Don Pullum is the winemaker for Pontotoc Vineyard. The winery is located in Pontotoc but the tasting room is on Main Street in Fredericksburg. Don has had a storied career as a winemaker and vineyard owner in the Texas wine industry and recently has gained fame as a chef. Don answered our questions for this month’s winemaker profile.
1. What did you do before becoming a winemaker (if anything)?
In 1998, I planted the first commercial vineyard in Mason County and in 2004, I became a commercial winemaker. Prior to that, I was an avid home winemaker while working (in reverse chronological order) as a venture capitalist, banker, and paperboy.
2. What is the toughest challenge about being a winemaker in Texas?
It takes more than one lifetime to understand the terroirs of an emerging wine region. Although I’ve made wine from grapes grown in the Texas High Plains, the Rio Grande Valley, south Texas, and the Texas Hill Country, my focus and passion has been making wine from Mason County grapes. I’m not going to be around to experience many of the “aha!” moments of discovery, but be satisfied with some contribution early on. There has been an important growth in the number of Texas wineries and grape growers in various regions who are continuing to experiment with grape varieties and winemaking techniques that reflect terroir. This is how we’ll discover the terroirs of Texas…in about 200 years or so.
3. Is winemaking an art or a science or both?
Winemaking is the science of art and the art of science. The science advances the art and the art is the reason for it all. They will forever co-create. I recently tasted a wine that had a bouquet of beta-ionone, r-carvone, solerone, piperonal, syringol, isomaltol, and a hint of cinnamic acid. The science is sterile without the art.
4. What is your favorite food and wine pairing?
There are so many classic food and wine pairings that it’s impossible to pick one. However, I’m always excited to do a full wine flight with a traditional Thanksgiving dinner: roasted turkey and trimmings with Zinfandel and a southern Rhône blend, a smorgasbord of appetizers with a Viognier and a crianza style Tempranillo, and pies for dessert with a Madeira and a tawny port.
5. If you didn’t make wine, what would you do?
I’ve been exploring this question for a little over a year. After appearing on The Taste: Season 2, I’ve been bitten by a performance bug and have been producing some digital media shorts. I think this is my next adventure in life. It easily fits into my winemaking schedule. Check out my YouTube channels! Don Pullum channel and Akashic Vineyard channel
6. What first attracted you to winemaking and how long have you been doing it?
I’ve been making wine since I was nineteen. When I was in high school, a friend’s mother was good friends with their parish priest, whose family had an extensive wine cellar. The priest would give us a small pour of some extraordinary wine with dinner. So, I started learning about wine with some good stuff. I started making wine with wine kits and when I started owning
property, I would always plant a few grapevines.
7. What is the most common question you are asked as a winemaker?
Most folks want to know about the winemaking process and I’m always happy to have that conversation. Although winemaking has a simple core process, the process can be quite complex. Many decisions are made depending on the fruit, the desired wine style, the equipment that’s available, etc.
8. After a long day in the winery or vineyard, what do you do?
After a long day in the winery or vineyard, I’m happy to open a bottle of wine, cook a good meal, and share it with my good friend Fezziwig.
9. What’s the greatest part about being a winemaker?
I enjoy the social aspect of the wine industry. Wine is about food and good company.
10. What is your winemaking philosophy, that is, what are you trying to achieve with your wines?
Listen to the grapes and find the terroir. I’m not opposed to winemaker intervention in the process, but unique wines that reflect the energy of a specific place are the wines that intrigue me.
11. Anything else you would like to add?This is a photo of me with Chef Marcus Samuelsson (my mentor on The Taste: Season 2) and Chef Aaron Sanchez (a guest judge on The Taste: Season 2). You can find me on my Facebook page.