It was a Saturday just before lunchtime when I picked up my dear friend, Laurie Ware, a fellow partner in wine, and we drove south on Highway 16 to Kerrville Hills Winery. They were hosting the second annual holiday market, and we hoped to do a little Christmas shopping and taste wines from the incubator partners who work with John Rivenburgh. As we pulled up, we realized the tiny house tasting room of Noblemen Wines was also open for tastings. I first met the owner and winemaker, Austin Pitzer, at last year’s holiday market when he shared his wines and told me of the project he and his wife, Katie, are creating.
The tasting room opened in February. You’ll find it on the left as you make your way up the driveway to the winery building and Kerrville Hills tasting room. This cute white cottage has a sleek, minimalist feel inside with a bar for tastings, plus a comfortable seating area to relax with a glass. Austin joked that they weren’t exactly going for a minimalist style, but they are self-funding their wine, which means adding to the tiny tasting room just a little at a time.
Austin is a Texan through and through, growing up in Dallas and attending Baylor for real estate and finance. He graduated at exactly the wrong time, and there weren’t a lot of opportunities in his field. But he was able to line up a harvest job in California and set out on the drive to Sonoma. And he stayed – for 12 years. All the while, he was gaining great experience and aiming to get back to Texas. Austin was growing his winemaking skills in California and working in Napa Valley when the 2017 fire came just a quarter of a mile from his home. He was evacuated and, in the stress, realized it was time to head home to the Lone Star State.
By 2019, Austin and Katie decided to focus on the Mourvèdre grape and established Noblemen Wines. With 12 years of experience in winemaking, Austin began working with John Rivenburgh and the incubator program at Kerrville Hills. Noblemen Wines is the fourth wine label Austin has started from scratch, and he shared, “Our production is at the confluence of a few different things, one being what grows well in Texas? And another is what foods are enjoyed in Texas? It is important that the wines go well with the cuisine of the region.”
As they source their grapes, they also come across other incredible varieties and strive to add some interesting wines to the portfolio in very small quantities. Each wine is created to drink nicely on its own while also pairing nicely with food to enhance a meal.
I asked about the name Noblemen, and Austin’s explanation came complete with a map. Back in the 1840s, a group of 40 German nobility journeyed to Texas. The group traveled from Indianola on the coast and settled and named the town of New Braunfels in 1845. Part of the group continued on, and the next year, they established the town of Fredericksburg. Austin’s ancestors were part of this group of immigrants. He wanted his long-time tie to the Hill Country reflected in his new wine.
While Austin shared his family history, his path as a winemaker, and his plans for the future, he also shared six wines and told us a bit about each one.
We started with a chilled Piquette, which is a wine that is a true reflection of sustainability in winemaking! When wine is made, there is a leftover jumble of grape skins, seeds, and stems. We call this pomace, and it is possible to reuse this by-product by adding water and sugar to create a wine-like beverage. This light-bodied, low-alcohol wine was made by the ancient Greeks and Romans for common workers and farmers. It is still made in France as a beverage to serve the harvest workers with lunch. And today, winemakers in America experiment with making a small amount as an inexpensive way to create a unique wine for their portfolio. Often the finished wine is dull and weak, but this example was pretty flavorful, and I could see a place for it with a turkey sandwich made from the leftovers of a holiday feast. The 2021 version was made from Mourvèdre and Teroldego. The ’22 will be available soon and is made from Montepulciano and Petit Verdot.
Next, Austin poured the white 2021 Picpoul Blanc. This grape usually creates a crisp, high-acid wine. This one spent five months sur lees, which means it was in contact with the yeast after fermentation which helps create a wide mouthfeel. I took a bottle home and plan to try it with chicken piccata.
From there, we compared the 2020 and 2019 Mourvèdre. Laurie liked the ’19, and I preferred the ’20. And this is one reason I like wine so much – there’s something for everyone! Both were a little more full-bodied than many examples of Mourvèdre in Texas. Our tasting moved on to the 2020 Red Blend made from Aglianico from the Hill Country Hoover Valley Vineyard and Mourvèdre from the High Plains Narra Vineyards. And we finished with the 2020 Alicante Bouschet. Austin intended to blend this wine with Mourvèdre to add color and tannins but it was fantastic on its own, so 70 cases were bottled.
As Austin looks to the future, he explains that Kerrville Hills Winery is perfect for him. Building a winery requires a huge upfront expense, but as an incubator client, Austin has access to all the winemaking equipment he needs without the huge investment. He also enjoys camaraderie and discussions with other winemakers. The vision for the brand is to keep the production small allowing him to stay hands-on. Austin can focus on selling from the tiny house offering private wine events and serving wine at local festivals.
While he’s had fun experimenting with grapes to blend with Mourvèdre or create small-batch single-varietals, 2023 will be the year to zero in on the best grapes for their portfolio. An annual production of about 1,200 cases will keep the brand boutique with enough wine to do good business. And the partnership with John Rivenburgh allows him to keep his bottle prices quite reasonable ranging from $20 to $32.
Stop by the white cottage at Kerrville Hills to meet Austin, taste his wines and share in a bit of Texas history.