Kuhlman Cellars Blog
Whew, we made it past May 4th! Why the sigh of relief? We are celebrating because in 2013, Texas had a devastating frost decimating the 2013 grape crop!
Growing Grapes in Texas Ain’t Easy
We’ve been watching weather forecasts and our vines with prayers and fingers crossed since late February. At the end of February, you may recall a frigid cold snap, where luckily our vines were mostly asleep and so were unaffected. Some of our friends and neighbors in the hill country weren't as fortunate and suffered losses.
As is said of Texas weather, if you don’t like the weather, just wait a minute! And now as the threat of frost is removed, our eyes turn to hail.
Hail can wreak terrible damage on a vineyard (or house, car or really anything) in a short amount of time. Already, two of our three Hill Country vineyards have been hit with hail. Twice in one week, the Cobb Family Vineyard suffered damage from a hail storm. Most recently, the thunderstorm of May 3 also brought hail to our newest vineyard of Petite Sirah at Barons Creekside, right inside Fredericksburg. Luckily, damage to both vineyards doesn’t appear to be significant and we will adjust our canopy management to adapt.
We still have a fair bit to go in terms of springtime hail threats, but we keep crossing our fingers and waiting the Texas minute!. There are plenty of worries in farming that are threats out of our control: we have “tropical rain events”, severe heat waves, animal predation and a host of diseases. In 2017, the tropical rain event was Harvey, which brought an astounding amount of rain to Texas. Luckily for the vineyard, we had harvested our Hill Country fruit before his arrival,
We take our challenges as a reminder of our connection to the land we farm, the community that supports us, and the miracle that is the resulting fruit. In every bottle there is a story: a labor of love, a commitment to faith, and the rewards of perseverance.
I was leading a tasting the other day and someone asked where our wine names came from and who named the wines. The very short answer: me! The longer answer will be revealed in two parts: our winery name and then our wine names.
When Jennifer and I “bought the farm” back in 2010, we specifically sought a place both peaceful to our souls, but also furthering our family goal of a personal vineyard. The 34 acres we bought has a beautiful 10 acre pasture but also some hills and a small valley. Kuhlman Creek forms on this property, which is sited at the northern ridge of the Pedernales River Valley. As we face south, we have a beautiful view stretching 4 miles and several hundred feet gradual drop down to the river. It’s stunning and peaceful.
When we launched the winery, we struggled with a name. We didn’t want to name it after our family, because the winery isn’t about us. Further, we didn’t want to distract from our amazing wines and the meaningful experience of food and wine pairings. Some of you know we originally thought Kuhlman Creek Cellars, but dropped “creek” when we realized how many places already have a “creek” as part of their name! Kuhlman is anything but a follower or part of the crowd - we’ve completely redefined the meaning of wine and food pairings as related to wine tastings.
Back in 2010, the creek was a live water stream and had flowed seemingly uninterrupted for years, even through the terrible 1950’s drought. Our oldest son even caught some small perch in the creek, much to my surprise and a lost bet! However, the extreme drought of 2011-2013 changed that and the creek dried up. It’s flowing again on a seasonal basis, though the importance of water on all of our ecology can’t be understated. The Texas A&M Forest Service estimates approximately 300 million Texas trees perished because of the 2011 drought!
The winery is named after water - the foundation of life. Our wine names are about the dirt in which the vines grow, and their story will be told in a later blog. When we add in our unique Texas weather and our yearly labor of love in the vineyard and cellar, the result is wine. Really great wine!
Where did January go?!
I know I feel this way every new year, but we’ve turned around, took a breath, and have already flown into February! That’s exciting though because that means we’ve also enjoyed one of our favorite events: the Annual Super Bowl Tailgate party! That day was so much fun with wine and incredible food. And, we won the weather lottery - AGAIN - with stunningly perfect weather. It’s always risky in February in Texas, but we all adapt and do what we do.
Another reason I look forward to February: it’s time to think about our new vintage red wine blends! It’s an exciting and anticipatory time when we start talking about blends, volumes, and goals. It’s more enticing when Benedicte comes around with sample bottles and graduated cylinders.
