John Rivenburgh is the winemaker/owner at Rivenburgh Wine and winemaker at several up and coming Texas wineries both in the Hill Country and out. We have enjoyed visiting with John throughout the years, and it is a pleasure to share John’s winemaker profile this month.
- What did you do before becoming a winemaker (if anything)?
Before becoming a winemaker, I worked in construction starting from working in the field as a foreman working my way to project manager.
- What is the toughest challenge about being a winemaker in Texas?
There’s a couple things.
1. When I started making wine in Texas, there was no, and I mean no, support business in our industry. We literally had to design and build equipment, because we have such a different set of hurdles than the west coast. You couldn’t find vineyard materials and if you did, they were so expensive to buy and ship it wasn’t worth it. Example (I wanted to buy highway stakes for the first vineyard I planted) at that time and they were six times higher in price than T-posts. This season we just planted a vineyard with thousands of them with a cost almost the same as a T-post. Picking bid is another great example. I’m pretty sure I bought the first Decade bins in the state. Now almost everybody has them.
2. For years winemaking suppliers payed no attention to the state and its winemakers. Now we have regular reps, speakers, and educators helping to improve our winemaking skills in our climate. We’ve got some really talented winemakers and growers in this state learning every year how to better our crafts. One example I would like to use is the Rosé Protocols that came out of an educational field day we had in the Hill Country. I like to think that one-day session on rosé production helped to spur the direction the innovators of my generation were already headed.
- Is winemaking an art or a science or both?
I’ve said for years “art is a science and science is an art.” You can’t have one without the other. I do think they both play equal parts in the overall process of making wines in our climate. With our climate and geographic challenges, you have to have both! Period.
- What is your favorite food and wine pairing?
This might surprise folks, but I really love a bright crisp Picpoul Blanc and oysters. At the same time, I’ll never pass up a great steak and a tear your face off Tannat.
- If you didn’t make wine, what would you do?
Honestly, this is the toughest question asked in this interview. I really can’t imagine myself doing anything else. I can tell you that I have spent my life building things and I would, at some point, love to have another shop to build furniture—like I did in my twenties.
- What first attracted you to winemaking and how long have you been doing it?
You know, I guess it was the ability to create something from the earth that made people happy and social. I have been making wine for around a decade.
- What is the most common question you are asked as a winemaker?
“Don’t you just love your job?” Yep, beats digging ditches.
- After a long day in the winery or vineyard, what do you do?
Depends on the time of year really. July through October there’s really not time to do anything other than make wine. The rest of the year, the most precious time I spend is with my beautiful children Chloe and Jackson.
- What’s the greatest part about being a winemaker?
Producing something that makes people smile. One of the greatest compliments I have received as a winemaker was from a gentleman and his wife who I had never meet. They told me thank you for making their Thanksgiving Dinner special with wines I made.
- What is your winemaking philosophy, that is, what are you trying to achieve with your wines?
My philosophy is “keep it simple” now. Keeping it simple does not necessarily mean easy or non-complex. I fully believe that we can make fantastic robust wine in our state with good viticulture and enology. I think too often wines are overthought and pushed to quick. Sometimes time is the answer.
- Anything else you would like to add?
Thank you for all the hard work helping grow the industry I love so much. If it wasn’t for the great wine community you have helped to invigorate in our state, I wouldn’t have people asking me, “What’s the greatest part of being a winemaker?”