With the interest in our monthly profiles of winemakers in Texas, we recently added profiles of grape growers, and now, our new profile of an owner or manager who runs the wineries we love around the state. We’re kicking off this monthly feature with Julie Kuhlken, co-owner of Pedernales Cellars.
In the early 1990s, Larry and Jeanine Kuhlken planted their first vineyard near Fredericksburg. Texas wine pioneers experimented with grape varieties and viticulture practices to begin to master winemaking in our soils and climate. In time, Kuhlken Vineyard started producing consistently high-quality grapes. In 2005, Larry and Jeanine’s children, David and Julie, began plans for what would become Pedernales Cellars. They developed the concept for a boutique winery focused on handcrafted, small-lot wines and working with varieties that thrive in the rugged Texas Hill Country terrain. Today, Pedernales Cellars continues to be a family affair, with David as winemaker and Julie overseeing hospitality, marketing, and design. The siblings actively promote the Texas wine industry. In 2023, Julie stepped up as the President of the new local Texas Hill Country chapter of Women for WineSense. Take a minute to get to know Julie.
- What did you do before owning a winery?
Before I owned Pedernales Cellars, and with some overlap, I was a philosophy professor. I did my doctorate in the UK and started teaching there before returning to the US in 2005. We founded Pedernales Cellars in 2006, and for several years I continued teaching and researching before finally hanging up my mortarboard for good.
- What first attracted you to wine; was there a specific bottle or experience?
Given that I lived in France for a year and a half, one would think that it would have been there that I fell in love with wine, but actually, it was a few years later when I lived in London. The variety of wines available was eye-opening, and I discovered both South African and Australian wines. It was an Australian Semillon that blew my mind away and made me start to really pay attention to what was in my glass.
- What is the toughest challenge in the wine industry in Texas?
Building any industry from the ground up is tough. My parents planted Kuhlken Vineyards in 1995, and they had just a few people that they could turn to for advice. The same thing was true for Dave and me in 2006 when we founded Pedernales Cellars. It is rewarding to pioneer an industry because as more and more people join the Texas wine journey, one is finding fellow travelers, but it is a lot of work. There is still lots to do.
- What is your favorite food and wine pairing?
You have me at both “Riesling” and “popcorn.” Luckily, they pair wonderfully.
- What is the most common question you are asked as an owner?
What is your favorite Pedernales Cellars wine?
- After a long day in the winery, what do you do?
I am an introvert, so when I get home, I am going to curl up with a book or movie and nibble on popcorn.
- What’s your favorite part about being a winery owner?
Educating people about our wines and Texas wine more generally.
- What is your business philosophy?
I believe that sustainability is the touchstone for running a business, and this extends from viticultural practices to how we treat our employees.
- What would you do if you didn’t own a winery?
I would finally do the WSET Diploma and become a wine writer. In my previous life as a professor, I did a great deal of writing and loved it. Being a winery owner doesn’t allow me the kind of time for writing that I would like.
- Do you have any advice for someone who wants to own a winery?
Ask yourself if you like to improvise. One wears a lot of hats in the wine business, and there are a lot of curve balls that one has to try to swing at. After that, make sure that your core team, very often family members, are all on the same page. If you can give a thumbs up to both, then strap yourself in for a wild ride.