Let's Talk over Drinks
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!
This year, Pedernales Cellars marks the 25th year since the planting of Kuhlken Vineyards, our family vineyard. My how time flies! When our parents first planted the Kuhlken Vineyard in 1995 they had no way of envisioning where we’d be today, but they certainly did give us roots that we take pride in even to this day – and into the next generation.
The key to our growth over the years has come with our understanding that no matter how much we learn about the Texas terroir we’ll always be learning more. The land is our greatest teacher and it’s our connection to it that makes Pedernales Cellars special.
In celebration of our landmark anniversary, we are pleased to share with you 25 fun facts you may or may not know about our history – starting with the planting of Kuhlken Vineyards.
- Kuhlken Vineyards was originally planted by Larry and Jeanine as an early retirement project. They were returning to the land after a professional life in the IT sector and were interested in growing grapes to sell to other Hill Country wineries.
- When getting started Larry and Jeanine Kuhlken received advice from their friends, the Johnsons, who grew grapes in Red Mountain AVA of Washington state.
- The vine on display over our reserve wine bar in the tasting room is nineteen-year-old Cabernet Sauvignon. It was 19 at the time it was cut down. That vine was part of the original Kuhlken Vineyard planting in 1995.
- The planting of Kuhlken Vineyards was a family affair. Julie came back from California where she was living at the time to help plant and water the new vines. David came up from Houston to help install the vineyard’s irrigation system with their dad.
- Part of Kuhlken Vineyards is located in Bell Mountain AVA, the oldest American Viticultural Area (AVA) in Texas. It was formed in 1986 by Bob Oberhelman of Bell Mountain Winery. The vineyard is also located in the Llano Uplift a geological phenomenon that brought old, infertile soil to the surface around 300 million years ago, including the degraded sandstone in Kuhlken Vineyards.
- Kuhlken Vineyards is broken into Blocks based on when they were planted.
- The original planting in 1995 was of four varieties: Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon. In the beginning, Larry and Jeanine sold their grapes to other wineries. These were the varieties that their customers wanted in the 1990s.
- The front vineyard was planted in 1995 and is known as Block Zero.
- The vineyard is located on North Highway 16 which is an excellent place for a vineyard, but not for a tasting room. So, the Kuhlken family selected a winery/tasting room site on the well-traveled 290 corridor. Even as the wine region grows, to this day, there are no tasting rooms on North Highway 16.
- Of the original plantings, the red varietals did OK, but the whites did not thrive and were eventually replaced with Mourvèdre. As Block Zero Mourvèdre thrived, the varietal gained favor among Texas winegrowers.
- Block Zero now includes Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Sangiovese, and Mourvèdre. These varietals adapt well to the hot summers in Texas. The Merlot vines are pictured to the left in early growth stages, March of 2020.
- A new section of Kuhlken Vineyard was planted in 2007. That is known as Block One which includes Mourvèdre and Tempranillo.
- Block Two was also planted in 2007 and includes the Portuguese variety, Touriga Nacional. This is a high-quality grape with origins in Portugal.
- In good vintage years, Pedernales Cellars will bottle wines sourced from individual blocks, such as the 2018 Block Zero. Club members gain exclusive access to these wines when they are released, or when we offer library tastings.
- The only significant planting Pedernales Cellars has of a white wine variety is Albariño. Albariño is a light-bodied white grape that is widely planted in Spain and Portugal.
- Kuhlken Vineyards was developed into a commercial vineyard and winery by Larry and Jeanine’s children, Julie and David. The winery remains a family business to this day.
- Glögg wine is a holiday tradition at Pedernales Cellars inspired by family connections in Sweden and the German heritage of Gillespie County where the winery is located.
- Joanna Wilczoch became our co-winemaker after her Southern hemisphere harvest in spring 2019 in New Zealand. Previously, she had worked as Dave’s assistant. Joanna is a super-taster with an excellent palate which compliments Dave’s understanding of what varietals work well in Texas.
