Fall Creek Journal
If you are curious what is happening behind the scenes at Fall Creek in Texas Hill Country, check in for our winemakers' and sommelier's notes on harvest, wine production, Texas wine and terroir.
By Quincy Barton, Vineyard Manager
In late winter just before the grape vines awaken from their dormancy, we prune them to keep the vines a desired size, eliminate dead, or damaged wood, eliminate older, non-productive wood, and to encourage the growth of new wood where the best future crops will be formed. Pruning is an essential step in “training” the vine or positioning the shoots from the trunk to best open the canopy to sunlight and air, and to make it easier to manage the vines throughout the growing seasons and harvest.
We are wrapping up our pruning in our vineyards now.
There are two prominent options for pruning and training grape vines that we use: Spur pruning, aka Cordon, and Cane pruning, aka Guyot. Both are valid, and well established methods. This year, we are shifting from spur pruning to cane pruning in our Oxbow Estate Vineyard in Driftwood, Texas. It’s a big shift. Here is why we are doing it.
With spur pruning, we train the cordon, or the old, permanent wood coming off the trunk, to grow horizontally in two directions in a T shape. We cut back each cane, which is the previous year’s fruit-bearing shoot growing from the cordon, to on average two buds per spur. Ideally, we like to see about a fist width between each spur along the cordon. That gives us four spurs on each cordon, and four spurs per cordon equals eight buds per cordon, which means 16 buds total per vine.
Moving to Cane Pruning in the Oxbow Vineyard
In cane pruning, the idea is to reduce the amount of growth in the vine and direct more energy into the fruit overall, increasing both the yield and quality of the grapes. We do that by cutting back nearly all the vine’s previous growth and correctly selecting a single cane growing from the trunk to bear the fruit this season.
Our transition to cane pruning this year allows the vine to support only the number of shoots that we know it can handle reasonably. To accomplish this, I am going through and looking at each vine individually and counting the number of healthy canes the vine bore the previous growing season. This number tells me how many buds to leave on the canes I’ve chosen to keep based on their location and strength. We prune previous growth to leave one cane that can support 8 buds total. This reduces the potential number of grape clusters per vine, but also significantly reduces the amount of vine growth.
A second advantage of cane pruning is that it limits the vine’s permanent growth to just the trunk, which makes it less vulnerable to frost. We are susceptible to late freezes in Texas, which puts us at risk to freeze damage of a cordon on a spur pruned vine. That forces us to cut that entire section off, and we lose a lot of potential fruit. It also delays the developmental process of the vine.
With cane pruning, we can renew the growth each year since the canes are developing in the area of the vine we refer to as the “renewal zone” close to the trunk. Because we can choose new canes every year, we can worry less about detrimental freeze damage.
We expect with moving to cane pruning, we will see an increase in yield and quality in our Oxbow Vineyard.
By Susan Auler, co-founder
Over the past 40 years Fall Creek Vineyards has had the honor and privilege to work with some of the most incredible culinary professionals from Texas and around the world. As we continue to celebrate our 40 years and counting, we celebrated the start of 2020 with yet another rewarding collaboration. Foster ATX assembled swoon-worthy group of chefs from around the country for an amazing event called “Soil: a Seed-to-Pop-Up Dinner.”
The evening’s featured chefs included Philip Speer and Gabe Erales, Comedor, Austin; Matt McCAllister, Homewood, Dallas; Chris Shepherd, UB Preserve, and Georgia James, One Fifth, Houston; Cara Stadler, Bao Bao, and Tuan Yan, Portland, Maine; and Todd Duplechan, Lenoir, Austin.
We were invited to pair our wines with the featured ingredient of the night, a unique vegetable with roots in Texas, the Badger Flame Beet.
What is a Badger Flame Beet?
The Badger Flame Beet is an incredibly delicious, mild beet with a tender and smooth texture, and an amazingly eye-catching, flame-like orange and yellow interior. Simply put, the beet cultivar is a farming innovation. It’s a product of careful breeding (much like winegrowing) for desirable qualities and characteristics. Forbes.com recently gave a little background on the Badger Flame Beet project in Austin:
The invasion project began in October 2019, when Urban American Farmer partnered with local farm Urban Roots to plant over 1,200 row feet of Badger Flame Beets. “Once the seedlings were starting to sprout, we reached out to chefs who we knew could really highlight the flavor and unique qualities of the Badger Flame Beet,” adds Sutton. “Every chef involved cares deeply about local foods, so it was not a hard pitch to get them on board.”
Fall Creek Vineyards Featured Wine and Food Pairings
“An added bonus is that the beet was grown at Urban Roots ATX (a two-time grant recipient). Also fitting to have Fall Creek Vineyards wine with our deeply rooted history.” — Mariam Parker, Executive Director, Austin Food & Wine Alliance
It was a pleasure to select wines to pair with five inventive courses featuring the Badger Flame Beet. Here are our pairing selections.
