Penny Adams is the winemaker at Wedding Oak Winery located in San Saba. In the two years Wedding Oak Winery has been opened, they have been racking up medals for their wine at wine competitions. Penny answered our questions about her background and winemaking.
What did you do before becoming a winemaker (if anything)?
I’ve been in and around the Texas wine business since 1979 when I planted my first commercial vineyard in Blanco County. As a junior Horticulture Sciences major at Texas A&M University, I found a work-study summer job in the Texas Hill Country at Cypress Valley Vineyard, a new 1.5 acre planting owned by Dale Bettis. He was a UT professor working in Europe and needed someone to work in the vineyard and run his Hill Country ranch while he was away. Well, we ended up together with 20+ acres of grapevines, a winery, and a family; a story all unto itself!
Since that time I have made wine for other wineries around the state including St. Lawrence Winery and Hill Country Cellars. Additionally, I have been consulting with many start-up vineyard and winery operations over the course of 25 years. I also have taught grape-growing and wine-growing at Austin Community College and Grayson County College.
Previous to my current position with Wedding Oak Winery in San Saba I worked for Texas AgriLife Extension as the Viticulture Advisor for the Texas Hill Country and for the Texas Pierce’s Disease Research Lab.
I currently operate a vineyard management company called Vine Co., helping growers to produce the highest quality fruit for premium wine production.
What is the toughest challenge about being a winemaker in Texas?
The toughest challenge in this business is not having local access to the resources that the California industry has at its fingertips. While I was a Viticulture graduate student at Fresno State University, I was told by my world renowned professor Vince Petrucci that our best tool would be the phone book; I laughed inside thinking about the tiny Fredericksburg phonebook but my response to him and the reality was that this was simply not going to be the case in Texas! Simply stated, more support industries are needed in our state to help it thrive and grow.
Is winemaking an art or a science or both?
Winemaking is a little of both art and science; but in my opinion it’s more about being a good manager of labor, materials, and time allowing for the wine to be created in a very clean environment under the most optimum conditions.
What is your favorite food and wine pairing?
Many come to mind, but a bone dry white wine (like the Wedding Oak Terre Blanc or Viognier) paired with grilled Texas Gulf shrimp and fresh corn is awesome! Grilled rib eye steaks with our Tioja, a blend of Tempranillo, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Mourvèdre is also a favorite.
If you didn’t make wine, what would you do?
I love teaching people how to grow grapes and I’ve come to find that so many people are afraid of grapevines, especially pruning and young vine training, so I think if I wasn’t making wine I would continue forth with my gift and passion for helping growers produce high quality fruit thru my consulting work.
What first attracted you to winemaking and how long have you been doing it?
I suppose I was first attracted to grapes when as a young lady growing up I would run up and down rows and rows of grapevines and cornstalks at my grandparent’s farm north of Lubbock, seeking respite from the harsh Texas sun under the shade of a giant grapevine arbor.
First and foremost, I love working with plants and when I was a young horticulture student at Texas A&M, grape growing was a new and exciting horticulture crop for Texas and I wanted to be in production horticulture rather than ornamental horticulture.
My first Texas wine vintage was 1982, the year Cypress Valley Winery became a bonded facility and wow, I haven’t forgotten the struggles to not only produce a crop and the wine but the politics of selling Texas wine!
What is the most common question you are asked as a winemaker?
How in the world and why did you get into this business? They usually make a comment about me being a real “pioneer” and my response is that the pioneering is still happening because we have so much yet to learn.
After a long day in the winery or vineyard, what do you do?
After one last peek at the vineyard at sunset I head for my garden with my friend Pearly the wine dog and a cold bottle of dry white wine.
What’s the greatest part about being a winemaker?
I enjoy the challenge and creativity of pulling out the nuances of a particular grape character through winemaking technique. But most of all I love the wonderful people you meet in this business. I simply have the best job in the world.
What is your winemaking philosophy, that is, what are you trying to achieve with your wines?
Truly wines begin in the vineyard, from rootstock and variety choices, to planting technique, determination of pruning levels, and canopy management techniques, I want to really coax out the true character of the fruit grown in its place and then to use minimal processing in the winemaking to allow the fruit character to shine. I’m determined to find the best grape varieties for the Texas Hill Country, those that require less management practices and can really ripen to their full potential.
Anything else you would like to add?
Too many people get into this business for all the wrong reasons; money and romance. Sure you can make money in this business but you will have to work harder (and smarter) than you ever have regardless of your background, thus you must have a real passion for the business to drive that. Even if you merely want to own and operate a winery and tasting room, understand that great wines can only come from great quality fruit and Texas presents more obstacles to grape growing than anywhere on earth.