Whistling Duck Vineyards & Winery is located in Weimar in southeast Texas. The winery has been operating since 2014 with John Cooke at the helm of the winemaking. If you haven’t made a trip to Weimar and the surrounding area wineries, you definitely should to experience the hospitality provided. We are proud to present John Cooke as this month’s winemaker profile.
- What did you do before becoming a winemaker (if anything)?
After graduating from Texas A&M University with a degree in Business, I went to work for AT&T and remained with them for 35+ years before taking an early retirement in 2013 to pursue my interests in growing grapes and making wine. I attended the Viticulture and Enology program at Grayson College in Denison to learn about growing grapes and making wine.
- What is the toughest challenge about being a winemaker in Texas?
Most winemakers will tell you that to make a great wine, you must begin with great grapes. The Texas climate makes it very challenging to grow the highest quality grapes. Every year brings different amounts of rainfall or no rainfall at all, late spring freezes that can damage the vines, hotter than normal temperatures, infestations of insects, or fungus pressure on the vines. We are basically grape farmers and Mother Nature has a way of letting us know every year that she is still in control!
- Is winemaking an art or a science or both?
Although there is a huge amount of science involved in winemaking, there is definitely an art to making great wine. Every person’s palette is different, so as a winemaker, you have to always consider how to make your wines appealing to the greatest number of customers.
- What is your favorite food and wine pairing?
Food and wine pairing can be a fascinating experience. A wine you don’t typically enjoy sipping on can become one of your favorites when paired with the right food. Being the native Texan I am, my favorite pairing is a mouth-watering beef tenderloin grilled medium rare and paired with a bold dry red wine – either a Tempranillo or a Cabernet Sauvignon.
- If you didn’t make wine, what would you do?
Our vineyards and winery keep us extremely busy, so if I didn’t have them to occupy my time, I would spend more time working on the land I own and doing more traveling to experience the different wine regions around the world.
- What first attracted you to winemaking and how long have you been doing it?
An anniversary trip with my wife, Kari, to the Napa Valley wine region 18 years ago, started our interest in grape growing and winemaking. Along with my sister and brother-in-law, Mary Beth and Stan Johnson, we started growing grapes in 2007 with plans to sell the grapes to other wineries. Once we started harvesting grapes, I decided to try my hand at making wine. After a couple of less than successful batches of wine, I decided in 2009 to attend Grayson College to learn the correct way to do things.
- What is the most common question you are asked as a winemaker?
One of the most common questions I am asked by new wine drinkers about our wines is “How do you get your Blanc du Bois to have grapefruit flavors” or “How do you get your Viognier to have melon flavors or floral scents?” Basically, “Do you add those flavors and scents to your wine?” I really enjoy explaining the grape growing and winemaking process to new wine drinkers.
- After a long day in the winery or vineyard, what do you do?
I grab a glass of wine and sit on my porch with my wife to enjoy the sights and sounds of nature in the country, or retire to my recliner to watch our favorite television show or movie.
- What’s the greatest part about being a winemaker?
The greatest part about owning a vineyard and winery is the opportunity I have to share my knowledge with our customers, and watching them enjoy their visit with us.
- What is your winemaking philosophy, that is, what are you trying to achieve with your wines?
Our philosophy at Whistling Duck Winery is to make wines that appeal to a broad spectrum of the wine drinking population, and have our customers find at least one wine that they really like so that they will come back to see us again and again.
- Anything else you would like to add?
The Texas wine industry is growing rapidly and there are so many great Texas wines out there just waiting to be discovered. Everyone should take the time to experience Texas wineries!