For the past several years, Brennan Vineyards in Comanche and Veldhuizen Cheese in nearby Dublin have teamed up to present a unique wine and cheese pairing. 4.0 Cellars wine and cheese education guru Carl Hudson hosts the panel made up of Brennan Vineyards owner Dr. Pat Brennan, Director of Operations and Marketing, Rebecca Conley, Executive Winemaker, Todd Webster, and Stuart Veldhuizen, owner and chief cheese head…I mean cheese maker at Veldhuizen Cheese Shop. Usually this event is the culmination of a weekend of wine blending and sampling, new wine and cheese pairings, and just a good time with friends. I’ve been invited to attend the past couple of years and I always look forward to it. This year the event was canceled for unfortunate reasons due to the coronavirus pandemic and the disappointing shutdown of winery testing rooms around the state.
Since the official wine and cheese event wasn’t happening, it was decided that new wine and cheese pairings should still occur because we want to be ready when things do start to open back up. Carl Hudson, Rob Reynolds, and Carol Willis arrived in Comanche on Friday to assist with “difficult duties” including assisting the Brennan team in deciding the next vintage blend for Super Nero and treated with a tank sample of Winemaker’s Blend “W” volume 6. My husband Shelly and I arrived after work, tried to catch up on the Super Nero blend options, and participated in the background of the winery’s 15th anniversary event. This was supposed to be a fancy celebration, but that was converted into yet another virtual tasting via a Zoom broadcast because of this COVID-19 scare.
We had an appointment the next day to visit Veldhuizen Cheese Farm located just north of Dublin. Chelsea Veldhuizen Brown, marketing manager and daughter of farm owners Stuart and Connie Veldhuizen, invited us to meet with her and husband Tim Brown, plus other family members, to share a fun wine and cheese pairing Saturday afternoon. This allowed us a morning asking what do we do until then? So, I did what I always do, I made a quick check of the Texas Wine Lover winery map to see who might be in the area that we haven’t been to yet. My attention was quickly turned to nearby Greens Creek Cellars outside of Dublin and a few miles from Veldhuizen. I reached out to the email address listed and received an almost immediate reply from owner Julie Williams letting me know Saturday mid-morning was acceptable.
We loaded up our vehicles for the day trip which now included both appointments and headed off following the directions given by the Waze GPS app. I usually have great luck using Waze. It gets me where I want to go in a fairly efficient way. Once we got to Dublin, we followed the directions provided turning right on Blackberry Street. It didn’t take long to get “outta town” and back into the country. We really enjoyed the rolling hills and all the shades of green from the grass to all of the trees. Dublin is dairy country and we saw several cows on the drive. When my husband and I have traveled across the state chasing wineries, we have often laughed at directions that go awry, either from our misinterpretation of them or not understanding that the GPS meant THAT unmarked road that we just passed at 70 mph. Over the years we have decided that it just isn’t a “wine trip” until we have to turn around at least once! As we’ve made our journeys, we’ve also decided that our favorite winery visits have incorporated both the turn-around AND a dirt road; our trip to Greens Creek Cellars had both! I had high hopes for a fantastic visit.
Carl was driving this time, and all we could do was laugh as we zoomed past the road and had to turn around to get on the correct farm to market road (FM 522, BTW), then Waze told us the next turn would be in two miles. We were able to enjoy FM 522 which was a small two-lane road lined with trees and farms on either side. It reminded me very much of my first trip out to OG Cellars in Sunset located in north Texas. The Waze voice announced the next turn would be in half a mile. It looked like it would be just at the top of the hill and we began watching for it. Sure enough, at the top of the hill was a road…a dirt road. Thankfully, there was a little sign from the winery telling us to turn. We turned left and headed slowly down the dirt road.
It’s always helpful when the winery can put up signs to follow, sort of like breadcrumbs, to offer a little reassurance that you are going the right direction. We followed the dirt road for quite a while when the Waze voice announced our destination was just up ahead on our left. Umm, where Waze? That’s a house with a closed gate and no vineyard. Ok, let’s go a little further where there’s another gate…and a mailbox…and a rock with the same chicken weathervane that I saw on their label on the website. Now we’ve arrived at our destination.
Carl turned in and followed the driveway that panned a gorgeous vineyard sprawling across a small valley, very lush and green. The tasting room, painted a fun barn red, sat at the end of the driveway on the other side of a grove of oak trees where a few picnic tables sat a respectful distance from each other.
As we exited our cars and were taking in the view of the vineyard, the tasting room door opened, and a figure stepped out to greet us. I stepped up and introduced myself and she said she was Julie Williams. Due to the COVID-19 and social distancing issues, I asked if we were shaking hands and she thrust hers out eagerly and accepted mine. I felt a wonderful connection immediately! While the others made their way to the covered porch and were introduced, Julie apologized for being wet with sweat, but said she’d already been harvesting that morning. I told her I wish we’d known because we would have loved to come out to help her. She laughed and said she didn’t have that much to bring in and her son had been there to help. He’d gone over the hill and down the road to his house and would be right back.
After a few minutes, Julie’s son Anthony arrived and introductions were shared. We enjoyed the breeze on her modest tasting room patio while she pointed across the vineyard and told us she grew Gewürztraminer, Chardonnay, Muscat, Malvasia Bianca, Clairette Blanche, Negroamaro, Cabernet Sauvignon, Counoise, Nero d’Avola, and Barbera all on seven acres. Anthony has hybrids of Black Spanish, Lomanto, and Blanc du Bois growing on his three acres. She said they prefer to work in small batches.
