Elisa and Christopher Jones were childhood friends who reconnected later in life in marriage and in business. The couple decided, after successful careers around the world, it was time to settle down together in the Texas Hill Country and start a winery. After three years of producing wines as part of the Kerrville Hills Winery incubator program, Elisa was ready to present her wines.
The couple purchased 43 acres on FM 2721 between Johnson City and Fredericksburg. The property reminded them of soils they saw during travels to Bordeaux, France. While working to rehabilitate the land and introduce more nutrients to the soil by planting ryegrass and clover, they cleared some trees and situated a tiny house tasting room to start pouring their wines.
The tasting room for Elisa Christopher Wines opened in August 2022, and construction began on the production facility shortly after. From the beginning, the couple dreamed of creating traditional Champagne-style sparkling wines, and the plans for the facility include this vision. The 4,000-square-foot facility is nearly complete and will allow Elisa to use Texas wine grapes and create sparkling wine with the same methods used in Champagne. With a capacity of about 5,000 cases of bubbly and still wines, there is the ability to grow to 10,000 cases in a year.
The winery equipment was ordered from France last October with delivery scheduled for this October. With on-time delivery, the 2022 Trebbiano will be riddled and disgorged with dosage for release in December. But what does all of this mean?
Elisa explains the details, “When I mention to people that we are making a traditional method sparkling wine, we often hear, ‘OK, so a Pét-Nat?’ No! This process is different. If we were in Champagne, France, using certain grapes and this specific process, we could call it Champagne. When we make a traditional method sparkling wine, we complete the first fermentation much like a still wine. Our wine needs to be clean (filtration is a must) and stable (no tartrate crystals). Then we start our second fermentation and bottle the wine while it’s fermenting. During the beginning of this second fermentation (before bottling), we constantly measure the sugar and temperature in the wine. When it is ready, which can take 3-7 days, we conduct a cell count on our wine with a microscope to make sure we have at least 50 million cells/ml. Don’t worry; we don’t actually count up to 50 million! There is a slide with a grid that helps us know we are at the right numbers. I often say that this process is like watching a toddler – we cannot leave it alone as it may possibly try to race through fermentation. When it is ready, we bottle the wine. During the bottling process, we use a bidule/crown capping machine to seal the bottle and lay the wines down in wire cages. At this point, we check the pressure on the bottles every two weeks to make sure the fermentation is continuing and there is enough pressure for it to sparkle in your glass.
“After the second fermentation is complete, we age the wine to develop flavors, then we will riddle our bottles in a machine for a seven-day cycle to drive all the dead yeast cells to the neck of the bottle. Before machines, people needed to riddle the bottles by hand for several weeks. Today, the process is much more efficient. After the riddling machine finishes, we freeze the neck of the bottle in a glycol-chilled freezer, trapping the yeast into an ice plug. Once the necks are frozen, we will immediately transfer the bottle to be disgorged. This means a machine will pop off that crown cap and the ice plug trapped in the bidule will fly out. Then we top the sparkling wine with a small dosage of wine and a tiny amount of sugar. Brut is considered a dry sparkling wine and means 7-12 grams of sugar per liter are added. Once we top the wine, we will put in a cork with a wire hood, or cage, around it. The machine for the wire hood spins it so that there are six twists required to open the bottle of sparkling wine. We will then allow the wine to rest for a month prior to releasing it to the public to allow for the integration of the newly added dosage. It is a long process, but I love sparkling wine, so I think it is worth every minute of the time and energy required to make it!”
With this detailed description of the process, you can easily see that making bubbles the way it’s done in Champagne is arduous and requires some special equipment and a bit of patience. Elisa Christopher will be the first in Texas with full-scale sparkling wine equipment and will be helping two local wineries with their sparkling wines this vintage.
For the 2023 harvest, Elisa will make both still and sparkling wines. They are expecting about 25 tons of grapes this year. This will include Blanc du Bois and Pinot Noir for sparkling, Trebbiano, Malbec, Merlot, Cabernet, Grenache for rosé, and Vermentino.
Along with the 2023 wine production being onsite and the growth of the label overall in the coming years, we will see Merlot and Chardonnay being planted on the property. The couple has these vines on order now with planting scheduled for spring of 2025. In time, the estate will have 12 acres under vine.
Look for big things from this boutique label, and if you love bubbles, keep an eye out for their first traditional method sparkling wine available in December.