By contributing writer Brock Estes, President of Fly Gap Winery
As I woke up early one morning in July with no commitments to anything and the wife and kid away, I decided to celebrate my independence day. I stepped outside to watch the sunrise and get some feel good flowing through my body, and then grabbed a bottle of Pedernales Viognier Reserve 2012 and a bottle of Pedernales 2010 Tempranillo and proceeded to celebrate. I was excited to take in all the Pedernales Viognier Reserve had to offer and simply dwell on it for a bit. It was also fun to dig into Viognier and refresh for a little bit as it has been too long since I have made any notes about Viognier or tried any Condrieu’s or any New World Viognier. It’s interesting to note that the Condrieu strain and the Languedoc slash New World strain produce wines with distinct differences and that the New World strain can handle aging a little better.
Anyway, as I was opening the bottles, I was laughing under my breath about an interesting experience I shared with Fredrik Osterberg (co-owner of Pedernales Cellars) in The Woodlands, Texas involving this wine which I will share later. As I was smiling to myself I still hadn’t warmed up from my sunrise sesh, because there was a north wind blowing and a brisk feel for a July morning. It really felt like blush weather, so I blended what ended up being a healthy dose of Viognier into my tiny glass of Tempranillo. In ordinary circumstances, I would have re-arranged the varietals and poured red second into white to make a blush, but I wanted to experience firsthand the pigment to pigment interaction or co-pigmentation properties that Viognier contains and how it truly can help color of red wine.
I think Viognier is an interesting varietal that could arguably be advantageous to any red wine maker in regards to color retention. Côte-Rôtie AOC allows up to 20% Viognier to be added into a red wine simply because of the color stabilization qualities it gives to red grapes and other co-factor qualities such as aromatics. Although I am a big time advocate of Portuguese varietals in the Hill Country, and might very well plant exclusively Portuguese varietals, I will always have some Viognier planted for possible co-fermentation. Yes, co-fermenting. I’m not a fan of adding at the end. I think field blends tend to marry better and help each other out during fermentation as opposed to blending at the end. I, along with a lot of Texas winemakers, don’t agree to using concentrate to induce a false color. I do like the idea of bleeding wine out to increase skin to juice ratio, bringing out more tannins into the wine making it more focused.
But there is a misconception, and most people assume that more skin to juice ratio also increases color, but it’s just not true. With my short time working with winemaker Jason Englert back in the day, I learned that there is an equilibrium concentration that is reached in red wine, and you can do all the punch downs you want and other techniques but when you take the pumice from the fermented juice and put it into white wine, red will bleed out until a new equilibrium is reached. Red wines can only get as dark as the red varietal allows it to. Viognier is rich in cofactors, and when co-fermented with red grapes deficient in cofactors, more co-pigmentation and capturing of the anthocyanins occur, giving more color in the resultant wine. So long story long, it did take a lot of Viognier to turn a small amount of Tempranillo pink. It was close to a 75% Viognier 25% Tempranillo blend. It was kind of crazy to see the Tempranillo hold its color for so long. So after I downed this little Viognier cherry drop drink which I dubbed Viognillo, I rinsed with the Pedernales Viognier Reserve, and poured a nice glass of it to enjoy this publicly elated wine and ponder on it for a bit.
I want the readers to know that it’s not easy to make a solid Viognier. It is prone to powdery mildew and it has to be picked at just the right time. Under ripe fruit will lack aromatics and over ripe fruit will lack acidity and can produce oily wines. If grown right and picked at the perfect time, Viognier can be heavenly. For me the peach and apricot aromas of this Pedernales Viognier Reserve were extremely exotic. They jumped off the rim of the glass and exploded into my nose. The aromatic experience of this wine is a trip.
As I drank the wine, I tasted pure honeysuckle and apricot flavors. The balance of the wine is the first thing that really took me by surprise. It is nice and round in the mouth. It is rich in nature, but not too thick, and definitely not thin. What is awesome about it is that you don’t notice the wine moving in sections across your pallet. There is this awesome harmony about everything that takes place in the mouth feel. You start off with this rich taste on the tip of your tongue and this elegant balletic waltz takes place and you’re enjoying a lengthy finish, and then you get a pop of natural acid back on the tip of the tongue after the finish does its thing. It’s like this cool bow or curtain call if you will when the finish takes place, and then you get a pop of bright acidity on the tip of your tongue at the end.
The interesting thing about this wine is that you can’t really take it all in with a small glass. As I poured my second glass, I became more focused and wanted to really get to know it on a deeper level. I soon found myself getting fixated on a few things. I became fixated on a couple of aromas that I didn’t pick up over the exuberance of the peach and apricot before. I was getting this vibrant lemon cake aroma. Not just any slice but more of the crust and an inch below the crust, particularly on the corner piece of the fresh baked lemon cake. Another aromatic I became fixated on was this fresh bloom white rose smell, but more closely like a thick healthy fresh white rose petal that had been freshly plucked from a “she loves me game,” and at sunrise when things are damp outside. I really became fixated on this rose petal oil, and the levels of the oiliness in the wine.
