Pontita Vineyard and Winery specializes in Riesling wines, and the owner and winemaker behind those wines is Pat Clair. If you also love Riesling, you need to make a trip to Pontita Vineyard and Winery to visit Pat, our featured winemaker this month!
- What did you do before becoming a winemaker (if anything)?
Before making wine, I did a lot of things. In the military I was an air traffic controller and a computer operator in a battery fire-direction center. I did a variety of jobs for the phone company. These included everything from climbing telephone poles and cell phone towers, writing software, running a data center, and working as a network engineer and software development manager.
- What is the toughest challenge about being a winemaker in Texas?
The toughest thing about making wine in Texas is constant risk management. Risks include the weather, especially our hot nights, the Brix of our grapes and juice, Pierce’s Disease, and production hygiene. All require intensive vigilance.
- Is winemaking an art or a science or both?
Winemaking is both an art and a science, and there is arguably more art to red wine than white wine. Color and tannin management are more important with red wines. However, for both red and white wine, the art and science are complementary. I can make consistently good wine using only the science in my recipes. If I get the art right, the wines will be excellent. Because I need to measure that somehow, we try for 89 points or better with every bottle.
- What is your favorite food and wine pairing?
We make Pontita Titannic and Rarity to pair with flavorful chicken, turkey, pork, or seafood. They are excellent with Asian food, jambalaya, or etouffee. Our customers tell us that our Tart wine pairs particularly well with smoked turkey.
- If you didn’t make wine, what would you do?
If I wasn’t making wine I would split my time between sailing, visiting family, and helping with disaster relief.
- What first attracted you to winemaking and how long have you been doing it?
In the middle 90s, I was working in Silicon Valley and didn’t want to go home to Chicago. I ended up spending time in wine country, especially the Russian River Valley. I had such a good time with the people around Healdsburg. My journey with wine started in about 1995.
- What is the most common question you are asked as a winemaker?
Our wines are filled with apple, apricot, pear, and if sweet, peach notes. People often ask how we get all of those into the wine. We really like that all of those favors occur naturally in Riesling.
- After a long day in the winery or vineyard, what do you do?
For me, winemaking is like being a pilot. Most of the time is uneventful, only the take-offs and landings or fermentation, racking, and bottling require concentration. The rest is pretty much on autopilot.
- What’s the greatest part about being a winemaker?
The best thing about making wine is seeing people enjoy the wine and their time at the winery. It is not the easiest thing to do, and it is really gratifying when I hear people laughing out loud.
- What is your winemaking philosophy, that is, what are you trying to achieve with your wines?
I like making wine and I wanted to support the Crisis Center of Comal County. Pontita satisfies both needs. I chose Riesling because I think that it has been marketed incorrectly in the U.S. We are introducing people to dry, oaked, and stainless-steel Rieslings. In late 2022, we will introduce a Cabernet Sauvignon and Zinfandel.
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