If you are a longtime lover of Texas wines, you certainly know Brennan Vineyards. Founded in 2001 by Dr. Pat Brennan and his wife Trellise in the small town of Comanche, the wines are also available at the Texas Wine Collective, formerly known as 4.0 Cellars, on Highway 290 outside of Fredericksburg. Dr. Brennan committed to 100% Texas-grown wines for over twenty years, until his passing in 2021. The Brennans are well-respected in our industry and the new winemaker, Kevin Spivey, is a humble part of growing the brand as Brennan Vineyards moves forward with the next generation.
- What did you do before becoming a winemaker (if anything)?
I was on Active Duty as a cook in the Navy from 2009 to 2019 with three Middle Eastern deployments.
- What is the toughest challenge about being a winemaker in Texas?
At the moment, the weather is the biggest concern. It’s completely unpredictable – which is dealt with everywhere – but it’s stressful because you have no control. The heat, hail in June in the High Plains, storms pop up out of nowhere – it’s stressful.
- Is winemaking an art or a science or both?
Both. There is obviously science, and you have to look at certain numbers like Brix and pH, but there is artistry in making something you’re proud of. As an artist, I think, “How do I want my canvas to look and what should it portray?” I may have an idea of how a wine should be, but when you work for someone else making wine for their brand, they may have a different idea. There has to be a middle ground, so maybe there’s some psychology in the mix too.
- What is your favorite food and wine pairing?
Steak! Always love a steak with a bold red wine. A nice Vermentino at a swimming pool is a good situational pairing too.
- If you didn’t make wine, what would you do?
I’d find a way to help people in some way. That’s vague, but I like to help people out when they need it. My pipe dream would be to live on a sailboat in the Caribbean somewhere spear fishing all day, or hunt elk in the mountains.
- What first attracted you to winemaking and how long have you been doing it?
I was attracted to making alcohol at first, not wine specifically. In the Navy, I got the opportunity for special forces training and didn’t make it through. It was the middle of 2013 when the government furrowed twice in a few months. So, I sat in San Diego waiting for orders which took six months. I started making beer in my apartment as a hobby. When I was next deployed to the Middle East, I made moonshine. Then I was stationed in San Antonio and liked the Hill Country, so I bought property in Fredericksburg. I did the whole own a BnB thing and started working at 4.0 Cellars on the weekends for extra cash and met Carl Hudson. I asked Carl if there were any brewers or winemakers who needed help in the area and was introduced to John Rivenburgh in 2017 and helped him out a bit. When I got out of active duty in 2019, I worked for John at Kerrville Hills Winery in ’19 and ’20 and have been in wine ever since. Wine is more personal than beer. The grapes come in and they have to be nurtured and cared for. If you mess it up, you have to wait a full year before you can try again. In beer making, if you mess something up, you just buy more grain and hops.
- What is the most common question you are asked as a winemaker?
What kind of wine do I like best? Big bold reds, old wine, new wine; most wines have a place.
- After a long day in the winery or vineyard, what do you do?
Listen to audiobooks on my two-hour drive home.
- What’s the greatest part about being a winemaker?
I like to control the flow of how things are going, and I get to solve the problems and prioritize tasks. I like to find solutions to problems. I like to orchestrate the situation based on the end result I’m looking for.
- What is your winemaking philosophy, that is, what are you trying to achieve with your wines?
I’m not an organic wine guy but I want to let the wine speak for itself as much as possible. I don’t want to have to add things to make the wine better. I want the wine to be an expression of itself and to tell its own story. This is also part of the artistry part of winemaking where if you only follow science, the wine can lose its story.
- Anything else you would like to add?
Winemaking is a lot of hard work, but it’s fulfilling. It’s nice to sit back and see people enjoy what you have worked so hard to make.