Let's Talk over Drinks
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.
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.
Love them or hate them, you have to admit that Pumpkin Spice Lattes are the quintessential fall beverage. Its wild popularity is no doubt earned from the cozy, warm, traditional spice flavors that are uniquely tied to autumn.
Like the ubiquitous Pumpkin Spice Latte, the Pedernales Cellars Stonewall Glögg is incredibly appropriate for the season. The similarities don’t stop there. Our Glogg is also bursting with fun seasonal holiday flavors of baking spice like nutmeg, clove, and cinnamon. And it is also only available for a limited time.
While Glögg is traditionally served at Christmas, it has also become a tradition for us to release Glögg at the end of Texas Wine Month, leaving plenty of time to purchase it before the holiday rush. Let’s face it, there is no reason to wait for Christmas to crack a bottle or two. This year, we are releasing our Glögg online and at the Pedernales Cellars tasting room on October 31.
What the Heck is Glögg Wine?
Glögg is the Swedish version of mulled wine. The Romans got the ball rolling for mulled wine by warming their wines in the winter to ward off sickness. Then, Europeans began adding spices to support their immune systems during cold and flu season. In the late 1800’s, a Cognac-Glögg was introduced and became associated with the holidays. Clearly, Glögg had a huge head-start on pumpkin spice lattes.
I lived in Sweden for several years and developed an affinity for Swedish-style mulled wine over mulled wine from other countries like Glühwein from Germany. Glühwein is primarily spiced with cinnamon, but traditional Swedish-style Glögg is more complex with cardamom, cloves, and nutmeg in the mix.
We’ve been making Glögg at Pedernales Cellars since 2009, and we are proud to be one of the first to make a traditional style mulled wine from Texas. We made our Glögg with a base wine blend of Tempranillo, Malbec, and Merlot this year. We make it in a Port wine style, and like other fine Ports, our base wine for the Glögg doesn’t go through a complete fermentation. We stop the fermentation when the ideal sugar level is reached by adding a dose of brandy. This addition of spirits stops the fermentation by putting the wine yeasts to sleep, so they stop converting sugar to alcohol. The result is a sweeter wine with a slightly higher alcohol content.
We then infuse the wine with our proprietary blend of Swedish spices that gives the Glögg an incredibly complex aroma bursting with holiday scents you will love. The flavor is absolutely “Christmas in a bottle.”
How to prepare Glögg
We warm our Glögg in a slow cooker set on low. While warming the wine, add sugar (1/4 - 1/2 cup per bottle of wine) depending on your taste. We also add dark raisins and almond slivers for flavor. Ladle the wine into mugs and serve hot with toasted almonds and dark raisins to garnish, and add citrus if desired.
Glögg is excellent on its own as an apéritif or a dessert. It also pairs incredibly well with cinnamon buns or gingerbread.
Cooking with Glögg
While it’s fantastic as a drink with dessert, it is also wonderful to include as an ingredient with dessert. We are fortunate to have Chef Leo Aguirre (eatfbgtx.com) preparing a Mexican Chocolate Cake made with Stonewall Glögg to serve at our Fall Feast on October 31. Chef Leo chose the cake to pair with Glögg for our dessert course for the complimentary flavors of chocolate infused with cinnamon. To enhance the marriage of flavors, he will make a reduction sauce with the Glögg to drizzle onto the cake, garnished with cocoa dust and black cherries marinated in the wine.
Glögg is also a fun ingredient for home chefs to use for any course of your meal. Cheer up a holiday salad with Glögg vinaigrette. Sweeten the main course with a delightful demi-glace to serve on pork loin.
Don’t worry if you open a bottle for cooking and don’t finish it the same night. The slightly higher alcohol content from the brandy helps it stay fresh for up to a week or so.
Glöggfest at Pedernales Cellars
Our Annual Glöggfest is an excellent way for you to try our Glögg and experience its magic. Reserve a tasting for Saturday, December 5, between 10:00 AM to 6:00 PM at our estate tasting room to sample Glögg paired with Swedish spiced holiday cookies. It is a great accompaniment to your holiday festivities, and at $20 per bottle, it is also a great gift.
