Fall Creek Vineyards making wine in the right place at the right time

Suzan and Ed Auler

Sometimes things just feel right. As a wine drinker things feel just right when I am sharing wine with friends and telling stories over appropriately paired food. When is it just right for a wine maker?

To answer that question, I recently had lunch at the home of Texas wine pioneers, Ed and Susan Auler, the owners of Fall Creek Vineyards. The Aulers opened four of their newly released wines and shared stories about the right place to grow the grapes and make each of the wines.

Ed Auler started our lunch by introducing the 2011 Fall Creek Vineyards Chardonnay. “Some people say that Chardonnay doesn’t belong in Texas. We disagree. Grapes grown in the right vineyard, with the right treatment, have a significant place here.” Fall Creek makes its Chardonnay with grapes grown by Alphonse and Martha Dotson of Certenberg Vineyard in Voca, Texas. The grapes are cold fermented to let the fruit flavor shine through and aged in just a touch of oak and partial malolactic fermentation to round it out with a little creaminess without giving it an oaky flavor.

An important part of what makes a wine taste right is the food you serve with it. A moderately oaked Chardonnay like the Fall Creek goes really well with rich and slightly fatty food that brings out the bright acidity of the wine.

Try bacon-wrapped figs stuffed with goat cheese as a delicious nibble. The creaminess of the cheese loves the smooth body of the wine and brings out the green apple and pineapple flavors. The fig delights in the wine’s tropical flavors and the smokiness of the bacon resonates with the smooth vanilla finish.

Summer is a perfect time for a picnic on the lake. What better wine at a picnic than a chilled, off-dry (slightly sweet) white wine. Auler is excited by the new white blend, 2010 Fall Creek Vineyards Cache, Texas. “This is the reason I like being in the wine business. I like doing something that hasn’t been done. This is an out of the box white blend that is drier than Conundrum.”

Fall Creek has blended 90 percent Chardonnay, nine percent Muscat Canelli and one percent Sauvignon Blanc to make a wine that is versatile enough to be served at an elegant meal or a picnic. Auler described it as, “Fruit forward and finishes dry. It has a blend of Chardonnay and Muscat flavors on the front and crisp Sauvignon Blanc on the finish.”

Picnics are all about ease. Grab some carry-out spicy Indian, Thai or Mexican food from your favorite restaurant or grocery store to go with this fruity wine. The ever so sweet honeysuckle, honeydew, and peach flavors will dance on your tongue with the hot peppers. While it’s not bone dry, it has enough acidity to balance it out.

In only its second vintage, this is a limited production wine with 225 cases made. The 2010 Fall Creek Vineyards Cache, Texas is available only in the Fall Creek Vineyards tasting room, to wine club members and in select restaurants in Texas for $15 a bottle.Picnics are all about ease. Grab some carry-out spicy Indian, Thai or Mexican food from your favorite restaurant or grocery store to go with this fruity wine.

One picnic wine is never enough. Next on the agenda, Auler served the 2010 Fall Creek Vineyards Chenin Blanc, Texas. Chenin Blanc is famously produced in Vouvray in the Loire Valley or France and is known as a cold climate grape.

How does it fare in Texas? Auler explained, “We don’t match up exactly with any other wine region geographically. I’ve never felt a Mediterranean climate in Texas in all my years on Earth. The Chenin Blanc grape grows well in warm climates like South Africa, just as much as it does in cool climates. To me the proof in the pudding is in the eatin’. It loves growing in Texas. We think our Chenin Blanc tastes very similar to the off dry wines from Vouvray.”

Fall Creek first started making Chenin Blanc 1982 and hasn’t changed the way it’s made since. They use arrested fermentation to leave a little residual sugar for sweetness and gave it a kiss of oak for a smooth body. Whether you have an older vintage hiding in your closet that has gotten darker and more honeyed, or if you have a fresh new release, try it with a rich fish dish. Cold poached trout with dill has the oil and heft to bring out the best of the pear, peach skin, fig and honey flavors of the Chenin Blanc.