2018 Chenin Blanc, Classics, Texas paired with Scallop Crudo with Badger Flame BeetsPairing a fresh, crisp white wine with savory seafood like a scallop crudo allows the brightness of the Chenin Blanc grape to pleasantly enhance any minerality or saltiness of the scallops without being too overpowering.
2019 Chardonnay Classics, Texas paired with Roasted Badger Flame Beets with Tkemali, Coriander, Black Walnut & Whipped Olive OilTkemali tends to be pungent and tart, that calls for a lightly oaked Chardonnay to counterbalance. A more acidic white wine could make both the food and wine finish with a sour pucker. The full mouthfeel of a classic Chardonnay also compliments the nutty whipped olive oil and allows the heartiness of the badger flame beet to shine through.
2017 Merlot Vintner’s Selection, Texas Hill Country paired with Antelope Heart Tartar with Badger Flame Beets, Smoked Trout Roe & Beet Top NoriTartare is a preparation method that showcases a meat in its raw form. With a minerality in line with a rare cut of steak and the smokiness and robust flavor of the Trout a Merlot holds up nicely to the strong flavor profiles in play with this dish.
2015 Meritus, Texas Hill Country a red Bordeaux-style blend paired with Badger Flame Beet Kibbeh Naya, Toum, Schug & FlatbreadWith strong flavors like garlic, onion, and spice we presented one of our boldest wines, a Bordeaux blend with enough tannin to pair well with the savory characteristics of this dish. While the spice of most Indian-inspired dishes may carry big risks when pairing with a Bordeaux-style wine, when done well the tannins can result in a satisfying sensation and finish.
2017 GSM Salt Lick Vineyards, Texas Hill Country paired with Pork Rib with Badger Flame Mole Amarillo, Amazake Beet Pickles
With a dish like pork ribs with a mole sauce, how could we not pair it with a wine grown at one of Texas’s most legendary BBQ spots? Salt Lick Vineyards grapes have a subtle smokiness to them from the legendary BBQ pits on property, so this hearty red blend has enough flavor to stand up to the big flavors of this dish.
We invite you to try your hand at pairing our wines with similar dishes at home. Cheers to fantastic culinary experiences!
By Daniel Williams and Lauren Busch, tasting room managers
December is loaded so loaded parties, holiday gatherings, and joyful meals that it can sometimes become stressful to manage all the fun. Adding to the stress is the pressure to meet year-end work deadlines, and additional family obligations. The last thing you need is the extra headache of figuring out what kind of wine to buy for dinners and parties. Relax. We’ve got you covered. Here are some straightforward tips to simplify holiday wine shopping.
Perfect Parings: Picking Wine for Your Holiday Meals
Holiday dinners can be a cacophony of conflicting tastes with several dishes demanding your tongue’s attention. Selecting the right wine to pair with diverse dishes like ham, goose, turkey or prime rib and truffled creamed spinach, scalloped potatoes and cranberry relish is downright daunting. The three keys to success are:
Pick a variety of versatile wines, with food-friendly white, rosé, and red wines.
Bright and zippy white wine is a safe bet with a wide range of food pairings. No matter what is served with it, the high acidity perks up the palate and puts a smile on your face.
Don’t be a Scrooge and get caught with thirsty guests. It’s safe to plan to serve one bottle for every two people at the table (two bottles if your crazy uncle is on your guest list).
The best way to start off any holiday celebration is with a kiss under the mistletoe, quickly followed by a lovely toast with a chilled, racy white wine. It’s a perfect mate with soft, creamy cheeses; curvy mounds of mashed potatoes and just about any luscious dish you encounter. The Fall Creek Vineyards Chardonnay Vintner's Selection Texas Hill Country 2018 is fantastic with goose, duck, turkey and a wide variety of holiday dishes. Our food-friendly Chardonnay is aged “Sur-lie” in a stainless-steel tank giving it toasty flavors with a note of roasted almonds to balance the crisp and juicy grilled yellow peach, and Meyer lemon flavors.
A shimmering glass of gorgeous rose-colored wine sets a merry tone. Rosé wine is the best of both worlds with red fruit aromas of a red wine, and the lighter body and crisp acidity of a white wine. It is a beautiful accompaniment to winter vegetables, roast meats, and dry spiced fruits. Fall Creek Vineyards Rosado Vintner's Selection Texas Hill Country 2018 is made with 100 percent Syrah grapes grown in the Salt Lick Vineyards giving it a fuller bodied and more structure than your average rosé. It has abundant flavors of ripe plum, violet, and pepper dust.
