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?

Fall Creek Vineyard Bets Big on Texas Wine

 “This isn’t an easy business. It takes a tremendous amount of work and skill. Its’ also a big gamble.”
Ed Auler’s words bounced around in my head. I had just driven about two hours from Austin to visit with him at his winery, Fall Creek Vineyards. On the way I’d passed dry river beds, scorched fields and groves and groves of sun-seared trees dying by the dozens; all victims of the most severe single-year drought in Texas history and the hottest summer ever recorded in the United States. “It’s also a big gamble.” The weather this year makes me wonder why anyone would gamble with producing wine in Texas.
Ed Auler, founder, Fall Creek Vineyards

 If it weren’t for Ed Auler, perhaps no one would bother trying to make wine here. He’s one of the Texas wine industry pioneers that paved the way.

In the early 1970s the Auler family had been in cattle ranching for five generations. At the time the cattle business was going south. Ed thought about growing pecans and peaches as an alternative. Then the crazy notion of growing grapes to produce wine came up. He didn’t know much about wine, but his wife, Susan, who knew a little more encouraged him to take a trip to Europe to learn more about wine. Once in Europe they realized there were a lot of similarities with various wine regions and the growing conditions in Texas.

When they returned, Ed and Susan planted an experimental vineyard to test it. It worked well, so they doubled down and bought more land on the north west shore of Lake Buchanan where the prevailing breeze cools the air quickly at night. Grapes love hot days and cool nights. The sandstone and limestone rich soil in the area is transported from the High Plains of Texas by the Colorado River and is reminiscent of the premier soils in wine regions in Europe. It was a good location to gamble on making wine.  

They planted the vineyards in 1975 and opened the winery in 1979. It was only the second winery in Texas closely following Llano Estacado Winery which opened in 1978. The early days were challenging with trial-and-error in the vineyard. The Aulers experimented with grapes looking for the varietals that thrived. At one point they grew 25 varietals on the property. It was lonely in the early days without a community of wine makers to turn to for advice. It was a big gamble. 

In 1990 Mother Nature had a Royal Flush and blew a catastrophic freeze into the Fall Creek vineyards. The only thing that survived was the Chenin Blanc vines. The Aulers weren’t about to give up. They replanted the vineyards with new trellising and other varietals. Not long after, they were dealt another blow when Pierce’s Disease sucked the life out of the vines. This set-back triggered Fall Creek to source grapes from other suppliers while they replanted the vineyard. Rather than betting everything on their own grapes a third time, they put a program together that spread the chips to other vineyards around the state to minimize risk.

Now Fall Creek vineyards are planted with Black Spanish Lenoir, a neutral blending grape, and they buy grapes on long-term contract such as Chenin Blanc from Mesa Vineyards in Pecos County and Tempranillo from Salt Lick Vineyard south west of Austin.

Ed and Susan Auler learned about wine in Europe and acquired a European taste for wine. The climate at Fall Creek is like Rioja in Spain. The climate at Fall Creek is like Southern France. It is also like Mendoza in Argentina, yet its own region with a style all its own. They employed Burgundian wine-making techniques in pursuit of the European taste profile. To further hone their technique, they called on renowned winemaker André Tchelistcheff as a wine consultant. Tchelistcheff is credited with creating a Napa style for Cabernet while working at Beaulieu Vineyards (BV) and he brought some of that “new world” flair to Fall Creek. The Fall Creek wines respond well to new world technology such as cold fermentation and precision processes.

One of Tchelistcheff’s influences is his encouragement of the Bordeaux blend, Meritus. He tasted the wine and really liked it. Tchelistcheff encouraged the Aulers to set aside Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Bordeaux varieties and give them white kid glove treatment to make a special wine. Don’t let the grapes get too hot. Don’t let the skins stay on too long. Age the wine in oak barrels and leave it alone. This is the advice Fall Creek has followed since the 1980s. Meritus is only made in the years that it works out well. Fall Creek won’t bottle it unless very pleased and feel it’s worth it. “This is Texas. Texas weather can be our best friend or our worst enemy. Some years we can make Meritus, some years we can’t.”

 Making high-end wine satisfies part of the market, but there is also significant demand for every-day drinkers. To quench that thirst, Fall Creek makes a fruit forward Merlot and Granite Reserve Cabernet, both easy drinking red wines at affordable prices. They also introduced two value lines: Twin Springs Winery and Mission San Antonio de Valero. The Twin Springs Sweet Red, Sweet White, Sweet Blush and the off-dry Merlot-based, Ed’s Smooth Red, all sell very well.  

The gamble on Texas wine has paid off. In the beginning Fall Creek produced 250 cases. They planned to be a 25,000 case winery someday.  Now they are making 55,000 cases a year and splitting at the seams. They installed a new bottling line new can handle 2000 cases a day and have even more expansion plans.

The Aulers will sell their line of sweet wines out of state. The acceptance of the Twin Springs and Mission San Antonio de Valero second lines will determine how big they grow.

Ed Auler poured a line-up of wines for me to try and lovingly described each one.

2010 Vintage Chardonnay Texas

Fall Creek treats its Chardonnay to cold fermentation and retain the character of the fruit. It sees a little time in oak to round it out, without over powering the fruit and goes through partial malolactic fermentation for a richer texture. This crisp and refreshing wine would pair well with anything from deli sandwiches to grilled sea bass.  

