Susan and Billy Johnson dreamed of a family business to pass down for generations. Their love of wine, the outdoors, growing plants, and Texas music came together in the vision of a winery. In 2015, they planted the estate vineyard and ultimately opened the tasting room in 2018, located on Highway 290 just outside of Fredericksburg. As the production increased from year to year, it was soon time to bring on a full-time winemaker to help get the label to the next level. That’s where Tyler Buddemeyer comes in. This young winemaker is just a regular guy working hard to help build a small brand that people respect. He’s in his element at Texas Heritage Vineyard.
- What did you do before becoming a winemaker (if anything)?
Before I was a winemaker, I had a stint in sales and marketing in Houston. Then in real estate and custom home sales when I was living near Boerne; but I’m not a salesperson so I was terrible at it! I wasn’t making any money and started working at a winery on the side.
- What is the toughest challenge about being a winemaker in Texas?
Everything! Labor is the main issue – in the winery, vineyard, and tasting room. Fifteen acres at Texas Heritage Vineyard is run by me and Coach, our full-time vineyard worker. Harvest is one or two high school or college interns plus owners Billy and Susan. We run a skeleton crew, which isn’t bad because I like to be in control, so I do a lot of it myself. We’re not big enough to pay what the cost of living in Fredericksburg requires.
- Is winemaking an art or a science or both?
Both! If I had to say, I like numbers and I studied chemistry and biology in college, so I lean towards science. But in winemaking, you can’t do one without the other. There’s a huge art component. You can make non-creative wines by the numbers, but letting the grapes express themselves is the fun part of winemaking.
- What is your favorite food and wine pairing?
My favorite I ever had was our Texas Heritage 2018 Souzão with a chicken fried steak.
- If you didn’t make wine, what would you do?
Floundering! I have no idea. I got lucky that I fell into the wine business at the right time. Nothing I tried before was interesting enough to keep me happy. I had apprenticed with Ben Calais, then worked for Zero 815 Winery for a short time. I started at Texas Heritage Vineyard in the spring of 2018, right after the closing of Zero 815. I was taking the local Texas Tech courses for viticulture and for winemaking, and the instructor, Maureen Qualia, connected me with Susan who was also in the viticulture program. They had a new vineyard and winery and needed a winemaker. It was a good fit from the start.
- What first attracted you to winemaking and how long have you been doing it?
I started the Tech program mid-2016. Years before, I started college at Tech in Lubbock studying pre-pharmacy and then chemistry and biology. I had a little too much fun there and ended up graduating with a technical marketing degree from University of Houston. I can remember when I was probably 25 and I visited a few wineries in the Hill Country with my family when we visited the area. The personal experiences with the owners and winemakers drew me in. Then tasting more wines from more places made me see the complexity of wines and the memories a wine will bring up is important. Remembering experiences and tying the experience to the wine is interesting to me.
- What is the most common question you are asked as a winemaker?
“How old are you?!” I’m just a regular guy with a beard, wearing jeans, and I love being outside in the vineyard and rolling up my sleeves and working hard. So, I’m not what most people envision as a winemaker.
- After a long day in the winery or vineyard, what do you do?
Sit on the porch at the winery and have a Shiner Bock. At the end of the day, a cold beer helps me reset.
- What’s the greatest part about being a winemaker?
I think it’s seeing people enjoy the wines I’ve created. And especially if I can see someone enjoy their experience at Texas Heritage, and that experience sticks with them much like it did for me in the beginning. I like the live music and the locals who come in often. Surprisingly, I go into the tasting room a lot on my days off.
- What is your winemaking philosophy, that is, what are you trying to achieve with your wines?
To make approachable wines that are easy to enjoy and express the hard work of the farmers and let people taste a part of Texas. Growing the grapes, making the wine, and tasting something that is an expression of the vineyard is the closest we can come to letting people taste a place.
- Anything else you would like to add?
Being a winemaker is more work than you think it will be. And opening a winery takes a lot more money than you think it will. Getting hands-on experience first is very important. Part of the Tech program is a year of discouraging the students from planting a vineyard because of how hard and costly it is. Those who are still interested after that first year are folks who might just make it work.