Before opening Rancho Loma Vineyards, Robert and Laurie Williamson opened a small restaurant on their property in Talpa, Texas. They brought fine cuisine to Central Texas, offering dinner on Friday and Saturday nights. Since then, they expanded Rancho Loma into a B&B on their property as well as a pizzeria in downtown Coleman (across the street from the winery). And to hear from owners Robert and Laurie Williamson, the most recent expansion, Rancho Loma Vineyards, was a matter of course.
Sean and I got a first-hand look at Rancho Loma Vineyards during an Open House. Friends, family, fans, industry, and press mingled together in the tasting room and production facility. Among the crowd were Dr. Pat Brennan and Rebecca Conley of Brennan Vineyards, Neal and Janice Newsom of Newsom Vineyards, and Vijay and Subada Reddy of Reddy Vineyards, who I finally got to meet. Representatives from the Dallas Morning News and Texas Monthly were in attendance, along with the winery’s six partners. But it was the energy of past guests of the restaurant and B&B that made the open house more of a celebration.
That night, we tasted each of the five wines Rancho Loma Vineyards offers alongside a pairing created by Laurie herself. Robert and Laurie graciously spoke with everyone, sharing their vision and joy. Winemaker Kyle Johnston shared his excitement to create top-notch wines made from grapes well suited to Texas. By evening’s end, we had a sample of what the Rancho Loma experience has to offer.
Robert shared his Texas wine story with us. Years ago, he befriended Dr. Pat Brennan. Robert mentioned early vintages produced in Dr. Brennan’s garage and his involvement with plantings and harvest, including the award-winning Viognier. Before their foray, Robert and Laurie sent soil samples to UC Davis. The analysis concluded that the loam and limestone soil found on their property would be ideal for grape growing, and thus began the journey into Texas wine.
Robert and Laurie brought in winemaker Kyle Johnston, former assistant winemaker at Hilmy Cellars, to create a bold Texas portfolio. For the time, they source grapes from throughout Texas, with many coming from Vijay Reddy. They do have a young estate vineyard that will provide future grapes. As for the wine, Kyle worked on the three 2016 wines, while Dr. Bob Young of Bending Branch Winery helped to make the two 2015 reds.
- 2016 Cinsault Rosé: Tart, fruit forward wine made from grapes from Reddy Vineyards
- Small Lot Muscat: An off-dry yet crisp blend of 66% Muscat Blanc and 34% Orange Muscat sourced from the Texas High Plains
- 2016 III: A Rhône-style blend of 45% Viognier, 39% Roussanne, and 16% Marsanne aged in new French Oak
- 2015 Blend 1: A medium-body red blend made from Texas Montepulciano, Mourvèdre, Malbec, Petite Syrah, Tannat, and Sagrantino
- 2015 Montepulciano: Single variety medium- to full-body red sourced from grapes in the Texas High Plains
At the open house, we enjoyed the wines with carefully paired dishes. The salmon paired well with the Cinsault Rosé in color, but it also worked with the crisp wine. The Single Lot Muscat complemented the salty British Columbia Oysters two ways: Champagne Mignonette and Gingered Mignonette. As for III, a thick aged white cheddar soup with peppercorns paired well with the oily and rich texture of the white Rhône blend. Not to be outdone, Blend 1, the red blend, became subtle and complex combined with the Beef Carpaccio with Gorgonzola and walnuts. And the most natural pairing of the evening was the fuller bodied Montepulciano and Bolognese with Parmigiano-Reggiano Polenta.
Rancho Loma Vineyards is more than food and wine though. Like many Texas wine entrepreneurs, Robert and Laurie wanted to revitalize Coleman. In the future, they hope to join wine trails, such as the Way Out Wineries, to draw more attention to the budding town. For now, their investment brings a fresh look and feel. The winery presents a modern, up-scale environment. Rancho Loma exudes the sophisticated and clean aspects of contemporary minimalist appeal. Though their chosen aesthetic may seem incongruous with small town Texas’s homey character, the winery and its staff fill the space with charm and hospitality. That is why guests continue to come back to the restaurant and B&B.
The Rancho Loma winery and tasting room hide in an unassuming brick building. In fact, I nearly missed it on our visit. A sandwich board out on the sidewalk marked the spot on that foggy night. Even from the outside, the winery displays a welcoming, modern minimalist setting.
The entrance is sleek and sophisticated. A large window looks onto a wall sporting the winery logo: RLV. Upon entering, we were ushered along the hall towards the main room. As we moved beyond what we would later find out is a kitchen and bathrooms (well concealed), we entered a large open room with a large wooden case showcasing the Rancho Loma wines.
The tasting bar stands nearest the entrance. Stretching across the near total width of the room, the two parallel marble bars provide plenty of space for walk-up tasting; during our visit, guests could taste at one and relax on the opposite. The simple, clean bar allows the wines to stand out, not the interior.
The space continues stretching out from there. A bright open space, sparsely and carefully decorated, fills much of the tasting room. A collection of tall gleaming metal tables, spread throughout the room, supply needed spots to gather. Just past the center of the room, a partitioning brick wall houses a fire place surrounded by a collection of arm chairs. Beyond the wall, a space lined with mirrors and lit by deer antler chandeliers rounds out the room, which housed two large tables and more tastings.
And for those more interested in the winery workings, guests can view the barrel room from the tasting room. On our visit, we could explore the barrel room, checking out aging Tempranillo and Sangiovese, and observe the numerous tanks both filled with wine and ready for more. The tank room also houses the lab, which we could inspect during our visit. Even the storage area, filled with cases of wine, was open to guests of the Open House.
At the Open House, we lost track of time as we explored the winery. Drifting from tasting-to-tasting led us to new and pleasant conversations. The open space allowed for moments of reflection, good time for taking and reviewing notes. I never noticed the crowd dispersing. Looking up, I found a few small parties of people lingering and saying their goodbyes. We did the same, planning on visiting this way-out Texas winery again soon.
Rancho Loma Vineyards, at 411 S. Commercial Ave, Coleman, TX, opens on January 20, 2017. The restaurant and B&B offer reservations (though they book up quick), and the pizzeria is open Wednesdays through Sundays for lunch and dinner.