Bénédicte Rhyne is the winemaker at Kuhlman Cellars in Stonewall. She has been making wine in Texas for years and has an extensive background with laboratory work. It was a pleasure to learn that Bénédicte Rhyne was going to be the winemaker when Kuhlman Cellars opened in 2014. She answered our questions for this month’s winemaker profile.
- What did you do before becoming a winemaker (if anything)?
In France, the educational system is a little different. I was good with sciences and math in school. So naturally I went on to study two years of biochemistry at the University of Marseille and then was accepted at the University of Dijon to study for the DNO (Diplôme National d’Oenologue). I graduated in 1987! I got the degree at age 22 but did not feel like an accomplished winemaker until age 40. It took a lot of dragging hoses, pumping over tanks, cleaning floors, and analyzing wines!
- What is the toughest challenge about being a winemaker in Texas?
Mother Nature is the toughest challenge. Adapting to the late freeze, drought years, and rain at the wrong time, as well as early winter are extremely challenging circumstances. You have to adapt to the quality of the fruit and experience is probably a very important tool in those scenarios.
- Is winemaking an art or a science or both?
Both. Science is necessary to understand what is going on as well as create and maintain a QA and QC program necessary to the success of quality wines. Art is what a winemaker experiences when he/she creates blends and visualizes the potential of a wine during the process of winemaking.
- What is your favorite food and wine pairing?
Many food pairings have enriched my life but if I had to pick, it will have to be our 2014 Kuhlman Cellars Calcaria with Chef Chris Cook’s grapefruit, onion, and jalapeno tartar on a Tostito chip sprinkled with white BBQ sauce. I also love to pair a full bodied Pinot Noir with seared tuna steak.
- If you didn’t make wine, what would you do?
If I did not have to make a living, I would continue exploring the world travelling with my beautiful husband and our three children. If I had to make a living, I would spend time teaching winemaking.
- What first attracted you to winemaking and how long have you been doing it?
I graduated in 1987. So we are approaching 30 years now. I love the science, art, nature, culture of food, wine, and travelling that winemaking is attached to. That is what attracted me to it in the first place.
- What is the most common question you are asked as a winemaker?
What is your favorite wine that you have made? Tough one to answer when you have so many children! Some were tough to make, some gave me an extra white silver string, and some made me smile with pride, but all of them I am attached to. There are no favorites.
- After a long day in the winery or vineyard, what do you do?
I relax at home with a glass of wine while cooking a nice dinner at the sound of my husband’s piano playing.
- What’s the greatest part about being a winemaker?
Being part of a beautiful phenomenon: the creation of a product whose identity expresses the sense of a unique place (Terroir) or unique blend, a product that has been made for centuries, a product that brings food and people together around a table. Knowing that you contributed to create this type of enjoyment is very gratifying.
- What is your winemaking philosophy, that is, what are you trying to achieve with your wines?
Quality first, uniqueness and sense of place second. I like to identify each varietal on their own during fermentation and then taste each one of them when they are stable to see if they can be harmonized together in a blend, or left alone in an attempt to show that a gem has been found.