Janet Miertschin and her husband, Mark, were each working in oil and gas living in the metropolis of Houston. Their long and successful careers allowed them to live in different corners of the world before they settled back in Texas. In more recent years, conversations gravitated to what they may like to do instead. Maybe step away from their corporate worlds. Maybe live a simpler life.
Mark and Janet are native Texans with several generations in our state before them. As a child, Mark’s family vacationed near Marble Falls, and these getaways continued after the couple was married, and they bought their own vacation home in the area.
Early in their marriage, the couple enjoyed a trip to Napa. Not only were they impressed by the wines, but the entire experience was something they would never forget. The wines were delicious for use, but it was also the beauty of the vineyards, the hospitality, and how the wine stewards made them feel like a part of the wine family. As life took control and they moved around the world for work, they were able to expand their palates while enjoying wines from different countries. Years later, when they settled in Houston, they eventually started planning for a winery investment, and the Hill Country was a natural fit.
Janet enrolled in the winemaking program through Texas Tech University. And similarly, Mark completed the online winemaking courses through UC Davis. In 2019, the couple found 28 acres on Sandy Road, just outside Johnson City. Less than a half-mile north of Highway 290, this fantastic location offers spanning views and plenty of space for a vineyard, tasting room, and winemaking facilities. So, while vacationing in Scotland with their family, they closed the deal to buy a little piece of Texas Wine Country. And now, it was time to gain some practical knowledge.
With the 2020 vintage, the couple sourced about five tons of grapes and worked with the custom crush facilities at Slate Mill Wine Collective under the guidance of head winemaker Josh Fritsche. While Janet is pleased with the wines that developed from this experience, she quickly learned she wanted, and needed, more hands-on experience in the cellar.
By 2021, Janet was on the crush pad and in the cellar with John Rivenburgh at Kerrville Hills Winery as part of his incubator program that helps up-and-coming winemakers gain experience and make their wines. With an increased purchase of about 45 tons of fruit, the label would be well on its way.
It would now be time to create a name for the winery. The family members put their heads together and decided they should reference the trip since the land purchase came about during their vacation in Scotland. There’s a town called Portree in northern Scotland on the Isle of Skye. The Scottish word “cairn” literally means a “heap of stones.” These stacked rocks are a common sight in rural Scotland and are used to identify landmarks. The Miertschins thought this name and the symbol of a stack of stones could mark the start of their next phase of life and the adventure to come.
While learning winemaking and making plans for Portree Cellars, Janet has also dabbled with marking art. Her mother and daughter are talented artists, and it seemed probable she would have the same creative genes. She started with drawing, moving on to watercolor, acrylic, and now painting with oils. She has taken some lessons and truly enjoys creating. It’s easy to see that making wine and even developing their property are outlets for her creativity. And you can expect to see some of her original works in their future tasting room.
After a full year of playing a role in every stage of winemaking, Janet upped the grape purchase for 2022 to about 70 tons. With a more complete understanding of the processes of winemaking, a trusted mentor to help, and a beautiful property to build on, things are certainly heading in the right direction for Janet, Mark, and Portree Cellars. Here Janet can shift her artistic talents to creating wine, and they would have plenty of space to grow (literally!).
Starting May 13th, Portree will be open Saturday afternoons 12-6 p.m. As things progress (hopefully!), they will add Fridays and/or Sundays. Tastings will be $25 for five wines. They plan to rotate wines every four to six weeks, and the opening lineup will be:
- 2022 Gewürztraminer from Diamante Doble Vineyard
- 2021 Fiano from Pepper-Jack Vineyards
- 2021 Red Blend from Texas Hill Country AVA
- 2020 Tempranillo from Salt Lick Vineyards
- 2021 Tannat from Lahey Vineyards
They will have a few other wines available on the menu to purchase by the glass or bottle.
I’m here to attest, the view is spectacular. The Gewürztraminer is a dry white wine, very aromatic with iconic rose water and ginger spice with a full mouth feel. The Fiano is unique with zippy acidity and bright lemon and herbaceous thyme. This wine won both a Gold medal and Best in Class at the 2023 San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition. I also got a slight note of sweet tobacco leaf, and this complexity means the wine holds up nicely to quite a few foods from grilled fish tacos to creamy New England clam chowder. The Tempranillo was aged 22 months in French oak with 30% new and 70% neutral. This medium-bodied red wine is dominated by leather and cedar with a hint of cocoa powder and cinnamon. The wine is tannic but balanced nicely with acidity.
All of this is to say Janet is doing a great job, and this property is beautiful with some standup wines, worth a stop. I can’t wait to see what the future holds for Portree Cellars and the family!