Mike Batek is co-owner and the winemaker of Hye Meadow Winery located in Hye, Texas. Even though the winery is a young three years old, it has started racking up awards for its wines. We previously enjoyed doing a podcast with Mike. This month we talked to Mike for this month’s winemaker profile.
- What did you do before becoming a winemaker (if anything)?
I was switching from teaching to something grapey. Denise and I knew we would be doing something in the industry, but whether it was growing or making wine was not the first step. The first step was education and that meant going back to school for the Texas Tech Viticulture program, which was in its second class. Through that class I learned so much, but more importantly I met so many people in the industry now that are the pillars to its success. People like Penny Adams, Fran Potash, Fritz Westover, and my professor Kirk Williams who were shaping minds and vineyards across the state. I had people in class like John Rivenburgh who has become a friend and mentor.
- What is the toughest challenge about being a winemaker in Texas?
Starting out in 2012, the biggest challenge was finding grapes! Both ’12 and ’13 were rough years for starting out as a new venture in Texas. I was fortunate to have Jeff Ivy head our program starting out and learned a bunch from him. But the toughest challenge in my mind is what grapes do you want to work with in the winery. I wanted Italian varietals for the most part, because I thought they would do well in Texas. I also consider Italian wines the ones that I first fell in love with in college. What I wish I was better at was chemistry, as the toughest job in making wine in Texas is dealing with our weird pH’s and trying to adjust to wide swings in growing conditions.
- Is winemaking an art or a science or both?
Being a new winemaker, I would say both. I believe science on the front end for choosing approaches to fermentation, yeast choices, etc. We have some great technology in our lab that enables us to analyze our grapes the moment they come in from the vineyard to have info on pH, volatile acids, ammonia, and nitrogen levels which enable me to really use science on the front side to dial in our nutrient additions for fermentation.
On the back end: barrel choice, time, to blend or stand alone is where the artistry kicks in. Our best event of the year is our blending party for wine club members. We give tables four wines from barrel to make into a blend that we will then judge. The winning table gets their names on the label and we make a large barrel (puncheon of 132 gallons) to be enjoyed by all the next year. The 2015 blend was one I would have never blended, but it was super special containing Mourvèdre, Petit Verdot, Montepulciano, and Aglianico.
- What is your favorite food and wine pairing?
A good rose and a nice cheese platter; if you have that, you are relaxing somewhere nice!
- If you didn’t make wine, what would you do?
The other choice was a food trailer. I love to cook and make people happy. People say there are only two things to depend on in this world – death and taxes. I think they should be food and wine.
- What first attracted you to winemaking and how long have you been doing it?
I believe the romance of making something that has been one of the constants of life since history was first being recorded. Making wine is anything but romance; I see it as preparation. You work on getting everything in order to have something romantic at the end of the cycle. When I say order, in my mind that begins with the vineyard and then carries on to being prepared in the winery to have a successful cycle. Unfortunately, the cycle depends on spreadsheets, lots of conversations, and having your equipment and building ready for success. That said, I’m a newbie at only four years. But, I have read and talked with winemakers to glean information scanning decades. Kim McPherson is one of those winemakers that you wish you could talk with for days to get just a glimpse of the all the experience he has accumulated. I count myself lucky to be able to talk with him on a regular basis.
- What is the most common question you are asked as a winemaker?
How did you start on this path? I always say it was my pastor who helped us along and God that provided a way to make it happen. Everyone wants to live their dream, whatever that may look like to that individual or couple. Wine making sounds like a dream job and people want insight on how others have reached their goals. I think it flows back to talking with people who have experience and trying to get a glimpse of that info and relate it back to our lives.
- After a long day in the winery or vineyard, what do you do?
I think a shower is always in order to rid the aches of the day. Zak (our cellar master) and I like to finish a really long, hard day with one beer to appreciate the work that was done and talk about how we can do it even better. Wine is never a constant and you never get to rest on just “one” day.
- What’s the greatest part about being a winemaker?
Seeing people enjoy wine. It doesn’t have to be ours, just wine. I think of all the people who have come before that have created what we all strive to do better and it puts everything in perspective.
- What is your winemaking philosophy, that is, what are you trying to achieve with your wines?
I am trying to create wines that are individual. I want people to come taste and find wines they love, spit some out, and be surprised that they like something which they thought was not on their list of favorites. I think there is a place for reds and whites, dry and off-dry, and sweet (yes – even sweet has a place). Wine should not be snooty or pretentious. I take making the wine seriously, but drinking and enjoying it should not be shrouded in mystery, but surrounded by friends and family as we enjoy each day that is given to us.
- Anything else you would like to add?
I believe it is an exciting time to be part of the wine family in Texas. We look to have another great harvest in front of us and are poised to start garnering a bit more attention for our wines. Looking ahead, I would love to see more Texans walking through our doors and discovering what we have to offer over flying to California and be pleasantly surprised with our wines and hospitality.
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