Pedernales Cellars

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Joanna Wilczoch
July 3, 2019

Pedernales Cellars Winemaker, Joanna Wilczoch, in New Zealand 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!

Jul 3, 2019 at 12:06 PM
Joanna Wilczoch
March 7, 2019

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.  

 

Mar 7, 2019 at 7:02 AM