Like the Pumpkin Spice Latte, our Glögg will be gone before you know it. It typically sells out before holidays, as we only make a small amount. Get it while you can!
“We have a Glögg order with extra spice ready at the bar for Jooolie!”
By Nicholas Adcock, assistant winemaker, and Mike Conte, Cellar Hand
Harvest is an exhilarating time of year. It reminds me of getting geared up for playoffs when you play sports. You know it is going to be hard, but it's invigorating. David Kuhlken, who has been doing this for forever, still gets excited. It's almost like a mythical type event that happens once a year. Year-after-year, you know it is going to be a lot of work, but it is still exciting. We get pumped up for it.
We’re a small winemaking team at Pedernales Cellars with David, Joanna Wilczoch, the winemaker, Nick as assistant winemaker, Mike as cellar hand, and one intern, also named David. We of course must give the intern a nickname, so we don’t confuse him with David Kuhlken. Instead of calling the intern Big Dave, we call him Grande. Typically, the winemaking decisions are made by Joanna and David, and the work carried out by Nick and Mike. During harvest and crush, it is all hands on deck, and everyone shares roles.
This is my first harvest at Pedernales and seventh overall in the wine industry. It is also Mike’s first harvest at Pedernales and third overall. So, we both have some perspective on how this year is like other harvests, and how it is different.
How is This Year Like Any Harvest?
This year, the general process of harvest ran just like any other year. It goes more or less as you would imagine. Grapes picked in the vineyard and then delivered to the winery. The rhythm of picking early in the morning and processing the grapes at night is similar every year.
We get up early to pick grapes before the heat of the day sets in. It’s exhilarating to see the sunrise over our estate vineyard in the Texas Hill Country. We start harvesting earlier in the season in the Hill Country, and a couple of weeks later in the Texas High Plains. There is a crossover time when we are crushing fruit from the Hill Country midday, and then a second wave of High Plains fruit comes in on refrigerated trucks late in the evening. Some nights we end up sleeping in a hammock at the winery because we are working so late at night and need to get back to work first thing in the morning.
Once they arrive on the crush pad behind the winery, we destem the fruit, hand-sort it to remove leaves and bad grapes, lightly crush it and move it to a bin to let the grapes settle and cold soak. Once the grapes are in a bin, fermentation begins.
During fermentation in the bin, yeast produces carbon dioxide, which causes grape solids to rise creating what we call a “cap.” We monitor each bin to make sure the cap is punched down with a big metal tool about twice a day. This keeps the skin and solids in contact with the juice, which helps get the tannins and colors into the wine. It usually takes about a week for primary fermentation to be completed in the bin. After that, we press the fruit and the juice goes either into a tank or a barrel. This is where malolactic—or secondary—fermentation happens and aging begins.
How is This Year's Harvest Different?
What is different this year? We had smaller crops than usual because an early freeze in October 2019 caused significant damage to the vines at some of the biggest vineyards we work with. Not only did we have far fewer grapes, but we also had to source the grapes from many different vineyards. There are a lot of grape varietals, from more growers, and in smaller lots. Rather than processing 40 tons of grapes from 5 different lots, we crushed fewer tons from as many 37 individual lots. Takes just as much time to clean the equipment between each lot for 3 tons as it does for 40 tons.
The upside of this year’s harvest is that the quality of the grapes is really good. And because we didn’t receive a large volume of white grapes, we were able to do much more hands-on work with whole-cluster grapes. This lets us be much more meticulous in sorting the grapes to ensure only the highest quality fruit gets crushed.
The long hours and intense workload build bonds among the winery team. We all pitch in to do what it takes. The owners are extremely hands-on, which inspires us to work hard too. There’s a happy medium between working hard and having fun. We have a great time together and really enjoy each other’s company. There is an old saying that goes, “It takes a lot of beer to make great wine.” We can confirm that this is true.
