The former 1851 Vineyards in Fredericksburg recently became the Slate Mill Wine Collective. The Hollimon family decided to allow the Jones family, their partners, to take over the winery and take it in a new direction. With Executive Winemaker Tim Drake at the helm, this new project will support the still growing Texas wine industry and boost new talent.
At the beginning of March, I attended a special media event. Our evening included a tour of the vineyards and property with Chase Jones, a guided tasting with Jennifer Beckmann, and a facility tour with Tim Drake, Joshua Fritsche, Chase Jones, and Emily Graff. During the evening we got to see where they were and where they were going.
The Slate Mill Wine Collective is not a single winery, but, as the name suggests, a collective. At the heart is the original 1851 Vineyards. They will continue to make wines under that label with the help of winemaker Joshua Fritsche. However, as a collective, they also help other smaller brands. They provide aid and retail space so others can help grow and diversify the Texas wine industry.
The collective offers a range of assistance for new wineries and established small ones. The partnered wineries can have access to space and equipment needed for the entire winemaking process—crush, fermentation, aging, bottling, and storage—as well as vineyard management and harvest. This access is crucial for small wineries. The equipment alone can easily exceed what a young winery can afford, an obstacle some can never overcome.
Those new to growing grapes and making wine can find themselves overwhelmed. Slate Mill helps with that as well, offering expert advice and assistance. Chase Jones, Director of Vineyard Operations, and Emily Graff, Viticulturist, provide assistance and services to others. The end goal is to manage vineyards for other wineries. Tim Drake and the winemaking team pool their years of experience to help newer winemakers produce the best product possible. Jennifer Beckmann, Marketing, can also help new wineries with the business-side of things, including pricing, distribution, tasting rooms, wine clubs, and more.
The reason for this is to make a greater and more interesting Texas wine community. The Slate Mill Wine Collective wants to help the community, but it also wants to encourage new and unique voices. One of the requirements of joining is having a clear vision and values that align with Slate Mill. Executive Winemaker Tim Drake describes this as a desire to explore the distinct terroir of Texas and the myriad possibilities of wine.
As grape growers and winemakers, Slate Mill emphasizes continued experimentation, as well as efficiency. To do this, they focus on learning new strategies and improving upon what they know. One example is the expansion of Italian varieties in their own vineyards; when completely planted, they will have between 120-140 acres under vine in Gillespie county. When I visited, they shared with us the fruits of that change—a 2019 Barbera and Aglianico, as well as a Cabernet Franc.
The same experimentation continues in the winemaking. First, they are working on cult, concept wines for their Slate Theory label. For now, the wines are produced at their main location on Highway 16; however, it will move into another location on Highway 290. The former Torre de Pietra is getting a huge facelift, including an underground cellar; they had to bust through about 40 feet of caliche and limestone.
The main location will have new additions too. The original 1851 farmhouse near the front of the property will be a Madeira and Sherry house once they have strengthened the original structure and made needed changes. In fact, they are fixing and repurposing as many of the historical buildings on the site. A port room is also in their future.
The upcoming project most indicative for their philosophy is the future sparkling facility. Right now, wineries make sparkling wines in one of two ways. Wineries make Pétillant Naturel (Pét-Nat), which is both time consuming and labor intensive, or they ship the wines to California to use the equipment available at a location such as Rack and Riddle. Slate Mill Wine Collective plans to acquire the expensive equipment needed to produce the wine entirely in Texas.
Another part of their vision is efficiency. The team at Slate Mill finds ways to make the process easier and faster. This efficiency can keep costs, time, and labor down so they can invest it elsewhere.
They can purchase a diverse range of high-quality barrels with the extra funds. The team formed a strong working relationship with a cooper in Caucasus region of Russia. The oak trees, many over 300 years old, have a tighter grain than even European oak, which positively influences the wine. For more info on barrels and grains, check out our article on the Barrel Experience at Ron Yates Wine.
The vineyard and winemaking benefits from the extra time and labor. A new harvester allows Jones to harvest all their extensive acres in the time it would take to handpick only a few. Inside, the new drainage system combined with epoxy protected floors makes clean-up faster, allowing for higher sanitation standards.
These advancements do not stop in the vineyard or production. Jennifer Beckmann wants to change the way people taste and drink wine. At Slate Mill, guests can choose a pre-made flight or can choose their own. 1851 wines are available, but so are their partners. Right now, guests can drink wines from Randy Hester’s C.L. Butaud label, Rae Wilson’s Wine for the People, and Majek Winery. They also carry the wine Tim Drake makes for Farmhouse Vineyards as well as Fritsche’s own Tatum Cellars.
A visit to Slate Mill Wine Collective allows guests to experience multiple wineries all in one spot. Winery partners will rotate, especially after they fully establish their operation. Visitors will be treated to try a new collection of wines often. This will extend to Jennifer’s next venture with Slate Mill, ReRooted 210 in San Antonio, a wine bar where visitors can sample Slate Mill wines and others 100% Texas wines.
When I visited for the media event, Jennifer Beckmann led us through a tasting of four wines available for tasting.
- 1851 Vineyards, 2018 Viognier: The grapes came from the Texas High Plains to make an aromatic, rich, and fruit forward wine with clean lemon and lime flavors. It ends smooth and clean.
- Tatum Cellars, 2018 Roussanne: The wine made from grapes from La Pradera Vineyards in the High Plains, is light and buttery with clean acids and citrus. The wine gets some of its character as it ages in neutral oak.
- Wine for the People, 2018 Dandy Rosé: The blend of Mourvèdre, Counoise, Picpoul, and Grenache smells and tastes of bright strawberry. Upon arrival, we enjoyed the Dandy Rosé sparkling.
- C.L. Butaud, 2017 Tempranillo: Subtle dark fruit allows for other flavors—white pepper, tobacco, and cocoa—to come through with firm tannins and a smooth finish.
Tim Drake said that he works to make the finest wine, but they also have a flaw. This view matches the Japanese art of Kintsugi and philosophy of wabi-sabi, where imperfections are accentuated, often with gold, to highlight the true beauty of an object. The wines Tim Drake hopes to make at Slate Mill Wine Collective and Slate Theory emphasize the exquisite aspects of a finely crafted, heartfelt wine.
In the end, Slate Mill Wine Collective cherishes community and independence. Neighbors helping neighbors so the entire community thrives is the core of their vision. Making and sharing an array of distinctive wines representing a diverse group of winemakers is the goal, one everyone is encouraged to enjoy.