Standing rib roast or Beef Wellington deserve to be paired with a velvety smooth, lush red wine with depth and structure. Fall Creek Vineyards Meritus Texas Hill Country 2015 is a Bordeaux-style blend of Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon from Certenberg Vineyards in the Texas Hill Country that is elegant enough to adorn any holiday table. The Merlot dominant wine is graceful with plum, sweet cedar, tea leaf and black currant cordial flavors with a hint of violet. This deliciously complex wine is sure to wow your guests.
Holiday Party Wine-Buying Guide
Holiday parties are fun and buying the wine for them can be almost as enjoyable. Here are some foolproof party planning suggestions.
Get the Right Amount. Figuring out how much wine to buy is as simple as understanding how many servings are in a bottle, how much your guests will drink and the number of guests you expect.
1: Serving size:
2: Consumption average: Assume guests at a holiday party will knock back two glasses of wine per hour.
3: Simple equation: One hour at two glasses per person x 10 guests = four bottles of wine. Extrapolate from there.
Get the Right Mix. If your party begins before 5 p.m., get a mix that includes 45 percent white wine, 25 percent rosé wine, and 30 percent red wine. If your party starts after 5 p.m., your mix can be adjusted to include 30 percent white wine, 20 percent rosé wine, and 50 percent red wine.
Get the Right Wines. It’s always nice to pick crowd-pleaser wines that are both versatile with food and recognizable. Chardonnay is always a winner, as is Merlot. More about that below.
Enjoy your holiday parties and celebratory meals with Fall Creek Vineyards.
By Susan Auler, co-founder
Thanksgiving provides an amazing opportunity for us to reflect on the year and take stock of our many blessings. Celebrating with family and friends is a wonderful way to express our gratitude. As winery owners, we tie our Thanksgiving celebration to the original feast by giving thanks for a successful harvest. This year, we’ll not only reflect on a fantastic harvest, but we’ll also reminisce about 40 years of harvests as we celebrate the 40th anniversary of Fall Creek Vineyards.
A trip to France that my husband Ed and I took in 1973 changed our lives. We visited the major wine regions in France and immediately fell in love with French wines, foods, and culture. Within two years of that trip in 1975, we planted grapes on a corner of Fall Creek Ranch to experiment with wine growing at the encouragement of Texas A & M and Texas Tech Universities. Soon that test plot grew from ¼ acre to 7 ½ acres, and we purchased 400 acres along the west side of Lake Buchanan to construct the permanent location of Fall Creek Vineyards and Winery. We formally established the Fall Creek Vineyards winery facilities in 1979.
Thanksgiving Wine and Food PairingsSince 1979, we have lovingly paired Fall Creek Vineyards wines with traditional Thanksgiving dishes. A few of our favorites include:
Try this delicious recipe for smoked turkey from our neighbors in Driftwood, Texas. The Salt Lick Cookbook: A Story of Land, Family, and Love by Scott Roberts and Jessica Dupuy for your Thanksgiving dinner.
Makes 10 to 12 servings.
We’re thrilled to have wine lovers like you celebrating 40 years of delicious Fall Creek Vineyards wine and food pairings for Thanksgiving. If you want to try our 2016 GSM Salt Lick Vineyards Terroir Reflection Texas Hill Country and smoked turkey pairing this year, you can pick up a few bottles of at our Tow or Driftwood locations or purchase it here: https://fcv.com/product/fall-creek-vineyards-brgrenache-syrah-mourvdre-brsalt-lick-vineyards-2016.
Pictured above: Ed and Susan Auler is Bordeaux winemaker Jean Michel Cazes who influenced their decision to grow their vineyard operations in Texas.
Celebrating Texas Wine Month with Nuggets of Truth About the Texas Wine Industry
By Sergio Cuadra
Pioneers in the Texas wine industry, Ed and Susan Auler have been writing Texas wine history since planting their first vines in 1975. Since then, they have grown not only a successful wine brand, but they have also helped build an entire wine industry. With so many years invested, there are lots of fun facts that you may not know about our favorite Texas winery.
1. Fall Creek Vineyards Chenin Blanc program has always been a star of the portfolio.
In April of 1983, Fall Creek Vineyards opened its present-day winery facility. That same year, Fall Creek’s first Chenin Blanc topped the Wines and Spirits Buying Guide as one of the top Chenin Blanc wines in all of America for that vintage.
2. Fall Creek Vineyards wines have been featured at many presidential inaugurations as the only Texas wines on the list.
Fall Creek wines were served at President Ronald Reagan’s inauguration in 1985 and at the inauguration of George H.W. Bush in 1989. The family also presented their wines at the inauguration of George W Bush in 2001. Fall Creek Vineyards wines were the only Texas wines served at each of these inaugural events.
3. Legends are realized here.
James Michener, the author of Space, Centennial, and Tales of the South Pacific, stayed at Fall Creek while researching his book, Texas.
