When I talk about the market for Texas wines, I divide the potential customers into three categories: The Connoisseurs, The Texas-buying California wine drinker, and the Barbecue bunch. An evening with Allan and Margaret Fetty at their Westcave Cellars Winery tasting room proved me, once again, wrong. They are cultivating, successfully in my opinion, the “local” customer – those people who have fallen in love with the wines they produce and join their wine club as loyal customers… and friends. (I keep bringing the friendship aspect of Texas wine up, don’t I?)
When we arrived at the tasting room, they weren’t very busy, so Margaret was able to spend a little bit of time serving us their whites, starting with their semi-sweet 2010 Muscat Blanc. Most wineries start off their tastings with their bone-dry white wines, then dry reds or semi-sweet whites. Margaret told us later in the evening that she likes to serve a star wine first, and she makes really good sense. The Muscat Blanc was more than refreshing. With just the right amount of citrus and sweet, it had me thinking about sunny days on our deck (the one to be built, of course).
It didn’t take long for Westcave Cellars’ tasting room to fill up to standing room only; fortunately, we had been able to get a couple of seats at a table in the far corner of the room which got us out of the way – perfect for us since we were in no hurry and really enjoyed having a place to sit after standing for two hours at the previous winery.
The next wine to taste was the 2010 Estate Viognier, and I had to ask if it had been oaked at all, because it had a little “kick” that I normally only taste in oaked white wines. This particular viognier carried a hint of green apple in the background and finished clean – again with the green apple overtone. Julie was building paring menus for the wine, and Margaret shared a recent salmon recipe that she had paired with the viognier quite successfully.
Westcave also produced a 2010 High Plains Viognier, and it was fascinating to taste the difference. The High Plains wine was much more acidic than the Estate, and presented a strong grapefruit / green apple aroma with a strong citrus flavor and “bite” on the side of my tongue. I was tempted to see if Margaret would pour me a blend of the two viogniers, but didn’t want to risk offending anyone.
Right when we were switching to the reds, Allan finished talking to another customer and served them. He served us their 2010 Hendricks Vineyard Estate Merlot, aged in French Oak. It’s a fruit-forward, wonderfully aromatic Merlot with a lot of cherry and a little pepper. The tannins were a little stronger than I prefer in a Merlot and they masked the bright cherry / raspberry flavors a little; however, it wasn’t a harsh Merlot at all. In retrospect, I have a strong feeling that given some time to breathe, this Merlot would really open up and release the fruit.
By this time, the tasting room crowd had thinned out – it was close to closing time – and I was asking Allan every question in the world. He served me his 2010 Estate Cabernet Sauvignon, and I was so caught up in the discussion that I forgot to take notes. I feel bad about that, but there are some times that the stories overshadow the wines.
We talked a little, as I tend to steer conversations in this direction, about “the grape that will make Texas”. I mentioned that Tempranillo seems to be the “grape du jour” for Texas, but that I believe that although Tempranillo will do much for Texas wines, it’s not the grape. Allan told me that he had tried to cultivate two different Tempranillo varieties on two different root stocks in their estate vineyard and could never get it to work; however, they had been reasonably successful with Tannat. Allan planted the Tannat more as a blending grape, but released it as a single varietal wine in 2010, and it was a smashing hit – so much that he was left with barely enough bottles to keep as a future-release library wine.
We discussed the differences between last year’s harvest and 2010, and since we were currently tasting their 2010 White Merlot (sweet), he pulled some of the 2011 White Merlot from the vat to let us compare. I’ll post those photos when I get them from Julie ;-), but the flavor of the 2011 is much deeper, richer. Volume is lower, of course, but the quality is incredible.
The 2011 Tannat harvest didn’t produce enough juice to create a single varietal estate Tannat for the vintage, so Allan blended the Tannat with his estate Cabernet Sauvignon. He excused himself for a few moments, then brought a wine glass with a barrel tasting of the Cab / Tannat blend, and OMG.The Tannat adds this wonderful depth to the Cab – as well as rich color – and I am SO EAGER to taste this again when Allan releases it.
He also mentioned other grapes he has recently planted, and one that caught my attention was Petit Syrah. Allan let me barrel taste that as well, and I am just as eager to taste it at release as well.
OH! Another surprising barrel tasting! Allan walked out of the “barrel room” with a glass of white wine and challenged me to tell him the grape. I carefully studied the nose and with my (tongue in cheek) vast knowledge of varietals told him it had to be a viognier. Julie picked up hints of muscat, but could tell that it wasn’t. Malvasia Blanca (I had to look it up) is a white varietal often blanded with muscat, trebbiano or other grapes, but Allan’s clearly stands on its own. Smooth like a malolactic-fermented Chardonnay, but has a flavor I’d put somewhere close to McPherson’s Reserve Roussanne. Just downright awesome mouth feel with the right citrus and acid to make it what I call a “sipper”. It stands on its own and doesn’t need to be paired with food, although Margaret, Julie, and I agreed it would be awesome with smooth cheeses.
So here’s where I get “schooled” again. I’m talking about seeing Allan and Margaret’s wines in national and international competitions and Allan looks me square in the face and asks, “Why?” You see, Allan and Margaret’s vision for Westcave winery is to build a strong wine club and create wines specifically for their members. Of course, I’m passionate about Texas wines and want to make sure that kick-ass wines get the attention they deserve; however, if you are a small-production winery with a strong wine club membership, you really have all the recognition you care about.
I did, however, make the ultimate score of the day. As we were checking out – there’s no way we could have left Westcave without some Muscat Blanc and both Estate and High Plains Viognier – Allan let me purchase a bottle of his 2010 Tannat. I had tried to talk him out of two bottles at future library prices and promised I’d hold onto one of them until he released them as library wines so I could review it then as well. Allan said he’d let me buy one now and he would hold onto the other one. I really didn’t expect this, and am extremely grateful for their generosity.
Coming soon – a live blog and review as I open and taste Westcave Cellars’ 2010 Estate Tannat.
I wish I could afford to join all the wine clubs of the wineries I fall in love with, because some of Westcave’s 2011 releases will only be made available to club members due to their limited production, and I know that I don’t want to miss them.