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, Fall Creek Vineyards
While the pandemic has caused things to quiet down quite a bit in our tasting rooms, activity in the vineyard has ramped up to a bustling pace as we begin to collect the fruits of our tremendous labor. Harvest 2020 is underway in the Texas Hill Country.
No two growing seasons are much alike in Texas with our unpredictable weather, which makes determining an “average” season hard to define. This particular growing season has been a little shorter than last year. 2019 was quite an anomaly in that harvest was delayed longer than the average year due to our unusually cool spring and early summer coupled with heavy early season rains pushing everything back quite a bit. In the 2020 grape growing season, we saw very high temperatures early on, which fast-tracked the development and ripening of the clusters. This is giving us harvest dates more comparable our “average” growing seasons.
Getting Started in the Salt Lick Vineyards
We have a cherished relationship and long-term term grape growing agreements with Salt Lick Vineyards, which is located across the street from our tasting room in Driftwood, Texas. Working alongside the team at Salt Lick Vineyards throughout growing season and harvest is one of the most gratifying aspects of my job every year.
We started our 2020 harvest with Syrah and Grenache grapes grown in the Salt Lick Vineyards We are thrilled with both quality and yield from the vines this season. A large amount of the Grenache will be processed and made into our 2020 Grenache Rose along with a return of our award-winning Fall Creek Vineyards Terroir Reflection GSM blend made from Salt Lick Vineyard’s Grenache, Syrah, and Mourvèdre. This Grenache was hand harvested and sorted to ensure the specific pigmentation of the individual cluster is ideal to produce either rose or red. We could not be more excited to see how these wines progress as they start their developmental journey in the winery.
Next Up: Harvest in our Estate Oxbow Vineyard
We have not yet started to harvest grapes in our estate Oxbow Vineyard in Driftwood, as the Cabernet Sauvignon and Carignan grown here are later ripening varietals. We want these grapes to hang on the vine as long as possible to develop complex and high-quality flavors and aromatics.
We still have quite a few more long nights and days ahead of us to complete the 2020 harvest. We are slowly starting to adjust to the semi-nocturnal schedule and cannot wait to bring you our new, exquisite 2020 vintage wines for you to enjoy.
In the meantime, we invite you to enjoy our Harvest Reports on Facebook Live with me on Friday, August 7, and with our director or winemaking, Sergio Cuadra, on Friday, August 14. You can sip along with us with specially priced Harvest Wine Bundles. I’ll pour Rose, Tempranillo and GSM, while Sergio will show off our ExTERRA Wines in an amazing special.
If you want to see the beauty of our vineyards, by all means stop by our tasting rooms, and pick up some of your favorites! We would love to see you.
By Quincy Barton, Vineyard Manager, Fall Creek Vineyards
The summer solstice is Saturday, June 20, at 4:44 p.m. CDT. This date marks the official beginning of summer in the Northern Hemisphere. Anyone who lives in Texas knows that it is already summertime. With the advent of summer, we are quickly making our way towards a very fruitful harvest this year at Fall Creek Vineyards.
The Natural Order of the Vineyard
With all the craziness and uncertainty in the world right now, we find comfort that life in the vineyard is still chugging along outside of the reach of the pandemic’s influence. During the spring, our vines followed the natural order from emerging from dormancy, to flowering, to fruit set and now getting ready for the next stages of development. It is the kind of normalcy we like to see. It never ceases to amaze me that no matter how unbalanced everything is around us, the vineyard with all its normal processes and progression presses on. It appears there is no lack of intuition for the vines in uncertain circumstances…it simply knows exactly what to do and executes it beautifully.
We have seen healthy growth this year with the plentiful rains. With warmer, sunnier days ahead, the fruit is well on its way to greatness. Average high temperatures have climbed from 80 in April, to 87 in May, and likely will be in the low 90s in June and high 90s in July helping our grapes to ripen fully by late July and early August. We have had quite a few remarkable thunderstorms here in the hill country over the past month, but our vineyards have fared well so far. We continue to monitor every day for threats such and hail and high winds.
