The Nice Winery is located in Houston, and since 2012 Gloria and I have been friends with the winery owners and winemakers, Ryan Levy and Ian Eastveld. Two years ago they took interested wine club members to Mendoza, Argentina where they make their Malbec and other wines. We helped determine the blending on their 2011 Malbec that was recently released, and not to be modest, but we did a really good job!
The winery does not have regularly scheduled tasting hours (soon to change!) so a couple years ago, Gloria and I offered to run their winery as an experiment on Friday nights so they could offer their wines to people off-hours. They also wanted to offer other Texas winery’s wines so Gloria and I had the tough task to determine a few wines which we could offer during the Friday night tastings. The experiment lasted a couple months (try opening a bottle of wine one night a week that isn’t finished because it won’t last until the following week) but it was a great way to introduce Texas wines to other people in Houston.
A few months ago we were told by Ian and Ryan that even though they had previously visited the High Plains looking at Texas fruit, they had not had the opportunity to visit any Hill Country wineries due to their winemaking in California and Argentina including other travels. They wondered if they could tag along with us the next time we visited the Hill Country. That was an easy answer! They are thinking about opening a tasting room elsewhere other than Houston and were looking for possible locations and how other Texas wineries are doing things.
We scheduled a three day weekend which they chose at the end of August and unfortunately it was in the middle of Texas harvest. Fortunately though, the harvest cooperated with us and the three day weekend was a huge success.
I recently learned about the smartphone app Periscope and decided to try something different on our road trip. I would broadcast when we arrived at each winery to show people who had not been there before what the winery looked like and a few tidbits about the winery. A montage of the videos we broadcasted are right below. Remember this was live with no editing possible during the broadcast, so please be kind.
Our first winery on Friday was Bending Branch Winery. We had previously arranged an appointment with the Nice Winery guys to meet co-owner John Rivenburgh if he was not in the High Plains because of harvest. We met the Nice guys at the winery and soon Jennifer McInnis was driving us up the road to the production area where thankfully John and Dr. Bob Young were already present. They showed the guys the Flash Détente unit, fermenting bins, tanks, lab, and more.
In the lab, they introduced everybody to the Fer Servadou grape. Always being the innovators, they wanted to try this grape and the Bonny Doon Vineyard in California with Randall Grahm was the only place they could find it. It is usually used as a blending grape so they tried two different ways with the grape being flashed in the Flash Détente and non-flashed. There was a major difference tasting the two where the flashed version bringing out the pure grape flavors.
The guys learned a lot from John and Dr. Bob and after a tasting of the latest Bending Branch wines, we were off to our next winery, William Chris Vineyards. When we arrived, I started my Periscope broadcast and I wish I knew what was happening earlier, but suddenly I heard my name being called from William Chris’s Rachael Theberge as she came out of the tasting room and down the sidewalk. She had caught the start of my Periscope broadcast. That would have been fun if I had caught her on the broadcast entirely, but you’ll hear a little bit of Rachael in the video.
Bill Blackmon and Chris Brundrett were unsure previously if they were going to be present, again because of the nature of harvest. But fortunately they were and had just finished crushing some grapes before we arrived. Our little group did a tasting of their wines from the tasting menu and then Chris came into the tasting room to lead us out to the winery along with some other friends of theirs. There we met Bill and they treated us to some barrel tastings. As is usually the case, the wines were tasting well and we could predict that they would indeed be great when finished.
Bill and Chris were interested in the Nice Winery story and we even learned some things when Ryan was relaying the history of their winery. The day had turned out fantastic so far for the Nice guys to meet winery owners and winemakers, but it wasn’t over yet.
We headed across the street to Hye Meadow Winery where co-owner Mike Batek was expecting us. Ian and Ryan had met Mike before when he came to Houston last year to be a judge at the Battle of the Texas Tempranillos, so they were all looking forward to getting together at Mike’s winery this time. We had a tasting of a couple wines when Mike came in from the production area a little purple spotted from some grape work he had been doing. He and his wife Denise then took us out to the production building where we got to taste some upcoming Hye Meadow wines. Hye Meadow is doing some great things and we look forward to trying every new wine that comes out.
So far the day had gone perfectly as planned, and there was possibly enough time to make it to Lost Draw Cellars on the way to dinner. We got to Lost Draw just before closing time but co-owner Troy Ottmers saw us and a gentleman as ever, invited us all in to do a tasting. We did what they called a power tasting and yes, it was fast! But it got the guys to taste some great Lost Draw Cellars wine and us out of there in time to still make our dinner reservations and for them to close.
Dinner was at Cabernet Grill which features only Texas wines on the menu. We had an excellent dinner as usual and then had the pleasure of Chef Ross Burtwell coming out after dinner to meet everybody. Since the guys from Nice Winery are also chefs, they enjoyed talking Chef stuff with Chef Ross. Overall, it was the perfect ending to a fantastic day.
