Listen to Austin 360 Radio

At William Chris, wine without messing around

Addie Broyles
abroyles@statesman.com

Chris Brundrett wouldn't want to be making wine anywhere else in the country.

"We are in the best location in the United States," says Brundrett, the Chris of William Chris Vineyards, which opened across U.S. 290 from the post office in Hye two years ago. "We've got some of the fastest growing cities within five hours of here, and we're not near market saturation." People are staying closer to home for vacations, he says, and they aren't just enjoying more local products, they want to have an experience getting those local products.

At William Chris, visitors get a taste of vintage Texas, too. The tasting room is located in a 100-year-old house that they've renovated to show off the original floors and "paint" that was made from caliche and sheep's milk because the owners couldn't afford paint. The centerpiece is a large wooden bar that dates back to the 1880s.

Behind the buildings where they make the wine is an old rock chicken house that Brundrett is turning into an estufa, a structure that will allow him to heat wine to about 150 degrees for six months to make Madeira wine. He also wants to plant Tannat grapes near the old graveyard that has inspired a number of ghost stories from people who work on the property.

Brundrett and Bill Blackmon started William Chris a few years ago in the form of 14 barrels tucked away in the basement of Pedernales Cellars, a winery located on the other side of Stonewall just down U.S. 290. Brundrett and Blackmon had both made wines for other people but wanted to run their own operation. They eventually got their land and have since built two production buildings that house the barrels of aging Tempranillo, Mourvèdre, Muscat, Syrah and Sangiovese, among others.

Brundrett says their philosophy is to do as little as possible to the grapes . They macerate grapes by hand, which means the purple stains on his hands from the crush a few weeks ago are just now wearing off; and they use gravity instead of pumps to move the wine from the large fermentation tanks into the barrels.

William Chris makes about 10 wines a year, including its signature Enchante, a blend of Merlot, Malbec, Cabernet Sauvignon. "We're trying to make Texas wines, not California or French wines," Brundrett says. (The quality is what draws Austin resident Dale Mayrose to Hye every day to help run the tasting room.) The winery is open for tastings , and many events at William Chris are for members of the Hye Society, a club that has grown to more than 500 members in less than a year.

Like just about everyone else who grows grapes in the state, Brundrett says the grapes they grew in the High Plains and north of Fredericksburg aren't as plentiful, but they are sweeter and better quality. "This will be one of the vintages to put Texas on the map."

abroyles@statesman.com; 912-2504