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Finding our Way
Texas Wine Country
The bus, with its burgundy “Discover Texas Wine Tours” logo stretched across the side, comes to a smooth halt parallel to Hopkins as our tour guides step out to greet us. After the traditional “Before” photo, we pile into the luxurious cruiser. Directly in front of everyone is a sharp LCD screen that introduces us to the tour, provides tips on wine tasting, and previews the wineries. Below our sleek and comfortable seats is a large cooler full of ice and water bottles. The first bottle is popped, a toast is made and our adventure begins. We are a group of explorers ready to discover a new land, determined to make it to five wineries spread throughout Central Texas in one day. Before anyone realizes it, we are twisting and turning down old Texas backroads and making our way deep into the infinite, rolling beauty of the Texas Hill Country. There is only one thing left to do, discover Texas wine. Story By: Jordan Regas Photos By: Eric Morales
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inding our way When BobcatFans made the decision to write an article on all of the Hill Country wineries sitting in our backyard, we had no clue what we were getting ourselves into. We could have traveled the road alone, but there is no shame in asking for a little help from someone who knows the way, can speak the language, and for all practical matters, can get you home safely. It seems appropriate to first introduce our guides who led us through the vast dominion of Hill Country wine. Noel and Kathie MacDonald, owners of Discover Texas Wine Tours, are not your typical wine tour guides. They turned one of their biggest passions into their business concept: to help others discover their love of Texas Hill Country wine. At Discover Texas Wine Tours, they focus more on an authentic wine tasting experience, emphasizing that “Our specialty is smaller, non-touristy, more remotely located wineries.”
Where four wineries will soon converge
They tout three routes The Drippin’ Wine Trail, The Fredericksburg Trail and The Marble Falls Trail. Each wine trail has it own unique feel with varying vineyards ranging from quaint and humble to tourist attractions and more commercial. Unlike those old “Choose Your Own Destiny” novels you might have read as a kid, when it comes to the Texas wine country, there is really no such thing as the wrong path.
The Drive Noel gives us a short history of Texas wine before taking a sharp turn leading down to the Pedernales River. It turns out that the Central Texas Wine Trails are actually the second most popular wine destination in America, coming in second only to the Napa Valley & Sonoma region of California. As it turns out, though, California got a big head start on Texas because they were given permission to continue wine making during prohibition. Another interesting fact we learned is that France has the High Plains area of Lubbock to thank for shipping them vines when an epidemic almost put an end to French wine for good.
Outdoor tasting room at 36 | BobcatFans Magazine
Tanks full of fermenting grapes
The two Mercedes Sprinters can accommodate 10 guests each
Wine Tours Discover Texas Wine Tours provides a friendly and relaxed atmosphere for those who want to sample and become familiar with the award-winning vintages being produced in our Fredericksburg, Dripping Springs and Wimberley, Texas wineries. The Central Texas Wine Trails have earned the distinction of being the most visited and award winning wineries in the nation — second only to those located in Napa Valley and Sonoma. Taking a winery tour is a fun and enjoyable way to spend time with that special person or group of friends without having to worry about “the details.” In addition, the Central Texas corridor has begun to offer an expanded horizon of select breweries and distillery tasting tours as well.
The young vinewards at Hilmy Winery The young vineyards #BobcatFans at Hilmy Winery
For those who need only safe and comfortable transportation to and from events of all kinds, we offer shuttle services at an hourly rate with advance reservations. Plan a fun evening out with friends, neighbors or family, where the cost is shared and the driving is left to us. Sit back, relax and enjoy the ride with the adult beverages of your choice. www.discovertexaswine.com
Before leaving, Allan shared a little about Texas grapes and how different soil around the state produces specialized grapes. He says, “Our grapes, because they are in the Hill Country with limestone underneath our soil, about three feet below, have these mineral characteristics that are more traditional like Bordeaux, France. The issue with all grapes in central Texas is that we just don’t get the yield per acre that they get in Lubbock or that they get in California.” Allan went on to explain how the soil in Lubbock, or the High Plains as they call it in the industry, is highly similar to the wine produced out in Napa Valley, having more of an early reacting “fruit forward” taste. Allan poured us all a glass straight from the stainless steel container that would not be ready until sometime in 2014; the future tasted pretty good.