One challenging and really satisfying thing we do during harvest time is to cook a lot. Instead of relaxing during our lunch break on a hectic day, we make elaborate meals for each other. It’s a great change of pace and a fun way to enjoy each other’s company. We’ve also done some silly stuff. We are in concept phase of designing a crush pad hot tub with bins and a pump. Because it's so hot in Texas, we actually want it to be a cold tub.
While we found ways to enjoy the long hours at work, our significant others didn’t enjoy it quite as much. It was Mike’s future wife’s first harvest, and it was a rude awakening for her to experience the hours that he’s working. It was my girlfriend’s first harvest too, and it has been a little frustrating for her to see my schedule be so crazy.
Now that harvest is behind us, and the wine is aging in tanks and barrels, it’s easy to look back on it with fond memories. Once we get to taste the 2020 vintage, which we expect to be outstanding, we’ll remember this year’s harvest with even more nostalgia.
We can’t wait for you to taste the fruits of our labor.
No one said being a farmer is easy. That is particularly true for those of us who enter the profession after starting our careers in other “fields.” We have learned a lot about growing grapes and vineyard management in the past 25 years since first planting our Kuhlken Vineyards.
Here are 25 things we have learned:
- People think having a vineyard is a very romantic idea.
- One never thinks one’s own vineyard is romantic in the least.
- A good vineyard manager is worth every penny you pay him/her.
- Never plant vines in the Texas Hill Country without first putting in the irrigation system — Yes, seriously, we had to learn this the hard way.
- Learn your vineyard site microclimate, soils, and topography, and what is likely to grow well there. In our case we learned the hard way rather than before planting our first vines. This meant pulling up Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc and planting Mourvèdre and Sangiovese.
- Don’t grow something just because you like the grape. Only grow those grape varietals that are going to thrive in the Texas Hill Country.
- Do not plant in a freeze pocket, meaning leave unplanted the bottom of the slope where cold air will accumulate.
- It takes an army of people to hand-harvest a vineyard, so make lots of friends. Wine helps.
- Pruning in the Texas Hill Country means working outside in 35-degree weather, usually with a chilly wind and often a slow drizzle, for eight hours a day while doing hand crunches … for a week.
- One of the most beautiful places in the world is to be in a Texas Hill Country vineyard during wildflower season.
- A benefit of having a family-owned vineyard is that it creates a common purpose across generations and increases time family members spend together. This is especially valuable for the oldest and youngest generations (says the middle generation).
- Different grape varietals have noticeably different annual life cycles with great variation in the timing of when the vines bud out, to how quickly they develop their canopy, and to the sensitivity of the harvest date. It is essential to spend a lot of time walking the rows and observing the evolution of each varietal throughout the year.
- One develops a whole new appreciation for dirt. There can be vital differences in what’s below one’s feet over the space of just yards.
- Busting through caliche with a breaking bar in order to plant vines is like trying to rip through concrete with a child’s plastic spade.
- Once bud break has occurred in March, it is impossible to sleep any time the forecast shows temperatures dipping below 35 degrees.
- Once bud break has occurred in March, it is impossible to sleep any hail is in the forecast.
- Forget sleep during harvest and crush season. During a typical day, we start picking at 6 am and don’t finish crush until well after midnight.
- Sunrise over the vineyard on harvest day is magical.
- Always try to finish hand harvesting in the Texas Hill Country by 10 am before the heat really gets going.
- Wear sunscreen.
- Black widows like vineyards, so wear gloves when harvesting.
- Raccoons can devour what appear to be diarrhea-inducing amounts of grapes.
- One of the most vibrant displays of Autumn foliage in the Hill Country is in the vineyard.
- Lots of grape varieties thrive in the heat of the Texas Hill Country, including Mourvèdre, Grenache, Touriga Nacional, Tinta Amarela, Sangiovese, Petit Verdot, and Albariño …
- … but the king of grapes in the Texas Hill Country, and in Texas in general, is Tempranillo.
After 25 years of learning in the vineyard, we have accomplished a lot. And we are certain that there is a lot more for us to learn.
We are celebrating the five-year anniversary of our Tasting Room Manager, Marissa Contreras, working at Pedernales Cellars. For many of our guests, Marissa is a familiar face at the winery, and we want to take this opportunity for you to get to know her a little better.