I’m headed to Spain this summer for a wine tasting tour disguised as a family vacation, so when Auler introduced the 2010 Fall Creek Vineyards Tempranillo, Salt Lick Cellars, Texas Hill Country, my wine senses started to tingle. “I’m pretty excited about this grape. Tempranillo loves Texas and we hope Texas learns to love Tempranillo.”

While the Aulers planted the first Tempranillo grapes in Texas in 1988, they lost the vines in a devastating freeze. The 2010 Tempranillo is the third vintage Fall Creek has made with grapes grown by Scott Roberts in the Salt Lick Vineyards in Driftwood, Texas.

In the Rioja region of Spain, Tempranillo wines are required to be aged for two years, with a minimum one year in oak. Similarly, Fall Creek ages its Tempranillo in a mix of 50 percent new and 50 percent old American oak barrels. Auler is insistent monitoring vineyard conditions to ensure the harvested fruit is not overly tannic, reducing the likelihood of making an overly astringent wine. The grapes are then cold soaked and the final wine is bottle aged to let the tannins dissipate. Auler adds just a touch of Cabernet to the Tempranillo to give the wine a little punch.

I took the rest of the bottle home with me after lunch and tasted it alongside a 2007 Tempranillo from Rioja, Spain that had been aged in French and American Oak for 18 months. I was curious to see the stylistic similarities and differences.

The dark garnet color and viscosity of the two wines looked very similar. The aroma of the Spanish wine was greener with scents of dill and basil. The smell of cherry was secondary to the herbs. The strawberry, stewed fruit, leather and chocolate scents were more pronounced in the Fall Creek. The Spanish wine had zippy acidity and tasted of ripe cherry, raspberry, tobacco and vanilla flavors. The Fall Creek had richer, rounder raspberry, dried cherry and chocolate flavors balanced with red licorice, smooth vanilla and caramel on the finish. This wine goes particularly well with chilled beef tenderloin.

While there are differences in the Spanish and Texas Tempranillos, they are definitely brothers; the cherry flavors and oak influences belie their shared genealogy. My wife tasted them blind and preferred the rounder, full-flavor of Fall Creek.

Like the Cache, the Tempranillo is also a small batch, with only 200 cases made of the 2010 vintage. It is available only in the Fall Creek Vineyards tasting room, to wine club members and in select restaurants in Texas.

Sometimes in winemaking, the time isn’t quite right. Fall Creek has a couple more new releases that aren’t quite ready yet. The Fall Creek Vineyards Rosé Lenoir will be ready in about six weeks — just in time for the heat of summer to send us crawling to our fridge in search of a cold bottle of rosé.

This year, Fall Creek will introduce its flagship MERITUS as a Port, rather than as a Bordeaux-style wine. Auler explained, “I’ve always been picky about MERITUS. I want it just like I want it or I don’t want it. This one wants to be a Port so I said, OK, you’re going to be a Port.” The MERITUS Port will be released within the next six months.

The Aulers believe they are producing wines with grapes grown in the right places and only releasing new wines at the right time. I’m happy to enjoy them just about any place and any time with the right friends and the right food.

What are you drinking?

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Matt McGinnis

As a marketing strategist for Pen & Tell Us, Matt McGinnis provides marketing, branding and communications counsel to food and beverage as well as other clients globally. He is also an avid beverage enthusiast, chronicling his interests as a Food & Drink contributing writer for CultureMap, as the Food & Drink columnist for Austin Man Magazine, and as a blogger for What Are You Drinking?. He is passionate about the wine industry having previously worked at a winery in Oregon and in wine sales. He has served as Guest Host of Sommelier Cinema at the Alamo Drafthouse, and is a Certified Sommelier in the Court of Master Sommeliers. His writing has been recognized as a Top 10 Food Blog by the Austin Chronicle in 2013 and 2014, with a 2011 Texas Social Media Award from the Austin American-Statesman.

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