By Amie Nemec
A couple of weeks back on a Saturday morning, I hoped in my Tesla and mapped the drive from Fredericksburg to Whisper Path Cellars in San Antonio. I planned to assist Jesse Villarreal with bottling his 2019 Texas Mourvèdre. In my trusty jeans and a wine tee, this time declaring ‘Wine Goes In, Fun Comes Out,’ I made the hour and a half drive to the electrical warehouse of JV Electric, which is the front of the winemaking facility.
Let me explain…
Jesse began making wine at home as a hobby about 20 years ago. His brother Joey was into home-brewing beer and was gifted a winemaking kit, which he regifted to Jesse. After playing around with his first batch of wine made from this kit, Jesse was intrigued and wanted to do it again. As each year passed through trial and error, he became more skilled at producing wines that were not just drinkable, but good! All the while, he worked full-time as a Master Electrician and owner of JV Electric doing commercial electrical contracting work. As his passion outgrew their home on Whisper Path, his family recognized his passion and skill, and the decision was made to make his hobby a commercial winery. In 2017 with his winemaking equipment situated in the back of his electrical warehouse, Jesse jumped through the hoops required by the state of Texas and the federal government and established what we now know as Whisper Path Cellars.
Jesse is whole-heartedly supported by his wife Kyn and their six adult children and their spouses. Today, Whisper Path does not operate a tasting room with only about 500 cases of wine produced annually. Their small production is available from boutique wine shops and Texas-focused restaurants. One of these shops is Vintners Hideaway in Fredericksburg, and back in 2019, the folks there recommended Jesse and his wife Kyn Villarreal visit me at Perspective Cellars. I had established this little shop on Main Street at the end of 2018 when I jumped into the wine world with both feet and flippers! The adorable couple walked a block down the street and shared their Tempranillo, Viognier, and Rosé with me while sharing their story. Jesse’s commitment to quality was palpable and I instantly felt as if we’d been friends for years. Of course, I carried some of their wines at my shop over the years and now even after selling Perspective Cellars, you can still find the Whisper Path Montepulciano on the menu there.
Now we find ourselves in 2021 where two years of wine tasting, dinner parties, conferences, and travel together led to a particular group trip to the Texas High Plains this summer. We visited grape growers and checked on the quality of the fruit Jesse has contracted for this harvest. Partly as a joke and partly from my deep desire to be helpful and learn wine inside and out, I mentioned—no less than 20 times a day—that Jesse could benefit from an assistant because his “day job” takes up too much time. While I’m not interested in being an electrician’s assistant, I can surely learn from a winemaker as a winery assistant. I can’t help with making his wines (yet) but I can make phone calls to order wine bottles or send emails to check on fruit conditions and follow up on the status of bottle labels being printed.
The week after our trip, Jesse emailed to admit he could use some help and, if I’m serious about lending a hand, he’d take it. Again, I think I just wore him down and he felt sorry for me having so much spare time in my recent retirement!
When I arrived at the warehouse, Jesse and Carlos, one of the electrician employees, were busy setting things up for our bottling. The 2019 Monastrell from Bingham Family Vineyards was finished with its oak aging and had been resting in a stainless tank. The wine needed to be bottled so it can evolve a bit more in the bottle before release, and equally important, so the tank can be thoroughly cleaned to prepare for the grapes of this year’s harvest.
Monastrell is a medium to full-bodied red grape that originates in Spain. It is the same grape we know as Mourvèdre from France. In northern Spain, these wines are fairly bold with a deep color, full-body, and high tannins. In France, we find the grape in the Rhône River Valley where it is often blended especially with Grenache and Syrah. The wine is less bold with a medium-body, high tannins, and often with long oak aging. There are less than 190,000 acres of this grape around the world. You’ll find about 150,000 in Spain, about 25,000 in France, some plantings in Australia, and about 1,000 around the United States. In Texas specifically, an estimated 200 acres of Mourvèdre makes up the over 6,000 acres of grapes planted.
As we got hoses connected and equipment set up, Jesse showed me how to test the wine for its level of residual sugar. It was my first stab at the science of wine and was fun to see the little tablet dissolve in the sample of wine, bubble, and change colors. This wine was at 0.3% RS, or 3 grams per liter of wine. Next time I’ll learn exactly what the tablet is and how the reaction occurs. Jesse jotted notes in his winery notebook and shortly after, his son Jacob arrived from Austin to help out. We took samples of the wine from the tank and discussed the nose and palate as we enjoyed the wine. We looked back at his notes of the alcohol at 11.2% and added some notes about the profile of the wine. The nose instantly made me think of Christmas! It has aromas of cinnamon, cranberry, and a cozy fireplace. The flavors are cranberry, tart red plums, nutmeg, and campfire smoke. The wine has a medium body with high tannins that are masked by its lively acidity. We agreed the acidity will mellow with a little time in the bottle. I shared my theory that acidity makes your mouth water which makes you want more which in turn is great for wine sales! Jesse intends to hold the wine for six months before releasing it. I’d really like to try it in three months and see how it’s doing.
The bottling day was not without its glitches and challenges which I’m learning is the case with every bottling. The week before, I helped bottle with another winemaker friend, who has a lovely automated bottling line, and we still had complications. It was still so fun to spend time with my friends, to see their son Jacob, and meet some of his friends too. At the end of it all, Kyn and Jesse shared a bottle of Pinot Noir that he made from California fruit in 2013. Wow, what a treat! Have I mentioned how much I respect this man as a winemaker?
Whisper Path is growing a little bit each year from 200 cases of the first commercial vintage to 500 last year and on track for 800 cases this year. You can find Whisper Path wines at Vintners Hideaway, Perspective Cellars, Los Olivos Market Buda, and Cabernet Grill, or place an order online at https://www.whisperpathcellars.com.
And stay tuned…we will be bottling the 2019 Montepulciano, just as soon as I track down the remaining bottles we need to complete the task.
About the Author
Amie Nemec is a longtime wine lover, Sommelier, and founder of Perspective Cellars tasting room in Fredericksburg, Texas. She is now venturing down the path to learn winemaking, so, along with wine writing and food pairing posts, be on the lookout for Amie’s wines in coming years!