We stepped inside as she explained they opened the tasting room the last week of October 2019 and have been forced to be shut down by the government almost longer than they were open. Their customers were coming from the Stephenville and Dublin areas and from the Dallas/Fort Worth metroplex. Some even found their way from Houston. They were growing steadily during the few months they were open, but now, like the rest of the Texas wineries, they are dependent on “curb pick up” sales.
When asked about how they got interested in the wine biz, Anthony said he and his wife decided that after a few visits to the Texas Hill Country in 2014, they liked it and looked at each other and said, “Well, it couldn’t be that complicated.” That drew many laughs from around the table of wine industry veterans. They put in a test vineyard and planted a few hybrid varieties and a few vinifera grapes and kept them alive, but then it was a case of “now what?” He investigated going to school at either of the two choices at the time, Texas Tech or Grayson College. He said he didn’t want to drive to Lubbock every weekend, so he decided the drive to Denison was more agreeable. He’s glad he did because he had the chance to work hands on with the Munson vines which offered a more hybrid focus. This works very well for him being located in the central part of the state.
I found Julie’s background very fascinating! She retired after working 30 years as an air traffic controller at about the same time Anthony and his wife Samantha made the decision to start their own vineyard. They said, “Hey mom! Wanna go to grape growing school and come down and do this with us?” So, she said why not, sold her house in Azle in north Texas, and bought this property northeast of Dublin. It was covered in junk! She hauled off six or eight junk cars, four pickups, several travel trailers, and several boats to the dump or sold as scrap. She’s also worked hard to clear out overgrown trees and undergrowth in order to open up the valley where her vineyard is now located to allow the wind to blow through so the cold air won’t settle in the lowlands. Julie and Anthony have definitely made a beautiful place to grow her vineyard and she declared she is ready for a vacation this year! They have done most of the work themselves but are trying to work with Tarleton State University in Stephenville to get some interns to help in the vineyard and the tasting room.
We tried many of the wines they presented on their list. Since these were mostly from the 2017 vintage and their vines weren’t ready to produce yet, they used purchased fruit from the Texas High Plains and some from Comanche County. However, the Chardonnay, Semillon, and Merlot were from fruit purchased from their friend’s vineyard located in Yakima Valley in Washington state.
The Chardonnay definitely got Carl’s attention as this is his favorite white grape. Julie told us Anthony lightly oaked this one and it offered a very easy drinking, very enjoyable white wine that we all liked very much.
I enjoyed how Anthony would get wound up talking about the grapes he likes to work with and his winemaking philosophy which focuses on acid over sugar. He knows as much with only four years’ experience as some with twice as much or more time involved. We “geeked out” for a bit discussing the temperature differentials and the elevation factors between central Texas, the High Plains, and the Hill Country. They also explained how some of the vineyard is clay with caliche on the bottom and a lot more limestone up towards the top, so it tends to mimic southern France and southern parts of Italy.
One of their white varieties is Clairette Blanche. As far as I have heard they are only the second Texas vineyard growing this white grape. Ab Astris Winery’s estate vineyard just west of Hye planted this varietal and pulled their first harvest in 2019 and released the first bottle in the spring of this year. Like most vinifera grapes, it originated somewhere else in the world. This one was once widely planted in the wine regions of Provence, Rhône, and Languedoc in France. While its use is declining in the Old World, it seems to be doing very well right here in Texas!
A remarkably interesting wine we were all curious about was the Aglianico Rosé. Anthony explained the grapes spent about four hours on their skins (where the color comes from, instead of the flesh) and gave such a pretty, light pink hue. He explained it was made in a Rosato-style rather than a lighter, more common Provencal-style. This allowed the rosé to be a bit bigger with some slight tannins. These grapes were grown in nearby Comanche County. No oak intervention at all. We decided it had a great combination of tannins and acidity. Anthony was excited to make a big dark Aglianico red wine from these grapes, but the grower called him and told him they were going to harvest early due to an incoming rainstorm. Anthony was disappointed because he knew it was not ripe. Once he was told what the numbers were, he looked at his mom and said, “Well, we’ll just have to make a rosé out of it because it just will not make the full-bodied red that we wanted.” It worked out extremely well as we all enjoyed it very much.
We enjoyed many others on their list including their Cellar Red, a 2017 bold blend of 67% Cabernet Sauvignon and 33% Cabernet Franc, both from Oswald Vineyards in the High Plains. Next Anthony brought us out a barrel sample of Montepulciano from nearby Lucky Vines Vineyard. I’ll be drumming my fingers waiting for this wine to be released. Next, we tried an Aglianico as a red wine with grapes from Oswald Vineyards. We decided this amazing bold wine would pair with any of the best BBQ you want to put on your plate. This 2017 vintage was one of the darkest reds I’ve ever seen. It would also be great from steak to chocolate dessert. The final wine on the list was 100% Petit Verdot, another 2017 Oswald Vineyards offering. This monster of a wine is listed at 15.6% ABV!
After our tasting and discussions, we made our purchases; I bought one of everything! We headed out to the tables under the trees and enjoyed a simple picnic before we departed for our appointment at Veldhuizen.
We enjoyed our visit to Greens Creek Cellars with Julie and Anthony immensely and the many conversations that happened around the table during the tastings. Again, wine brought strangers together and created friends.