What do you get when a registered nurse, emergency doctor, and nuclear missile operator come together in a winery? Of course, you get some fantastic wines! Deanna and her husband Michael Dickey worked in the medical world for years when they caught the wine bug. In 2014, they planted their first vineyard, and things snowballed from there. After purchasing a small winery near Fredericksburg, they quickly transformed the property into Longhorn Cellars in 2018. The estate and production grew and by 2020, they needed full-time help in the winery. That’s where the nuclear missile operator came into the picture. Take a minute and get to know Alana Martinez, the head winemaker at Longhorn Cellars!
- What did you do before becoming a winemaker?
Before entering the wine industry, I was in the Air Force. I was commissioned as an officer in 2004 after finishing college and ROTC at the University of Wisconsin – Madison. I worked in the nuclear missile operations career field for 11 years and moved around between Alabama, California, Montana, and Louisiana. I separated from the Air Force in 2015 at the rank of Major. Then I went back to school to get another degree, this time emphasizing Viticulture and Enology at Texas Tech University. I interned at Bending Branch Winery in 2017 and was hired on as their Enologist that winter. I accepted a position at Longhorn Cellars in 2020, starting as their Assistant Winemaker. Then in 2021, they promoted me to Head Winemaker.
- What is the toughest challenge about being a winemaker in Texas?
Logistics and variability – there are many moving parts and different players that all affect when, how, and at what quality fruit will arrive at the crush pad. And that’s just the start of it all. There are many decisions that are made on the spot to make the best of the situation in hopes of making the final wine the best possible. Labor shortages, supply chain issues, trucking limitations, weather, along with the long distance between the vineyards in the High Plains and the winery in the Hill Country all play a role from harvest through bottling.
- Is winemaking an art or a science or both?
I would say both. There is a lot of science behind winemaking, but to me, it’s the artistic choices each winemaker uses in applying the science where you see the wide range of potential outcomes in the finished product. It’s always interesting to taste varietal wines made by different wineries with the fruit coming from the same vineyard and vintage. Sometimes huge differences!
- What is your favorite food and wine pairing?
I am a big fan of enjoying a rich steak dinner with sautéed mushrooms and onions paired with a full-bodied red wine, like Longhorn’s Petit Verdot or our blend, appropriately named “Medium Rare.”
- If you didn’t make wine, what would you do?
I would spend more time working on my house and property and, ideally, creating an amazing garden. I also think I would do more traveling with my husband and family. I do a good bit now, but travel is probably my biggest hobby.
- What first attracted you to winemaking and how long have you been doing it?
I lived on the central coast of California while I was in the Air Force and visited the wineries and vineyards in the region. My first degree is in genetics, so I was curious about the science of the vineyards first, with the different rootstocks, clones, and hybrids. Then I learned more about wine and how much science was involved in making a great wine. I missed science, and wine was intriguing to me at the time – I was looking to separate from the military and start the next chapter of my life. I have been working in the wine industry since 2017.
- What is the most common question you are asked as a winemaker?
“How do they get all those different flavors into the wine?” This has to be the most common question, and for me, a really fun one to explain all of the chemistry involved in winemaking.
- After a long day in the winery or vineyard, what do you do?
Go home to spend the evening with my husband and pets. We have two dogs, two cats, and some chickens. When it’s not too hot outside, it’s nice to sit out back with a glass of wine and enjoy the Hill Country view. We also love to cook at home, and I’m lucky that my husband is an excellent chef!
- What’s the greatest part about being a winemaker?
I enjoy the new challenges that arise and the problem-solving I get to do. There is something new to learn each harvest and new skills to acquire. I’ve always really enjoyed blending trials as well! It’s amazing how different varietal wines can combine to make a wine that shocks you. I have been extremely fortunate to have been invited to be a wine judge at several international wine competitions over the past few years. So far, I’ve judged in Texas, Strasbourg, France, and Berlin, Germany. Not only do I get to travel to other countries, make new friends, eat amazing food, and try wines from all over the world, but I also get to learn more about wine from other perspectives. These competitions are judged by people from all of the different professions within the wine industry, and each person and different profession brings their own unique ideas and opinions about wine. It is truly an amazing group of people, and I am grateful to be a part of the community.
- What is your winemaking philosophy, that is, what are you trying to achieve with your wines?
My philosophy is to make the best wine possible that stays true to the grape variety. I utilize fermentation products to enhance the chemical processes occurring in winemaking to pull out and hold onto the ideal flavors and aromas within each variety. I enjoy using different oak products (on occasion) during aging and blending of larger lots to obtain a well-integrated oak presence that doesn’t overpower the fruit of the wine. The main goal is always to create a well-balanced and stable wine.
- Anything else you would like to add?
Come visit us at Longhorn Cellars! We will hopefully be working out of our new production facility by the time you are reading this. Then shortly after, they will be opening a restaurant on-site. The tasting room is dog and children-friendly, and everyone loves to watch the longhorns, donkey, and horses on the property. Check us out at longhorncellars.com. Cheers!