“We are not bound by tradition”: the budding wine scene in Fredericksburg, Texas

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Nineteenth-century German settlers in the Pedernales Valley region of Texas Hill Country left two enduring traditions: a rich agricultural heritage and a spirit of “fun and hard work,” historian Terry G. Jordan wrote. in The Texas State Historical Association. .

Fredericksburg is in the heart of the Texas Hill Country, and it’s undergoing a renaissance. He has been producing wine commercially for the past 40 years, and recent arrivals have been exploring the region’s terroir, located approximately 80 miles from Austin and San Antonio.

“Texas is bigger than France, but [the AVAs] still in a way grouped under the name of “Texas”, explains Mike Nelson, winemaker at Ab Astris. “The high plains of Texas are much further from the Texas Hill Country than Bordeaux is from Burgundy. Some grapes do better in the high plains, and others enjoy the warmer climate we have here in the Hill Country.

Clairette Blanche (left) and Tannat (right) from the vines of Ab Astris / Photo courtesy of Ab Astris

Enterprising winemakers explore grape cloning and focus on lesser-known Portuguese grape varieties and single-varietal wines from the Rhône and Italy to express the terroir.

Hill Country soil comes from an ancient limestone seabed from the late Cretaceous period. The terrain, coupled with an accelerated growing season that often combines fall and late spring frosts with warm summer temperatures, resulted in some trial and error for the winegrowers.

Early supporters of Fredericksburg’s potential include the Kuhlken family of Pedernales Cellars. Julie Kuhlken’s parents started growing grapes in the 1990s, focusing on popular international varieties like Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Chardonnay, and Sauvignon Blanc.

“The reality was that the whites were a disaster,” says Kuhlken, co-founder and director of marketing and hospitality at Pedernales, of some of the early wines. “The Merlot had a reasonably good flavor profile. We don’t have a long enough growing season, so you end up with this really green version of Cab.

In 2005, she and her brother, David, who is co-founder, president and winemaker of Pedernales, discovered that warm-weather Tempranillo thrived during the Hill Country’s shorter growing season.

“It wasn’t as obvious as it seems now that Tempranillo would be a big hit here,” she said. “But Texas had and must experiment to find which strains work really well.”

Greg Davis (left) picking fruit and Nikhila Narra Davis (right) crushing barrels in their cellar, Kalasi Cellars
Greg Davis (left) picking fruit and Nikhila Narra Davis (right) crushing barrels in their cellar, Kalasi Cellars / Photo courtesy of Kalasi Cellars

The Caves Pedernales are known for Tempranillos, Viogniers and Rhône-style blends. Recently, the winery has introduced a series of single varietal wines. She is also experimenting with a Carignan Beaujolais Nouveau style. A new sparkling rosé natural sparkling is in its third vintage.

More members of the Fredericksburg wine community have arrived more recently. Andre Boada is the founder of VinoCadre, a consulting company that organizes private tastings and advises winemakers on soil pH, harvest, grape varieties, pricing and winemaking. In 2019, Boada came from Sonoma County to work with the 60-acre Augusta Vin Vineyard and Winery in Fredericksburg.

“[Fredericksburg] kinda reminds me of Sonoma County in the 1980s and 1990s, ”Boada says. “There were about 80 wineries there, and then all of a sudden it went up to 400. Right now in Texas Hill Country there are about 80 wineries, and another 40 are licensed for. next year.”

Among them are Andy and Elena Bilger, founders and winemakers of Adega Vinho, who started planting their vineyards in 2017. Shortly after, Andy’s brother Mike joined the team as co-owner, winegrower and chief winegrower.

“Touriga Nacional seems to like to grow on our site, and we like Touriga Nacional,” says Mike. “The estate’s vines love the clay-rich limestone soils of the Pedernales River basin. “

Other Portuguese grape varieties such as Arinto and Alvarinho are booming. The Bilger also produce a Provençal-style rosé from Mourvèdre: pressed in whole bunches, fermented in barrels and cellared on the lees.

Joanna Vineyard at Signor Vineyards in Texas
Joanna Vineyard at Signor Vineyards in Texas / Photo by Evan Falbaum

Mitchell Sharrock, chef and sommelier at Ab Astris Winery, where the first vines were planted in 2018, believes that Texas winemakers “balance what is possible in the terroir and let the fruit show us what it wants to be, guiding us towards wines that highlight the terroir.

