For the past ten years, Rachel Fanning served quietly behind the scenes as the assistant winemaker at Becker Vineyards near Fredericksburg. There she worked with 74 fermentation tanks and over 5,500 barrels used for aging wines, and a modern bottling line making an average of 100,000 cases of wine each year. You may have seen her on the education panels at Texas Hill Country Wineries Symposium or the 2023 National Conference of Women for WineSense. After a decade of fantastic experiences and having a hand in one of the most highly regarded and best-known wine brands in Texas, she was ready to take the reins and call the shots. She joined Augusta Vin as head winemaker in the summer of 2023 and you’re going to want to keep an eye on what’s to come.
Just weeks after starting in her new role, the 60-acre estate vineyard sustained its last of four hail events that caused quite a bit of damage to the vines, and she took the destruction in stride. The 2023 vintage is set to be the largest production for the winery since opening in 2019 and the production facility can handle about 30,000 cases annually. The winery is known as one of the most opulent in the Hill Country and is certainly worth a visit. Of course, we’ll have to wait a bit before we see wines on the menu made by Rachel. So, take a minute to get to know her a bit better and look for her white and rosé wines to be available in early 2024 with the reds aging a bit longer.
- What did you do before becoming a winemaker?
Sales for insulation in metal buildings. It was a good living, but I hated it. I struggled to find where I needed to be. I moved to Lubbock with my two babies to go to Tech and finished my bachelor’s degree in biology. I ended up working a part-time job at Pheasant Ridge Winery as an office manager and then some in the tasting room. I realized winemaking is where biology and chemistry come together.
- What is the toughest challenge about being a winemaker in Texas?
Labor, not enough grapes, Mother Nature’s curve balls. It’s also more challenging to be a woman in the winemaker role because it’s a job that is especially difficult to maintain a healthy work-life balance. My supportive and flexible family is the only reason it was possible for me. And meal subscriptions to feed my kids!
- Is winemaking an art or a science or both?
Both – absolutely! It’s a challenge to balance the taste with the numbers that science gives us. I love creating blends for this reason.
- What is your favorite food and wine pairing?
I don’t necessarily have a favorite food and wine pairing, per se; I love pairing food and wine in general. It’s the highlight of dinner.
- If you didn’t make wine, what would you do?
I’d probably still be struggling to find where I need to be.
- What first attracted you to winemaking and how long have you been doing it?
It was the science that attracted me. I worked in the lab and cellar at CapRock Winery for a year and spent a summer with Kim McPherson. Then I started at Becker Vineyards in 2013 and was there for 10 years before just now moving into the head winemaker role at Augusta Vin.
- What is the most common question you are asked as a winemaker?
How did I get into this!
- After a long day in the winery or vineyard, what do you do?
If it’s been the rough kind of a long day, I sit in the car for 10 minutes to decompress from the day before going in with the kids. It’s also good to do that if you have a rough morning at home and leave the stress in the car before going into work. I also like to find a place to put our feet in the water.
- What’s the greatest part about being a winemaker?
It’s the coolest job in the world! To see what the earth has to give us and make something delicious…I make people happy!
- What is your winemaking philosophy, that is, what are you trying to achieve with your wines?
To bring everything together to make a bottle that people enjoy.
- Anything else you would like to add?
“Make the wine you want to drink!” is some of the best advice I have ever been given, which was from Becker winemaker Jon Leahy and its still the best advice I can share.