- The founders of Kuhlken Vineyards, Larry and Jeanine Kuhlken, met working on the Apollo 11 mission over 50 years ago. Our popular “Over the Moon Rosé” wine is meant to honor their story.
- In 2020, Pedernales Cellars created a label exclusively for retail markets called Six Generations. This wine label is meant to honor the strong family connection to our land spanning six generations while expanding consumers’ access to quality, Texas-grown wines.
- Pedernales Cellars is fortunate in the site for the winery because there is a hill that rises quickly behind the tasting room. This formation allowed the family to build a barrel room directly into the hill which uses natural cooling to reduce the winery’s carbon footprint.
- The wine club lounge is a 1880s farmhouse that was moved from its original location in Fredericksburg to its current location in Stonewall. The tasting room is comprised of additions to this original structure.
- Pedernales Cellars started a wine club soon after opening in 2008. We have three tiers of Pedernales wine clubs including a Winemaker’s Choice club with both red and white wines and a red wine only club.
- In 2014 we added our Collector’s Club for Kuhlken-Österberg wines that are released only once per year and are offered in only 6 bottle and 12 bottle memberships.
- In addition to our estate vineyard, Kuhlken Vineyards, we have worked with a select set of growers around the state to source the best Texas fruit possible for our 100% Texas grown wines. Most of these relationships are long-standing.
We are grateful.
As we celebrate the 25th anniversary of Kuhlken Vineyards we are filled with gratitude for each and every person that has supported us over the years. Because we are committed to sharing and educating our community, we encourage you to follow Pedernales Cellars on our various social media channels. We enjoy sharing behind the scenes photos and videos to tell our story, and to keep consumers informed of what it takes to bottle the taste of Texas terroir from vine to wine.
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.
In a year like 2019, when the Thanksgiving holiday happens in the last days of November, it may be enticing to change up the standard menu for Christmas dinner. Since the holidays are a time for celebrating it’s the perfect time of year to experiment with more exotic, gamey dishes – and the wines that pair well with them. Believe it or not, that’s the history behind twelve days of Christmas. The holiday season used to be celebrated with twelve nights of dining, drinking, and gathering over decadent spreads of dishes that are so over the top, they’re always reserved for one time of the year. We’re pleased to share a few ideas for the holiday season that pay homage to holiday feasts of the past with a modern twist – and wine pairings inspired by our own chef Josh Koewers.
Holiday Charcuterie and Cheese
You can serve classic crowd pleasers when you incorporate game into the appetizer. If you have a guest or two that are not keen on the intensity of wild meats then there will be a selection of cheese, crackers, confections, and nuts to keep everyone happy – just pay attention to how you separate the elements of your charcuterie platter. When you consider what to feature think about enhancing the ‘usual’ with a special venison sausage or a bison Bresaola for a holiday twist on the classic party fare.
How to Re-Create Pedernales Cellars’ Charcuterie & Cheese Board
Create a spread with chorizo and salami to re-create the charcuterie you know from our tasting room. Or, substitute venison sausage and bison Bresaola for a special twist on the classic.
Serve your cured meats with Brie, Parmesan, smoked gouda, dill havarti, cheddar, almonds, cranberries, apricots, and garnish with a sprig of rosemary. Pair with a Texas Viognier as it is a nice full-bodied white wine with enough acidity and sweetness to please many different palates - with notes of Vanilla and spice the 2017 Viognier Reserve is an excellent choice.
Bacon Wrapped Quail
Featured at the October 2019 Fall Feast
“I love this recipe because it’s inspired by my own mentor’s favorite dish. She instilled in me a deep appreciation for wild game recipes and quail was one of her go-tos…It helps that after fishing season is over, my buddies love to hunt quail and share the fresh meat with me.” - Chef Josh Koewers
With its bright fruit flavors and medium tannins, the 2017 GSM Melange pairs fabulously with a decadent bacon wrapped quail. The red wine has the intensity needed to match up to the strong flavor of the meat, and the salt and fat of the bacon keep the tiny bird from drying out while cooking locking in natural juices and flavors at the same time.
