The Texas wine industry has its share of winemakers who have shaped the way the industry has grown from the beginning. Younger winemakers will eventually take over for those who came before and continue shaping the industry. One of those young winemakers is Forrest Benefiel. Dove Ridge Winery and Dove Ridge Vineyard in Weatherford will woo you from the established estate vineyard to the gorgeous event center to the winery. What ties them all together are the incredible wines from Forrest Benefiel. We are proud to feature Forrest Benefiel for this month’s winemaker profile.
- What did you do before becoming a winemaker (if anything)?
I was a full-time student at the University of Texas at Arlington where I graduated from in 2017 with a BS in Biochemistry and a minor in Mathematics. During college, I worked in a few research labs and initially intended to work in the research pharmacology industry. In 2014, my family decided to plant a vineyard and start a winery, so I became very interested in the wine industry. After all, wine is just chemistry with grapes. I began internships with multiple winemakers, including Les Constable of Brushy Creek Vineyards who was a pioneer in the Texas wine industry.
- What is the toughest challenge about being a winemaker in Texas?
One of the most difficult challenges has been converting people from the typical west coast Cabernet or Pinot to the vastly superior Texan-grown varietals. The unpredictable weather can also be quite the challenge on the grape-growing side of things.
*Convincing people that the superiority of local Texan varieties over the typical west coast wines is not a personal bias.
- Is winemaking an art or a science or both?
As a biochemist, I am obliged to say that science serves the largest factor in every wine. However, there is a definite art in the ability to plan, craft, and deliver a wine that people will love and enjoy for years to come. Science can never teach that particular skill while art alone does not have the versatility that science enables.
- What is your favorite food and wine pairing?
You can’t ever go wrong with a great medium-rare steak with some Tempranillo or Petite Sirah.
- If you didn’t make wine, what would you do?
I would likely be back at college working on a doctorate and becoming a professor, especially if I got to run my own research lab.
- What first attracted you to winemaking and how long have you been doing it?
I had always been intrigued by the complexity and variability of wine. It’s a drink that you can’t just synthesize in a factory somewhere, and that uniqueness is what makes it worth the time and effort. I have only been making wine large scale for a few years, but I had been helping grow grapes for years before that.
- What is the most common question you are asked as a winemaker?
I am commonly asked about the timeline of grapes from harvest to bottling. What often surprises people is that the overwhelming style and flavor of any wine is sculpted during and immediately after fermentation, around the first month after the grapes are harvested off the vines. After fermentation, we are refining, stabilizing, and aging it to ensure that each wine retains the flavor and goals that were intended during the growing season and fermentation.
- After a long day in the winery or vineyard, what do you do?
When I get the time, I love grabbing my kayak and spending a few hours out on the lake. Or during this time of the year, I try to make time to set up my telescope and go stargazing.
- What’s the greatest part about being a winemaker?
One of the best aspects of winemaking is getting to appreciate a wine over a very long timeframe. Getting to see the changes that each wine goes through as it ages over the years is fascinating. But overall, the best perk is getting to see how much people enjoy a wine that took a lot of time and effort to make.
- What is your winemaking philosophy, that is, what are you trying to achieve with your wines?
As any good scientist, I like to experiment and try out new methods of doing things. In that way, I am hoping to help the Texan wine industry become even more distinct from the traditional winemaking methods and styles.