Ken Maxwell is the winemaker and owner, along with his wife Jenise Maxwell, at the popular Torre di Pietra Vineyards in Fredericksburg. Torre di Pietra is known for their continual Saturday live music events. We were able to sit with Ken and he expanded upon his answers to the questions. It was a nice visit and we learned more about Ken and Torre di Pietra. Following is a summary of the questions and answers.
What did you do before becoming a winemaker (if anything)?
I spent 25 years in Semiconductors working at Tl, Intel, SEMATECH Consortium, and Applied Materials. Also we owned a technology company that made custom semiconductor and materials processing equipment for Sandia and Los Alamos National Labs as well as NASA’s Jet Propulsion Lab.
What is the toughest challenge about being a winemaker in Texas?
A consistent source of quality Texas grapes. It is very difficult to grow wine grapes in Texas as it is much more difficult to grow grapes here than on the west coast. Our weather patterns, La Nina, and El Nino create challenges in the vineyards. We have just experienced one this week with the severe rains, flooding, and tornadoes associated with the El Nino pattern. The late spring freezes associated with the La Nina weather pattern in early April after the warmth in February and March can result in a reduction of our yields.
Is winemaking an art or a science or both?
It’s both an art and a science! My undergraduate degree is in Chemistry and the fermentations are taught in the 1st year of college. The “artsy” element is an understanding and appreciation of the flavor structure in the wine and the blending potential of wines. These elements are the most challenging as well as most rewarding. There are lots of similarities of a winemaker to a painter or illustrator.
What is your favorite food and wine pairing?
A very cold bottle of Albariño paired with sauté Texas Shrimp and Scallops. Life just can’t be better than that!!
If you didn’t make wine, what would you do?
Fishing on the Texas Gulf Coast or working in our garden while enjoying a glass of Texas wine.
What first attracted you to winemaking and how long have you been doing it?
I learned how to make wine with my Grandfather and great Grandfather as a young child. We had an old family tradition of harvesting and making wine from the Mustang grapes that grew on the fences of their farms near Fort Worth. This is very much like the German tradition here in Fredericksburg.
What is the most common question you are asked as a winemaker?
How did you start your vineyard and become a winemaker?
After a long day in the winery or vineyard, what do you do?
Spend time with my family, have a glass of Texas wine, and relax.
What’s the greatest part about being a winemaker?
People love wine. The thought of growing grapes and making wine is exciting and romantic to many people especially women. The enjoyment of sharing wines with our friends is very fun too!!`
What is your winemaking philosophy, that is, what are you trying to achieve with your wines?
We are a family owned and operated vineyard and winery with a focus of providing a relaxing and fun Texas Wine experience for our customers to enjoy. We are in the second year of our Vineyard Expansion Project. Our goal of adding Mediterranean varietals that are adapted to our climate, will add a variety of Mediterranean reds and whites to our existing baseline of traditional Texas wines.