One of the largest and most popular Texas wineries is Becker Vineyards, and you can tell the fabulous wines being made simply by the number of awards being given in international wine competitions. The person behind those wines is Jon Leahy, and we are proud to feature Jon in this month’s winemaker profile.
- What did you do before becoming a winemaker (if anything)?
I was working in the hospitality industry before devoting myself full-time to winemaking. I managed a couple different resort properties and then decided to get into winemaking.
- What is the toughest challenge about being a winemaker in Texas?
It’s not the quality of the fruit or where the fruit comes from. It’s probably PR overall. People in Texas love Texas wines. They’ve discovered it; they know what’s going on. People outside of Texas on the other hand still need a lot of hand holding and convincing. But the first time they try it, it’s like, “You guys really do produce wine.”
- Is winemaking an art or a science or both?
It’s both, absolutely. First of all, you’re not going to make good decisions unless you have the numbers behind you. That’s as important to the grower as it is to the winemaking end of it. The art then comes in with the blending. “How do I take five different Cabernets from five different vineyards and make the best Cabernet I’m capable of doing?” That’s the art end of it. So, they’re both equally important.
- What is your favorite food and wine pairing?
Whatever anybody cooks for me and the bottle on the table is my favorite by far.
- If you didn’t make wine, what would you do?
To be frank with you, I have no clue. I have 24 years into winemaking and I still feel like somebody’s going to come up to me and say, “Are you really a winemaker?”
- What first attracted you to winemaking and how long have you been doing it?
I worked for a brilliant chef a number of years ago and he insisted that everybody in the kitchen and everybody in the bar understand the wine menu. He was equal part chef, Sommelier, and flat out enophile. That was the first time in my life that somebody bothered to explain to me what wine was and what it was for. The fact that it was a living breathing food and it was to be enjoyed. I still think to this day the biggest disservice our industry has ever done, it doesn’t matter what state you are in, is to convince people that wine is a luxury good.
- What is the most common question you are asked as a winemaker?
“What’s it like being a winemaker?” There are a lot of people who think there’s a lot of romance in wine, and I’m not going to say there isn’t. There’s nothing romantic though about 5 a.m. and the cotter pin goes out of the track on the harvester and you have 35 more tons to harvest, and it’s going to be 103 degrees in five hours, and somebody didn’t think about getting a 13-cent cotter pin?
- After a long day in the winery or vineyard, what do you do?
If it’s a long day in the winery, I usually go into the vineyard. If it’s a long day in the vineyard, I go back to the winery. Or I go home and try to get out of doing the chores at home like claiming I’m too tired. That usually doesn’t work.
- What’s the greatest part about being a winemaker?
I think the great part is seeing something that you’ve made bring some enjoyment to somebody you don’t even know. I love going into a restaurant and seeing somebody buy a bottle of your wine, watching their reaction and listening to them, and then asking them, “So, what did you think of the wine?” We all like to think we’ve done a great job at the end of the day.
- What is your winemaking philosophy, that is, what are you trying to achieve with your wines?
I’m just trying to achieve that somebody can pour a glass of wine, have it with dinner or friends, and not notice it until the wine bottle’s empty. And then they’re like, “Hey, we need more.”