4. The Auler Family are champions for distinction in Texas winegrowing.
Ed Auler spearheaded the effort to create the Texas Hill Country American Viticulture Area (AVA) with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms (BATF), receiving the designation in 1990.
In April 1986, Susan and Ed Auler founded and hosted the first ever Texas Hill Country Wine & Food Festival, after 25 years running the festival, it evolved into the annual Austin Food & Wine Festival that continues to this day.
5. Fall Creek Vineyards has been the official wine of the Super Bowl.
Fall Creek Vineyards 2003 Texas Hill Country Merlot was the featured wine at the Super Bowl XXXVIII. After serving three presidents and many global ambassadors, the Aulers represented Texas well with the who’s who attending football’s premier event in Houston.
Forty years and counting…
This year, Fall Creek Vineyards proudly celebrates forty years in the Texas wine business. Without a doubt, the family will continue to write history as Texas wines continue to grow in popularity and notoriety.
By Quincy Barton, vineyard manager
That’s a wrap for harvest 2019! We are very excited to announce that all of our grapes for the 2019 vintage are off the vines and waiting patiently in the winery. The weather was very strange this year. We experienced very heavy early season rains, coupled with an uncharacteristically cool spring and early summer, which led to a delayed harvest. We picked about two-three weeks later than usual, making it our latest harvest in recent years at Fall Creek Vineyards. The anticipation was worth it.
If you have ever had the opportunity to experience a harvest (grapes or otherwise), you understand the two overarching themes of the season: excitement and exhaustion. Long days followed by even longer nights become the relentless schedule for every vineyard worker and winemaker alike. Undoubtedly, however, the delirium and extreme sleep deprivation is nothing in comparison to the satisfaction of being a part of such a critically integral aspect of the winemaking process. Truly, there is nothing more rewarding for someone who has spent countless hours in the Texas heat tending to the vines than to work alongside other impassioned people for one last hurrah, collecting the fruits of such tremendous labor.
The key to having a successful harvest is to have a strong team of individuals who have a heart for wines and a work ethic to match. Luckily, at Fall Creek Vineyards, we have exactly that. As an extension of that fortune, this theme carries across the street to our partners at the Salt Lick Vineyards. This is the site where the grapes of some of our most elegant wines are grown. While soil type, climate, varietal selection, are absolutely important factors behind this, we fully acknowledge the impact of their incredible vineyard management as well.
Harvest at Salt Lick Vineyards
I had the pleasure of getting to experience harvest with the Salt Lick Vineyards team for our Grenache, Syrah, Tempranillo, Sangiovese, and Cabernet Sauvignon harvest and to say that these guys know what they’re doing is a colossal understatement. Joining in with the team for their night harvests, we started our evenings around 8:00 p.m. and worked through the dark hours of the night underneath the light of the beautiful starry sky aided by the glow of our headlamps. It isn’t easy work, but it is enjoyable.
One of my favorite nights this season was during the Tempranillo harvest, when the Perseid meteor shower was in full peak. Half the evening was admittedly spent staring at the sky and enjoying one of nature’s most captivating phenomenon’s—an experience I would have otherwise missed.
Harvest at our Oxbow Estate Vineyard
Across the road at our Oxbow estate vineyard, our harvests took place in the early morning in an attempt to beat the scorching heat. The morning of our Cabernet harvest was particularly memorable. A myriad nocturnal critters were enjoying our vineyard at 4:00 a.m. when I arrived to remove the bird netting from the vines. The final count was one armadillo, three opossums, six deer, a couple wild hogs, and one bobcat (the “yipping” of adolescent coyotes could be heard all around, but thankfully never seen).
This season we had several amazing wine club members volunteer to help us with both the Cabernet and Carignan harvests this year, easing the burden of our staff quite a bit. We are tremendously grateful. There were opportunities for great pictures and even greater fellowship together. It is a fantastic way to learn a lot about what goes on in a vineyard as well as foster an even deeper appreciation for what ends up in your glass as a final product. We love having our volunteers come out every year, so if you are interested in helping out with the 2020 harvest, let us know!
Anticipating a Stellar 2019 Vintage
All of our tank space and almost all of our barrels at the winery are completely full, making this one of our biggest harvest yet! We are especially very excited about our very first harvest of our Carignan here at our Oxbow vineyard and our neighbor’s Salt Lick Vineyard up the road from us. So far, we are very pleased with how promising this vintage is turning out to be. We will have a lot of really delicious rosés ready for next summer, so stay tuned for those releases. Overall a VERY fantastic harvest for 2019. We cannot wait to share our new wines with you soon!
