Kiepersol Estates Winery is located in Tyler. The first time we visited them was over two years ago and we wrote about our experience where unfortunately we were unable to take a tour at the winery. After Kiepersol Estates took part in #TXWine Twitter Tuesday, I made it a point to stop and take a tour when I was in the area again.
I met two sets of wine friends at the winery, Darlene & Roger Bruckbauer and Laurie & Shelly Ware. We had previously planned on taking the 2:00 pm tour together. They were all present by the time I arrived and we enjoyed getting to see each other again. Since the tour had not yet started, we started doing a tasting. Sommeliers Lisa and Steven Turner were behind the tasting bar along with Terry. After a couple wines, we were told by Terry that the tour was starting and to take our wine glass with us.
We went to the back room where Terry explained a little about Kiepersol Enterprises and the winery. We then got to go outside to the heat and the vineyard. Terry said there were 65 acres at the vineyard planted in 1998 and the winery only uses their grapes in their wines meaning Kiepersol Estates Winery is an estate winery. Running around the vineyard are 300 guinea hens which help provide insect control.
A pickup truck was parked beside the vineyard and we were told it was founder’s Pierre de Wet’s truck with the appropriate license plate: FARMIN. I thought when we left the winery for the tour I had seen him on the outside porch.
We headed to the winery where we saw the production area with the many stainless tanks. Next down a flight of stairs was the barrel room. 800 barrels, both French and American oak are used by Kiepersol Estates Winery. The barrels come from Chile and are convection oaked barrels. This was the first time I heard of convection oaked barrels, but not the last time during the weekend. Usually barrels are toasted on the inside by open fire but as it sounds, convection oaked barrels are toasted on the inside using a convection oven. The primary advantage is the technique allows a toasted barrel which can be repeated exactly the same per the winemaker’s request.
While we were getting an explanation of the barrels we received a surprise by Pierre de Wet walking down the stairs. He said hello to everybody and then took questions from the group.
Q: How many tons per acre did you get this year?
Pierre de Wet: “Don’t hold me to it exactly but I think it’s 4.127. The Cab and the Merlot is a little bit lower yield, somewhere in the 3.3, and the Zinfandel is a little bit higher. Syrah is 4.5 tons. It’s the best color we have ever had. For this time of year to have color like that is unheard of.”
Q: What has been the most rewarding part of doing all of this for you?
Pierre de Wet: “Being in the business with the kids may be the biggest joy of this. I have the kids around me every day. I have the grandkids around me every day. They feel it, they live it, they breathe it, they worry about it. And to do something that everybody told me you cannot do. When I started planting vinifera here, they told me there’s no way you can grow vinifera in east Texas. If you look at a map of the United States east of I-45, today we grow 78% of the vinifera grapes in the United States. People say with Pierce’s Disease you cannot do it and we thought differently. Plants are like people. If you can keep them happy, they stay healthy.”
Pierre was wearing a hat which said Dirk’s and he explained he was making vodka for the first time and in honor of his father, he has named it Dirk’s Vodka. It is made from Kiepersol Estates 100% estate grown grapes. Pierre said it is made from the extra wine and extra lees whereas in the past they threw the lees away. On 40,000 gallons they can get 8,000 gallons which have 13-14% alcohol and it can then be distilled. When asked how he was going to be able to sell it, Pierre explained they just changed the law so they are able to sell the vodka now on site. In addition, Republic will be the distributor.
After the Q&A, he asked if anybody was thirsty from which there was a resounding yes. We then went back up to the stainless steel tanks where Pierre gave us a few samples from the tanks including Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc. The group headed out of the winery and on the walk back to the tasting room, Pierre said to follow him if anybody wanted to taste the new Dirk’s vodka. Most people followed him in anticipation.
Inside another building Pierre started serving the 192 proof vodka and it was smooth! This is too high in alcohol to eventually bottle and serve so he will be reducing the vodka to 80 proof using artesian well water found on the property. Pierre has been experimenting for about a year with the vodka and everybody agreed he had a winner. The current plan is to bottle the vodka around September 6 and release it soon after. It was a treat to learn we were the first group who had tasted his vodka.
We learned from other employees that Pierre de Wet does not usually follow along with tour groups, so it was definitely a special surprise to have him join us, not to mention learning about and tasting the upcoming Dirk’s Vodka.
After the tour we went back to the tasting room to finish our wine tasting. Soon we could see through the window that Pierre was coming back to the tasting room on his Segway and he joined us all again in the tasting room. It was a pleasure talking more with Pierre and everybody enjoyed his presence. Personally before that day, I had envisioned a man who had created a multi-business enterprise and was probably unapproachable. But as it turned out like most people in the wine industry, Pierre de Wet is a down-to-earth person who enjoys talking with everybody.
I can’t promise Pierre de Wet will be around if you take a tour at Kiepersol Estates Winery, but regardless, the wine is great, the tour is interesting, and you will have an enjoyable time.