A retrospective is designed to provide a look back at the past. The four wineries in Texas Fine Wine did just that at last week’s Retrospective & Perspective event at Spicewood Vineyards. The event provided a new perspective on the evolution of Texas wines and the Texas wine industry. Proceeds benefited the Wine & Food Foundation.
Each of the participating wineries – Bending Branch Winery, Duchman Family Winery, Pedernales Cellars, and Spicewood Vineyards – poured three wines for the large assembly of Texas wine enthusiasts. Each winery’s flight included a library selection, a current release, and a barrel selection.
The panelists are frequent collaborators and their camaraderie and lively banter enhanced the program. In addition to discussing the wine selections, winery representatives collectively answered questions about vintage variation, blending vs. single varietal wines, typicity, hybrid varieties, and the difficulties of growing organically. No topic was off-limits. Attendee questions included everything from herbicide drift to challenges attracting younger wine drinkers.
Echoing past conversations, Dave Reilly and Ron Yates were unable to agree on the ideal grape variety for Texas. Reilly maintained a strong preference for Italian varieties, and Yates preached the benefits of Tempranillo. David Kuhlken of Pedernales weighed in to support Tempranillo’s superiority, while Jennifer Cernosek proclaimed that Bending Branch is the Tannat house of Texas.
Owner Ron Yates presented three 100% Tempranillo wines from the Spicewood Vineyards estate vineyard in the Texas Hill Country. Founded in 1992, the 32-acre vineyard sits at 1,000 feet elevation and has Lewisville soil series and clay loam.
- 2012 Estate Tempranillo – This wine was the first harvest of estate Tempranillo at Spicewood.
- 2019 Estate Tempranillo – Grapes were harvested a few weeks later than usual for more ripe fruit character than some other vintages.
- 2017 Gran Reserva Tempranillo – This soon-to-be released wine was aged 36 months in 100% new French oak and has spent over two years in bottle.
Yates on the 2012 vintage: “This is one of the wines that I’m really proud of. In 2007 when we bought Spicewood, every person I talked to told me we couldn’t do this. And like a hard-headed young Texan I said, ‘Of course, we can’. For the first three or four years I said, ‘I don’t know if we can do this’. BUT this is the wine that confirmed that we were on the right track. I am super proud of it.”
Yates considers Tempranillo from the Texas Hill Country to be more similar to a Ribera del Duero or Toro style with more oak. Tempranillo from the Texas High Plains is styled in a fresher, lighter style similar to a Crianza.
Duchman Family Winery
Winemaker Dave Reilly presented three 100% Aglianico wines from Oswald Vineyard in the Texas High Plains. The 3,100’ elevation vineyard was founded in 2008 and features fine sandy loam soils.
- 2012 Aglianico, Oswald Vineyards – The “rebound year” after a tough 2011 vintage. A large harvest in 2012 set the trajectory for Duchman’s Aglianico program.
- 2017 Aglianico, Oswald Vineyards – the current release from the stellar 2017 vintage. Cool air in the High Plains late in the season allowed for longer hang time and more developed phenolics.
- 2018 Aglianico, Oswald Vineyards – Will be bottled soon. Reilly says, “the last vintage always seems to be the best vintage.”
Each of the Aglianico wines was fermented in stainless steel, spent 3-4 years in 90% neutral French and American oak, and then spent 12 months in bottle before release.
Because each of the Duchman wines was a single varietal with very similar winemaking techniques applied, this was the most satisfying flight to evaluate. Vintage variations were clearer, and Aglianico’s age-ability was evident. Reilly says that even in difficult vintages, Aglianico can still make great wine. In good or great vintages, Aglianico is spectacular.
Aglianico is known to have significant tannins. With 10+ years of age, the 2012 vintage showed beautifully integrated tannins, tertiary aromas, and great structure. Reilly says, “I’m very happy with how this wine has matured. It’s a testament to what we’re doing and the ability to age. There’s always that question, ‘Can you age Texas wines?’ and ‘Are Texas wines age-worthy?’ Some of the wines we’re tasting here today confirm that that is the case.”