By Guest Author, Miguel Lecuona, Wine Marketing and Wine Tourism Instructor at for the Texas Tech University
Editor’s Note: Fall Creek Vineyards was privileged to have our ExTerra Tempranillo Salt Lick Vineyards Texas Hill Country 2016 included in an educational session at TEXSOM, an educational conference for beverage professionals. The session, “VARIETY FOCUS: TEMPRANILLO,” was hosted by speakers Sarah Jane Evans MW, Dirceu Vianna Junior MW, and Jessica Dupuy, who guided participants to evaluate 13 different Tempranillo wine examples from the classic producing countries of Spain and Portugal and forays into the United States, Australia, and Argentina, others.,
Following the conference, a participant posted the following in a wine group on Facebook, “Fantastic tasting on Tempranillo, but to my Texas friends, there’s a lot to be said when Fall Creek charges $100 for the “Saltlick” to be followed by Muga Prado Enea Gran Rsv, $75, and Vina Real Rsv, $60. Something is wrong with that picture, need to come back to reality if they want the Texas wine industry to grow.” The post spurred a lively discussion with more than 60 comments. Some people agreed with the post, while others disagreed with his assertion.,
A few days later, Miguel Lecuona, a wine judge, wine instructor, wine marketer, and co-owner of Siboney Cellars, a Texas Hill Country Winery, penned his own response to the post. His thoughtful and thorough analysis of the factors that impact wine pricing deserves a broader audience. We are publishing it in its entirety here.,
There’s a brief pause in our harvest schedule, with many grapes literally just hanging around, getting a little riper day by day. That’s perfect, as we are not in a hurry. So, with a bit of time between vineyards, I wanted to take a minute to respond to an interesting post and exchange on this forum (Texas Wine Drinkers Facebook Group) from August 29. The post, from a wine industry professional, referenced an amazing TexSom Tempranillo tasting, which included Fall Creek Vineyards and Winery ExTerra, Muga, and other internationally sourced wines. And while he appeared favorable to the Texas wine itself among those famous labels, one statement struck me regarding the objection to the $100 price point for ExTerra: “Something is wrong with that picture, need to come back to reality if they want the Texas wine industry to grow."
I think it’s understandable in the context of an international tasting to consider such conclusions, but it’s overly simplistic. In fact, there's more than $100 worth of misunderstanding and incorrect premise in this statement. There’s a lot to unpack here, so allow me the privilege of your attention for a few minutes to make my case, then you can tear this apart as you like!
OK let’s start with a few of those realities. Let’s take Rioja.
Muga — what a great historic bogeda, beloved the world over. I was in Rioja early this spring, driving through Haro, en route to an appointment. Did you know that Muga owns or controls over 1000 acres of vineyards — more than the entirety of vineyards in the Texas Hill Country. Another major Tempranillo grower, Marques de Riscal makes splendid Riojas, wines I have shared with many who read this forum, including vintages from 1964, 1961, and 1952. Those old blends include a fair amount of Cabernet, by the way. Do you know how many barrels they manage in their winery? 37,000. Not cases… BARRELS. They have a guy - a barrel guy - whose sole job is to move barrels from the lower chamber up 5 steps with a hydraulic lift, roll it 20 feet and down another lift to be washed and recycled. All day, every day.
The scale is, well, staggering is not too big a word for it.
So is it fair to say that maybe these producers have more than just history on their side — that they are quite a ways down the fixed cost curve? They are very large, worldwide producers. (Bonus points if you post below how many bottles of wine can be made from 37,000 barrels!) Have they perhaps also benefitted from decades of protectionist tariffs against imported wines and favorable export tariff markets by comparison, to say nothing of time-tested AVA-level rules (which can be both a help and a nuisance, but that’s a topic for another time!).
Here’s another reality — Texas.
The post fails to define what is actually meant by growth. I hope readers will forgive me for being obvious, but this needs to be stated, apparently. The Texas Wine industry is, in fact, growing. Boy, is it growing. By any objective measure — new acreage under vine; winery permits; tourism; Tour Operators; wine club member growth; new wineries and tasting rooms; destination marketing; investment; media coverage — the Texas Wine Market is growing, thriving, hustling and bustling. TexSom itself is a sign of the vibrancy of the Texas Wine Industry. My TexSom classes were taken at the Four Seasons Hotel Austin over a decade ago!
