After almost 40 years in the wine business, one would think a winemaker would be set in his ways. That might be true for Fall Creek Vineyards founder, Ed Auler, in some ways, but not when it comes to introducing new wine varieties.
I recently visited the barrel room of Fall Creek Vineyards as a guest of Ed and Susan Auler to taste through their new and upcoming releases – some straight from the barrel – and was thrilled to see some completely new varieties and the return of some favorites. Between now and next summer Fall Creek is introducing six red wines, two of which are completely new to its stable.
The Auler’s were early Texas wine industry pioneers, Founding Fall Creek in 1975. The winery has long made classic Chardonnay, Chenin Blanc, Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot varieties which were in-part influenced by renowned winemaker André Tchelistcheff who served as a wine consultant in the 1970s. The old dog has some new tricks with the recent introduction of Spanish styles and now the inauguration of Italian and southern French style wines as well.
2012 Fall Creek Vineyards Sangiovese, Salt Lick Vineyards, Texas Hill Country
“This is our first time to the rodeo with Sangiovese,” said Auler. Fall Creek uses Sangiovese grapes from Salt Lick Vineyards and blends it with 10.5 percent Cabernet Sauvignon and 10.5 percent Merlot grown by Alphonse Dotson at Certenberg Vineyards. The blending isn’t strictly true to an Italian style, but it brings out deeper color, more heft, rounder fruit flavors and firmer tannins. The 2012 Sangiovese is aged very briefly in oak barrels for a hint of vanilla. “It’s more than a kiss and less than a hug of oak,” he said. This first attempt at producing Sangiovese brings a bright and lively wine with raspberry and cherry flavors. It will be bottled in mid-summer and sold primarily in the tasting room.
2012 Fall Creek Vineyards GSM, Salt Lick Vineyards, Texas Hill Country
Another new wine this year is the Rhone style blend of 12 percent Grenache, 60 percent Syrah and 28 percent Mouvedre. Auler describes it as a “horseback blend,” deciding the percentages of various grapes on the run to get just the right flavor he’s looking for. He removes the juice from skin contact quickly before the tannins become too extracted. Fall Creek made a few batches of GSM in the past, but Auler thinks the grapes available now are superior and it was time to bring it back. The GSM has rich garnet color, violet and berry aromas and black cherry, blackberry fruit and a smoky finish. It is currently aging in American oak barrels and should be bottled and released in fall, 2013.
In its fourth vintage, the Fall Creek Tempranillo is hitting its stride. Auler’s eyes sparked as he introduced this wine. “One of my earthly goals is,” he paused with obvious excitement. “Well, let me put it this way. My hopes for this variety are very high. I think we could do better than Rioja with this.” I’m an unabashed fan of this wine. It lush color is almost opaque belying the extracted flavors of cherry, raspberry, vanilla and chocolate that underlies the dried fruit, cassis and dill scents. The 2011 Tempranillo was aged for a mix of new and older American oak barrels for 14 months. It was recently released and is available in local restaurants and in the tasting room.
2012 Fall Creek Vineyards, Tempranillo, Salt Lick Vineyards, Texas Hill Country
The next vintage of Tempranillo is right on the last vintage’s heels. Owner of the estate vineyards, Scott Roberts has put Salt Lick Vineyards on the map with his Tempranillo. The 2007 crop was lost, but he has sold strong fruit to Fall Creek every year since. The early look at 2012 hints that it will be yet another solid vintage. While it was obviously young, and will see barrel ageing until about February 2014, this wine had lush floral aromas and roses came through on the palate with bold cherry, zippy acidity and a clench of tannin. It will mellow over the next few months of aging to let that core of fruit to shine through.
2010 Meritus, Certenberg Vineyards, Texas Hill Country
Up next Auler presented the newest vintage of Fall Creek’s early pride and joy and still its crown jewel of Fall Creek Vineyards, the Meritus, a blend of 97 percent Cabernet Sauvignon and 3 percent merlot. “Some people say Bordeaux blends don’t belong in Texas. I say Bordeaux varieties grown in the right vineyards, made with the right techniques, do great in Texas,” said Auler. This is the wine that caught Bordeaux-turned-Californian wine maker and consultant, Tchelistcheff’s, attention back in the early 1970s.
Fall Creek doesn’t produce the Meritus unless the wines meet Auler’s exact expectations for quality. The 2002, 2003, 2005 and 2006 were the last vintages before the long wait for the 2010 brought it back to market. It was worth the wait, winning a Double Gold Medal at the 2013 Tasters Guild International Wine Competition. In fact the last three vintages have all won Double Gold. The 2010 is a big, beautiful wine with blackberry, currant, stewed cherry and mocha flavors. Its available for $40 in select Texas retail shops.
2012 Cabernet Sauvignon/Merlot, Certenberg Vineyards, Texas Hill Country
This blend of 50 percent Cabernet and 50 percent Merlot grown by Dotson excites Auler. “This has the potential to be the best wine we’ve ever made,” he said. “I intend this to be a Meritus when its ready.” While it was still young and will age for several more months in new and used oak barrels, it already has an earthy old-world style with cranberry and blackberry scents and bold blackberry, plum and blueberry flavors. It’s a full Monty of fruit flavors and soft tannins. We won’t see this wine on the market until about this time next year.
The focus of the Texas wine industry has definitely changed in recent years to make more wines with grapes that tolerate heat better – Spanish, Italian and southern French styles. It’s refreshing to see a stalwart producer in Fall Creek Vineyards embrace the new thinking while still making stand out wines with the classic varities that some claim just won’t work in Texas.
Now that the new lineup is out, you can try them for yourself. Let me know what you think.
Disclosure: samples of wine were provided at no charge for review; and delightful conversation and an elegant lunch were thrown in for good measure.