One of the most awarded Texas wineries is Pedernales Cellars including a Double Gold medal in France for their Viognier. The man behind those award-winning wines is winemaker David Kuhlken. We caught up with David at a recent wine conference for this month’s winemaker profile.
- What did you do before becoming a winemaker (if anything)?
I actually spent 10 years in the software business, working in startups and doing mostly software development. Business school was sort of the transition to the wine business.
- What is the toughest challenge about being a winemaker in Texas?
I think it is the variability with the harvest every year. You don’t have the kind of consistency you would in certain regions. You know it’s an entirely different game plan every year so adaptability to find how out how to make a consistent wine with all of those extralities has got to be me for me the hardest.
- Is winemaking an art or a science or both?
Yeah, both. You don’t really get to do the art party unless you have the science down. Get the science right and then you can apply some artistry that has some real qualitative value. If you get the science wrong, you’re just rationalizing bad wine.
- What is your favorite food and wine pairing?
I like it kind of simple, honestly. Like a really good charcuterie and a good red wine. That works for me.
- If you didn’t make wine, what would you do?
I cease to have any ideas at this point. It would be tough to find something this hands-on that you get to do where you have every assurance it will be a challenge to the end. I think that’s the appeal. I don’t know what it is that would be like this where just year after year you get something new and it can’t get dull because you can’t perfect it. I actually kind of like that about it.
- What first attracted you to winemaking and how long have you been doing it?
I have been making wines for 12 years. It’s hard to say what attracted me to it. It was the allure of making something tangible. In software you make something that is never really finished because it’s just this iterative process that goes on and on. The thing about winemaking is that when it’s in the bottle, you have this very objective thing that people can then judge.
- What is the most common question you are asked as a winemaker?
It’s usually, “How did you get into this?” Either people are asking because it seems fascinating to try to understand why someone does it, and maybe more so in Texas, or they just have a romantic idea of what this looks like.
- After a long day in the winery or vineyard, what do you do?
Sleep. No, it’s mostly go and spend time with the kids. I’m usually wanting to find some quiet, so it tends to be friends, kids, that kind of stuff.
- What’s the greatest part about being a winemaker?
There are just so few things that allow you to be so engaged in the land. It’s this sort of puzzle you’re constantly solving, about how you’re going to pull all these moving pieces together into something that works. There’s a certain joy and pain in seeing those outcomes right because you’re having to embrace things you can’t control, having to mitigate things that you need to try to manage, and then you’re having to coordinate all these different parts, and in the end when it works, it’s really beautiful to see a good wine. When it doesn’t, it’s painful but you know you get another try, and I think that’s the beauty of it.
- What is your winemaking philosophy, that is, what are you trying to achieve with your wines?
Balance and structure. You have all these moving parts and trying to bring them all into a harmonious balance. It’s beautiful and the more you can build it up into a structure that will stand the test of time, I think that’s the thing that every time you look at what you’ve got and you figure out how can you get to that place. And it mostly is what we’re doing in the vineyard, but that being said, it’s a fun challenge to kind of know there isn’t a limit to it. You can always make a better wine. Keep each round, try it, and see what you can do.
- Anything else you would like to add?
It is fun doing winemaking in Texas because you’re not just joining a known quantity of an industry, you’re building part of it. Everybody, whether you’re a winemaker or you’re writing about this industry, you’re part of creating something on a larger scale, and that’s cool.