Happy Texas Wine Month y’all! I’ve been drinking Texas wine for close to twenty years now. Did I just date myself? I’m 27 y’all. That’s my story and I’m sticking to it! Anywho…in those twenty years, I’ve seen lots of changes. More producers, more tourism, better wine, a greater focus on terroir, and on and on. And while the industry has had its share of growing pains, there has been quality from the very beginning. While some have come and gone and others have stumbled along the way, there are those pioneers that have stood the test of time and provide the very shoulders on which many of today’s producers stand. By the same token, there are new producers continuing the momentum and propelling the industry forward.
Each October we celebrate Texas Wine Month. And with each passing year we seem to have more to which to toast . So let’s celebrate Texas Wine Month with a little old and a little new.
*Note: All Wines Were Received As Samples for Review
Drinking The Old – Fall Creek Vineyards
And still relevant I should add! With locations in Driftwood and Tow, Fall Creek Vineyards is the second oldest winery in the state. It was back in 1975 that Fall Creek Vineyards became the first Texas Hill Country winery and also the site of some of the first vinifera grapes planted in the state. Brought to life by former lawyer Ed Auler along with wife Susan Auler after an awe-inspiring trip to France, they have played a significant role in Texas’ evolving wine industry. In fact, it was Ed Auler that made the application to the U.S. government to have the Texas Hill Country granted appellation status. But even before turning to wine, the family has long been stewards of the land with five generations of ranchers working the land.
Since the early 1980s, Fall Creek’s wines have continually earned international acclaim, were served at the inaugurations of three presidents, and was the official wine of Super Bowl XXXVIII. Always looking to promote the region, Ed and Susan founded the Texas Hill Country Wine & Food Festival in 1986. And their actions in helping the Hill Country become an AVA in 1990, catapulted a region which was already a natural tourist attraction with beautiful hills and lakes, golf courses, and acclaimed chefs into a recognized and respected viticultural region with world-class wines.
And despite all its success, the winery has not rested on its laurels and has continued to be a creative force in the Texas wine industry. I recently test drove three of their wines for Texas Wine Month.
2019 Fall Creek Sauvignon Blanc, Escondido Valley ($22)
Home to some of Texas’ oldest vines, Escondido Valley was the fifth designated AVA in Texas and is as known for rattlesnakes, plateaus, and desert as it is for wine grapes. But with vineyards planted at high altitudes that are able to take advantage of cool desert nights as well as well-drained, calcium-rich, limestone soil, grapes are able to ripen as well retain their all-important acidity. I always put Sauvignon Blanc in three general categories – green and grassy, slate/stony, and tropical fruit. This one is quite aromatic and chock full of tropical fruits – apricots and mangoes and peaches, oh my! With mid-level amounts of acidity, it can go solo in the glass, but is equally at home with food. We paired ours with fish tacos and a black bean, corn, and avocado salad.
2019 Fall Creek Merlot Rosé Vintner’s Selection, Texas ($20)
This deep salmon hued rosé is crafted of 87% Merlot with small amounts of Tempranillo (9%) and Cabernet Sauvignon (4%) included in the blend. A dangerously easy-sipping, fruit-forward wine, it offers watermelon, bing cherry, orange cream, and Asian pear all carried along by vibrant acidity. This one begs to sipped outside on the patio or with some charcuterie as we did. But given that it is a weightier rosé and has a more dense mouthfeel than some rosés, it can stand up to heartier fare if you’re up for it.
2018 Fall Creek Tempranillo, Salt Lick Vineyards, Texas Hill Country ($35)
Crafted of 100% Tempranillo, this one is full-bodied and robust and showed lots of dark berry fruit as well earthy undertones of cedar, smoke, and leather. Because of how well it grows in Texas, many regard Tempranillo as the signature red varietal of the state. And given how well it pairs with classic Texas cuisine (hello smoky BBQ!), I totally get this. We paired this one with smoked pork shoulder chili. Mr. Corkscrew smoked a pork shoulder large enough to feed a small village so I had to find creative ways to use it up. The pork was fantastic in chili accompanied by roasted veggies – tomatoes, poblanos, and onions. Both the chili and the wine had an earthy rusticity to them that really helped them pair well together. Quite timely for this time of year. And I just saw that Total Wine has this one for $27!
