Patrick Whitehead is co-owner and winemaker at Blue Ostrich Winery located in Saint Jo in the Red River Valley. The winery has grown over the years due in part to the excellent wine and hospitality of Patrick and the entire staff of Blue Ostrich. We are proud to feature Patrick Whitehead in this month’s winemaker profile.
- What did you do before becoming a winemaker (if anything)?
In my 20’s, I worked as a Top 40 on-air personality at several radio stations around the country. That eventually morphed into the management side of the business and for nearly 20 years, I worked as a programming and marketing executive for broadcasting corporations like Gannett, CBS, Nationwide, and I Heart media.
- What is the toughest challenge about being a winemaker in Texas?
We face many challenges, but problem solving can be fun, so we try not to dwell too much on the negative. At Blue Ostrich, we like to say; if you’re not part of the solution, you’re part of the precipitate (it’s a winemaker/chemist joke). Personally, I find it challenging to craft a balanced wine with minimal winemaker intervention. How great would it be to have all our red grapes hit the crush pad at 3.7 pH, 26 brix, and be physiologically ripe. If the grapes do come in with a natural pH as low as 3.7, there’s a good chance that they’re not really as ripe and sweet as they need to be in order to render the right amount of alcohol, fruit flavors, and color that we want. While there are things we can do on the back end to manipulate each of those components, I think the ideal scenario is to let Mother Nature do more of the upfront work so that the winemaker has to intervene less in the cellar. In North Texas, and most other parts of our state, Mother Nature tends to toss us a lot of curve balls.
- Is winemaking an art or a science or both?
Winemaking absolutely requires both hemispheres of the brain. Two winemakers could take the same fruit and each craft something very different. There are left brain components to winemaking that we all have to follow like protecting the health and stability of the fruit/juice, maintaining certain temperatures, etc. However, there is plenty of room to move the style dial. Yeast selection, use of untoasted oak, controlling fermentation speed, barrel choice, options for fining and stabilizing, and bleed the juice (saignée) to enhance color. There are a myriad of options in the winemaker’s toolbox.
- What is your favorite food and wine pairing?
Pretty basic stuff. Tenderloin finished medium rare with a full bodied, balanced red with above average oak tannins. Doesn’t always have to be a Cab. Syrah will do nicely too!
- If you didn’t make wine, what would you do?
I dabbled in video production for several years. Just fun stuff for family and friends…birthday tributes, vacation videos, etc. My wife and I had seriously considered opening a small video production business in 2008, but as we worked through a couple of different business scenarios, we began to we realize that the opportunity to be a part of the Texas wine and grape community was too good to pass up, plus the timing was right. The Blue Ostrich project we had been developing with our business partners was really picking up steam in 2010, so we left video on the drawing board and committed to the grape.
- What first attracted you to winemaking and how long have you been doing it?
I made wine at home for a bit before we opened the winery, but commercial winemaking only about six years. I love the fact that it’s an ancient process. It’s biblical and it’s artisan. The “science” part of winemaking is relatively new in the last 60-80 years. Even though there have been a lot of technological advancements in grape picking, grape sorting, juice, and must analysis, etc., I don’t know that winemaking can ever be replaced entirely by computers. It’s not the same as flying airplanes or medical procedures or banking. I believe there’s a visceral aspect to winemaking.
- What is the most common question you are asked as a winemaker?
How long do you keep the wine in the barrels, and what do you do with a barrel when you’re finished using it? Winery visitors are fascinated with barrels.
- After a long day in the winery or vineyard, what do you do?
Watching the sunset over the Red River Valley with a glass of wine or a cocktail, and the company of my wife Julie and/or good friends.
- What’s the greatest part about being a winemaker?
Watching our guests enjoy the wines we produce. Anytime we release a new wine, it’s like sending your kid off to the first day of school. Will it meet everyone’s expectations? Will they like it? Will they want to take it home and introduce it to others?
- What is your winemaking philosophy, that is, what are you trying to achieve with your wines?
We just want to make people happy by crafting something they enjoy and perhaps introduce them to new styles and varietals. Since everyone’s taste is different, that means being able to offer several styles, so we stay busy conceiving new blends and new ways to keep things fresh and interesting.
- Anything else you would like to add?
I have lived in seven different states in my previous career, and Texas is special in so many ways. We have a fantastic community of grape growers, wine makers, and wine lovers that coalesce to create this dynamic of Texas wine. We’ve barely scratched the surface of what’s to come.
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