Some Texas wineries have tasting rooms and others make their wine and sell it in other tasting rooms. The latter is what Whisper Path Cellars currently does and what great wine it is. Behind that wine is winemaker and co-owner Jesse Villarreal. We are proud to feature winemaker Jesse Villarreal as this month’s feature winemaker!
- What did you do before becoming a winemaker (if anything)?
I have owned and operated an electrical contracting company in San Antonio for the past 30 years. Though winemaking is my first love, JV Electric has allowed me to enjoy winemaking for the past 21 years. I often get asked if winemaking is my “side gig,” and I usually reply that it is anything but. I easily spend more time with winemaking because I thankfully have a staff with the electrical business that allows me the time.
- What is the toughest challenge about being a winemaker in Texas?
Though I’m not a grower, I can’t help but be affected by the weather. Just in the past few years, we’ve experienced numerous large-scale hailstorms, heat waves, early frosts, and extended freeze events. We work with numerous vineyards to secure fruit for the season only to have weather events throw a huge wrench in our plans, leaving us scrambling for fruit, sometimes right up to harvest. I have a huge respect for grape growers, and I tip my hat to them for what they must go through.
- Is winemaking an art or a science or both?
I think it’s easily both. The art of making wine is so much about taking the grapes as you receive them in the winery and using different influences (yeast, oak, etc.) to shape the style of wine you want to make. Science allows you to quantify what your wine is capable of.
- What is your favorite food and wine pairing?
I have two! Whisper Path Cellars Montepulciano and lasagna, and Whisper Path Cellars Tempranillo with fajitas.
- If you didn’t make wine, what would you do?
I’d probably hire someone to make wine for me. I love the Texas wine industry and figure I’d be a part of it one way or another.
- What first attracted you to winemaking and how long have you been doing it?
Back in 2000, my younger brother who owns Blue Star Brewing Company in San Antonio gave me a winemaking kit that someone had given to him. I didn’t think much about it at the time but went ahead and made the wine. It wasn’t much of a challenge, but I became interested in what real winemaking was like. I soon started ordering frozen grapes from California, then graduated to harvesting small amounts from Hill Country vineyards. I began reading everything I could get my hands on and even took remote classes from Cal-Davis. I had definitely caught the bug. I think the attraction was the combination of art and science, plus the reward that you can make something with your hands that can bring enjoyment to so many people.
- What is the most common question you are asked as a winemaker?
“So, which one of your wines is your favorite?” That’s like asking which one of your kids is your favorite. You don’t go there.
- After a long day in the winery or vineyard, what do you do?
Drink an ice-cold beer.
- What’s the greatest part about being a winemaker?
I touched on this earlier…being able to make something with your hands that can bring enjoyment to so many people is very gratifying. In addition, though, as I’ve become more involved in the Texas wine industry, I’d have to say the people I’ve met and the new friends I’ve made has been awesome. It’s just great to be a part of it.
- What is your winemaking philosophy, that is, what are you trying to achieve with your wines?
Quite honestly, I try to make wines that I love to drink from grapes that grow well in Texas. Of course, since almost all of my wines are single varietal, I try to make the wine as close to varietally correct as possible. But again, it’s going to be wines that I love, which would generally be grapes originating in southern Europe, mostly Italian and Spanish varietals, that have proven they can thrive in our climate.
- Anything else you would like to add?
Soon after we introduced our first commercial wine in 2019, I was talking to a fellow winemaker about how weird I thought it was that so many wine lovers seemed so excited and interested in talking with winemakers about their wines. He said, “Are you kidding me? We’re rock stars, man.” Well, I don’t know about being a rock star, but being a winemaker is pretty cool.