Let's Talk over Drinks
You have probably seen Ashley Gunckel around the winery. Her broad smile and happy-to-help demeanor have been a fixture at Pedernales Cellars for more than five years. She is an integral part of our team, and she is a living embodiment of our culture of making it easy for people to enjoy wine.
Ashley has helped the winery in several roles. She was first a tasting room associate, was promoted to team lead, and was recently promoted to Event Coordinator. This job is an absolutely great fit for her energy and talents.
How It Started
Ashley hasn’t always worked in the wine world. Before joining our team at Pedernales Cellars, she worked as a vet tech, groomed animals, and assisted with customer service at her mom’s veterinary clinic in Colorado.
Wanderlust and a yearning for a change of scenery led her to Texas. Soon after settling in Hye, Texas, she found out about a job opening at Pedernales Cellars. She was immediately thrilled by the possibility of working at a winery.
“After the interview, I didn’t even make it out of the driveway before they called and offered me the job,” says Ashley. “We just clicked. I love working with people, and my friendly, outgoing personality was a good fit for the team at Pedernales.”
There was a bit of a learning curve for Ashley when she started the job.
She recalls, “On my first day working on my own in the tasting room as an associate, someone purchased a bottle of wine at the end of their tasting. I was shy and a little bit nervous during the whole tasting. When I pulled the bottle out to serve it to them, it slipped out of my hands and shattered on the floor. I was mortified. Thankfully everyone started laughing, and my manager was very understanding.”
How It's Going
“I don’t think I’ll ever leave the wine industry,” says Ashley. “I’m glad I get to work at a place where I genuinely love every wine we make. The vibe is great. The people are great. There are so many really interesting and smart people here. We love to hang out after work too. That is the best part about work here.”
Ashley’s love for people extends beyond her work family. She loves working with our guests and gets a rush from her role planning events that our members like to attend. One key to her success is that she avidly attends events as well and gleans the best of what she experiences at concerts, hosted dinners, and other winery events to add to her library of ideas for incredible events at Pedernales Cellars.
“I like to bring the best of what I experience to my job,” she says. “I want people to have a great time. I have met people from all over the world and get to hear their stories. It is satisfying to plan and execute events that entertain these fascinating people, and they also walk away learning something. Education is core to everything we do in the tasting room and our events. We want people to continually learn new and interesting things about wine to help deepen their appreciation and love for it. At the same time, we want to make sure people have a lot of fun. For wine club events, we want to express our gratitude for our members and make them feel special.”
Ashley doesn’t go it alone. She has a knack for open communication and teamwork. She gathers input and builds consensus to make sure the team is involved in a great outcome. She values the opinions of tasting room associates who are meeting with customers every day and uses that input to make sure our events are as fun and engaging as possible.
That collaborative approach made it easy for her to make the transition from being a tasting room associate to being a manager of the same people that she used to work alongside.
“We have had a really, really good team of seasoned professionals. Our personal relationships and the supportive environment have made the transition easy and rewarding.”
What Keeps Her Going
The wine business — beyond what is inside the bottle — energizes Ashley. She is fascinated by the growing process in the vineyard, how wine is made, the chemistry behind it, and the art.
“One of the things I learned when I first started that was mind-blowing is that really good wine starts with really good grapes in the vineyard. No matter how good the winemaker is, you must have good fruit. It starts in the vines. I visit the vineyards as often as possible. I’ve helped with planting new vines, helped with harvest, and led tours of the vineyard. I get to cool continuously learn about the vineyard.”
Ashley has always been interested in chemistry and science, going back to even before her days working at the vet clinic. To pursue that passion in the wine industry, she has assisted as a “cellar rat” to help make the wine. In so doing, she has been able to shadow our winemaker, Joanna Wilczoch, in the lab and learn about all of the aspects that go into the wine.
Ashley’s Favorite Wines
“The wine at Pedernales Cellars is exceptional. I love our rosé. I could literally drink our rosé all day. I am also a huge fan of our Tempranillo Reserve. Those are my two go-to wines. I exclusively drink Texas wine. There are a lot of great wines made in Texas, so when I’m not drinking our wine, it is from one of our neighbors.”
