When William “Bill” Blackmon and Chris Brundrett first looked across the fields and at the 100 year old dilapidated house on a plot of land on Highway 290 in Hye, Texas, they didn’t see fallow farmland, they saw the perfect spot for William Chris Vineyards. They converted that old house to a rustic tasting room, built production and storage facilities and planted their main vineyard is Granite Hill near Fredericksburg. William Chris Vineyards has come a long way since its opening in 2009, but their dreams are still bigger.
Bill and Chris intend the winery to be a destination for wine tourism, events and food and wine education. Their regular “Hye Society Wine Club” events are just one way to expose guests to these elements, and they do it up with style. I attended one of events Hye Society this month — The Watermelon Thump and Chef Throw Down — which did a great job of showing off the winery, food and wine pairings and gave us a glimpse into the winery’s future.
The winery has enjoyed steady growth in production of its 13 varieties of wine. In the first year William Chris produced 800 cases using 100 percent Texas-grown grapes, doubled that production in the second year doubled and are now making about 6,500 cases. That’s just the start. The two winemakers led Hye Society guests on a tour of the property to show us its growth.
The event featured a vineyard tour that was influenced by similar tours in California wineries, helping guests to connect with the land where the wine is born. We started in the gorgeous Oak Grove, a focal point of the estate vineyards and a future home to weddings and other celebrations. We were treated to a taste of the 2010 William Chris Current rosé with fresh watermelon under the broad oak canopy. With that fresh summer pairing in hand, we toured the newly planted vineyards. William Chris has more than 40 acres of vineyards under management in the Hill Country and High Plains of Texas. The new Malbec, Tannat, and Petite Verdot vines will produce fruit ready for wine in about three years to keep the pace of growth going.
On to the food and wine pairings. William Chris Vineyards regularly features the artisanal cheeses from Brazos Valley Cheese, a Waco-based family venture. A representative of the company brought a selection of cheese made from raw cow’s milk sourced in a 25 mile radius. Each of the cheeses paired well with the 2010 William Chris, Blanc du Bois, a refreshing tart and citrusy white wine. The award winning cheeses are available in Austin at Whole Foods Market, Antonelli’s Cheese Shop as well as Greenling organic delivery.
On to the highlight of the evening, the Chef Throw Down. Four area chefs were tasked with creating two courses for the competition. The first course had to feature fresh Go Texan watermelon and the second reflected the cuisine of their respective restaurants. Here’s what we had:
Chef Ben Huselton of Paggi House prepared compressed watermelon with mascarpone, black salt, micro-mint, extra virgin olive oil. The dish let the watermelon speak for itself. His second course was Black tea brined duck breast, with quinoa salad, and orange gremolata dressed with natural au jus made with the duck bones. The duck paired well with the 2010 William Chris Enchante Bordeaux blend.
- Chef Shane Stark of Kenichi prepared a fresh summer salad of sweet and sour watermelon with cucumbers, arugula, and goat feta. His second course was a delightfully light watermelon carpaccio with tuna crudo, wasabi granita garnished with water cress. He compressed the watermelon with plum wine and yuzu juice. This dish paired well with slightly sweet William Chris Current rosé.
- Chef Rich Taylor of Quality Seafood created a watermelon ceviche lettuce wrap, lobster, shrimp, scallop, orange, mint ginger and hint of lime. Man that was good. His second course was an amazing Texas Bouillabaisse made with Texas Gulf shrimp, Gulf oysters, mussels and clams cooked with William Chris wine in the clam juice and fish stock. The fruity 2010 William Chris Emotion red blend went well with this fish stew.
- Chef Joseph Bannister of Rose Hill Manor, whipped up a light appetizer of seared scallop and watermelon kohlrabi salad with watermelon ketchup served with an icy watermelon mint sorbet. His second course was smoked duck ham with fresh black eyed pea salad, goat cheese aioli with crunchy house-made puff rice. The 2010 William Chris Hunter Merlot and Cabernet blend made a good bedfellow with the salty, bold duck.
The voting was tight as each contestant had fantastic food that went well with the wines. Chef Stark took the prize for his watermelon summer salad. Chef Taylor wowed the crowd with his Texas Bouillabaisse winning the fan favorite for the second course.
The evening was capped off by Chris blending wine from barrels of the 2011 vintage. It was a great way to get everyone excited for the upcoming bottling. Events like the The Watermelon Thump and Chef Throw Down are a great way for the winery to achieve their dream of becoming a destination for all things Texas food and wine. It’s a far cry from the desolate farmland they found just three years ago.
A version of this story ran previously on CultureMap.