Marissa joined Pedernales Cellars in June 2015 as our Special Projects Manager. She excelled in her first project, the launch of our special release, allocated wines, Kuhlken-Osterberg. It was a fantastic way for her to become immersed in our winery culture, working closely with the owners, for such a momentous new wine introduction.
“It was awesome to plan the premier release of the K.O. wines, and the launch event,” remembers Marissa. “I had such a great beginning to my role at Pedernales Cellars. I shadowed team members the first two weeks, attended wine tastings and educational sessions, and met with vendors. It was an incredibly immersive experience and mind-blowing interesting. The wine industry seemed so romantic and such a great fit for me. I was hooked!”
Before joining the winery, Marissa had not worked in the wine industry. She is a graduate of the University of Texas at Austin with a Bachelor of Arts degree in psychology, with a focus on racial and gender stereotypes. Following graduation, she worked with at-risk youth at a nonprofit in East Austin, and then worked as a retail manager at Walgreens for seven years. In that role, she discovered that she had a keen business sense.
During her time at Walgreens, she started attending wine dinners. Through these wine dinners, Marissa became reacquainted with an old friend who worked at Pedernales Cellars and operated a wine shop in San Antonio.
“The first time I stopped into her wine shop, I picked out my first wine, which happened to be a Texas wine,” says Marissa. “It was a Spicewood Vineyards Tempranillo, and I was really impressed. That experience made me super interested in exploring wine, and my palate expanded. I realized that I had a knack for tasting, which further sparked my curiosity. My passion for wine and my friendship with someone in the industry opened doors for me to have a broad exposure to wine. I knew I was ready for a new adventure at the same time that Pedernales Cellars was hiring for a new position. It was perfect timing, and my retail background with multi-tasking and a focus on customer service was a good fit.”
It was clear that Marissa was capable of handling big assignments. She took on the role of managing our wine club, where her customer relations experience helped her shine. At the time, the winery was growing rapidly, and we counted on her to ensure things ran smoothly. She assumed more responsibility for our direct-to-consumer manager role too, and eventually requested to take on more responsibility for marketing, working directly with me. Her passion and drive to help the winery is impressive.
Guest Education in the Tasting Room
Two years ago, we had an opening for Tasting Room Manager, and she immediately threw her hat into the ring for the role. It made terrific sense for her to be in that position. Not only did Marissa’s customer service background make it a great fit, but she also had a great relationship with the tasting room staff. It was where she needed to be.
“That was the start of a great journey to enhance the focus of our tasting room on wine education,” says Marissa. “Hospitality and customer service are essential, and it is paramount that we make customers feel fantastic when they visit. We’ve built a strong tasting room team that is dedicated to education and customer service.”
Wine can be a bit daunting when people are first getting interested in it. It’s almost like learning a new language. Because of that, the Pedernales Cellars team works hard to be knowledgeable about wine, so we can make it easier to understand for our guests. We have educational sessions for the staff to learn more about a wide variety of topics, such as grape growing and the specifics of grape varietals, regional influence on wines, vintage variation, and how to evaluate wine in blind tastings. Marissa inspires curiosity in the staff. She has pursued additional educational opportunities outside the winery with Guild Somm and TEXSOM, plus she has attained a level 2 certification with the Wine & Spirits Education Trust. Marissa is excited to continue her wine studies to achieve WSET level III.
Marissa says, “I take delight in that it is all about teamwork. We are all dedicated to educating each other. It inspires me to push myself to keep learning. Our tasting room team learns a lot from our production team. We spend time in the cellar to understand the winemaking process and the direction that our winemakers, David and Joanna, have for our wines. Understanding how our wines are made really helps us relate our wines better to our customers and wine club members.”
She continues, “I find it inspiring and eye opening to see our production staff putting in such long hours during harvest. The day is not done until the work is done. When the grapes come in during the middle of the night, David and the team are there well past middle of the night even after being in the vineyards before dawn.”
