Let's Talk over Drinks
Most of us are accustomed to buying wine made in the U.S. by the name of the grape such as Merlot, Tempranillo, and Viognier. However, wine made in other major wine regions, such as Bordeaux and the Rhône Valley of France label their wine by region rather than by grape variety. These wines are made with a blend of several varieties of grapes with complementary characteristics to create wine whose whole is greater than the sum of its parts.
At Pedernales Cellars we make wine in both ways: with single varietal wines, as well as wines that are a blend of several grapes. Generally, all of our white wines are made with one grape varietal except the Lyla. We make seven to ten red blends each vintage such as our Rhône-style GSM Mélange. There are advantages to making wine in both ways. However, blending wine is where a winemaker can really show off their artistry.
Pedernales Cellars has an extensive program to determine which lots of grapes are blended to make our final wines. We taste through each wine lot countless times and at regular intervals throughout the year while the wine is aging. Each time we taste we take detailed notes of each wine's strengths and weaknesses, aromatics, structure, and aging potential. By the time we are ready to begin blending, these records help guide the process
The 2020 growing season had challenges, and we harvested less fruit or no fruit from many of our long-time vineyard partners. To augment that reduction, we secured fruit from several new vineyards, which has become an exciting opportunity to experiment with blending (or not) wines with different qualities than “usual.”. We’ve been getting Teroldego from Narra Vineyards for the last couple of years, but also received some Teroldego from Pepper Jack Vineyards in 2020. This vineyard is 40 miles further north of Narra, and while both lots share the same rich black fruit, opaque color, and velvety tannins, the Pepper Jack Teroldego has a distinct minerality to it. We are excited to share both with our guests and look forward to hearing their reactions to these lovely and unique wines.
Sometimes we blend grapes that complement each other to make a complex wine. Other times we make a blend to highlight a specific grape.
Better Together Blends
One of our blends that we make each vintage, the GSM Mélange, is going to be awesome for the 2020 vintage. It is equal parts Grenache, Syrah, and Mourvèdre this year. We’ve had stellar Syrah the past few years, and it is marrying beautifully with the Grenache and Mourvèdre from the High Plains. We also harvested some great Montepulciano from a new-to-us grower, that will be blended into our Valhalla.
Star of the Show Blends
An example of blending to highlight a specific grape is our Reserve Tempranillo. While Tempranillo is the main grape, we add in other grapes to accentuate various qualities. For example, the 2018 Tempranillo Reserve is comprised of 77% Tempranillo, 12% Touriga, and 11% Graciano. Touriga and Graciano help boost the structure and complexity of Tempranillo, without overpowering it.
The first wines to be blended are our “Reserve” wines – this ensures we have all our highest quality lots available to make these wines special The Reserve Tempranillo is started with our highest quality Tempranillo lot, and then we blend in traditional pieces to complement those grapes. We look for qualities for proper body, alcohol levels, and primary tastes that are characteristic of exceptional Tempranillo. We want medium to higher tannins, balanced medium to high acidity with acidity for a complex structure, as well as the rich cherry flavors that are characteristic of Tempranillo.
I’m excited about our 2020 vintage as we had several vineyards produce excellent fruit with intense flavors and structure. We have three additional grape varietals that are excellent blending components that increase the age-worthiness of the wine while making sure it is approachable to drink right away. We’ll blend Tempranillo grapes with Graciano, a traditional blending grape used in Rioja, Spain that adds beautiful aromatics, along with Cinsault for softness, and Alicante Bouschet to give the wine a deep, rich color. This year we chose to co-ferment the Alicante Bouschet with the Cinsault because the two had complementary chemistry that bring out the best in each other.
The actual percentage of each varietal used to make the final wine is selected to ensure that the wine tastes varietally correct with vibrant fruit flavors, proper complexity, and excellent structure with a balance of tannin, acid, and texture. We haven’t finalized the blend for our 2020 Tempranillo Reserve yet but will probably use three different lots of Tempranillo for approximately 75% of the wine with the remainder made up of Graciano, and the Alicante Bouschet / Cinsault blend. Over the course of two weeks, we will conduct at least five and up to ten blending trials with the winemaking team evaluating various ratios to determine the final blend. We’re confident that it will be an outstanding wine.
While you are waiting for the 2020 wines to be available, you can satisfy your thirst with our 2018 Tempranillo Reserve. It’s a perfect wine to share during the holidays. Because it is food-friendly, and a stand-out wine, we have included it in the Texas Fine Wine 2021 Holiday Pack. Orders placed by December 8 will arrive in time for Christmas.
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!
What an amazing experience! I just returned from New Zealand where I spent the spring (well, autumn there) harvesting grapes, and couldn’t wait to share my experience with you. Participating in a harvest in a different region has been my dream for quite a while now, it is an incredible way to gain understandings that make a more well-rounded winemaker. It’s one thing to read about different varieties, winemaking styles, and viticultural practices, but seeing them live in action is another matter entirely.
