pick Petite Sirah and Carignan next week (mid-August). Thankfully none of our grapes have had serious problems because of the rain, no fungal pressure, or shut down on ripening. Rain has been great for our new vines planted in Kuhlken Estate Vineyard! We only have about a half dozen small blocks to pick various vineyards, so we will be done with our Hill Country yield fairly quickly.
We are keeping our eye on the vineyards in the Texas High Plains. We just got our first round of meaningful chemistry numbers this week, which we usually receive in July. Most grapes just went through veraison in early August, and harvest is three weeks behind. We anticipate picking white grapes first, starting the week of August 23. Tempranillo is the first red grape we’ll pick. Those grapes are starting to put on sugar now. We expect to see them ripen by the first week or two of September.
We are fortunate to have many long-term relationships with growers in the High Plains and are looking at really healthy crops from our traditional blocks at Bingham Family Vineyards and Reddy Vineyards. We’re excited to have Viognier in good quantities after having a shortage of our mainstay varietal in 2020. The Vermentino is looking great as well. We have a couple of blocks of Grenache and Mourvèdre in Desert Willow Vineyard near Seminole, Texas and the vines look amazing this year. We’re really excited about this beautiful crop.
As long as we can avoid late summer storms and heavy rains, the later harvest can mean a fantastic 2021 harvest. Having our crop hanging later into the season brings the promising potential for balanced chemistry as the grapes ripen. The cooler temperatures and cooler nights allow the grapes to retain their natural acidity really well while the grapes achieve phenolic ripeness and gain more sugar. We’re usually racing to pick the grapes that are ripening very quickly in high temperatures.
It may be an Un-Texas Harvest in many ways, but what remains incredibly Texan is that our vineyard manager, our growers, and our cellar team are all pulling out the stops to ensure we have the best quality grapes in the winery as possible. We’re optimistic for a great 2021 vintage.