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Pedernales Cellars Incorporates Sustainable Practices
Sustainability is more than just a buzzword at Pedernales Cellars. Our team members, including our winemaker and co-owner David Kuhlken, winemaker Joanna Wilczoch, Vineyard Manager Evan McKibben, and I have long discussed the best ways to make our wines and run our winery in the most sustainable way. We appreciate that valuing resources means implementing measures to protect them, both now in in the long run.
Winemaking is labor-intensive. To be a sustainable business, we must take care of our team. Winemaking is agriculture. Being good stewards of the land is essential to our long-term viability. Winemaking requires the use of natural resources. We are leveraging a variety of tools to minimize our impact on the environment.
Here we share our most recent sustainability statement, to provide some insights on what we are already doing and what we are committed to doing in our business practices to continue moving toward more sustainability.
Pedernales Cellars Sustainability Statement
We are focused on growing and operating our business prioritizing the economic, community, and environmental principles of sustainability across all departments and activities.
Employment and Community
- Fair wages
- Professional development and education support
- Family support such as paid maternity and paternity leave
- Health insurance for full-time staff
- Leadership in trade associations
- Donations and support to organizations in local and winegrowing community
- Minimization and elimination of synthetic herbicides and pesticides in operation
- Natural grass cover for soil preservation
- Supply organic waste material to local farms for reuse
- Organic compost program for the estate vineyard
- 100% recycling for on-site recyclable materials
- Reduce non-recyclable waste material, including minimizing consumer packaging waste
- Use 100% Texas fruit supporting local growers
Energy and Water
- 26 tons of Geothermal cooling for production operation
- Rainwater collection to support operational water usage
- Underground barrel cellar for natural temperature and humidity control
- 25% On-site Energy Production
- 50% On-site Rainwater/Grey-water Sourcing
- Eliminate all synthetic herbicides and foliar pesticides
We are constantly evaluating our winemaking and business practices in order to maintain and improve our standards of sustainability wherever possible. We take care to learn how our business practices will have the most positive impact to avoid the depletion of natural resources and build up our community and land.
We love to discuss sustainability! Ask about it next time you visit our winery. You may book a tasting online or stop by during business hours to buy a bottle to enjoy on the lawn. Becoming a Wine Club Member is another wonderful way to show your support and enjoy great wines!
Meet Ashley Gunckel, Event Coordinator
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.”
Want to drink like Ashley? You can order her favorite wines online or pick them up at the tasting room. Try our 2021 Over the Moon Rose and the 2019 Texas Tempranillo Reserve.
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.”
The Impact of the Drought on the 2022 Harvest
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.
The Beginnings of a Very Un-Texas 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.
Spring Brings Extensive Planting in the Pedernales Cellars Kuhlken Vineyards
April has kept us busy at Pedernales Cellars, with spring weather drawing guests to our winery, Wine Club members pickup party, and planting new vines at Kuhlken Vineyards!
Winemaker, president, and co-founder David Kuhlken and vineyard manager Evan McKibben have been busy in our Kuhlken Estate Vineyards this season. The vineyard team has planted more 5,000 vines this year to replace underperforming vines and to expand acreage under vine. To ensure the new vines have a good start in the infertile soil and degraded sandstone in Kuhlken Vineyards, we spread a manure compost with our mulch spreader.
Our site, located in Bell Mountain American Viticultural Area, was originally planted in 1995 and is a fantastic location to grow Mediterranean grape varietals. This season we planted Grenache, Tempranillo, Petite Sirah, Mourvèdre, and Sangiovese.
Some of the new vines replace vines that have been damaged in severe weather. Evan McKibben said, “We have already seen that some vines planted last year did not survive. In addition to the damage to young plants, we had more damage in the Tempranillo mature vines than in any other variety. Fortunately, the Albariño fruit looks really good. We are mainly focused on new plantings for the next three years for expansion rather than to replace vines. We had forecast a light fruit load this year, so the freeze we had did not affect us much. We should have a great fruit set for the 2023 harvest and then build steadily from there.”
David Kuhlken sees a program of steady planting next spring and in the coming years.
“Going forward we will still have many of the same varieties with the replant. Namely, Tempranillo, Mourvèdre, Grenache, Touriga Nacional, and Tinta Amarela. But we are adding blocks of Petite Sirah, Alicante Bouschet, and Graciano to the mix, reflecting the things that have proven consistent complements in our most exclusive reserve wine called KO and Reserve programs. We also have increased the amount of Sangiovese because it really has been a great variety in the Hill Country.
Grenache will take a few years to be mature enough to stand on its own. Joanna and I both really love Grenache for a varietal red, so the long-term goal would be to have it in the program as a standalone. Still, that could be several years down the road when it comes to the new estate planting. In fact, 2021 is the last year for the old Grenache block, and yields are quite low. In the interim, we might have Grenache from the High Plains as a varietal red.
Evan has been literally transforming things at the estate and has done an incredible amount of work these past 4 months. I will add about the planting this year, that Evan and our team will also plant 1,000 more Touriga vines, bringing the total up to 6,000 vines in 2021.
Have you ever visited a vineyard, worked on planting vines, or harvesting grapes? Follow Evan on Instagram, @vineyardevan, to see photos and videos of all of our vineyard projects. You can also follow the main Pedernales Cellars Instagram account for updates.
Glögg: The Pumpkin Spice Latte of Wine
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!”
2020 Harvest or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Madness
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.
25 Things We’ve Learned Growing Grapes in the Texas Hill Country for the Past 25 Years
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.
Meet the Pedernales Cellars Tasting Room Manager, Marissa Contreras
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.”
All About Albariño, a Winemaker’s Q&A with Joanna Wilczoch
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.