Marissa’s experience at the winery has helped her sharpen her palate and deepen her appreciation for wine. Her favorite wine is the Pedernales Cellars Valhalla 2016. “I still have two bottles in my cellar. It is such a beautiful wine to pair with food. I’m drawn to Italian varietal wines, and think it is perfect served with a red sauce with homemade meatballs. The Valhalla is like a dream. I also love the Kuhlken Vineyard Reserve 2015. It is so unique. I love to have this with a very special meal like lamb chops and roasted vegetables. I love it so much.”
While the romance of wine initially drew Marissa to Pedernales Cellars, it is the unique experiences she has with our guests that inspire her. She is touched by the numerous marriage proposals that happen on our property. The sweeping Hill Country view draws people to propose to their loves on our property, and the delightful experience they have has led many couples to become wine club members. It’s that family-like connection with guests that fires her up.
“I will never take for granted that we are here for our members and our loyal customers,” says Marissa. “What we have to offer can add to the richness of their lives. The wines that they take home can lead to an incredible experience with their families or friends. I love seeing our wines travel the world with our customers. It is special to me that we can be a highlight of people’s vacation or can help them create a special moment at home.”
Crisp, aromatic, expressive of terroir – all those are qualities that Pedernales Cellars looks for in a quality white wine. At Pedernales we take pride in working with grape varietals that are not only expressive of terroir, but also bring other unique qualities to the palate too. With that philosophy in mind, we proudly debut the 2017 Texas High Plains Albariño. Winemaker Joanna Wilczoch answers a few questions about the latest release and what makes it a stand-out in our portfolio.
What are your favorite qualities of Albariño?
I appreciate the lean, racy style of Albariño. What does that mean? We picked the grapes at a lower brix (a measure of the sugar level in the grape), resulting in a nice crisp wine with a lot of finesse, and aromatics of dried lemon and almond pith. It has a hint of salinity that is typical to the salinity we get from Albariño grown in proximity to the ocean in Spain.
What are some of Albariño’s physical traits that make it unique?
The growth patterns of Albariño make it relatively easy to manage in the vineyard. It wants to grow pretty much vertical, and it is not super vigorous so it’s easier for us to manage compared to some of the other grape varieties we grow. Because it’s not particularly vigorous, the leaves also don’t get in the way of sunlight ripening the fruit. The relatively thin canopy also allows for good ventilation, allowing the grapes to dry out well after rain. This helps mitigate the potential for disease and rotting in the clusters. The grape clusters are pretty different from other whites – they tend to resemble little grape grenades. They are small, tight clusters and easy to identify.
What are some of the terroir characteristics the grapes express in the finished wine?
The Albariño from Pedernales Cellars’ estate Kuhlken Vineyards in the Hill Country are grown in a combination of limestone-rich and sandy loam soils which give the wine a great minerality. The soil in Bingham Vineyards and Newsom Vineyards, where we source much of our Albariño, is red sandy loam. Compared to the Hill Country based fruit, I find the wine made with these high plains grapes to be a little rounder in mouthfeel with added complexity. While it still has some of that characteristic salinity, it doesn’t have as much minerality as the estate block.
How is this vintage different from others?
There are three key differences that make the 2017 vintage unique:
- We selected Albariño grapes from three vineyards for this vintage: Kuhlken Vineyards, Bingham Family Vineyards, and Newsom Vineyards in the High Plains. This is the only year we have used fruit from the Newsom Vineyards in our Albariño.
- In addition, we fully barrel fermented the estate portion of this lot to add a layer of complexity, which is a first for our Albariño.
- The winemaking team also chose to blend in a small portion of Viognier to boost the floral notes. The result is a fairly complex vintage.
What do you look for when harvesting/selecting your Albariño?
When making harvest decisions for Albariño, I am looking to maintain as much natural acidity as I can. So, my preference is to pick the grapes when the brix are still in the low 20’s. I’ve found that the fruit is often ready at this stage of ripening with plenty of plumpness, brown seeds, and soft skin.
What is the primary taste profile and how does it stand out to you?
Texas Albariño, for me, has some qualities of a California Chardonnay plus a little more salinity. I get lemon, but also pear, apple, and sometimes melon flavors.
