Hilmy Cellars has been open for 10 years this month. When the winery opened, co-owner Erik Hilmy was the winemaker. Since that time, there is a new winemaker in town, Michael Barton. The wines have been maintaining the original quality, and as common with every winery, just get better every year. We are proud to feature winemaker Michael Barton this month!
- What did you do before becoming a winemaker (if anything)?
I found winemaking in college during my time at Texas Tech University. Before I switched majors, I was on a Pre-Med route. Needless to say, I am very happy with the switch.
- What is the toughest challenge about being a winemaker in Texas?
Weather and logistics. Weather is always a huge component in our field no matter what state or country you make wine. That could mean anything from hail, freezes, heavy rain, lack of rain, or pests to name a few. These things are mostly out of our control and cause difficulties throughout the whole process. Logistics has been one, especially in the last few years, that is rising in concern. Trucking is becoming an issue that’s correlated with our growth as an industry. Smaller wineries like us are having to either start looking into moving fruit ourselves from the High Plains or find other more creative ways. But getting a hold of anything overseas you have to plan a considerable time in advance to make sure things arrive in time.
- Is winemaking an art or a science or both?
Both. I view them as both sides of the same coin. I like to view the chemistry of the fruit as a guideline to the proper pathway to the final wine. Some worse for wear vintages requires some intervention, whereas having a good vintner or a good vintage requires less. I like to look at each winemaker’s decision at any point of the process as the winemaker’s influence, or his/her artisanal touch.
- What is your favorite food and wine pairing?
I fell in love with Sauvignon Blanc and Chicken Piccata a long time ago. But my new favorite has been Hunter’s pie (venison version of Shepherd’s pie) and Cabernet Franc.
- If you didn’t make wine, what would you do?
I have always loved the outdoors. I would hope to have found a career path with outside work. The basis of my degree is plant science so I think I would enjoy working at a plant laboratory or Arboretum.
- What first attracted you to winemaking and how long have you been doing it?
First of all, it combines my love of science and art. History was another subject I have always enjoyed, and to see how much influence wine has had with the ancients all the way to modern-day has been a fun study. I took a good deal of Latin in school so wine was always a very prevalent subject with the Roman lifestyle as well as their conquests.
My first harvest was at the very end of 2013. I got to work the ending of that very light harvest at Llano Estacado Winery and was lucky to learn under Greg Bruni and Jason Centanni. I kept with them until 2016 and then moved to Colorado and did a harvest up there until I came down to the Hill Country.
- What is the most common question you are asked as a winemaker?
What is your favorite wine? The answer is always, “It depends!”
- After a long day in the winery or vineyard, what do you do?
Usually, start the cooking with my wife when she gets home. Always under the watchful eye of our two cats Tannin and Buttercup. To say those two are spoiled is an understatement.
- What’s the greatest part about being a winemaker?
I can honestly say that it is the most fun job I could think of. Every day is a new challenge and the rewards you can taste. I was told at a young age by my father to “Find the job where you never work a day” and I feel that I have.
- What is your winemaking philosophy, that is, what are you trying to achieve with your wines?
I have a more “keep it simple” mentality. I always like to find balance in the wines we make. The more intervention a winemaker does, I feel the less true to the vineyard or site it becomes. So with that in mind, we try to make the best quality wine we can do with the understanding that the vintages differ every year, so our approach should evolve with those conditions.
- Anything else you would like to add?
Just to tell any of the readers to get out of their comfort zones and keep trying new wines. Life is too short to drink the same thing over and over again!