Hilmy Cellars Winemaker’s Dinner with Bob & Susan Wonacott

Every winery has its own personality. I know, I stated an obvious fact to anyone who has visited more than one winery in Texas, but it’s one thing I want to highlight in this article. Since Julie and I tend to spend hours at most wineries we visit, we are able to pick up on a winery’s personality while we interact with the owners, winemakers, winery staff, and by watching the people who “hang around”.

A winery’s personality is very important if the owners want to “grow” their wine club – an important part of a solid long-term winery growth and stabilization plan – because the personality of the winery along with the consistent quality of their wines become the primary attractors. I don’t place as much importance on location because it serves more as an initial entry or barrier than it does on long-term club membership.

So where does Hilmy fit into this discussion? Last weekend, I kept saying one word that struck me as Hilmy’s personality: Classy

From our first weekend at Hilmy’s grand opening last March to our wonderful dinner Saturday evening, Erik, Neldie, and the whole Hilmy Cellar’s family projects class, and that class is embodied in the winery building, the atmosphere of the tasting room, the winery and tasting room staff (the ones I call family), and the wines they make.

Please don’t confuse Classy with formality, or arrogance, or snobbishness, because we have never sensed any of those attributes at Hilmy; quite the contrary, from our first visit there we have sensed a strong family atmosphere at the winery. I’m sure that Erik will remind me of the “in progress” state of construction that they are experiencing that the chaos that accompanies construction, but those things are temporary. Class is a personality, not a state.

When we arrived at the Winemaker’s dinner last Saturday, we were greeted at the door with a special Rosé of Tempranillo that Erik had blended just for the dinner, and it was a big hit with all the attendees. We checked the name cards on the tables to see who we would be dining with and were delighted to see that Neldie had seated us with Vinny and Dora Lupo. Vinny is one of the tasting guides at Hilmy, and he and Dora were the perfect table mates for Julie, Mandy and me.

When we were seated for the appetizer, Erik introduced Bob and Susan Wonacott, the owners of Eperon Vineyad in Canadian, Texas, while they poured Hilmy’s Vermentino, made from grapes grown by Bob and Susan. I was so impressed with the Vermentino that I requested a larger glass of it so I could complete a Visual Tasting while Bob and Susan were talking about their vineyard’s history.

Hilmy Eperon Vineyards Vermentino

We were also served a sample of Bob’s own Chardonnay which had mixed reviews from people I talked to after the dinner, but most of the negative comments I heard were from people who admittedly don’t care for Chardonnay. I think Chardonnay in Texas works best as a blending grape, but that’s my own “Anything but Cab, Merlot, and Chardonnay” view.

The next entrée was a pumpkin soup paired with Hilmy’s unreleased, unfiltered Viognier – the wine hailed in my previous article – a good match. My favorite pairing of the night was next: Hilmy’s Persephone with roasted chicken. Something in the two together “popped” in our palates and was delightful.

The fourth pairing was Politics and Religion with a Florentine steak. I am sure that it was a hard decision to pair the Politics And Religion with the steak and hold The Temp for the chocolate dessert pairing, but I think the decision left the steak “wanting”, some. Of course, the pairing may have suffered by following the chicken / Persephone bulls eye.

Between the steak and dessert, some of us took a break to stretch our legs, and I took the opportunity to deliver a 1926 Patron to Bob Wonacott who joined us on the tasting room porch to enjoy it. While others headed back to the dinner for the dessert pairing, Bob and I stayed on the porch to “talk shop”; and we shared a lot of common opinions about current Texas wines and the future of wine in Texas. I can’t say that we agreed about everything, though; after all, Bob did bring the chardonnay for us to try… (just kidding, Bob).

After dinner, several people joined us on the porch for more wine, smokes, and good conversation until folks started trickling to their homes. Erik invited us to continue our visit at his house -which we did for a short while; however, we had to leave soon so we could get some rest before our final Sunday push for ornament gathering.

Our verdict for the dinner? Wonderful. Great food, great company, and excellent wine.

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