It can have a fair bit of body and weight to the palate making it different from our Vermentino which tends to be a little more linear. It’s also not as floral as our Viognier. It stands out all on its own.
What was the winemaking process like?
We often press our white wines just hours after harvest in the High Plains to reduce skin contact. After the fruit is pressed, it gets “floated,” which is a method for removing solids from the juice (any small bits of skin, seeds, etc.) which can add unwanted flavors during fermentation. In a day or two we transport the juice to Pedernales Cellars’ winery where we move it into tanks or barrels to ferment.
The majority of the wine is fermented in stainless steel tanks, with a small portion fermented in oak barrels. The blending is completed after final fermentation. Generally, we don’t allow our Albariño to go through malolactic fermentation in order to maintain freshness and crispness, and to preserve the natural acidity that we seek out during harvest.
The goal with these steps is to create clean, crisp flavors that will allow the character of the fruit to shine through.
What are your food pairing recommendations?
The round body of Albariño lets it pair nicely with pork, fatty white fish, and chicken dishes. It also does well with creamier foods like pasta with a cream-based sauce or creamy soups.
If you are curious about how our grapes are grown, we will soon announce our socially distanced tour of our estate vineyards. Just as important as seeing the grapes in the vineyard, is tasting the final product. We are featuring our Albariño in our Summer Six-Pack for a special price of $89.00, and a discount on single bottles of Albariño as well.
Join our team for a Live Virtual Tasting at 5pm on Thursday, June 18. Our winery team will share further insights about this wine, and some of their favorite summer food pairings.
Bubbly is bliss. Fizz is fun. Sparkling wine is joyful. There is a reason why we say “cheers” when we lift a glass. One sip of a delicious sparkling wine melts our cares away.
We have a bottle of happiness ready for you. We just released our second vintage of Pedernales Cellars Kyla (pronounced, “shoola”) Pétillant Naturel (or Pét-Nat, for short) Rosé sparkling wine just in time for summer. Kyla means “chill” in the native tongue of our Swedish relatives, which is why it’s the perfect name for our Pét-Nat.
Wine lovers have long sought out Prosecco, Cava, and Champagne to get their fizzy fix, and in recent years Pét-Nat has made a resurgence as a bubbly wine of choice. This natural sparkling wine is made in méthode ancestrale — a winemaking method which the monks originated in the south of France in the early 16th century. This method involves bottling the wine before it has fully completing its first fermentation, allowing the carbon dioxide produced from the natural sugars found in the grapes during the completion of primary fermentation to be trapped in the bottle.
Is it Champagne?
This differs from how Champagne is made with méthode champenoise, where the wine is fully fermented, then is dosed with yeast and sugar to start a secondary fermentation in bottle to create the carbonation.
Because Pét-Nat is made with primary fermentation finishing in the bottle, we needed to quickly bottle it during harvest. Our Kyla Rosé Pét-Nat is made with 100% estate-grown Tempranillo, which we hand-harvested on August 2 and pressed immediately. After fermenting to the desired brix level, it was hand-bottled on September 4 and laid down to complete fermentation and to “rest” letting the CO2 be absorbed into the wine as bubbles until its release now in May 2020.
Why is it Hazy?
Pét-Nats have a light and fizzy mouthfeel and generally have larger bubbles than its méthode champenoise counterparts. Sparkling wine that finishes fermentation in bottle produces the same sediment as traditional-method sparklers. Unlike Champagne, we do not disgorge our Pét-Nat and we do not fine or filter it. The result of the remaining lees presence is a slightly hazy wine that is a bit rustic, and lively.
We can’t control the fermentation once the wine is bottled, which leads to some variation between bottles and an element of unpredictability in the pressure in the bottle. Use care when opening as it may bubble over!
To reduce the bubbly volatility and to control the sediment in this hazy wine, chill the bottle upright in an ice bucket for 30 minutes before opening. The cold keeps sediment at the bottom of the bottle, allowing you to pour four relatively clear glasses of wine.