With steadily climbing temperatures, the vines starting to prepare for a growth stage referred to as “veraison.” This is when the green grape clusters begin to change color and the sugars begin to accumulate (this is my favorite time of year). Our Tempranillo vines in the Salt Lick Vineyard have already entered veraison. The name, Tempranillo, comes from the Spanish word temprano, meaning “little early,” and is fitting for this early ripening grape. This year we had veraison set in about two weeks earlier than previous years, signaling that we could have an early harvest.
Heading Toward A Bountiful Harvest
From this point forward, the dark purple pigmentation will increase in our red varietals and the sugars will develop even further as the acids begin to decrease and soften. It is important at this stage to continue to moderate the disease pressure for both fungal and pests for the vines. By doing so, we allow the vine to stay as healthy as possible and as free from stress as possible as it moves towards fruit ripening. I have even been letting Brinkley, my vineyard-dog-in-training, tag along with me to alleviate some of the issues from deer and other small pests. He has been very enthusiastic and extremely effective!
With every additional year of maturity of the vines in the estate Oxbow vineyard, we see more vigor and higher fruit yield. We have thus far been very impressed with the high-quality wines they are producing. We cannot wait to share some of these wines with you soon!
As we all know, vitamin D is the best medicine for a lot of things, so come on out, grab a bottle or two, and socially distance yourself on the property and out amongst the vines. Check out the pop-up garden that our great friends at the Plastic Pink Flamingo have set up-it is a beautiful spread and the perfect way to kick of the summer.
By Sergio Cuadra, director of winemaking
For decades, Chenin Blanc has been one of our signature wines. In fact, in 1983 our first Chenin Blanc was the top-rated wine among all Chenin Blancs in the United States in the “Wines and Spirits Buying Guide.” Now we are introducing
Chenin Blanc Lescalo 2019, a new Chenin Blanc wine with lower alcohol, and fewer calories. It is a delicious, refreshing wine that people can enjoy without worrying about extra calories.
Lescalo is the inspiration of our co-founder, Susan Auler, who continually looks for ways to innovate within classic styles of winemaking. She chose the name Lescalo as a salute to the small European winegrowers who have produced and enjoyed low alcohol wines for generations. Here is what she has to say about Lescalo:
“For several years I have wanted to create a wine with less alcohol, less calories, and lower carbs for people to enjoy on any occasion. I like to pair different styles of wine with various settings, for my guests, and with different styles of food. We made Lescalo for people to enjoy on almost any occasion like after playing sports, or as a late afternoon refreshment, or as a beautiful companion to an elegant picnic. We like to say that it is the right wine to raise a glass to toast to ‘Haute Santé’ or high health.”
Classic Chenin Blanc Style
Chenin Blanc is a perfect grape to choose to make a lower-alcohol wine because of its fruit forward profile and the inherent fuller body of the grape balance well with the higher acidity to create a delicious wine. The main source of calories in wine is alcohol. Wines with lower alcohol naturally have a lower caloric content. To make Lescalo, we harvested the grapes a bit earlier, just as grapes are harvested to make sparkling wines or Champagne.
Lescalo has a low 9.8% alcohol which roughly equates to around 80 to 85 calories (estimate made using USDA guidelines). That compares to roughly 130 calories for a typical 5-ounce glass of dry white wine. Lescalo fits your active lifestyle. It’s possible to enjoy this refreshing lower alcohol white wine in moderation without being slowed down.
Lescalo is made with 90% Chenin Blanc and 10% Sauvignon Blanc grapes grown in deep, but well-draining, gravelly, loamy sand and soil in west Texas. The wine is released young, without oak aging to retain the youthful freshness. Lescalo has clean, fresh citrus scents with subtle floral aromas married with spicy acidity, lively lemon, white peach, toasted almond flavors that come to life with engaging acidity, and wet-rock-minerality on the finish. The bright flavors make this the perfect wine match with fresh seafood, oysters, and sushi.
We only made 500 cases of Fall Creek Vineyards Lescalo and it is available at the winery tasting rooms in Driftwood and Tow, and on ourwinery website. It is also available at select retailers including the Austin Wine Merchant, Dallas Fine Wine, and the Houston Wine Merchant.
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