Recently Laurinda Thomas, one of my dear wine friends and occasional writer for Texas Wine Lover, planned on making a trip to East Texas for the first time to visit wineries. She asked for suggestions and eventually planned a three-day trip with her mother Irene. She planned on visiting Kiepersol and when Ron Martin, avid Texas wine lover, Kiepersol part-time tour guide, and an admin for the Texas Wine Lover Website Facebook group, found out she was coming to Kiepersol, he began to help make plans for her trip. After talking with co-owner Marnelle Durrett, Marnelle arranged a special vertical tasting for Laurinda. But in the typical love of Kiepersol, they wanted to share the tasting with other Texas wine lovers. In the end, a total of 16 people enjoyed Marnelle’s presentation.
The group arrived at Kiepersol’s barrel room for the vertical tasting of ten Kiepersol Merlots from 2008-2018. We were all excited to be seated in the floor of the barrel room which can only be seen from above during tours, but when the wine started pouring, our excitement only grew.
A vertical tasting is a tasting of wines from different vintages (years) of the same wine type from the same winery. This helps to show differences between the years like great growing seasons compared to difficult seasons. A vertical can be only two wines, but most people consider a vertical to be three or more bottles. I have had a six-bottle vertical before, but the ten-bottle vertical at Kiepersol was definitely the largest I have had.
Since Kiepersol is an estate winery, meaning every wine they make is from the vineyard on their property, the vertical tasting was easier because they know how the vineyard fared during the years in addition to how the wines were produced. Kiepersol has 61 acres of grapes under cultivation with the vineyard being separated into different blocks.
Merlot is not the most popular red wine in Texas, so some people who primarily drink Texas wines may not enjoy much Merlot. In fact, at the beginning of the tasting, I heard the comment, “It’s Merlot. Get over it.” In other words, enjoy the opportunity to taste the same varietal wine from past years.
These are the wines that were tasted with some notes about each.
- 2008. This was a blend of three different blocks. There was considerable rain in 2008.
- 2009. This year brought less rain and the wine was a little more intense.
- 2010. There was not much Merlot harvested because of a late freeze so they did not make a single varietal Merlot. All Merlot went into one of their best Barrel 33 blends. In fact, I loved the 2010 Barrel 33, so it was a pleasure to taste it again.
- 2011. This year they were fighting fires in the vineyard so it was a very dry vintage. They had to start training the grapevine roots to reach the water.
- 2012. This was the first vintage that assistant winemaker Mike McClendon took over. Overall, the year was much like 2010.
- 2013. This was a drier year producing a very small vintage. Throughout the state, 2013 was a very bad growing year because of late freezes. As a result, Kiepersol grew 25% at their vineyard compared to the entire state of Texas. This resulted in Kiepersol selling grapes to other Texas wineries with 220 tons being grown.
- 2014. This is the current release being offered at the winery. The wine spent a lot of time on oak. This was when the distillery opened, and fruit went to the distillery for vodka. There was also a shift to more barrel aging.
- 2015. Not bottled yet. It was a very wet year with floods and the crop produced 57 tons.
- 2016. From the barrel. With more tannin structure in the wine, the longer it is going to live.
- 2017. From the barrel. This was a smaller production.
- 2018. From the barrel. It was a good year, but not the best. The wine has not made it to oak yet.
Now that I look back, there were actually 11 wines. So, the count of ten was because 2010 was not a single Merlot but the blend of Barrel 33.
At the end of the tasting, we had two treats. First was a taste of their 2003 Port. This was a tawny Port made from Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, and Merlot.
The second treat was beer. That’s right, beer. We all know that it takes a lot of good beer to make great wine. Kiepersol had worked with Spoetzl Brewery who makes Shiner beer. The brewery received 100 wine barrels from Kiepersol for which they made 12,000 cases of Shiner Rosé Pale Ale. The beer was fermented with grape must and aged in the Kiepersol wine barrels. Find this beer now!
Kiepersol received brewer’s yeast from Spoetzl which was used in a secondary fermentation to create the “fizz” in their new Fizzy Vit canned wine. The semi-sweet wine makes for a delightful refreshing wine.
Everybody had enjoyed the vertical tasting. We would like to thank everybody involved at Kiepersol with putting the event together and for Laurinda for allowing others to join her.