Pét-Nat can be aged for a year or two and is perfect to drink young. The softer bubbles of Pét-Nat make it immediately expressive after opening with generous aroma. Kyla has well defined aromas of tangerine, flint, strawberries, and flowers. The notable minerality of this wine complements a crisp acidity and grapefruit and strawberry flavors.
It is lower in alcohol which means you can enjoy a glass in the evening and go about your business. The lively effervescence, zippy acidity, and lower alcohol makes our Kyla super food friendly. It pairs incredibly well with spicy food like Thai noodles or tacos, as well as grilled vegetables, seasonal fruits, and grilled chicken. It is a perfect picnic wine for the long Memorial Day weekend.
Kyla Pét-Nat Rosé is only available in the tasting room, and not online. Please call the tasting room to reserve a bottle for pickup, or schedule a reservation online for a tasting and to purchase your bottles.
We introduced our first Pedernales Cellars Over the Moon Rosé last year with the 2018 vintage. The wine commemorates the love story about how Larry and Jeanine Kuhlken, founders of Kuhlken Vineyards, met while working for NASA on the Apollo 11 mission. This wine is an homage to their commitment to each other, their inspirational relationship, and the possibilities they introduced for the winery when they planted the vineyard 25 years ago.
You may have noticed that our newly released 2019 vintage of Over the Moon Rosé Wine is lighter in color than our first vintage from 2018. These wines, made from largely the same varietals and vineyards, are a perfect example of how vintage variation and winemaker style can effect a wine.
There are two primary reasons for the difference:
- Vintage variation influenced by differences in weather and growing conditions year over year
- Winemaker stylistic approach
Comparing 2018 and 2019 Growing Seasons
The growing season in 2018 was marked by searing heat and arid conditions. It got blazing hot in late May and the heat kept cooking with numerous record-breaking high temperatures during a late July heat wave. Veraison of the grapes set in quickly bringing on a super-fast ripening period leading to a relatively early harvest. The 2018 harvest brought a smaller yielding crop, but amazingly high-quality grapes with a perfect sugar to acid ratio. We had ripe, rich fruit.
The weather in 2019 was more erratic. We had a deluge of early season rains, followed by a downright un-Texan cool spring and early summer. Those cool temperatures slowed the ripening of the fruit which delayed the start of harvest by a few weeks. Then, right before harvest the weather turned scorching hot and dry which accelerated harvest briefly, only to have cooler temperatures and rain return to prolong harvest again. The result is that we were able to pick our earlier ripening grapes like Tempranillo and heat loving Mourvèdre at optimum conditions. Later ripening fruit either came in at lower brix (a measure of the sugar level in grapes that lets us gauge the potential alcohol content of the finished wine), or we picked it much later than usual.
Our Winemaking Style
The growing conditions and produced grapes in 2018 that are well suited to make a Rhône -style Rosé. Like the wines made in the Southern Rhone Valley of France, this wine had ample body and structure, a rich pink hue, and a bowl full of Spring fruit flavors with just a little heft provided by the 13.8% Alcohol. The 2018 vintage is a blend of 62% Cinsault, 30% Mourvèdre, and 8% Carignan grapes grown in Texas. That dose of Carignan gave the wine a bold strawberry flavor that melds with vibrant cherry flavors, and chalky minerality. It is a fantastic apéritif wine, and a delicious accompaniment to a wide range of cuisine from grilled vegetables to lighter meats and charcuterie.
In 2019 the cooler temperatures mid-summer and then the blast furnace of heat in late summer shut down the sugar production of the grapes. It was a perfect condition to make a light-bodied, lighter in color, mineral driven and elegant Provençal style Rosé. We used a slightly different blend of grapes with 76% Cinsault grapes from Farmhouse Vineyards in the High Plains and 24% Estate-grown Mourvèdre both picked at lower brix giving it a lower 11.8% alcohol. To add a rounder mouthfeel and mellow out the fruit flavors a little bit, we aged the rosé on lees for 5 months, with weekly lees stirring to boost toasty aromatics. This wine is a fresh, crisp, dry style with aromas of strawberry, watermelon candy, and stone with light fruit, and rose petal flavors. It is just as at home on the patio after work as it is in the dining room, pairing exceptionally well with fresh spring dishes.