Join Ashley at Our Next Events
“I love introducing people to Texas wine and letting them experience how great it is. I want everyone to feel welcome at Pedernales Cellars events. Wine events aren’t always prim and proper. They can be super casual and fun. It's all about enjoying excellent wine, delicious food, and just enjoying the scene. You don’t have to be a serious wine expert to have a great time at our events. I can’t wait for people to come to our next few events.
Fall Feast Vintner’s Dinner is our most popular dinner of the year. It is held after hours on the patio hosted by an owner. Our featured chef prepares special dishes and presents each course paired with our wines. It is coming up on Saturday, October 29, starting at 5:00 PM.
The KO Wine Club Pick-Up Party will be held on Sunday, October 30. This is only for members who have joined this allocation club. It is definitely an elevated pairing experience, so dress up.
The Tempranillo Tasting Room Take-Over on Sunday, December 11 is going to be a blast. We will have an all-Tempranillo tasting flight with a vertical of older Tempranillos from the Library, in addition to our current release, the 2019 Reserve Tempranillo.
Our Winter 2022 Wine Club Pick-Up Party will be held on Sunday, December 4. The winter party is typically our most relaxed club event, and I look forward to it every year. It has a chill vibe and people come in a festive holiday mood. It is a great time to stock up for holiday parties.”
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.
Each October we celebrate two jewels of Texas agriculture with Texas Pecan and Texas Wine Months. For a unique opportunity to celebrate them together the Texas Pecan Board in collaboration with Texas Fine Wine will host a virtual pecan and wine tasting, led by sommelier and Texas culinary expert Jessica Dupuy and food historian Melissa Guerra on October 21, 2020, from 6:30 to 8 p.m.
"Considering the history and culture behind Texas pecans and Texas wine, it’s only fitting that we bring the two together to celebrate their place in Texas cuisine,” said Dupuy. “This tasting will be a great way to look at the different grape varieties that are doing well in Texas and taste how wines from these varieties are complemented by Texas pecans."
We love pecans. We love wine. But are they a good pairing? We think they are fantastic together. Take an opportunity to taste for yourself. The virtual pecan and wine tasting, A Toast to Texas Pecans, will feature Texas pecan recipes and wine pairings to help wine and food enthusiasts get the most out of these authentically Texas products. The interactive session will make participants feel like they are in the room with Dupuy and Guerra as the two experts talk about what wine pairs with pecans and the rich history and ties each has with the state of Texas.
Thank you to all who have signed up to participate. To give you a head start on your preparations for the evening, we’re sharing our wine and pecan pairing and the recipe that will be featured in the virtual tasting.
Pedernales Cellars 2018 Texas Tempranillo and Texas Pecan Jalapeño Cheese Ball
Pedernales Cellars is well known for specializing in Spanish and Rhône-style wines, including our benchmark Tempranillo. Our 2018 Texas Tempranillo has classic Spanish flavors married with distinct Texas terroir. It is a vibrant, lighter-bodied Tempranillo with red cherry, dried herbs, cedar, and vanilla flavors. In Spain, Tempranillo wines are primarily served alongside grilled red meats and ham, but Tempranillo’s versatility makes it a handy pairing for a wide range of foods. Its bright red fruit characteristics make Tempranillo a sensational cheese pairing. Especially when herbaceous jalapeño and the buttery nuttiness of Texas pecans in this easy-to-make cheese ball.
Texas Pecan Jalapeño Cheese Ball
Y I E L D: 12, 2-ounce servings
I N G R E D I E N T S
- 1 pound cream cheese, softened
- 4 green onions, minced
- ½ cup chopped parsley
- 1 clove garlic, minced
- 4 ounce can diced jalapeños, drained
- Pinch salt
- 1 cup shredded cheddar cheese
- 1 cup chopped Texas pecans
D I R ECT I O N S
- Place the softened cream cheese in a large mixing bowl. Add the minced onions, parsley, garlic, jalapeños and salt. Using an electric hand blender, mix the ingredients until well blended, about 2 minutes on medium speed. Add the shredded cheese and mix for another 30 seconds until the cheeses are well combined.
- Place the chopped pecans in a glass pie dish. Using a rubber spatula, gather up the cheese mixture by scraping the sides of the bowl (Don’t forget any cheese that may have collected on the mixer beaters!) Form the cheese mixture into a ball with your hands. Roll the ball into the chopped pecans, coating the outside of the cheeseball thoroughly and evenly.
