Pedernales Cellars has been one of the top wineries in the Texas Hill Country for many years. Co-owner David Kuhlken was the primary winemaker and now Joanna Wilczoch has taken the helm. The wines are continuing to be award winners, so we are proud to present Joanna Wilczoch as this month’s featured winemaker!
- What did you do before becoming a winemaker (if anything)?
I was in the social services field for many years. Just prior to moving full-time to wine, I was managing housing programs for folks who had been experiencing multiple episodes of homelessness. It’s still a topic that’s important to me and I’m grateful to have had the opportunity to work in the field.
- What is the toughest challenge about being a winemaker in Texas?
There are so many variables in Texas. There are big differences between AVAs and vineyards, so many varietals, and vintage variations to learn about. Figuring out the right fermentation protocols, aging, and barrel program for each lot is a fair bit of work. The more I know, the more I know I don’t know.
- Is winemaking an art or a science or both?
Well, you can’t make great wine with just science just like you can’t make great food if you just follow the same recipe every time. I think it’s important to be able to adapt to your ingredients – they aren’t exactly the same every time. The chemistry and the science are great tools and guides but they alone can’t steer the winemaking.
- What is your favorite food and wine pairing?
I love an excuse to eat nothing but cheese for dinner. A crémant rosé with a bunch of sheep and goat cheese and I’m happy.
- If you didn’t make wine, what would you do?
Hopefully creating something else. Baking, cooking, making furniture. Maybe if I didn’t spend so much time making wine, I could be a ballerina. Who knows?
- What first attracted you to winemaking and how long have you been doing it?
I was attracted to the creative aspects of winemaking and the fact that it was a job that allowed you to be active and on your feet. I was the Assistant Winemaker starting in 2018 at Pedernales and took over the wine program fully in 2019.
- What is the most common question you are asked as a winemaker?
People often ask me how to buy wine or how they are supposed to age wine. It seems like there are some misconceptions about aging. Not all wines need to age and while some wines can age a long time, no wine ages indefinitely!
- After a long day in the winery or vineyard, what do you do?
I have a bottle of vintage Champagne and caviar at the end of every workday. Just kidding. I walk my dog and do something unrelated to work, like anyone else.
- What’s the greatest part about being a winemaker?
I really enjoy creating and sharing wine. I learn something new every year and the experimentation, while sometimes frustrating, is also exciting. It’s great to be able to share your work with people too, and hopefully, they enjoy what you’ve come up with.
- What is your winemaking philosophy, that is, what are you trying to achieve with your wines?
I’m always wanting to create a wine that is balanced and that is true to the grape. My preference is to maintain relationships with growers and keep working with the same blocks of fruit year in and year out so I can learn the nuances of that grape. I want to figure out the best fermentation protocol for each block as well as élevage and aging. It’s not a one-size fits all and it takes time to understand the limits of what you can do or should do. Some grapes should be picked riper, some we pick with less sugar. Some we ferment at cool temperatures, some warmer. Some get lees stirring, some don’t. Some get new oak, some don’t. And everything in between. There has been a lot of focus on additions to wine and “minimal intervention” wines lately and all that’s fine, but I would just like to point out that there are dozens of decisions you can make to change the outcome of a wine that have nothing to do with additions and everything to do with technique and process.
- Anything else you would like to add?
If I quit wine and become a ballerina, I hope you all will come to my recital.