In conjunction with the oil levels, I became focused on the alcohol content and the leesy component of the wine that adds to the texture and mouth feel. This is simply a wine that is extremely well made, and really can’t be reverse engineered. I can make speculations as to what I taste, but there is no way to know for sure because of the overwhelming complexity. I’m really just speculating as I did bond with the wine for some time, but there is a leesy creamy component to the wine that suggests it could have been kept ‘Sur Lie’ or stirring on the lees.
The acid level of the wine seemed to be exceptional for a Viognier, and it tasted like natural acid from the grape versus tartaric additions. I know stirring on the lees can help retain full acid levels. The creamy component seemed to come from lees over new French oak. It seems to have a majority of a stainless steel feel, but there could very well be a dab of French oak, but it’s really hard to pick up on, which is a good thing, and most good Condrieu’s are made with a majority of stainless and a little new oak.
I really became quite fixated on the oily levels of the wine and the alcohol level. Please don’t see the word oily and let that turn you off. You must understand that Viognier has to be picked at just the right moment. It did not lack aromatics which suggested it was picked ripe. There is going to be some level of oiliness in a Viognier. It is part of the extravagant grape itself. If picked too late, the oiliness can be overbearing. This oil component was not overbearing by any means. What I’m really trying to get at is how close a couple hours or a day or so can affect a wine. I started to see boundaries in my mind. Like the boundary that the Condrieu AOC has for a maximum of 14% alcohol by volume allowed in their wines. And the Pedernales Viognier Reserve 2012 has a 13.8% alcohol by volume level. The oily component was pleasurable, but any more would have been too much for me personally.
I kept thinking about how Ray Allen made a buzzer beating 3 pointer and his feet were merely inches to being out of bounds. He didn’t step out of bounds, made the shot, and that ultimately resulted in the recent championship for the Miami Heat. Had the shot been made a couple seconds earlier, or had he stepped out of bounds, San Antonio could have very well won.
All in all I think this wine is amazing and I think David Kuhlken went for it, and you see that Pedernales won a Gold Medal in a French competition for this wine. You also have to give the grower an equal amount of credit, if not more, for nailing it on the head with this finicky grape.
The answer to my own question is no, the wine is not out of bounds. It’s definitely in bounds.
The memory I was laughing about before I dug into this wine is when Fredrik and I made some market visits in North Houston a couple months back. We ended our day up in The Woodlands at Woodlands Wine Company. I’ve gotten to know the owner Kelly Messenger very well over some time. That particular evening there was a Napa winemaker who was pouring her wines for the customers and romancing her wines. Fredrik and I sat down to enjoy and we conversed. This young lady had a sort of sense of entitlement or better than us attitude. She was cocky. We tasted her wines. They were not bad at all. They were not great. I’ve been blessed to sell wine for David Arthur, Steve Reynolds, Spencer Clark, DR Stevens, Peju, and others. They are all down to earth humble people that make awesome Napa Cabs. What was so ironic about this person was that she grew up in El Paso and went to Angelo State University.
Fredrik and I then sat down with Kelly and tried a couple Pedernales wines. I opened a bottle of Pedernales Viognier Reserve that Fredrik had given to me just after they received the Gold Medal. Obviously everyone we poured it for was amazed. Fredrik quietly grabbed a glass, poured some Viognier Reserve into it, took it to the Texas born Napa winemaker who would tell you Texas wines suck, and he said here’s my wine for you to try. You should have seen the look on her face. It was by far better than her Chardonnay in comparison. Her attitude changed somewhat, and she came over later to personally tell Fredrik that the wine rocked.
Also, I might add that Kelly, the owner of Woodlands Wine Company, brought in some Texas wine when she first opened years ago. She got burned because of the value and quality. She, like many others, stopped carrying Texas wines. I took her a DANK Vox Populi which is juice that David Kuhlken made and I was fortunate to blend some. She bought a case and it was the first Texas wine in many years she put on her shelf. They are now selling two cases a week of DANK and are my best supporting retailer at the moment. She has brought in Pedernales wines as well. It’s crazy to see the momentum pick up for Texas wines. I’m sure this scenario with retailers getting burned in the beginning and once again buying a Texas wine is taking place daily across the state. Please support Woodlands Wine Company and please support Pedernales Cellars. Pedernales has done so much to help Texas as a whole by making good wines. Get a bottle of Pedernales Viognier Reserve 2012 if you can.