Drinking The New – Slate Mill Collective
In 2019, Randy and Carroll Jones and their family left the oil industry (#goals) and moved to the Texas Hill Country to pursue a passion in the hospitality world. As part of that endeavor, the family acquired 1851 Vineyards and transformed it into Slate Mill Wine Collective, which is both a winery and a full-service custom crush facility.
On the winery side, it is one of the newest wineries in the state having just opened in February 2020. After purchasing the former 1851 Vineyards winery, the family went to work remodeling and expanding the winery from top to bottom. Operating under the new Slate Mill Wine Collective name, they planted more than 55,000 vines in the Texas Hill Country to expand the 35-acre estate vineyard to about 130 acres. This makes it the largest vineyard in the Hill Country with plans for continued growth.
And while they are making some exciting wines (hello Trebbiano and Barbera!), one of the things I love most about them is their commitment to launching the next generation of Texas winemakers. In addition to being a winery, they also operate as full-service custom crush facility providing wine producers access to its on-site custom crush, vineyard services, as well as custom label services. This is a win for the wineries that are able to take advantage of their services, as well as for consumers who have access to these wines. Visitors to the tasting room (and online) can taste not only the 1851 Vineyards house brand, but also wines from C.L. Butaud, Dandy Rosé, Tatum Cellars, and Majek Vineyard & Winery.
I was able to taste two of the 1851 Vineyards wines in addition to another wine produced as a result of a collaborative effort between the winery and local residents.
2019 1851 Vineyards Viognier, Reddy Vineyards, Texas High Plains
Viognier is to Texas for white wine what Tempranillo is to Texas for red wine. It’s a signature variety that loves Texas terroir. Versions range from bright and zesty to rich and full-bodied. And more and more, Texas Viognier is garnering national support and recognition. On this one, lime zest and orange blossom aromas lead to peach, mango, and ripe citrus flavors. The acidity laced throughout helps it to be a great food wine. We paired ours with spiced crispy roasted chicken and roasted root vegetables topped with a pineapple pepper glaze.
NV Date Night Rosé, Texas ($26)
This wine is a really neat collaboration between Slate Mill Wine Collective and lifestyle, relationship and date night gurus, Couple in the Kitchen, and gives us the opportunity to drink for a cause. The collaboration features two wines – ‘Date Night White’ and ‘Date Night Rosé – both of which are crafted from 100% Texas grapes and from which part of the proceeds benefit the Restaurant Workers’ Community Foundation COVID19 Emergency Relief Fund. And they certainly need our support! Crafted of Cabernet Sauvignon, Malbec, Merlot, Tempranillo, and Petite Verdot, it provides layers of complexity offering both fruity and savory characteristics. Strawberry, tangerine, peach, apricot, and sublime minerality along with great acidity. Keeps you coming back for more! Along with the Fall Creek rosé, we enjoyed this while hanging out on the patio with a meat and cheese tray.
2017 1851 Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon, Texas High Plains ($36)
Cabernet Sauvignon from the Texas High Plains is quite the treat. I still remember the first time I was able to take a deep dive on these wines to really appreciate what the variety could do in Texas. Crafted of 100% Cabernet Sauvignon, one of the first things I noted (and really liked) was the respectable 13.7% alcohol. After that, it was all about the balance of fruit, tannins, and acidity. Notes of cedar, tobacco, baking spice, black plum, and black cherry. Very smooth, and when paired with an herb pasta and lamb and beef meatballs, a match made in heaven! Plus, as this wasn’t an “over the top” Cab, it could also play nicely with aged cheeses, mushrooms, and pork.
And if you’re headed out to Fredericksburg in the heart of Texas Wine Country, be sure to check out my guide of where to taste, where to eat, and where to stay. Though there is so much new stuff going on, I need to get back out there for an update! Cheers to Texas Wine Month!