I frequent Fredericksburg often enough that friends consider me an unofficial local and reliable tour guide. Although my must do list is ever changing and always evolving, William Chris Vineyards (WCV) has remained a constant over the years. I first stumbled upon WCV with the predominant objective of supporting fellow Aggie alumni. Gig ’Em. What I didn’t realize originally was that I’d venture back repeatedly to taste amazing wine and soak up the dreamy atmosphere.
WCV has grown significantly over the years and the vibe in Hye is simultaneously kid friendly and romantic-day-date worthy. One of the most respectable and intriguing characteristics of William Chris Vineyards is that all their wines are 100% Texas-grown grapes. Under federal law, a wine can only be labeled with a state appellation of origin so long as 1) 75% of the grapes used to make the wine came from that state and 2) the wine was fully finished in the state of Texas. According to the WCV team, we should push for a stricter policy when claiming something to be truly Texan. You will notice all their labels display their personal war hymn: Real. Texas. Wine. Moreover, for many proud Texans, I believe that authenticity is an important characteristic for deeply passionate Texas wine lovers.
Along with many others, the Texas wine industry was impacted heavily by the government-mandated shutdowns across the state due to COVID-19. Without the option to welcome guests in person to experience the tasting room atmosphere or buy wine directly, it made business difficult to say the least. This forced many businesses, especially in the food and beverage industry, to get creative.
Although virtual happy hours, wine tastings, and Zoom events seem so common now, William Chris Vineyards was one of the first in the market to begin and build this concept throughout the pandemic. The tasting room is slowly opening back up – and visitors have options to once again spend time at the property – but if you’ve got a good thing going, why fix something that isn’t broken?
Our virtual experience was confirmation that they certainly have a good thing going. My fiancé and I have been tooting the Tannat horn for a while now, so when we saw that a WCV October virtual tasting highlighted their best Tannats, we didn’t hesitate to sign up. The process is simple. You sign up and pay online, the wine ships directly to your house, and the link for the live tasting shows up in your inbox.
The virtual tasting approach allows a unique opportunity to spend your afternoon with the owners and get a small look into their family, personalities, and philosophy about wine. As everyone settled in, the live Facebook hang out began with co-owners Chris and Katharine Brundrett’s two young daughters decked out in their Aggie gear serenading the crowd while dancing proudly with a large Texas flag. We continued the entire tasting with an environment that presented itself as a genuine opportunity to spend time with Chris and Katharine.
They focused less on the educational aspect of the wine and treated the experience as friends hanging out and sharing their love of wine together. The couple often engaged the audience by answering questions, presenting giveaways and sharing personal stories. Chris joked about his continuously greying-but-still-thankfully-there hair. Katharine, with her bright smile, discussed the excitement of being a soccer mom again after so many months of no sports. During these engagements, it became clear that the William Chris families have an abundance of meaningful relationships with many of the participants. We felt like a part of the tribe.
So, why Tannat? Despite Katharine’s playful disapproval, Chris refers to the Tannat grape as the bastard grape of Bordeaux. This was one of many instances were Chris and Katharine’s flirtatious relationship was highlighted. Tannat was historically grown in southwest France, but its more recent popularity emerged out of South America in Uruguay and is now considered the national grape.
I discovered this grape during a work trip to the capital of Uruguay, Montevideo, back in the summer of 2018. Upon my return to the states, I was delighted to find that Tannat was not only thriving in Texas, but that many Texas wineries were increasing their production of both Tannat and Tannat blends. Chris took some time during the beginning of the tasting to explain the extremely tannic characteristics of Tannat, which is almost implied by its name.
Here’s a breakdown of the wines in the order that Chris and Katharine presented them:
2019 Roussanne, La Pradera Vineyards. A popular white Texas grape, 90% Roussanne leads with strong tropical notes. The couple encouraged us to let the wine “warm up” by taking the bottle out of the fridge (or off ice) and allowing it to sit for 20-30 minutes. I was skeptical of letting white wine go lukewarm, but sure enough, it opened up and intensified the aromatics and mouth feel of the wine.
2015 Tannat, Lahey Vineyards. The first of our Tannat experience, the Lahey brought softer tannins, described as “big but not harsh.” Chris suggests it would pair well with fatty meats to help cut the tannins. He mentions, “We were extremely lucky to get these grapes as this is a killer vintage.” A fellow taster mentioned a boysenberry syrup although the wine is not at all sweet. Others mentioned getting licorice notes.
2017 Tannat, Timmons Estate Vineyard. Surprisingly for something so tannic, this wine leads with “blue fruits.” Katharine mentioned violets as well as blueberry and described it as elegant. Chris mentioned that two years ago you could not even drink it because it was so tannic, but now it’s smoother and softer. As are most good things in life, it was certainly worth the wait.
AND THE WINNER IS: 2017 Tannat, Hye Estate Vineyard
The Hye Estate was not only the WCV favorite, but many of the audience as well. This was not surprising to me as last time we visited we purposefully ordered the “local” Tannat. They are growing two blocks of Tannat vines right outside the tasting room, and this intrigued me because I had really only seen this grape grown in the Texas High Plains. While there, we enjoyed the 2013 Tannat, Hye Estate. This wine was described as having “edgier tannins” with tastes of brown sugar and molasses. A velvety approach to tannins with insane depth, Chris crowned this “the belle of the ball.” This was by far our household favorite, and one of the better Tannats we’ve had from Texas.
Tannat is a great “bang for your buck” wine. You will get a fruit forward wine with edginess that makes your typical Cabernet seem boring. Additionally, according to Chris, the life and texture of the Tannat will age gracefully over a period of the next 10 years.
Temperature does matter! The couple strongly suggests storing these wines under 70 degrees. All WCV wine is stored at 58 degrees and served chilled. Don’t forget to let that Roussanne warm up a bit to enjoy it at its finest.
The virtual tasting is a unique experience, even post-COVID life. I feel we got a total steal of a deal with the combination of the virtual experience and the price for the four bottles of wine. Additionally, they always provide a $20 discount for signing up early! A huge thank you to the William Chris Vineyards team, especially Chris and Katharine for welcoming us into their lives. I applaud the work you have done for your members and those who enjoy your wine. It was never hard to stay engaged with your team (and our favorite wines) during these already difficult times. I will continue to highly suggest WCV to anyone passing through Hye or the Fredericksburg area.
Overall, the tasting (beyond the incredibly delicious wine) allowed for a large group of people from all over the country to bask in a social wine experience with the people who know it best. It was an enjoyable way to spend our Saturday afternoon and to ultimately distract an Aggie from the yearly Alabama beat down.