While it’s not without numerous challenges, the industry is growing in all directions at every price point. A huge chunk of this growth continues to serve the vibrant Direct To Consumer sales market, to which Texas Wineries take a back seat to nobody. So unless you are actually in the market, you won’t observe this thriving arena of wines, experiences, dinners, offerings, and exclusive programs on your supermarket shelf or on many wine lists (another topic which bears a full on discussion). Examples abound: in the last 12 months since Exterra was introduced, Texas wineries have opened a smashing new tasting room just for club members (William Chris Vineyards); an entirely new winery dedicated 100% to Sparkling (Grape Creek Vineyards); a tasting room for destination tourism dedicated to classic cars (Wine Garage); a winery spa and resort hotel (Carter Creek Winery Resort & Spa); a new 60 acre estate vineyard with tasting room and production facility (Augusta Vin); and this week, the rebirth of a former small winery into another interesting concept/venue driven by one of our top wine makers (will let them unveil their program at their own leisure!); and soon, a winery that sold & will re-open under a massive new investment scenario that will include an ancillary wedding venue, more vineyard acreage, custom crush facility, and talented wine professionals, as a destination venue (the “Family” project of Chase Jones et al). And this is all within a 30 mile stretch of Highway 290! Two other healthy signs: (1) Numerous strong High Plains Winegrowers have committed to advanced farming practices and rigorous testing, and invested in frost protection, hail netting, state of the art harvesting, and the ability to crush close to the vineyard location. Even 10 years ago, this was not the case. And (2) we have great vineyard growers opening their own tasting rooms and making their own wine labels - Lost Draw Cellars, Betty Bingham, Neal Newsom, Nikhila Narra Davis, Farmhouse Vineyards. This will make everyone better at growing grapes and making quality wine.
A third reality
Fall Creek Vineyards and Winery. This is, I believe, the oldest winery in the Texas Hill Country Wineries AVA, with the first grapes planted in 1975 and bonded in 1979 by Susan and Ed Auler, who after traveling to France to assess a potential expansion of their cattle ranch, gave up that dream and went all-in for wine. They founded the Hill Country Wine & Food Festival. And it was their application to the US Government that granted the legal basis for the Texas Hill Country AVA. A producer of Texas wines from 100% Texas grapes, Fall Creek’s portfolio includes wines from $12 to $50, and the new trio at the range-topping ExTerra line at $100 - Tempranillo, Mourvédre (which is brilliant) and Syrah. The wine maker is Sergio Cuadra Schlie. Any self-proclaiming professional taster owes themselves a delightful visit to taste with Sergio. You will learn a lot, and understand the seriousness and discipline with which he approaches this project. The vineyard site itself is quite young, and at present not very large. And yet, it is already kicking out world class wines. That a 2016 vintage could sit on the same table as a Grand Reserva and live to tell about it is itself an achievement. All three of the ExTerra wines are knock-outs by any standard, and critically acclaimed. The production quantity for the whole program in 2016 is a scant 250 cases — no more than 10 barrels!
That said, in fact the price point is well under $100 if you’re a wine club member and might be more if you taste it at the Four Seasons, or Biga on the Banks, or Cabernet Grill. You can also pay more for Muga at these competing locations. So much depends on how we define “the market”. I actually like the price point. I mean granted, I'm not stockpiling wine at this price, but I am happy to buy and share this wine of stellar quality. This is not a daily drinker. It’s not for everyone. It means this wine won’t quickly disappear down the memory hole in three months before serious collectors and evaluators can buy and hold some and track this label through the vintages over time. So the $100 price isn’t a flaw, it’s actually a feature.
The final reality - History.
To be frank, and with respect, I think the original poster has it exactly backwards. ExTerra is not a case of unreality. It’s actually another welcome sign of recognition for the potential that exists to produce world class wine in Texas and builds on the progress demonstrated by other wineries. Inwood has sold $100+ Texas wine in their fine portfolio for many years, and that has not stopped their growth nor stunted anyone else’s. And, it is BECAUSE the Texas wine industry is growing and thriving that we are attracting the talent, investment, energy and commitment to produce world class wines from the very sites that many tasting professionals reflexively maintain can’t yield such wines, and should never seek to price them above their place. Seriously, if the objection to this wine is price, because we don’t have the history and don't deserve to think so highly of our wines, let me show you dozens of wines in Bordeaux, and Rioja, that do have the history, and are in fact, inferior. Or invert that. I can show you many Bordeaux wines that do NOT have the legacy of a historic classified growth Chateaux and make brilliant wines, often selling for even more.
History does not make wine. As the French say, making great wine is easy -- Its just the first 200 vintages that are hard. Well, Texas has been busy in the last 200 years, granted. But now we are focused on this wine business. And ExTerra is just the latest #TxWine to confirm that it is the confluence of wine maker, owner, site, farming persistence, and passion that makes great wine. I hope owners find many more sites like the block at the Salt Lick, adjacent to Onion Creek and depository of complex soils, and put grapes in the hands of skilled wine makers like Sergio Cuadra and Joshua Fritsche who really see what’s possible to create.
