If Austinites want to drink Texas wine where it's made, they travel to the nearby Hill Country, which boasts plenty of lauded wineries that in good harvests can often use their own grapes to make the wine. Soon, with the upcoming Austin Winery, locals might not have to go far at all.
Three young entrepreneurs are opening the winery just off East 290 in the northeast part of town to build up the local urban wine scene, which they’ve noticed hasn’t taken off the way craft beer and cocktails have in the past few years.
While the Austin Winery isn’t surrounded by acres of land to grow grapes, the founders have sourced the fruit from both California and Texas, then fermented them onsite, to produce a solid beginning roster of mainly reds and three whites that will, in the next month or two, be available at boutique liquor stores and Whole Foods, some restaurants and bars, and at the winery.
CEO Ross McLauchlan, VP and winemaker Cooper Anderson and chief of operations Matthew Smith also plan to open a tasting lounge downtown in the coming months.
But in the meantime, their main focus is spreading the word about the wine and getting the winery ready to open. I stopped by on a recent visit to sample some of the wines and get their story.
They want to emphasize that just because most of their wines – which include three very different Pinot noirs, a Zinfandel and a Sauvignon Blanc – are made primarily with California grapes doesn’t mean they aren’t considered Texas wine.
“There are urban wineries in Vancouver, Chicago, New York… but it’s still a relatively new concept,” Anderson said. “Historically wineries and vineyards go together; a lot of times you don’t have one without the other. But no one goes to Austin Beerworks and asks, ‘But where are your fields of grain?’ Breweries here get their hops from all over and they still make Austin beer.”
Anderson, who worked at Driftwood Estate Winery and Vineyard with McLauchlan and at Duchman Winery, started out with more of a beer background; his father is a Virginian chemist with a small hop farm. However, his years in the wine industry – he also worked at St. Patrick’s of Texas, which distributes wine equipment – helped him to develop a passion for wine that McLauchlan tapped into when the idea to open the Austin Winery first began to ferment between the two friends in 2011.
McLauchlan is mainly in charge of finding grape varietals and blending them; he lets Anderson be the scientist who tests for sulfites and “makes sure we aren’t making poison,” he joked.
Smith, whom they met playing soccer, doesn’t have the extensive knowledge of wine that the other two do, but he “knows how to keep us organized and on point,” McLauchlan said.
So far the Austin Winery has produced eight California wines; two made with Texas grapes – a Merlot and a Blanc du Bois – will be ready in time for the official opening. McLauchlan said he and Anderson chose not to make wines only with Texas fruit because there simply wouldn’t be enough, particularly during bad harvests like last year’s.
“By sourcing from multiple places, rather than relying on statewide fruit, we stay consistent,” Anderson added.
All three are only in their mid-twenties, and at the time they started seeking out grape varietals, didn’t have much of a business to their name. So how were they able to cultivate so many good grapes from some of California’s best winegrowing regions, including the Russian River Valley and Sonoma County?
The grape growers and winemakers they reached out to, McLauchlan said, saw they were genuine about the project and were willing to help as “our elder consults.” Siduri Wine’s co-founder Adam Lee, a native Austinite, even reached out to them when he heard three Texas boys were on the hunt for California grapes.
“How can I help?” he said.
Because his Santa Rosa winery focuses primarily on producing Pinot noirs, he was able to get them closer to their goal of becoming Pinot specialists, McLauchlan said.
I sampled each of the Austin Winery wines and liked best the one that was created first: the 2010 Violet Crown, 80 percent Grenache and 20 percent Syrah, a very well-balanced blend that appeals to palates preferring fruit and spice alike. Along with the Old Vine Zinfandel, it’s available by the bottle but also in barrels that can hold up to 9 liters (or 12 bottles) of wine, perfect for big parties.
With the Austin Winery, McLauchlan, Smith and Anderson hope locally crafted wine gets the same reception that craft beer and cocktails do.
“I’ve never had that fear or intimidation of wine,” McLauchlan said, explaining that his Italian mom introduced him to a glass of wine with dinner when he was 8 years old. “It’s very romantic and mysterious and who wouldn’t want to enjoy that?”
To find out when the Austin Winery officially opens (it just needs a TABC inspection at this point), visit www.theaustinwinery.com and sign up for the mailing list.