This spring, I decided to finally dive in and took a position working for New Zealand’s largest winery, Indevin. This winery is a sheer 1,000 times the size of Pedernales Cellars, something that I couldn’t entirely conceptualize until I arrived. It was massive! To paint you a picture, Indevin refers to its tank rooms (some of which were outdoors and a whopping 50 meters tall) as “tank farms.” These areas were so large that they were divided into North, East, South, and West sections. According to my Fit Bit, I walked 8 to 11 miles a day at work – half of which I probably did walking to and from the breakroom! Kidding. Sort of.
For the two months I was there, I worked in the “Red Cellar” where the winery’s Pinot Noir was processed as well as some small batch specialty white wines, like Gewürztraminer and Chardonnay for boutique clients. Because the red program was smaller and other wineries that did co-op worked out of this space, I had pretty regular contact with winemakers from places like New Zealand, Mexico, Spain, and Italy. Indevin was a very diverse place to work, and the diverse atmosphere probably one of my favorite things about being there. I not only learned about winemaking in New Zealand, but I was also able to talk about wine with a myriad of foreign winemakers from, well, everywhere. The Czech Republic, Chile, Argentina, China, Canada, Germany, France…pretty much every major wine region was represented. It was amazing.
Aside from the experience of collaborating with winemakers and cellar staff from different regions, I had a lot of fun playing with all the cool “toys” at a winery of that size has to offer. For example, we used a revolutionary machine called Pulsair for red wine cap management. We poked the Pulsair (which closely resembles a 10-foot metal tube) into the cap of a fermenting red wine and injected compressed air through it. The result looks like a wine volcano but is a relatively gentle way to break up the grape skins. Working with Pinot Noir is quite different from what we do in Texas with any of our grape varietals (at least at Pedernales), so it was interesting to see the processes and learn about why winemakers were implementing them. There are definitely some tricks I hope to try for our own 2019 vintage. While we might not need the same set of equipment as a winery that can process 30,000 tons of grapes, it gave me ideas for ways we might alter some of our practices with the equipment we have.
I know this might sound corny, but one of the biggest lessons for me has been a reminder of how lucky I am to make wine at Pedernales Cellars. While it was eye-opening to see how wine is made in another region of the world, I am grateful for the opportunity to work so closely with growers, fellow staff members, and grapes through every step of the process at a smaller winery in Texas. When I first started working at Pedernales Cellars, I was touched by how many dedicated hands were involved in producing the wine we make. Now, I feel this now more than ever. I love the connections that are formed through making and sharing wine – between farmers, producers, consumers and everyone in between. It’s truly special to be able to share this process and the wine with folks directly, and it’s something you simply don’t get to do on a larger scale. As amazing as it was to be working abroad, I am more excited than ever to be in Texas and can’t wait to get vintage 2019 underway!
As you take a winter tour of Texas wine country and press your nose up against your car window, you’re greeted with acres of barren vines, leafless and unmoving. The silence of winter seems to still have her icy grip on the plants, and they appear to be almost lifeless. However, the magic of bud break is about to begin, and we are hard at work preparing the vines for the growing season ahead.
Our new vineyard foreman, Sherah Mills, has been tirelessly pruning our vineyards for the last few weeks. We are lucky to have her; she is a recent graduate of Texas Tech with a degree in horticulture and has experience working in her family's vineyard in Stonewall. She understands that winter pruning is very important to ensure that this year’s crop of grapes is both high quality and concentrated.
All of our pruning is done by hand, giving us the chance to lovingly choose the training regimen for each individual plant. We finalize our pruning protocol in the winter months based on the last year’s growing season, with adjustments made for how the vineyard is looking this season.
Admittedly, we are a nerdy bunch and like to experiment with variations on certain rows to see how the vines will react and adapt. Because of our studies in our test rows, we have found that some of our more vigorous grapes, such as Touriga Nacional, like to be left with more buds per spur so they have somewhere to push their energy. We are always happy to work with the vines’ needs in order to ensure a great crop!
Unfortunately, temperatures have recently plunged and we Texas grape growers are watching the weather with apprehension. And for good reason: a constant string of warmer days preceding this cold snap, which coaxed out a few buds in some of the white grapes. A freeze could completely destroy them. Luckily, a plant will push out a second wave of “insurance” buds, but the yields will be significantly reduced, nonetheless. We have our fingers crossed and will be assessing the damages, if any, in the near future. Say a prayer for us, PC lovers!
On a lighter note, I am heading to New Zealand this week to work the wine-grape harvest there and am looking forward to applying what I have learned about their vineyard and winemaking techniques to our operation. Stay tuned for updates!
See Bud Break in Action
If you want to see the vineyard progress first hand, we have just the thing for you. Sign up for our Kuhlken Vineyard Bud Break Tour. First planted in 1995, this vineyard has contributed fruit to some of our favorite wines throughout the years and we would love to share its history with you. This tour includes transportation to and from the vineyard from Pedernales Cellars, a picnic lunch, and a tour of our winery. Sign up on the Pedernales Cellars website.