- Wrap the cheeseball in waxed paper or plastic wrap. Chill in the refrigerator for at least one hour before serving. For best results, make one day in advance of serving. Garnish with fresh springs of parsley, whole pecans and a whole jalapeño as preferred.
We’re looking forward to tasting along with you on October 21. Our 2018 Texas Tempranillo is available in retail stores for your convenience. Happy Texas Wine Month!
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!
If you are feeling like you’re in an entertaining rut with your friends, we recommend shaking up the normal routine of cheese, wine, and charcuterie for a blind tasting among friends. Blind tastings are a great way to initiate a thoughtful discussion about the wines you enjoy and trying wines without knowing what they are challenges everyone to take time to appreciate and evaluate each sip with intention.
So, what is a blind tasting?. In a blind tasting, you conceal information (ie: the label and bottle) that may influence the tasters’ opinion on the wine itself. While tasting each wine, everyone writes down notes about color, aromas, flavors, and any other details they notice. With this style of tasting, you may be surprised by what you learn about your own tastes as well as your friends’ preferences too. Here are our top three tips for hosting a successful blind tasting party with your friends.
1. Gather the supplies.
Notebooks or cards for tasting notes and pens are a must. This is how you and your guests can keep track of your thoughts and initial impressions of each wine for later review. Stock plenty of clean and polished glasses, ensure there are enough spittoons around the table and have some snacks available.
Determine how you will mask your bottles - paper bags, foil, gift wrap, anything goes so long as you and your guests will be unable to determine the wine by looking at the bottle. Remove foil capsules and be sure that you mask the bottle shape if it’s a giveaway. Have different corks or bottle stoppers available that won’t give away the identity of each wine. Last but not least, pick the wine list then separate the reds and whites - mask, number, and prep them for service.
If you and your friends are new to wine descriptors you may consider printing out a few resources such as the Wine and Spirits Education Trust (WSET) systematic approach to tasting or the Court of Master Sommeliers deductive tasting grid to help guide the process.
2. Determine your food and wine menu.
This is where you can let those charcuterie board building skills shine. You may not think you need food for a wine tasting, but it’s a very good idea to have food when you are going to be drinking a higher ABV beverage like wine. Not all of your guests will be spitting out their tastes of wine, so having food will help to absorb some of the alcohol.
Salty foods have an interesting effect on the palate acting almost like a reset button. Bear in mind that the food you select should not overpower the wines, but rather serve to keep your guests satisfied. Be sure to select a variety of starchy, cheesy, briney, fresh fruit and veggies for color and texture. Finally, add a few salty items that will pair well with an array of wines and satisfy diverse palates.
When selecting the wines for your blind tasting, we recommend having something among them that is common like the varietal or the appellation of origin. Or if you want to take a deep dive into a region or producer, go “vertical” and see if you and your guests list the wines in the blind tasting in order of vintage year from oldest to youngest.
Our wine club manager recommends trying either a white or red wine lineup. Try a Pedernales Cellars white wine varietal blind tasting selection of:
See if your guests can figure out which white varietal is in the glass. Or, if you have guests with advanced tasting skills try something more difficult like this Tempranillo based lineup:
3. Consider your setting.
When tasting wine, your setting can influence your perception quite a bit. It may seem obvious, but when closely evaluating a wine, more light helps guests to examine the color of their wines.
When hosting a blind tasting at home resist the urge to burn your favorite candles, incense, or wear heavy perfumes as all of these have a significant impact on the olfactory experience. “Nosing” a glass of wine is a fantastic way to narrow down the potential varietal, region, or vintage year so be sure not to compromise your guests’ ability to appreciate the aromatic nuances of their wine.
As the host, it is also your job to keep the blind tasting moving in an efficient and somewhat organized fashion. This can become difficult when you’re among friends (especially as you sample many wines) so do not get too uptight about it if your blind tasting party evolves - just be prepared to tactfully refocus everyone if it becomes necessary. If you are really worried about it, consider narrowing the menu to only three wines so there is more room for chatting between each tasting.
Remember rule number one of a wine tasting party. Have Fun!
When hosting a blind wine tasting party with friends, always remember the goal is to have fun and enjoy good wine and your company! Take the time to savor the experience, appreciate the wine, and get to know a little more about your friends’ tastes in the process.