Saturday came with a lovely breakfast at the Lazy T B&B and then we headed out to hit our first winery of the day, 4.0 Cellars. Tip: 4.0 Cellars opens at 10 a.m. on a Saturday so head there first when it’s quiet and you’ll enjoy a great tasting. We all enjoyed the wines from Brennan Vineyards, Lost Oak Winery, and McPherson Cellars.
The distance to the next winery was not far since Inwood Estates Vineyards was across the street. We met our tasting guide friends Vinny Lupo and Bill Burns, and Bill started us on a tasting of the wines. After tasting, everybody was hungry so we ate some BBQ in the Bistro. Surprisingly the BBQ was very good and everybody enjoyed their meal.
Now it was time for our next appointment which was Kuhlman Cellars because appointments are requested for their wine and food pairing tasting. We arrived early so we enjoyed some wine on the porch overlooking the vineyard and the view. At our appointment time, we headed in to sit at the table which our tasting guide Jeremy Wilson, tasting guide extraordinaire and Texas Wine Lover member, was going to lead us in our tasting. We all enjoyed the wine and food pairing, and of course had to stock up on some of the Kuhlman Cellars almonds on the way out.
Our next winery was Pedernales Cellars and co-owner Julie Kuhlken had told me to ask for her when we got there. I didn’t have to ask when we arrived because she was already in the front of the tasting room. The Nice Winery guys had previously met her at an event. Julie took us on a tour of the winery and then started us on a tasting in the tasting room. Great Pedernales Cellars wine followed by a quick tour of the wine club lounge made the visit definitely worth it for everybody.
We only had one planned winery left to visit for the day but we were running ahead of schedule. Julie had mentioned the tasting room was kind of quiet, probably because of children being back in school, so we took a chance and headed to Becker Vineyards. Fortunately it too was not crowded which is highly unusual for a Saturday. I met Tasting Room coordinator Nichole Bendele again and she led the tasting for us. I believe all the wines that were available to taste were Texas wines and we enjoyed every one we did taste.
We said goodbye to Nichole and at the end of the road to Becker Vineyards at US 290 is Fat Ass Ranch and Winery. There had been a tour bus there when we passed earlier and the parking lot was fairly full, so the Nice guys thought it would be interesting to visit and see how the operation was doing. We walked into the winery, looked around, and the guys were impressed with the décor and were ready to leave. On the way out, I ran into owner Gail McCulloch and he convinced everybody to come into the winery to try something. The next minutes we spent with Gail were a lot of fun and the Nice guys learned a lot. They commented afterward that it was definitely a wise choice to visit the winery.
Now it was time for dinner and we went to Compass Rose Cellars. Owner Mark Watson was waiting for us since we had to make dinner reservations and thankfully it wasn’t pouring rain like the last time we were there. Mark told us that a trial chef happened to be there and was going to be running the menu that night along with the experienced associate chefs. I don’t know what the eventual outcome was or will be, but the guys enjoyed most everything that was served. Oh yeah, the wine of course was good too! Since Mark knew the Nice Winery guys were also chefs, he gladly listened to any suggestions they had about dinner. I look forward to going back in a while and seeing what Compass Rose has decided on the menus and chef.
Our last day on Sunday came and our first visit was Perissos Vineyard and Winery. We arrived when they opened and were welcomed to do a tasting. Since two of the four of us were driving all the way home that day, we opted to split tastings. The guys were impressed with the winery and vineyard and unfortunately since we didn’t get to see co-owner/winemaker Seth Martin, they said they will be making a trip back there in the future. Fortunately all-around-everything Todd Juhnke was there and explained a little of the production area to the guys.
Driving through Marble Falls, we decided to stop at Flat Creek Enoteca and have lunch. Gloria and I had loved their wood-fired pizza and were looking forward to having it again. In fact, I can still taste it. Yum! We bought a bottle of Stache (Blanc du Bois) to drink with our pizzas and meal, and it made a fantastic pairing. Great job to the Bullet Boys of Chris Brundrett, Tim Drake, and Rob Nida!
Last, but certainly not least, was a visit to Spicewood Vineyards. The vineyards and countryside around the vineyard impressed the guys and if that didn’t do it, the wines inside definitely did. We started a tasting and then owner Ron Yates came out from where they were in the process of crushing grapes to say hello and help a little during our tasting. We then got the chance to see the barrel room now covered with bins fermenting with grapes and the rest of the crew in the back crushing Tempranillo grapes. We got to meet and see winemaker Todd Crowell in action during the crushing.
Back to tasting, Ron told us that the new winery being built on US 290 between Hye and Johnson City will be called just Yates. That’s it, you know, like Cher. At the moment, it is scheduled to open next April.
It was another great visit to Spicewood Vineyards, but after a long three days, we were all ready to head home and try to relax before work the next day. The trip we planned for Ian and Ryan of the Nice Winery had fortunately turned into a large success and they will be making further trips to the Hill Country to decide what they want to do. Perhaps we’ll get to tag along with them next time!
Disclaimer: Some of the tastings at the wineries were complimentary and when we bought wine, we sometimes received a discount. Everything else was paid for by us.