Happily, we are putting our money where my loud mouth is - we are getting into it ourselves, with Siboney Cellars. My wife Barbara Lecuona is winemaker, the 2019 is our third vintage. In May, we closed on a 52 acre site situated on a limestone plateau between Hye and Johnson City. The site sits at 1500 feet of elevation, rising 100 feet above 290 entrance, is north facing, and features limestone terraces as well as favorable soils. Having lived and worked in Bordeaux and tasted everything since 2008 at the very highest levels of Primeurs, working with the best wineries in the Hill Country since 2011, and tasting hundreds of #TxWines with Daniel Kelada Texas Wine Journal for many years, I am very proud of what the Texas Wine Industry has achieved so far. We are thrilled to explore the possibilities of this site, and are rigorously examining everything for root stock, clone and layout. Meanwhile we are thrilled to work with vineyard experts like Fritz Westover, and a slew of passionate growers who help us to realize our own dreams while making the best wine we can possibly make. We look forward to welcoming everyone to Siboney in 2020. Just. You. Wait!
Photo by Miguel Lecuona
by Quincy Barton, Vineyard Manager
Veraison, or the beginning of ripening, has started in our vineyards. The Fall Creek team couldn’t be more excited to be on our way to a very fruitful harvest! The grape vines have been going through critical growing states over the past few weeks with the grapes transitioning from a state of growth into the ripening phase. This shift into veraison is marked by a ceasing of grape berry development followed by the accumulation of color within the clusters. The previously monochromatic green vineyard is now studded with a beautiful array of purples and pinks, creating a romantic atmosphere for the visitors at the winery.
With the tremendous amount of early season rains this year, the vines have been incredibly productive. We have had substantial shoot growth throughout the entire growing season. Now as the composition of the berry’s changes the vines begin to transition from a focus of energy production to energy utilization. In other words, the vine’s metabolism starts to move sugars toward the clusters. The conversion of green to purple clusters in red varieties is due to the shift of the cell’s stores of chlorophyll to anthocyanins (a flavonoid in the grapes that contains antioxidant effects). Anthocyanins create a purple pigmentation in the skins of the grape. In white varieties, the chlorophyll converts to carotenoids, giving off a lighter pigmentation than in red grapes.
Veraison brings on more than just a color change. With ripening, the acid in the berries begins to diminish as the sugar levels inversely rise. The goal is to find a great balance of acid and sugars in the grapes at harvest. With the increase in sugar levels, the grapes are more palatable, and unfortunately become a delicious treat for birds and other pests as well.
As the mad dash towards harvest begins, our main focus becomes pest control and a close management of the irrigation schedule. We wrap row after row of vines in bird netting. This is the protective standard among vineyards in this phase of the growing season and as such, it is quite common to see nets draped across the vineyards all over Texas.
This magical time of year paves the way for harvest, when all of the long hours and hard work in the vineyard begin to come to fruition for this vintage.
If you are as excited about the upcoming harvest as we are, join us for our Harvest Kick-Off Party on Sunday, July 28 at our Driftwood location. We’ll celebrate with delicious wine, and food available from Garbo's Lobster Truck and The Bearded Baking Company. We’ll see you there. More information is available here: https://fcv.com/events.
By Sergio Cuadra, Director of Winemaking
We are thrilled to learn that our 2015 Fall Creek Vineyards Grenache, Syrah, Mourvèdre (GSM), Salt Lick Vineyards was awarded Texas Monthly’s Top Texas Wine of 2018. It is a fantastic honor to be named for this prestigious recognition among so many outstanding Texas wines at the annual Toast of Texas event held by The Wine and Food Foundation of Texas. The Texas wine industry is truly producing some of the best wines in the world at this moment.
I’ve been asked what it takes to make an award-winning wine. The truth is that some of it is up to the winemaker, but much of the quality of the fruit is dependent on the growing conditions that are completely out of our hands.
It is a cliché, but it is true that every great wine is made in the vineyard. The time we spend in the vineyard is incredibly important and deeply impacts the final wine. There are elements in the vineyard that we can control, and there are elements that we can’t.
We take our queues in the vineyard from natural principals to get optimal production and quality. For example, wild grapevines typically only have fruit at the edge of the canopy, where it has exposure to sunlight. We apply that concept to proper canopy management to thin the number of leaves and arrange shoots so that they grow up to expose the flowers and fruit to sunlight.
The most important aspect in winemaking, is to a degree, out of our control. Having just the right amount water to the plant during the entire growing season is absolutely essential in making high quality red wine.
This is evident when we evaluate the great vintages in France and compare them. It turns out that in great years, there are similar rainfall patterns. In good years, you can have almost any type of rainfall before veraison. Veraison, which is when the grapes start to ripen, typically starts in mid-June and lasts into early July for many varieties in Texas vineyards. If it continues to be dry after veraison through harvest, the result is usually a high-quality vintage. In seasons with wet conditions after veraison, the result is typically a challenging year, or average year for wine quality.
The reason is simple: Self Preservation. When grape vines have plenty of water, they are happy, and they follow their own sort of Manifest Destiny for growth with shoots and leaves expanding everywhere. When they are happy, they don’t care much about the grape clusters. With thicker canopies, the grapes are protected from sunlight and retain thin, delicate skins. The grapes grow large and diluted with all of that water.
