Something is happening in the Texas wine industry that is indicative of its maturity and commitment that reaches beyond what we may already know about the budding industry. Forget about the economic impact studies, forget about the Texas Hill Country being named a Top 10 Wine Destination by Wine Enthusiast in 2014, and forget about the millions of people each year that support and discover Texas wines.
What I’m talking about is in the glass. The quality and types of wines we’re tasting today that are grown and made in Texas are, like the realities above, only possible because of the culmination of 40 plus years of struggle and adaptation that has occurred between the revitalization of the Texas wine industry in the 1970s and today.
What’s in the glass is simple, it’s pedigree. Wines with pronounced flavors that are consistently expressed across vintages are becoming a real and sought after character. This is occurring even at a time when the pioneering and experimental mentality is still very much at the forefront of the Texas wine industry.
One of these wines I believe to be showing its pedigree is the Lost Oak Winery estate (Post Oak Vineyard) Syrah/Shiraz. I’ve been enamored with this wine since first tasting it in 2012, and several times each year since then. It consistently performs well in the Texas Wine Journal tastings I direct, ranking in the top three in the Syrah/Shiraz category for the last two years, including a category-topping 92-point rating this past March. It is also the only wine across all categories (13 rated to date, encompassing 261 wines) in which two different vintages of the same wine ranked in the top ten.
If this is a wine of strong pedigree, which I think it is, then why?
Wines with pedigree are crafted from grapes meticulously grown and harvested from vineyards perfectly suited to that grape. Gene Estes, the founder and winemaker at Lost Oak Winery, said, “Making a great wine requires superior wine grapes, lots of devotion, time, and sacrifice.” When I asked him specifically about the best wine he makes he said, “Syrah (Shiraz) is the best wine we make and I think it has to do with our location, soil type and micro-climate and the care and attention given to our estate vineyards.”
Post Oak Vineyard, where Lost Oak’s estate Shiraz is exclusively grown, is a slice of Barossa Valley in the middle of Burleson, Texas, a 52-acre estate made up of sandy clay loam soils. Each soil type contributes its own influence; sandy soils tend to produce wines that are soft in terms of fruit, acid, and tannin and are aromatic, loam soils are fertile soils and therefore are typically poor soils to grow wine grapes in, unless the loam is mixed and clay soils provide power, deeper colors and higher levels of extract.
In part because it’s a low yielding variety in North Central Texas, Estes notes that Syrah/Shiraz, “requires meticulous attention and patience, but the result exemplifies the importance that superior wine grapes play in making superior wines.”
The Shiraz coming from Post Oak Vineyard has a unique ability to show its place in a quality way consistently, and therefore is a wine that shows pedigree. Like great Shiraz from Barossa Valley, the Post
Oak Vineyard Shiraz has the ability to match power, bigness and intensity of flavor with elegant perfume and integrated structure; it’s like a 300-pound ballerina. But it wasn’t until I considered the human element that I realized the true scope of pedigree this wine has. It’s the type of people behind this wine that make it so special and provides longevity to its pedigree.
To understand this better we have to look at arguably one of the most difficult hurdles would-be wineries would have to overcome to produce wine in Texas.
For 70 years, from 1933 (the end of Prohibition) to 2003, it was illegal for dry counties in Texas to manufacture or sell alcohol. Legislative action was required and it wouldn’t be without the dedication and the pioneering mentality of Estes and fellow winemaker Jim Evans that helped flip the Texas wine industry on its head. Since the passing of House Bill 892 during the 2003 legislative session, the Texas wine industry has exponentially grown by allowing all 254 counties in Texas, whether dry or not, to grow, produce and sell wine. The economic development has been, and continues to be quite astounding and it this same type of pioneering perseverance that has allowed Gene and Jim to craft incredible wines consistently.
The Shiraz from Post Oak Vineyard is the result of the Estes’ and Evans’ 68 years of combined experience growing and producing wine in Texas, arguably one of the most difficult growing environments in the world to contend with, and it has taken what Gene calls “the Texas mentality of doing the impossible.”
Ultimately what I’ve come to realize, is that it takes great people to grow great grapes to make great wines. The beautiful thing is that this is just one example of wines with pedigree being produced in Texas. The industry is shifting into third gear and bringing with it an influx of talent, enhanced understanding of vineyard and winery best practices, business savvy and fastidious people with commitment to producing the highest quality wines as possible.
For the sake of transparency, readers should know that I am a founding director, and the current tasting director for the Texas Wine Journal (a 501c3 organization). I am certified as an Executive Sommelier, Master Candidate and Senior Wine Instructor with the International Wine & Spirits Guild and have actively been involved in the Texas wine industry since 2012 in both for-profit and non-profit roles. More information about the Texas Wine Journal can be found at www.texaswinejournal.org
By Daniel Kelada