Quite a few people who have a vineyard eventually start a winery. One of those couples is Michael and Deanna Dickey. They started with Veraison Hills Vineyard and then opened Longhorn Cellars at a previous winery’s excellent location near Fredericksburg. The wines are excellent, and Michael Dickey is the one who is responsible for that. We are happy to present Michael Dickey of Longhorn Cellars as this month’s featured winemaker!
- What did you do before becoming a winemaker (if anything)?
I am a family medicine and emergency medicine physician; I continue to practice medicine while overseeing our winemaking and vineyards.
- What is the toughest challenge about being a winemaker in Texas?
There are several tough challenges. The varietals that produce the best fruit in Texas are not always the ones that the general public recognizes. Also, because our Texas heat can cause excessive acid loss and rapid ripening, timing of harvest is critical and challenging. We also have to work extra hard in the winery to keep our wines balanced and sound in order to produce premium wines.
- Is winemaking an art or a science or both?
Winemaking is truly a mix of art and science. You must fully understand and practice the science of winemaking in order to successfully apply the art of winemaking.
- What is your favorite food and wine pairing?
My favorite pairings generally include an Italian dish with an Italian wine. A nice Nero d’Avola wine and Neapolitan Ragu sauce over any type of pasta always put me in my happy place.
- If you didn’t make wine, what would you do?
If I didn’t make wine, I would have a lot more free time and money, LOL. I think I would travel a lot more and not do anything else.
- What first attracted you to winemaking and how long have you been doing it?
Deanna and I made our first trip to Napa California about 9-10 years ago and each became infatuated over different aspects of the wine business. With my science background, I found the whole process of grape production and winemaking to be engrossingly fascinating. We started dabbling in winemaking right after our return from that trip with small homemade batches of wine. I enrolled first in the Viticulture and then the Enology program through Texas Tech University and completed both programs over the next four years.
- What is the most common question you are asked as a winemaker?
I am often asked if it is hard to make wine. My answer is always no. It is easy to make wine, but it can be very challenging to make premium wine. It is especially difficult in a small winery that works with small batches which are very susceptible to oxidation. Those small wineries in Texas that produce exceptional wines from small batches deserve special acknowledgment. I am especially fortunate and grateful to have an exceptional assistant winemaker, Alana Martinez, who cares for the wines in our production cellar on a daily basis.
- After a long day in the winery or vineyard, what do you do?
What do I do after a long day in the vineyard or winery? The longest days are those during harvest and crush. They often start before 4:00 a.m. in the vineyard and don’t end till after 10:00 p.m. in the cellar. There is not time for much else. I just sleep as much as I can and think, “I am too old for this…” LOL!
- What’s the greatest part about being a winemaker?
The greatest part of being a winemaker is opening a dusty barrel in the cellar that contains a wine that has been waiting years for its time for bottling. When you taste the wine and know it is now ready, you get goose pimples. It’s like a proud parent seeing their child graduate from college. You remember how much promise the child showed when it was young, but there is always risk that they will go astray. You have done everything you can to get the child down the road of maturity. Now, graduation day is here, the child has stayed the path, and is now ready to go out in the world.
- What is your winemaking philosophy, that is, what are you trying to achieve with your wines?
Our winemaking philosophy is to stay out of the way of the wine. Let the fruit speak for itself. We believe our job in winemaking is nurturing gentle care and coaxing (never coercion) of the fruit, juice, must, and wine in such a way to sustain varietal characteristics and the unique influences of our Texas soil and climate that ensures our wine is like no other in the world.
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