Our red winemaking process follows a general pattern: harvest in the fall to make red wine in individual lots from our different vineyards. Let the wine begin maturing in tank and barrel until February the following year, when unique terroir character becomes more evident. Bénédicte then begins her blending magic crafting the wines we’ve come to love as well as potential new. By the end of March, we typically settle on the blends. By June, the blending is typically complete and the wines then rest in barrel till bottling. Bottling is a long process guided by the wine’s maturation progress. Our first red bottling tranche typically happens in June, two years after harvest. A second bottling typically happens around 28 months post-harvest. We now have some wines which we are aging even longer to see how they develop in the barrel. Once bottled, the wines then rest anywhere from 4 to 12 months before release. It is a long process!
For 2017, we have some familiar red wines in barrel: Alluvé, Barranca, KanKar, Merlot, Zinfandel, Gypsum and Malbec-Merlot. Excitedly, we are producing several new wines, including: a Brunello Sangiovese, a Bordeaux Blend (Cabernet, Merlot and Malbec) as well as a Newsom Vineyard blend (Tempranillo, Cabernet, Malbec). These new wines are amazing, already complex, and teasing and testing the patience of us all. Bottling of these 2017 red beauties starts in June, but some of these wines might not be bottled for another couple of years. Patience!
We don’t yet know the blends for 2018… ask us in a couple of months. We do know the Brunello will in the line up along with our regulars. What else awaits? We will just have to wait and see… there is no speed in winemaking, just the careful cadence of nurturing the vineyard and wine.
See you at the estate soon!
Welcome to 2019! Hard to believe we are already in January 2019. I know it is always this way as we wonder where last year went and what is in store for the new year. With the start of the new year, it is also time to debut the new 2019 Winter Pairing menu.
We rotate the menu every three months to keep things fresh, local and seasonal. Besides, it's always neat to anticipate and then experience what new and different ideas Chef Cook has for us to enjoy. This menu is no different. To provide a little bit of a spoiler, we get to enjoy puffed Cheetos... wrapped in salami and dipped in an incredible avocado aioli paired with the 2016 Texas High Plains Merlot. Chester will be proud to see his snack elevated in ways unexpected!
We are sometimes asked why we go through the effort to provide wine and food pairings. The answer is two fold: First, in our opinion, wines are best experienced when surrounded with friends, food and family. They facilitate community and conversation. Gathering around the table is the foundation of our food culture and traditions. We find ourselves connecting and reflecting. Wine helps us slow down and appreciate the bounty in our lives.
The Kuhlman Cellars food pairing tasting helps promote connections and relaxation. We sit at the tasting table where all are welcome. We find ourselves talking, laughing and sharing with friends new and old. It is amazing
how many times new friendships are made or old ones are rediscovered by happenstance in the tasting room. That is what it is all about! We are pleased to facilitate this experience and have our wines be part of something special.
Second: growing and making wine takes a long time. Our red wines age around 30 months between harvest and release. KanKar, one of our flagship wines, takes about 38 months from harvest to release. So, let's not be in a hurry to slam down a wine-shot and race down the road. Instead, let's slow down, sit down, relax and savor. It is worth the effort.
The new menu will run until the end of March. This gives you plenty of time to find a day to reserve your tasting at the estate taste the wine and food bites. Don't forget, we also list out all the past pairing menus on the website, should you want to remind yourself of prior bites and perhaps new ideas for your own culinary adventure!
See you at the estate soon.
We bottled the 2016 KanKar this week. Don't get too excited. We won't be releasing it until September, 2019 - or another 10 months from now. Patience!
The 2016 KanKar will take about 36 months from harvest to release - 3 years. While we would all love to open that beautiful wine today, the simple fact remains: fine wine takes time.
For example: We invested over 5 years to release the first Estate wines earlier this year. Much of that time was converting the land from a coastal field to a vineyard and then farming the land and tending the vines, nurturing them to health and harvest. Fortunately, the first wines are whites and rose, since those "only" take about a year to produce post-harvest! It is one reason we love our tasting experiences so much: we all get to slow down and savor the literal fruits of our labors.
Modern conveniences and machines now exist to speed up the winemaking process; however, the consequences of rushing and pushing are, in our opinion, to the detriment of the quality and character of the wine. For us and our winemaking philosophy, only hand tended wines with ample time provides the optimal path towards excellence! After all, once the wine is in the glass and you experience the exceptional quality, can we reflect and realize the time and effort are worth it.
So, as we look to the end of the year and the promise of the new, let's slow down and savor with our community and family. Open the older wine and enjoy the graceful aging which time brings. Enjoy wine with friends, family and food. And we can wait awhile longer with anticipation as the younger wines continue their path of maturation.
23* on November 14 brought the 2018 viticulture year at our three Fredericksburg, Texas vineyards to a fast frozen end!
