Michael McClendon is a winemaker at Kiepersol in East Texas. The estate only winery produces fabulous award winning wines and Michael is a major part of making that happen. We are proud Michael took the time to answer this month’s winemaker questions.
- What did you do before becoming a winemaker (if anything)?
Before becoming a winemaker, I was an Enologist and part of the production team at Kiepersol. Before entering into the industry, I was finishing my Biology degree at The University of Texas at Tyler. I came to Kiepersol as an intern in the laboratory and really enjoyed it. I finished school and came on full time in the laboratory.
- What is the toughest challenge about being a winemaker in Texas?
One of the toughest challenges about being a winemaker in Texas is also one of the biggest allures of the industry here, and that is the fact that it is still being developed. The Texas wine industry is growing and changing every day. There are so many opportunities to share and taste great wines, but those opportunities have to be earned by producing tremendous wines. Almost everything we do from farming to winemaking has an extra level of difficulty here in this state and that can be trying, but we’re Texans and never balk at a good challenge.
- Is winemaking an art or a science or both?
Winemaking is a melding of both art and science. As I mentioned before, I came into the industry through science and had very little familiarity with wine. I enjoy and appreciate science but have an aptitude for design. At Kiepersol, I had the opportunity to learn and work with a great man, Pierre de Wet, who wasn’t big on putting limits on things. Without limits, we worked on unconventional blends to showcase the beauty of the wine and sought knowledge from the best in the wine science business including Lisa Van de Water and Ken Fuglesang. That mentality to continue striving and pushing forward has been instilled in the entire Kiepersol farm team. It shows in our vineyard and in our wines.
- What is your favorite food and wine pairing?
My favorite food and wine pairing is simply putting together good food and good wine. It’s hard to go wrong when they come together. From Sauvignon Blanc and fresh abalone to Syrah and burgers off the grill. One of the more memorable pairings for me was a salad with goat cheese and raspberry vinaigrette paired with the Kiepersol Vit, a lightly sweet white wine. The raspberry complemented the tropical fruit-floral bouquet of the wine and the residual sugar stood up to the goat cheese.
- If you didn’t make wine, what would you do?
I was planning on going to medical school before I had the internship at Kiepersol. I guess once the wine bug bit me, I didn’t look back.
- What first attracted you to winemaking and how long have you been doing it?
The scientific aspects of winemaking were a big draw. I assumed that wine production was: grapes, squish squish, juice, wine, the end. But it turned out to be so much more complex, full of history, and scientific. I was in a position to lead my first crush in 2010 and have been in the position since. It isn’t “a done deal,” I still have to work hard and learn the craft to stay relevant in the industry.
- What is the most common question you are asked as a winemaker?
People often ask me if I just sit around and drink all day. The answer is a resounding no. There are so many things that need to get done like research, marketing, inventory, and continuing education.
- After a long day in the winery or vineyard, what do you do?
The longest days come during harvest. After a harvest day, I go home and sleep. A nice glass of wine or cognac never hurts during those times either.
- What’s the greatest part about being a winemaker?
The greatest part about being a winemaker is the diversity. I get enjoyment from the growing and farming aspect where we can see something take shape and produce fruit. The challenge of making decisions using accumulated data and trials is always a joy. And of course, being able to enjoy the food and wine lifestyle associated with the wine industry. Usually that aspect comes from being at conferences and symposiums with other wine professionals discussing our triumphs and failures together.
- What is your winemaking philosophy, that is, what are you trying to achieve with your wines?
Each wine should have a place and tell a story. Building a sound structure and balance is like the grammatical component and sentence structure of the wine; being varietally correct is like the genre; and the flavor dynamics are the storyline that includes characters like jam, toast, and currant. Every bottle should tell a great story and also fit into the cannon of your winemaking house. Here [at Kiepersol] we can see through the vintages the growth and progression of our winemaking, and with every vintage there is promise of a new chapter.
- Anything else you would like to add?
Although this is a winemaker profile, I have to add a tip of the hat to everybody that plays a role in what we do. It is the work from the rest of the production team, the tasting room staff, vineyard crew, and everyone else at Kiepersol that work hard that allow me to be where I’m at as well as those who have come before me and built a platform for me to stand on. Pierre de Wet took a chance on us as a generation of “kids” to take care of the farm. I am thankful every day for that chance.