Gill Bledsoe is the co-owner and winemaker of Pillar Bluff Vineyards located in Lampasas. Gill answered our questions for this month’s winemaker profile.
- What did you do before becoming a winemaker (if anything)?
I spent 20 years, two months, and three days in the Reagan era Army as a commissioned officer and helicopter pilot. My duty was in the Pacific Rim (Korea, Alaska, and Panama). Following the Army, I spent 12 years as a defense contractor and went to the National Training Center three times and Iraq once. I retired from the contracting business to start the vineyard and winery in 2004 and have been busy ever since.
- What is the toughest challenge about being a winemaker in Texas?
The biggest challenge has been the grape growing and acquiring grapes at desired Brix and pH. Over the last seven years, the fruit quality has significantly improved and the wine quality along with it. For all the accolades that T.V. Munson gave to Texas, the weather in the state makes grape growing a challenge. If it isn’t a drought, then it is a freeze. If it isn’t hail, then it’s critters.
- Is winemaking an art or a science or both?
There is a little of both in it. I consider winemaking like kicking field goals. The vertical uprights and sugar and acidity. The horizontal crossbar is acceptable flavor profiles. Balance the three and you get three points and continue to play. Go off those parameters and you get nothing.
- What is your favorite food and wine pairing?
My perfect pairing is an Estate Bordeaux Blend served with an ancho chile and honey basted bison grilled tenderloin, asparagus lightly seasoned with sesame oil and seeds served lightly grilled. Cannot live without garlic mashed potatoes. Dessert is a Pair Port served over dark rum poached pair on vanilla ice cream and pound cake.
- If you didn’t make wine, what would you do?
I think in the alternate universe I would be a chef.
- What first attracted you to winemaking and how long have you been doing it?
The first wine was a Muscadine wine we made at Ft. Benning, GA in 1982. It turned out good enough to take it home for the Thanksgiving holiday with the family. Beautiful rose color and fairly sweet. That wine also taught me two lessons. First lesson, Coffee-mate filters are lousy wine filters and the second lesson was in wine packaging. Put the product in a consumer recognizable wine bottle.
- What is the most common question you are asked as a winemaker?
I think the most common question is “How did you get started?” Which is listed above. The second most is what is your best wine? To which, I reply a great Bordeaux styled wine was the only wine we wished to produce at this winery. In the Billy Crystal movie City Slickers, there was a character Curly. Curly, played by Jack Palance, said the secret to life was one thing. Find it and nothing else matters. (or words to that effect) For us, the Bordeaux Blend is that one thing.
- After a long day in the winery or vineyard, what do you do?
I understand now how the winery or vineyard very quickly becomes the “other woman” in a marriage. Without a good wife to come home to to share the day with, a hard day would be meaningless. Her council is what makes it all worth while.
- What’s the greatest part about being a winemaker?
I love watching for that “Ah Ha” moment when the customer’s perceptions and expectations are just burst and shredded. They just cannot believe that this little winery has the wine quality of the biggest winery within the State and beyond.
The second best thing is being a pioneer in a fledgling industry. When we got bonded, we were the 46th winery in the state. Now there are over 400 with winery permits. We were the first winery in the Lampasas area and now there are six others within a 30-minute drive of Lampasas. Wineries are tourism, and if we can develop tourism in Lampasas, everybody wins.
- What is your winemaking philosophy, that is, what are you trying to achieve with your wines?
Simply speaking, treat the grape with the dignity it deserves. Invite the customers into your tasting room like it were your home and don’t overprice your wines. You can shear a sheep every year, but you can only kill him once.