2018 was a challenging year in many respects, though really just another typical grape growing effort in Texas. I often describe Texas viticulture as one of survival. We have many risks to navigate: springtime frost, hail, disease, animal predation and "tropical rain events" (e.g., Hurricanes). Any year we harvest fruit is a success!
2018 started a little later than 2017, with the vines waking up in early March rather than late February. We avoided springtime frost and by April, growth was fast and abundant as the vines burst forth with the energy of Spring!
We had a very hot and dry growing season. The heat spike of June into July proved challenging as the vines struggle in excessive heat. The Estate Carignan, in prticular, seemed to suffer. The warm weather though, generally had the vines progressing through their maturation efforts quickly.
The estate fruit came in beautifully! We were pleased to get the first harvest off the Mourvedre in Block 1. This will be part of the estate Kuhlmanation Rose. We also welcomed the first ever harvest from our partner vineyard at Barons Creekside inside the city limits of Fredericksburg. This Petite Sirah vineyard is developing beautifully. Finally, we were relieved to harvest fruit at Cobb Family Vineyard again, after the racoon predation of 2017. We took the last fruit from the estate Carignan block 5 at the end of August. The fruit was beautiful. We harvested just in time too, as Texas weather rotated to a very wet early fall!
Keeping the vines healthy with all the rain was a challenge - the muddy vineyard made it tough to enter either on foot or tractor! Yet, the team managed and the vines made it through - and are looking great for next spring.
After the first freeze on November 14, the vines quickly went to sleep. As we walk the vineyards, we see the remnants of the season, including the occasional late developing cluster, now frozen in time. Texas viticulture isn't easy and it's never predictable. However, when successful, we are rewarded with distinctly unique, quality driven wines. We look forward to sharing the new vintage with you... but only when the wines are ready. For now, practice patience!
What an incredible ride it's been since October 3, 2014 when we opened the doors and officially launched Kuhlman Cellars: It hardly seems like it’s been four years!
It's funny how time and events evolve over the years. When we opened, the rustic dirt entry road led our guests to the parking lot and the lone structure we now call ‘the barrel room’ had triple duty for wine production, storage and tasting room. Vineyard infrastructure was still being installed such as irrigation piping, end posts and wire; while the rough "path" to the front door consisted circular paver stones from Home Depot! On that first highly anticipated Friday, we anxiously threw open the doors to welcome our guests... and well, no one came on that first day! We realized that having a sign on 290 would be helpful, so that came a few weeks later.
Our winery vision and inspiration has been constant: elevate the wine and hospitality experience of Texas wine. We want to drive wine quality improvement and innovate an unparalleled tasting-experience. I feel we’ve achieved (and continue to innovate) our goals on both fronts. More importantly, we've built a wonderful team committed to enhancing the community and sharing our passion for wine. Vineyards take a lot of work and operate at the speed of life... as such, so do we. We've built countless friendships, been a part of engagements & marriages, moves both long and short, life events, new jobs and expanding families: for that we are boundlessly grateful.
Thank you to all who've been part of our story, because this is what it is all about: community. Wine is the center-piece of all that comes from motivated work and appreciation of the finer things. It's not instant and it isn't easy, but the rewards are immeasurable. In the end, we rediscover what matters the most when we slow down: Family, Friends and Fellowship.
The Côte d'Azur smells of perfumed wild flowers, savory herbs, mountain Mistral wind, and Mediterranean shells by the blue coast. Rewind the image to 26 centuries past, as the Greeks are colonizing Massalia (modern day Marseille) an old Ligurian province, around 600 BC. The Greeks bring a wine culture to the area, and by the 4th century BC it was already a major trade post and port, exporting local salted pork, fish, coral, wines, cork, and medicinal and aromatic herbs and plants between the Roman Republic and Gallic France, and traders would follow the Atlantic to the British Isles, and up rivers like the Rhone to trade with Burgundy, Switzerland and as far as the Baltic Sea. In order to protect trade route commodities from incursion from Etruscans, Carthaginians and Celts, by the 1st century BC, the communities of Nice, Arles, Cannes and Marseille had allied themselves to the Republic, becoming the first Roman province outside of Italy, and the area became known as Provincia Romana, dubbed "provincia nostra" ("our province") from which the current name for Provence is derived.