The 12 hectares of the Ab Astris estate cultivate Tannat, Clairette Blanche, Souzao, Petite Sirah and Montepulciano. Sharrock is particularly excited about the way Clairette Blanche’s root systems “sink into this limestone and extract the terroir of Hill Country”.

In the future, Sharrock would like to further differentiate the Fredericksburg terroir through distinguished appellations and sub-appellations. The aim is to combine different grape varieties and styles of wine at specific locations within the vast AVA Hill Country and High Plains.

Nelson of Ab Astris says winemaking in Texas is “challenging, but extremely rewarding.

“We’re not constrained by tradition, like with Syrah at Hermitage, or a long-standing relationship, like Cabernet Sauvignon at Napa,” says Nelson. “All we really need to respect is the climate and other growing challenges in the regions in which we grow. “

Nelson plans to plant Picpoul Blanc, Charbono and Mourvèdre, which Sharrock describes as a “grape that enhances the terroir”, in the near future.

Terroir is only part of what inspired Nikhila Narra Davis and Greg Davis to move from Dallas to Fredericksburg in 2017. Narra Davis has operated Narra Vineyards in the Texas High Plains since 2013 and still supplies grapes to many Texan winegrowers.

A program at La Bergerie Tasting Room in downtown Fredericksburg
A program at La Bergerie Tasting Room in downtown Fredericksburg / Photo courtesy of La Bergerie

“We’ve had a lot of debate about opening here, but some of the wineries we sell have become our mentors, like Ben Calais and Dan at Inwood Estates,” she says. “The two suggested that we come this way for the same ideas, and if we had any problems or questions, they would be right around the corner.”

Their winery, Kalasi Cellars, grows 16-20 varieties plus different clones, with an emphasis on traditional varieties in the tasting room.

“The idea of ​​staffing a new winery with people who know the industry and being part of the growing Texas Hill Country wine industry was part of the draw,” says Greg Davis.

The couple brought a Tannat clone with them to Texas, which Narra Davis said has worked very well in the area.

“It’s a smaller berry for the type of clone we’re talking about, and it makes a really big plum red wine, fruity and fruity,” she says.

Meanwhile, the history of Signor Vineyards dates back to the 1950s, when the Signor and Weisinger families occupied a neighboring farm and ranch in East Texas. Eric Weisinger now grows some of Signor’s grapes in Oregon, and the label reflects varietal grapes from two National American Wine Zones (AVAs).

Both Ab Astris and Signor Vineyards have piloted pairing programs that feature ingredients grown locally in Texas. And Kuhlken, of Pedernales Cellars, sees a similar trend. “The tasting rooms are islands of urban experience, where you have the perfect match between a beautiful setting and a comfortable, upscale experience in an indoor space.”

There has been a steady growth in tourism and the number of quality-conscious wineries, Davis says. “A lot of things work in harmony together. “

Southhold Farm + Cave
Southold Farm + Cellar / Photo courtesy of Southold Farm + Cellar

“There has been an increase in education, cross-sectoral teaching and an influx of talent from other wine regions – domestic and foreign – all of which have contributed to a much better wine poured in this region compared to there. is about ten years old, “says Nelson.” This will only continue to improve over the years which is very exciting for those who are passionate about wine in an exciting new (more) wine region. “

Several businesses in the region have opened up to support, promote and engage the local wine industry. In downtown Fredericksburg, Paula Rester Salinas, Director of Beverages for Sidestreet Hospitality Group, selects wines shaped by sustainability for the La Bergerie tasting room.

She recommends Clairette Blanche from Ab Astris, Mourvèdre from Lost Draw Cellars and Southold Farm + Cellars Touriga Nacional.

Also in downtown Fredericksburg, Amie Nemec opened Perspective Cellars in 2018 on Main Street. It is located in the birthplace of Admiral Chester William Nimitz, Commander-in-Chief of the United States Pacific Fleet during World War II.

Perspective’s educational pairing focuses on a single strain, where one example from Texas is compared to two others grown in the Old World and New World growing regions. Other 290 Wine Route wineries with tasting rooms in downtown Fredericksburg include Becker Vineyards, Grape Creek Vineyards, Fredericksburg Winery, Fiesta Winery, and Narrow Path Winery.

“It’s really exciting to see new, young and enthusiastic people coming into the industry and wanting to make good quality Texas wines,” says Narra Davis. “They have the vibrancy of serious wine regions, with our own kind of southern hospitality.”


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