Allan Fetty uses a wine thief to pour wine during the barrel tasting
Westcave Cellars Our first destination: Westcave Cellars in Round Mountain, TX. Margaret Fetty greets us in the tasting room and we all assemble around the bar. Margaret specifically chooses a wine for each person based on their particular taste preferences. As we taste, we come across their best selling wine, the White Merlot. She explains that the color of the wine comes from the skin of the grape and that the bitter taste that hits the palate in red wine is from the tannins, produced from the stems, seeds and skins of the grapes. As she held up a 2010 White Merlot and compared it to a darker 2011 White Merlot, Margaret explained the effect that last year’s draught had on their grapes. “The berries were much, much smaller and if you remember what I said, you get the color of a red wine from the skins, and with the berries being smaller, the pulp of the grape had more surface contact and because of more pulp contact with the skin it made everything a lot darker in color. While we only had 40% less grapes, meaning, i.e., prices are going to be higher, the 2011 vintage is going to be amazing thanks to the draught conditions of 2011,” says Margaret. Essentially, 2011 was a good year for Texas wine. Margaret’s husband, Allan, took us out to the crush pad where the whole process begins. The grapes, along with the dirt, worms and everything else that comes with them, are first tossed into the crusher/de-steamer machine. The next step is the pressing, but from here, the process is different for red and white grapes. “With white grapes, since you’re going to press them right away, you really 38 | BobcatFans Magazine
mash them hard. With the red grapes you ferment them with the skins and seeds and everything goes into the tank together, and you just want to barely break the skins on those. [Then] what happens is the yeast will get inside those cracks and each little berry will become its own fermentation chamber so to speak…and then you press it after it’s been fermented. Fermentation, simply put, is yeast converting sugar into alcohol,” says Allan. The fermentation takes place for several months inside of stainless steel containers, but after the red grapes are finally pressed, the juice is poured into oak barrels and gets aged for a period of time while the white wine goes through a clarification process. Allan explained that not all wineries use the French Oak barrels due to cost, but it’s that process that gives a wine its earthy, smoky flavor.
Original label art by artist Tim Wooding The Fetty’s have been growing grapes in the Hill Country since 1999 Cellar Dweller Wine Club: $35 to $60 per shipment (2-6 wines)
“You can never make a mediocre grape into a great wine, it’s not possible.”
Bell Springs It was past noon, we all felt deep into the wine tour, but it had only just begun. The next stop was Bell Springs Winery in Dripping Springs, TX. Bell Springs is owned by Nate Pruitt and his wife. If you could only choose one person to talk to about the future of wine in Texas, Nate might just be your guy. At Bell Springs, they currently do not grow any of their grapes (they are planning on growing in the future), and will even purchase grapes outside of Texas if he believes it will make a better tasting wine. But as a Central Texas wine maker, or vintner, his wines are still completely his own. Nate explains, “The grape is essentially nothing more than that when you get it. Then it goes through the process: crushing, steaming, pressing, fermentation, and then it becomes wine. So no matter where you get the fruit from the process of making wine is still the same; the difference is what you do with it. There is one thing to remember in wine making, which is that you are never going to make a good wine out of a crappy grape…you can never make a mediocre grape into a great wine, it’s not possible.” As we smelled and sipped down fresh samples of Nate’s wine, he went on to explain how recently Texas wine has begun making a name for itself. He says, “There are some fantastic Texas wines, I probably wouldn’t have said that about seven years ago when I first moved here. There were some good wines then, but in the last five years, everywhere you go around here they have something good.”
(left) Nate Pruitt, Owner of Bell Springs. The middle bottle, Reston, is named after his young son. (below) Custom made “Wine-stone” available in various bottle capacities.
took the opportunity to explain the filtration system. He said that out in Europe they don’t actually filter their wines, so then it’s perfectly common to see sediment at the bottom of the glass. In America, we are accustomed to believe that if we see something in the bottom, then there must be something wrong with the wine, but really this is not true. Nate says, “We filter most of our wines. When I say filter, I mean, literally go through a filtration process where you are passing a wine through filters that take all the small stuff out. We don’t filter down to a sterile filter…because every time you filter it does actually take some of the taste out of the wine.” He added in that wine makers out in California have access to ridiculously expensive filtration systems and bottling services while it tends to be a more hands on process for Nate and his crew. Nate taught us a lot, including building our wine vocabulary with words like tartaric acid, grape varietal and bricks content; we all felt like an amateur Sommelier. Nate handed us all a souvenir wine glass and it was off to Hye, TX.
One of the ladies in our group noticed a few particles in the bottom of her glass and Nate SMTX Entertainment & Culture | 39
vineyard here in ‘96 out at Willow City, which is north of Fredericksburg...Then in 2008 we started making wine. We had about 400 cases then and now we are producing 5,000 cases, and for 2012 we plan to have over 5,000 cases.” Bill is a major proponent of Texas grown fruit and Texas grape growers, producing 60% of his own grapes and purchasing the remainder from close friends in the industry.
People will say, ‘Well this doesn’t taste like California,’ well, it’s not from California,” says Bill.
Texas grapes in their wines. Uses small batch fermentation and old world “by hand” techniques.