The wines of Provence in antiquity were fresh, light, exuberant, and pale in color, as the juice of the grapes was quickly removed from the skins immediately after harvest, allowing for but a very short maceration (grape skin to juice contact) before fermentation. Long maceration times were practiced on a limited basis, and possibly used for tonics, tinctures, or aromatized infusions, much in line with ancient Roman traditions (think bitter Amaros and Vermouth). It is also known that ancient cultures have practiced polyculture (white/black grapes co-harvested and co-fermented at the same time) in their vineyards, a way of blending wine via the vineyard field blend, and thus increasing the chances of pale colored wines.
Provence benefited of fame for the quality of their wines across of Julius Caesar's Republic, but it's not until 8 BC that Provence becomes really Romanized under Augustus, building aqueducts, arenas, fora, villas, baths, theatres, monuments, and roadways, now spanning from Hispania's Pyrenees to the Ligurian Alps, now part of the Roman Empire. However, it is after this time from the 3rd to the 5th century and beyond that the propagation of vines via the monastic orders would catapult, as they would make wine not only for the service and sacrament, but also the sale and export of wine to fill the coffers of their monastic establishments, and build regional wealth that would catapult Provence to the highest courts.
By 880 Provence had become an independent County, and in spite of neighboring political conflict, the wines of the region remainedsought after, and well received along all the lines of extraordinary aristocrats; duchies, and dynasties. The Nobility was the best ancient class of "marketing" as ambassadors, courtiers, and emissaries would often refer to wines from their travels and visits to foreign realms, as royalty does, the rest follow. The wines of Provence gain even further acclaim in the 14th century, as the reign of the French Papacy seats in Avignon, then in the Holy Roman Empire, and as the most important noble families, honored royal subjects, and top officers of the royal armies would acquire and oversee many vineyards in Provence, establishing the foundations for modern wine production in the region. It's not until the late 15th century that Provence legally becomes part of the Kingdom of France, and thrived under the Ancien Régime throughout the Middle Ages. Provence saw its share of trouble during the Napoleonic Campaigns in the post-revolutionary period, as it remained largely royalist. By the 19th century the port of Marseille was monumental in maintaining the French relations with new Franco-African colonies, and in fact, to import wine from Algeria notably, back to France during the plight of Phylloxera that ravaged European vineyards.
In modern times, unlike all the other regions of the French Republic, Provence's wine production remains roughly about 80% rosé, with 14% red and 6% white. As in ancestral times, the wines are pale gray-pink (sometimes referred to as vin gris) and raging from melon, peach, mandarin, to grapefruit pink-hues, and they retain their bright acidity, perfumed elegance, and fruity aromatics that make the style of Provençal wines a benchmark for rosé wines across the globe today. Not only was Provence prodigious in establishing a wine culture in the rest of Gaul during the Greco-Roman times, and a cast commodity in the royal and papal regimes, but also has been known for a culinary center with their fused Mediterranean cuisine of excellence.
Some of the most well known and well loved gastronomic pairings for rosé in Provence are; Salade Niçoise (tuna green salad), Bouillabaisse (fish stew), Anchoïade (anchovy paste), Escabèche (acid-vinegar marinades), Ratatouille (vegetable stew), Aïoli (garlic mayonnaise), but rosé has proven to pair well with many cheeses, charcuteries, poultry, pork, and seafood dishes, fish in general, as well as sushi, sashimi, and other international cuisines that may be more challenging to pair with white or red wines in general, like Thai/Indian and other Asian cuisines, with Peruvian and Mexican gastronomy and American pique-niques like barbecue, hot dogs, hamburgers, and pizza.
Speaking of pique-niquin' - as we dawn upon our warm Texas Summer season, rosé wines should be considered for not just cuisine pairing, but the hot weather environment that demands a refreshing wine, as they do in Provence. Leading by example, Kuhlman Cellars winemaker Bénédicte Rhyne (who incidentally grew up in Aix-en-Provence), has released the first rosé made under the Kuhlman Cellars label, from Texas High Plains made as a co-fermented field blend of 10% Ugni Blanc and 90% Cinsaut (classically used grapes in the French Riviera) in the 2015 vintage. It is a refreshing wine, with firm structure, and elegant profile, yet fun character. The wine is named “Hensell” after the Hensell Sands found at the Cobb Family Vineyard, a geological formation in the Edward Aquifer in the Texas Hill Country.
