I know this is an article for the Texas Wine Lover website and we are primarily about Texas wines, but even in Texas, we have some unique links to French wines and winemaking, and I have to share there is something really special that is opening to the public the third weekend in mid-September in Hye, Texas. The property formerly housing Compass Rose Cellars has been acquired and is now the home of French Connection Wines. This winery has the amazing team of Benjamin Calais, Victoria Gimino, and Pat and Sheri Pattillo on hand to assist you and help acquaint you to their new site. You may be familiar with Benjamin as he is the owner and winemaker at CALAIS Winery just down the road from this new location. There is no plan to close one and consolidate, this is an extension of his larger winemaking and evolutionary goals to create multiple lines and an additional label for the public.
Wines featured at this location are chiefly wines that one would associate as more French-style varietals and styles of wine, with grapes sourced across the state and chiefly from the Texas High Plains AVA. If you enjoy whites, rosés, and reds, you will find more rosés and whites on this tasting menu than one has traditionally found on the CALAIS tasting menu. There will be a tasting fee for five wines on the menu, with the fees waived with a six-bottle purchase. Additionally, there are two wines on the menu that are not available for the regular tasting but are available on a limited basis by the bottle.
We were the first guests to arrive on the morning of the soft opening weekend. Driving through the front gate, you could see the French “connection” via the French flags flanking the entrance gate on both sides and the new sign by the entrance. Driving up the dirt road, we noted the outside was spruced up with some new artwork and paint with a certain quaintness and French touch. The tasting room inside was nice and is very open and cool with inviting friendly and familiar faces as the crew were there putting some finishing touches on last minute items.
We were pleased to see photos from Miguel Lecuona with Hill Country Light Photography on the wall tracing the evolution of the new business from inspiration to the current lineup of wines being poured into the glass. In addition, there were some tasty treats available for guests to purchase from Camembert cheese, crackers, and larger meat and cheese snacking trays served on beautiful thick cut wood.
There was also something very unique and unexpected for sale to guests, lovely French eclairs. Ben explained the pastries are being flown in from a bakery in New York and they currently have three flavors, Chocolate Raspberry, Pistachio with Mascarpone, and Espresso. Trust me, if you enjoy eclairs these are the real deal and you need to stop by and try them all. They were fresh, with airy pastry, and very creamy and flavorful fillings. They can even box them up for you to take some home if you so desire, however, I would recommend you have a cooler handy to help keep them fresh in this Texas heat. In addition to the snacks, there are also wine bottle openers and coasters for sale.
As for the main event, the wines on the tasting menu did not disappoint. In true Calais fashion, each one was a winner. To start with, there are two rosé wines on the menu. The first is a very traditional French Provincial style made with 100% Cinsault fruit. This is the perfect light and clean wine to drink all day and all by itself, it does not need a thing to make this wine enjoyable and completely satisfying.
The 2018 La Connection Rosé, produced from grapes from Texas’ oldest Mourvèdre vines from Martin’s vineyard was equally delightful, yet different. Think bolder, heavier, and bigger rosé with a deeper color that is designed to pair beautifully with food.
Moving on to the whites, the 2018 La Connection White is wine with grapes sourced from the Texas High Plains combining Roussanne, Marsanne, and Viognier. The Roussanne and Viognier were co-fermented and then blended with the Marsanne in French oak for 10 months. This is an elegant, luscious, and slightly buttery white that is a bit fuller bodied. A fantastic wine to sip and enjoy on the outdoor covered patio at the winery.
The 2015 Roussanne Reserve is also produced from Texas High Plains fruit and this is one of the two bottles that is not available for tasting on the menu but is available for sale by the bottle. This was aged in French oak for four years and has a higher alcohol content with an oaked and light toasted pecan finish. The nose is a little funky, but this is a very interesting wine that should be a delight for fall food menus.
As for red wines, the 2017 La Connection Red, also sourced from Texas High Plains fruit, is a 50/50 blend of Syrah and Mourvèdre. This delightful wine has a beautiful floral nose with nice fruit and soft tannins and is really well balanced.
The 2017 Syrah is the sole single vineyard varietal of the wines. This was produced from fruit sourced from Newsom Vineyards in the Texas High Plains. Aged in French oak for two years, there are lots of soft spices on the nose with ripe fruit flavors and subtle spices on the palate. There is a lovely smokiness to the finish on this very smooth wine with slight toasted pecan notes. A true delight to sip and savor.
The final selection on the menu, not available for individual tasting, but offered by the bottle is the 2015 Roussanne, port-style wine. This is fortified and aged for four years in French oak with an 18.8% alcohol content. There is a slight smokiness on the nose of this one and it is buttery smooth and sweet, but not syrupy. There is a delightful toasted nut finish as well to tempt folks as the fall and winter months approach. This will be a wonderful after dinner sipper to finish a meal on its own or paired with cheese.
The winery has a wait list for patrons interested in joining their future wine club, and it is important to note that this wine club will not be a super huge one, so it will intentionally be kept to a smaller size for a limited number of people due to lower production high quality wines in the works. If you are interested in this opportunity, inquire about it when you visit.
The team is just getting things started at this location, so be on the lookout for more items to be offered in the future for snacks and food items, as well as the potential for more items to be sold in their tasting room to enjoy with your wines or take home and enjoy or gift to friends and family.
The winery has a nice large covered and shaded patio with tables and chairs in addition to lawn seating areas and furniture, so whether you enjoy sitting in the shade or getting some sun, you will find ample seating and outdoor space to sit and enjoy your tasting or a bottle of wine with friends when you stop by to visit. The view from this hilltop vantage point across the Texas countryside is fabulous for watching evening sunsets and dark starry night skies. As the temperatures cool down, consider stopping by to enjoy the patio and the sunset.
The property does have some small cabins or Maisonnettes available to rent for those wishing to check those out. You can inquire within or check them out via Airbnb. We are looking forward to seeing how things continue to evolve as this new venture takes off and continues to grow and creates a new tasting room destination in Hye.