William Chris Vineyards Our next stop is named after Bill Blackmon and Chris Brundrett. The tasting room is housed in the historic Deike brothers home built in 1905. Much of the frame is still in its original condition. There were so many Deike brothers that they almost managed to man a whole state championship baseball team, the only non-brother on that year’s team was a kid by the name of Lyndon Baines Johnson. Both owners happen to be major fans of Texas history, which, along with the beautiful Oak trees, is what drew them to the property. Bill and Chris didn’t start making wine until 2008, but Bill is a long time veteran of grape growing. Bill says, “We’ve been growing grapes since ’83. I’m from Lubbock and in Lubbock we planted 13 acres there in ’83. In ’86 we planted the Hunter Vineyard, which is south of Lubbock and we still farm that vineyard…We planted a
Everyone is in pretty high spirits as we progress through the William Chris tasting. We are trying to maintain professionalism as much as possible, but let’s face it, after three tastings and popping a few bottles in-between, you are starting to feel pretty good. Questions about a grape’s characteristics quickly begin to fade into questions about Bill’s characteristics and abandoned hobbies. While sipping down a wine titled Emotion, someone mentions (we will leave his identity a secret for his safety) that his wife does not need to drink any of this; everyone bursts out laughing. One thing you quickly learn on a wine tour is that they are as much fun as they are informational, if not slightly skewed towards fun. Bill either really liked us or had pity on us, but either way he let us taste a special wine from their Hye Society Wine Club and then took us back to the fermenting room for a special tasting. Before we left, Bill mentioned that his secret comes from trusting his grapes and not tampering with his wines. “It’s the grapes; it’s just what’s grown. It is what it is. Sometimes it’s a little lighter than what you think it should be…People will say, ‘Well this doesn’t taste like California,’ well, it’s not from California,” says Bill.
Four Point O We arrive in Fredericksburg, TX. Someone had suggested we listen to Michael Jackson (we had reached that point). It just so happened that Noel had a copy of his number one hits DVD that we rocked out on the LCD monitors. Suddenly, we are surrounded by wineries. One after another; we breeze by the beautiful vineyards. The next stop is Four Point O Winery. At this point, everyone is a bit hungry and needs a short break from tastings. We order a massive meat and cheese platter full of an assortment of meats, grapes and many varieties of cheese. It hits the spot. Four Point O is a collaboration of three wineries: McPherson Cellars out of Lubbock,
Brennan Vineyards out of Comanche and Lost Oak Vineyards out of Burleson. Jayne, who managed the tasting room, explains that the name is Four Point O as opposed to Three Point O because their fourth label will be under the wineryâ€™s name itself. Having recently opened in April, the winery is beautiful and the perfect location for a few great pictures. At this point we are all passed asking informative questions and just begin to enjoy the experience. Jayne is very hospitable and plays right along with the group; we have somehow gotten into a playful argument over the requirements for being a native Texan. Some people are ready to call it a day, but we decide that a quick stop at Hilmy Cellars, the new kid on the block, will be worth the trip.
There are two levels for their Wine Club â€“ Deans List: 3 bottles $35-$55 range, with discounts and complimentary tastings & Honor Society: 6 bottle $70-$110 range or 12 bottles with a $140$220 range with many added benefits.
Eric Hilmy enjoys a fresh glass of “The Temp” in his young vineyard
Hilmy Cellars Hilmy uses Guinea Fowl birds instead of pesticides to keep insects off the vines.
Our fifth and final winery. Everyone is getting a little tired and some of the group has already dropped out of the race. Noel explains that most groups will cap a tour at four wineries, because after the fourth tasting it becomes difficult to capture the unique tastes of the wines. Only half of us stay in the race for one last tasting. Hilmy is a brand new wine cellar in Fredericksburg; parts of it are still under construction. Vinnie, who stands behind the tasting bar, explains how the operation is so fresh that he could be operating the tasting room one day and then be out on a tractor the next. The owner and wine maker, Eric Hilmy, greets us and graciously pours everyone a generous glass of wine before guiding a tour of the cellar. Eric points out that much of his equipment is sitting outside; they have to make due until the construction is finished. He smiles and lets out an acute laugh as he points out some more equipment that sits in open view. Eric is not ashamed in the least, he is looking towards the future and ready for all off the delicious wine that’s yet to come soon. It is all about the wine; it is all about doing whatever it takes to produce great tasting Central Texas wine. The Hilmy vines are low to the ground and still have plenty of growth and potential ahead. It’s a good metaphor for Central Texas wine in general. Wine makers are beginning to see the fruits of their labor. There are many delicious wines made right here in our backyard – with plenty more to come. This is only the beginning for Texas wine country.