It all started as some home winemaking and a few vines in pots. Before long though, Matthew Blais, an organic chemist working at Southwest Research Institute in San Antonio, planted and expanded those vines. Today, Matthew and partner Kenneth DuBois put in their weekends and time off growing a young winery, Medina River Winery.
The winery is located just outside San Antonio near Castroville. On a lazy Saturday, Sean and I needed something to do without an hour plus drive. We realized that Medina River Winery was only about 30 minutes from our house and about 20 from my parents. So, we took off West on Loop 1604 and headed outside the loop on Potranco Road.
The winery stands out along the road. The wide open spaces of nearby farms make the small vineyard stick out. However, finding the entrance did pose a challenge. After driving by it, we turned around and headed down a dirt road to the back of the tasting room to a very small parking lot. When we arrived, owner Matthew Blais stopped his work in the adjoining vineyard to welcome us in.
As we walked into the little tasting room, we were a bit surprised. Outside, the building is very simple and utilitarian (the “patio” was just a slab of concrete). Inside though, a beautiful array of wine storage (made by Matthew’s brother), a counter with a view of the adjacent sorghum field, and a handful of comfortable tables and chairs comfortably filled the small space. We sat at the small main bar and proceeded to enjoy a tasting with Matthew.
We went through a current selection of five wines, four from them and one from nearby Vines on the Rocks. We tasted the white wines in a white wine glass from Riedel, and had a red wine Riedel glass for the others. Medina River Winery wants to provide the best tasting experience, and they believe a good glass makes the difference. Also, we got to choose between the white and red glasses to take home.
We sampled two white wines, a Riesling (called Weaseling) and a Pinot Grigio (Summer Breeze). The Riesling is currently made from out of state grapes, but it seems Riesling is doing well in the vineyard. In the future, estate grapes will be at the heart of this fruit-forward, dry white. The Pinot Grigio is stellar; the stand out wine (and the one we took home to give to my father on Father’s Day).
We also enjoyed three reds. The first was a recently bottled estate Syrah (Que Sera Sera). Red fruit and white pepper notes are rounded out with oak (it was aged in American Oak barrels from Wisconsin). We also tasted the Cabernet Sauvignon, named Caber Neigh (they like choosing names that are a bit fun). Matthew told us they want to keep a Cab on the menu; however, they know that growing it in their vineyard is a losing battle (Matthew was very open about the need to buy grapes from outside Texas to always have this popular wine on the menu). We finished with a Tempranillo from Vines on the Rocks located nearby on Highway 90. This estate Tempranillo was rustic and dirty, much to Sean’s liking.
While there, we learned about the current state of the winery, its inspiration, and its future. Matthew joined forces with friend Kenneth DuBois to build the winery. Normally, Kenneth holds down the tasting room, but at the time of our visit, other chores kept him busy. Matthew, on the other hand, feels more at home in the vineyard and growing grapes and making wine, but he had no problem giving us a great tasting and lots of great information. Matthew’s brother has also joined forces with the partners to add his woodworking expertise.
Right now, the winery is small. Though tiny, the vineyard is lovingly maintained (and growing). They are focusing on growing Sangiovese, Mourvèdre, and Syrah, as these three varieties have done well for them. Other grapes include Cayuga, Sauvignon Blanc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Pinot Grigio, Riesling, Tempranillo, Zinfandel, and Blanc du Bois (though the bugs seemed to like it). They work to be as organic as they can, including limiting preservatives in the wine. They make small batch wines that can sell out quickly; their first estate Sangiovese (Blood of the Grape) sold out easily.
Medina River Winery is a work in progress. In two years, the winery grew from an idea to a working vineyard and winery; now they look to grow. Much of the nearby acreage, about 22 acres, will become vineyards. There are other possible endeavors that they may try out as well, but wine is their top priority for now. They, along with nearby Vines on the Rocks, hope to make Castroville another wine destination. To do that, they believe they need at least one more winery. But all of this is one step at a time. Each weekend and vacation brings them closer to their goal.