Conversely, when they feel a lack of resources, like water, the plants concentrate their efforts in the grape clusters rather than in growing the shoots. If it thinks that it is barely going to survive, it turns all their efforts into producing the tastiest, darkest berries to attract birds which will eat them and spread the seeds. Less rain means reduced canopy, resulting in exposure of grapes to wind and sunlight. The plant naturally protects its seeds with thicker skins, deeper color, and richer polyphenols which gives us more aromatics, and more tannins for a more complex wine.
Knowing that the proper water amounts are essential to quality grapes, vineyard site selection and management are very important. At Fall Creek Vineyards, we plant our vineyards on great sites that allow excessive water to drain quickly. Without irrigation, like in Europe, we wouldn’t have any grape production in Texas. It is just too dry in most years. With irrigation we can control how much water the plants get in the dry months of June, July and August. In Salt Lick Vineyards, where we grow the grapes for our award-winning 2015 GSM, we use light irrigation after veraison so that the vines stop growing leaves and shoots at the right moment, concentrating production in the clusters.
In 2015 the long draught in Texas ended. May 2015 was the wettest May on record. It rained 10.8 inches in that month alone. However, it only rained thee inches in June, and 0 in July. This was perfect timing with the onset of ripening. We had a nice, dry ripening period, leading to prime grapes to work with in the winery.
The results were impressive. We had dark, concentrated juice right from the beginning in each of the three grapes in this Rhône-style blend. To make the wine with the intense Grenache, Syrah, and Mourvèdre fruit, we used traditional, centuries-old winemaking approaches with minimal intervention. We use pump over regimes for full extraction of colors and flavor. We did not use fining, instead we let the juice settle and racked to separate it from the lees. We closely monitored the oxygen contact as more concentrated wines require longer aging in oak. We wanted slow, quiet evolution of the wine in barrel. For this wine we used primarily American Oak barrels. The final blend is a concentrated, complex and elegant wine that retains a sense of place.
We invite you to taste our Top Texas Wine, the 2015 Fall Creek Vineyards GSM, Salt Lick Vineyards. We have the 2015 vintage available at our tasting rooms in Tow and Driftwood, TX. The 2016 vintage, which scored a stellar 90 points in a James Suckling review, is also available online: https://fcv.com/product/fall-creek-vineyards-brgrenache-syrah-mourvdre-brsalt-lick-vineyards-2016.
By Sergio Cuadra, Director of Winemaking
Terroir is an elusive wine term, a French word that encapsulates more than a single definition. Without fail, it is usually sprinkled into every professional wine conversation and tasting. Despite the abstract nature of its meaning, many people agree that it describes the effect of soil, climate, aspect (which is a term for the geographical positioning of the vineyards), and the human factor on grapevines, thus the wines.
Winemakers and viticulturists in the Lone Star State are still discovering the effect Texas terroir has on its wines, something that is still not entirely understood. Luckily, we have such a great team at Fall Creek Vineyards that has dedicated itself to minutely analyzing each of our vineyard sites and their magical properties for four decades.
Take Salt Lick Vineyards, for example, home of the grapes that we use for our top tier wines, including our Terroir Reflections series and ExTerra wines. I am particularly fond of this site. So scarce are the number of really, really good sites that make high quality wines, and this is one of them. But what makes it such a top-tier vineyard?
In the case of the Salt Like Vineyards, it is the soil, clay subsoils over limestone bedrock. The clay is useful when it comes to retaining moisture, a necessity in this heat. Also, as the roots of the vines dig deeper, they eventually touch limestone, one of the most coveted soils types in the wine world because it allows the grapes to retain their acidity.
I am also absolutely convinced that the high temperatures in the Texas summer are not harmful and actually have a positive result on the quality of the harvest. Grape vines are accustomed to thriving in temperatures over 100 degrees Fahrenheit and highly adaptable to a wide variety of climates. Afterall, grapevines are originally from the Middle East, in what is modern-day Iran where the heat is similar to Texas. These vines have dormant protective proteins that allow them to thrive under the scorching Texas sun and still produce noteworthy grapes.
Finally, less is more when it comes to winemaking. It’s nice to not have to do much to the grape juice after harvest to create a high quality. That’s when you know you’re in the right spot.
We invite you to taste our newest vintage of Terroir Reflection Tempranillo this month, a newly released wine gushing with aromas and flavors of ripe black cherry and plum, smoked cedar, new saddle leather and sweet toast. Despite the ripe quality of the fruit, this wine has managed to retain its structured acidity and vibrancy, a testament to its terroir and careful handling.
You can purchase a bottle here: https://fcv.com/product/fall-creek-vineyards-terroir-reflection-series-tempranillo-slv_thc-2017