Co-owner and executive winemaker David Kuhlken presented three Tempranillo blends. Pedernales commonly blends fruit from the Texas Hill Country and the Texas High Plains and appreciates what both regions’ fruit brings to the blend. Pedernales Tempranillo typically has about 30% new oak with a balance of American and French oak barrels. Eastern European oak is sometimes used as well. The reserve wines undergo 18 months of oak aging and another 18 months of bottle age.
- 2018 Tempranillo Reserve – 96% Tempranillo, 4% Carignan. Evans, Kuhlken, and Newsom Vineyards fruit.
- 2019 Tempranillo Reserve – 82% Tempranillo, 9% Cabernet Sauvignon, 9% Petite Sirah. Spier, Kuhlken, Evans, Newsom, and Farmhouse Vineyards fruit. This was the last year that Kuhlken Vineyards Tempranillo was included in the blend before the vineyard was replanted.
- 2020 Gran Reserva Tempranillo – 75% Tempranillo, 19% Grenache, 6% Petit Verdot. Pedernales Cellars’s only makes a Gran Reserva when a wine is expected to have aging potential of 10 years and ideally well beyond that. 2017 and 2020 are the two that have been made. 28 months in barrel so far. Canted County Vineyards fruit.
Different blending grapes show that there’s not just one way to make a delicious Tempranillo blend. Kuhlken states, “It’s been a long learning process. In our original wines, a lot of it was just figuring out how to bring out the ideal characteristic notes for those varieties here and to overcome all the variation in the business. (…) One of the (winemaking) strategies for us is not only has Tempranillo come along, but we now work with most of the varieties that we feel like are part of the blend program for making and completing a Tempranillo the way we want it.”
Kuhlken noted that the 2019 vintage is the first that represents winemaker Joanna Wilczoch’s style. It includes “fine balance between all of the components and bringing out the typicity of Tempranillo and full integration with the acid, alcohol, and tannins.”
Bending Branch Winery
General manager Jennifer Cernosek presented three 100% Cabernet Sauvignon wines from Newsom Vineyards in the Texas High Plains. The vineyard was founded in 1986 at 3,700’ elevation and features a variety of soil types including Patricia soil series, loamy fine sand, and red clay loam.
Although each wine in the flight was a single varietal wine from the same vineyard, the winemaking techniques varied from vintage to vintage. Bending Branch uses two high-tech methods for increasing extraction. Cryo-Maceration technology freezes grapes before fermentation. Flash détente heats grapes, then cools them quickly in a vacuum chamber. The process also removes some characteristics that can be considered flaws.
- 2012 Cabernet Sauvignon, Newsom Vineyards – whole berry fermentation and cryo-maceration. The follow-up from the 2010 Cabernet Sauvignon, Newsom Vineyards that was the first Texas Cabernet Sauvignon to win double gold at San Francisco International Wine Competition. 24 months in one-third new American oak.
- 2019 Cabernet Sauvignon, Newsom Vineyards – roughly equal parts whole berry fermentation, cryo-maceration, and flash détente processes. Current release. Approximately 50% new oak (half American and half French).
- 2020 Cabernet Sauvignon, Newsom Vineyards – roughly equal parts whole berry fermentation and cryo-maceration. Approximately 1/3 new American oak. Still in barrel now. Will be bottled in the next 3-4 months.
Cernosek focused her comments on the terroir at Newsom Vineyards which makes it a special place to grow Texas Cabernet Sauvignon. A significant diurnal shift is one characteristic that allows for good phenolic ripening.
Cernosek on techniques Bending Branch uses to enhance extraction: “Some of your favorite California wineries might use the flash détente process, but they don’t really talk about it. Let’s face it, cryo-maceration is not sexy. Flash is not sexy. But we believe in really talking about the science and what we do to achieve these bolder flavors.”
On March 25, Bending Branch will host a vertical event showcasing eight vintages of Texas Cabernet Sauvignon, dating back to 2010.
Cheers to Texas Fine Wine for a thought-provoking and educational event!