The 2019 Over the Moon Rosé is available to order online for pickup or shipping. Enjoy!
Pedernales Cellars is fortunate to work with the best wine growers in the state of Texas. The best grapes deserve to be featured in limited production wines. We are proud to release our next two Signature Series Collection wines. These wines, created by the Pedernales Cellars winemaking team are one and two barrel lots of single varietal, single vineyard wines that highlight the most extraordinary blocks from the vintage. They are extremely limited, and we are super excited to share them with you.
At our Fall Wine Club Party, we will preview the 2016 La Pradera Tannat with the Winemaker. This will be one of the only times you will be able to taste and pre-order this wine.
2016 La Pradera Tannat, Texas High Plains
This wine is the first varietal Tannat that we have ever released and was planted for us by the folks at La Pradera Vineyards in Brownfield, TX. It is a relatively new grape to our cellar. We planned to use this variety as a blending component for the rich flavors, tannin, and color it can contribute to a wine. However, after tasting this lot in the cellar, we decided this vintage absolutely had to stand alone.
La Pradera Vineyards and is managed by a Texas winegrowing legend, Andy Timmons. This 120-acre vineyard used to be home to a raucous nightclub, now the winegrowing operations headquarters a tranquil and serene change of pace (except during harvest season).
Acclaimed for their red wine varietals, La Pradera is situated at 3,300 feet in elevation, has Amarillo fine sandy loam soil over clay which are a great combination to consistently produce some of the best wines in the state as featured in Texas Highways Magazine and Texas Monthly Magazine. Their Tannat is no exception.
The 2016 La Pradera Tannat has loads of character and intensity with scents of bramble, tar, dark chocolate, blackberry jam, eucalyptus, dried currants, dried cherries. Pleasant minerality underlies lush flavors of blackberry jam, cocoa, earth, and fresh green herbs. This Tannat has a pleasant finish with a hint of eucalyptus, and ample tannins that make it age worthy through 2023.
This wine especially complements smoked or cured meats, sausages, and game. We hope you’ll enjoy this wine as much as we have. It is the first harvest from this block, and we are looking forward to many more to come.
2017 Farmhouse Vineyards Cinsault, Texas High Plains
Since we opened our tasting room in 2008, we are well known for our wines made with Rhône varieties such as Grenache, Syrah, and Mourvèdre. But more recently, we have worked with growers such as Farmhouse Vineyards to expand our range of Rhône varieties to enhance both the red and rosé wines. Cinsault is one such addition, and this expressive 2017 vintage gives our club members a chance to experience Cinsault on its own. We think wine club members will understand why this variety has earned a place in our cellar as a blending component once they experience its bright fruit flavors.
Operated by the Seaton and Furgeson brother/sister team, Farmhouse Vineyards is comprised of four vineyards on sites covering 112 acres in the High Plains AVA in West Texas. The vineyards situated at 3,330 feet in elevation see hot days and cool nights. The climate is similar to the hot, windy weather in the Southern Rhone Valley and Chateauneuf du Pape where the Cinsault grape thrives. The variety withstands dry conditions and grows well in the loamy soils of the High Plains.
We bottled the 2017 with about 9 months of barrel aging in neutral oak allowing the expressiveness of this light-bodied wine to really shine. It has bright notes of fresh strawberries, cranberries, fresh tobacco, and basil. It will fill your mouth with just-picked summer strawberries and a long finish with soft tannins.
Our 2017 Farmhouse Vineyards Cinsault is a great aperitif and is easy and lovely to drink on its own. It pairs beautifully with soft goat cheeses, blueberry salads, trout or salmon seasoned with dill.
With its lighter skins and soft perfume Cinsault is particularly suitable for fruity, early-drinking reds. This wine is being released now with the hopes you’ll enjoy it young and get the full expression of fruit flavors. Drink up and don’t worry about cellaring!
Join us at our Fall Wine Club Parties to preview the outstanding 2016 La Pradera Tannat.