Herb Stuffed Pork Tenderloin
Featured at the October 2019 Fall Feast
“I like this because it isn’t another chicken recipe, but it is still light and incredibly versatile. I like the different texture, complexity and flavors...” – Chef Josh Koewers
This recipe can be done with a wild boar backstrap or a venison tenderloin (or a good quality pork loin as presented this fall). A recipe this decadent with the creamy middle and savory texture of tender meat is a pairing that goes nicely with the complex flavors found in our estate wine, 2016 Kuhlken Vineyards Reserve.
Though Chef Josh’s quail recipe from our 2019 Fall Feast is what inspired us to compile these recommendations, learning about traditional Christmas holiday dishes and the roots behind the iconic holiday meal was an added bonus. So, in the spirit of the season we hope you’ll try one of these recipes – or at least one of the wines. Merry Christmas!
Many are familiar with the holiday tradition of mulled wine, served warm with spices. Quite simply, a nice mulled wine is like “Christmas in a bottle” and that’s why we love it so much – the smell alone evokes memories of holidays shared with loved ones. After making Glögg a part of our own family traditions for years, we brought home a few samples home from Sweden for David to study as we prepared to release our own under the Pedernales Cellars label. The rest is history.
What is the history behind Glögg wine?
You may not realize it, but the practice of making mulled wine did not begin as a holiday tradition. It actually originated with the Romans who warmed their wines in the winter to ward off sickness. Then Europeans began adding spices to support their immune systems during cold and flu season. It wasn’t until the late 1800’s that Cognac-Glögg became associated with Christmas, a tradition that continues to this day.
Why does Pedernales Cellars make a Swedish style Glögg?
In addition to paying homage to our Swedish Osterberg family roots, I also lived in Sweden for several years. I always loved that at Christmas time, wherever you went, you would be greeted with warm Glögg in little glass mugs filled with almonds and raisins. Everything about that custom compliments the spirit of the giving season so nicely. Glögg is also the only wine that pairs with cinnamon buns which are also prevalent in Sweden.
Considering family heritage, I tend to prefer the Swedish style mulled wine to the German-style Glühwein. Glühwein is primarily spiced with cinnamon, but traditional Swedish-style Glögg offers much more complexity with cardamom, cloves, and nutmeg in the mix.
How long as Glögg been a tradition at Pedernales Cellars?
We made our first Glögg in 2009, and it was an instant hit! This year marks our tenth year and we are proud to be one of the first to make a traditional style mulled wine from Texas.
Because the nose is complex and features so many of the holiday smells that our guests know and love the wine has developed its own cult following. We begin getting requests for it as early as September.
What does Glögg taste like?
Guests are often surprised by the flavor profile and how much it really is “Christmas in a bottle.” Even wine writers, who are often very skeptical at first, warm to it (no pun intended!) once they taste it.
For our tasting room team, we have something fun to offer our guests that is out of the ordinary and often unexpected. Glögg is an experience that our guests can also take home to share with friends and family over the holidays, and at $20 per bottle, it is also a great gift-giving idea.
The bottles sell out soon after our holiday Glöggfest. This year (2019) we will celebrate Glöggfest on December 14th in our estate tasting room.
Above photo credit: Heather Baird
How to prepare Glögg
Family recipes vary greatly, but all include wine that is slowly warmed with spices, sugar, and sometimes additional spirits like brandy. We usually warm our Glögg in a slow cooker set on high. While warming the wine you'll need to add some sugar (1/4 - 1/2 cup per bottle of wine) depending on your taste. You can also add dark raisins for flavor. Ladle the wine into mugs, and serve hot with toasted almonds and dark raisins to garnish, add citrus if desired.
Pairs well with cinnamon buns or gingerbread.