So, who says time travel doesn't exist? The time capsule is the bottle, as it preserves traditions (some of which have been extremely codified). Travel today in time, share with friends a bottle of Hensell rosé with a rustic bread, an array of cheese and cured meats, a jam preserve, and Kuhlman's signature Spanish Marcona almonds with Herbes de Provence, and reminisce of how the ancient Greeks and Romans enjoyed life by the Côte d'Azur in provincia nostra over 2000 years ago enjoying a similarly refreshing pale pink-hued wine.
Santé mes amis!
Hang on to your hats folks – Bud Break is upon us early in 2016.
Bud break is when the grapevines wake from their winter slumber and begin the annual growth cycle, hopefullyculminating in a high quality winegrape harvest! It is also the time when all of us winegrowers become obsessed with weather forecasts, temperature predictions and storm tracking. It is a nervous time. Inevitably, the grapes wake up before the last frost occurs and those frosts destroy more grape clusters than pretty much anything else in Texas! Our average last frost date in the Fredericksburg area is March 26. However, that simply means 50% of the final frost events for the year occurred by that date. The 90% last frost date isn’t until about April 14. This is when, historically, 90% of the final frost events have occurred.
The grapes awoke early this year. This is because we had an overall mild winter, but also because we had a very warm February. Let’s put things in perspective. Our 2016 bud break was March 7. This is the earliest we have encountered at the family vineyard. And it is the earliest by a lot – last year in 2015, we didn’t achieve bud break until March 24! Bud break in 2014 and 2013 was March 21 and March 15th respectfully. Therefore, March 7 represents about 3 weeks earlier than 2015 and 1 week earlier than our previous record.
So far, the weather looks promising. Though the weather isn’t up to us. Instead, we work hard to keep the vines healthy and we stay prepared to take whatever actions we can to protect those tender buds in cases of cold weather. Site selection is critically important to help defend against frost. At the family vineyard, we have nearly 2 miles of clear valley spreading out south of the vineyard along with about 200 feet of elevation drop. This allows the cold air to simply flow out of the vineyard and not settle to impact the vines.
As we progress through the growing season we look to transition from risk period to risk period. We start with frost, proceed through hail and ultimately encounter mold / fungus and proceed on to four legged and two winged pests in the form of mammals and birds who want to eat our precious fruit. We don’t breathe easy until the fruit is harvested and in the cellar!
With some fortune and very hard work, 2016 will not only see the third family vineyard harvest, but also the first at the Estate. We will see, but hopes are high and optimism strong.
What is the first thing that comes to mind when you think of a dusty old cellar beneath a Chateau in France? What is the first thing people want to see when they tour a winery? The answer for most of us would be the wine barrel. Simply put, the oak barrel is one of the single most romantic things to observe in the cellar, they are equally as beloved in regards to winemaking. Barrels act as a vessel, a membrane between the wine and the oxygen-rich air outside of the barrel. These metal-hooped, toasted bunches of oak slats, call staves, are oh-so important to the art of making fine wine. Let us take a look into the world of wine barrels, and why they are an integral tool in the cellar.
Firstly, why barrel age a wine? A wine barrel acts as a porous barrier, allowing small amounts of oxygen transfer to occur over time. This aspect of barrel aging really helps to achieve structure and marriage of flavors in a wine. Second, it is very common to obtain flavors from a new oak barrel during its first use, typically within the first year or two of a barrel’s life. After such time, the barrel becomes what we call neutral, basically meaning it imparts little flavor into the wine, but the oxidative effect and additional tannins from the wood are still very much present.
There are several regions in which we harvest oak, but the two most common would be French and American oak. Each has their own unique personality and offers different characteristics to the wine housed within them.
American oak- Harvested from oak in the warmer climate of the United States, this type of wood has looser graining which produces more aggressive flavor profiles. Baking spices, dill, vanilla and toasty flavors are often exuded from American oak.
French oak- Harvested from the cooler climate of France, this type of wood offers tighter graining which produces more gentle flavor profiles. Gentle notes of vanilla and toast can be expected from French oak.
What about tannins? In wine, tannins come from the skins, seeds (called pips), and the stems of the grape clusters. Did you know tannins also are imparted from the oak barrels? Typically we perceive phenolic tannins from the fruit on the front palate, while the tannin compounds from the oak barrels are often sensed on the back palate. Tannins in general are perceived as astringency all over the mouth, and add a ton to the structural mouth-feel of a wine.
Next time you are in a tasting room and are admiring the oak barrels, try and remember how much they add to the finished product in your glass. Let us also give a shout-out to the people that put in the time and effort that went into making a wine barrel by hand.
Vina Vita, my friends!