Look Light golden with good clarity.
Smell The Chardonnay has tropical scents of pineapple and honey.  
Taste This is a light style Chard with fresh honeydew, green apple and citrus flavors. It has a nice balance of fruit and acidity with a smooth mouthfeel. The clean finish is neither buttery, nor over-oaked.   
Price $12


2010 Fall Creek Vineyards Chenin Blanc, Texas

It turns out Ed doesn’t personally care for dry Chenin Blanc, but the University of Texas asked if he would produce experimental grapes. He agreed to grow Chenin Blanc. To achieve a hint of sweetness, fermentation is stopped leaving 2 percent residual sugar. It is then fine filtered and gets a kiss of oak. This is a “perfect wine for people that like to talk dry and drink sweet.” It pairs well with spicy food like Thai and Cajun cuisine.

Look The sunny flaxen wine has good viscosity and clings to the glass.
Smell The Fall Creek Chenin Blanc has a playful nose of cotton candy, honey suckle and toast.
Taste Fruity pear and nectarine flambé greet the palate, followed by toasted marshmallow on the finish. It goes down smooth.
Ed’s Smooth Red
Here is a wine for people who don’t take wine too seriously. It’s fun and easy drinking. Its best served slightly chilled, but not as cold as you might pour white wine. It’s a fine accompaniment to Texas BBQ and Tex-Mex food.

Look An inviting ruby red glimmering in the glass.
Smell A burst of berry scents greet the sniffer with a touch of oakiness.
Taste Ed is slightly sweet and tastes like a smoky blueberry tart.
Price $10


2009 Fall Creek Vineyards Tempranillo, “Salt Lick Vineyards” Texas Hill Country

The grapes for the Fall Creek Tempranillo are grown by Scott Roberts at the Salt Lick Vineyard in Driftwood, Texas. The climate is similar to Rioja, Spain and the grapes are doing very well in Texas. The production is limited, so this wine is only available in the tasting room and in a few select restaurants in Austin. Jansen Roberts said it perfectly – “Perfect wine for people that want more body than a Pinot Noir and less than a Cabernet.” 

Look Bright garnet with a deep red center like a king’s velvet robe.
Smell It has a rich fragrance of smoked plum and raspberry.
Taste The Fall Creek Tempranillo is lush with cherry, blackberry and nutmeg with a long finish. Delicious. I was impressed with this wine and wanted more. Fortunately Ed sent me home with the rest of the bottle to share with Beautiful Wife.
$30 available in tasting room in very limited quantities
2006 Meritus
The crown jewel of the Fall Creek line-up is made from 74 percent Cabernet Sauvignon, 25 percent Merlot and 1 percent Syrah. The award winning wine can stare down the thickest Texas steak with grace and finesse. 


Look The Meritus is brick red with burnt sienna in the glass.
Smell The nose is full of sweet black cherry, vanilla, rhubarb and oak.
Taste This is a big wine with cassis, blackberry, tobacco and chocolate. It has a good balance of tannins and a long oaky finish. It has the underpinnings of traditional Bordeaux with a little new world punch.

The wines are getting national attention and the business is doing well, but is it worth the gamble? Ed Auler reports that making wine in Texas is very satisfying. “This is not a widget. It’s something you put yourself in and put your signature on. It’s a combination of working with mind and hands like being a plumber, electrician, chemist, physicist, accountant, PR, and lawyer at the same time. The moments that bring satisfaction are when I know people enjoy my wine.”

 That sounds like a winning bet.

 Fall Creek Vineyards provided samples of the wines for review.  In addition, Fall Creek was a sponsor of my 2011 Mellow Yellow Benefit with proceeds supporting the Lance Armstrong Foundation to continue its fight against cancer.

This article also appears on CultureMap Austin.


I Think I'll Get a Brazillian

No really; a Brazilian red wine. I had an opportunity to travel to Brazil recently and had to try some locally produced wine. Brazil isn’t known as a wine powerhouse, but it is the fifth largest producer of wines in the southern hemisphere after Argentina, Australia, South Africa and Chile. Several of the larger producers have invested heavily in improving viticulture and production techniques. It’s beginning to pay off with wines that are approaching the quality of other South American wines.  

The Miolo Wine Group is one of the prominent wineries in Brazil that is modernizing production and turning out wines that are selling successfully internationally. The Miolo family has poured gallons of dollars into modernizing the cellar with the latest equipment like stainless steel for fermentation, and French and American oak barrels, made in their own cooperage on-premises. While the family has been growing wine grapes for some time, they did not start to produce their own wines until 1994. Renowned winemaker, Miguel Almeida, and esteemed oenologist, Michel Rolland, have been instrumental in improving the quality of the wines and bringing them to prominence.  

Miolo is grows it’s grapes in the Serra Gaúcha region located in the Rio Grande Do Sul, which is dominated by a culture of Italian immigrants. It’s the most important wine region of Brazil accounting for about 90 percent of the country’s total production.

While Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot are the predominant varietals produced by Milo, I tried a Miolo Reserva 2009 Tempranillo. Here is how it shakes out.

Look Intense ruby red lipstick on a pouting Brazilian model sulking through yet another photo shoot.
Smell Vibrant cherry soda served at a long oak bar with soft vanilla candles burning in the background.
Taste This wine lacks the body to rate with the bodies sunning themselves on Ipanema. In fact it’s thinner and less silky than its Spanish cousins.  Bright acidity gives it a lively bounce. The timid plum and cherry fruit aren’t overpowered by the subtle tannins and stick around for a mid-length finish.
Price Real $27.00 or U.S. $17

It would take more than a couple of glasses of this wine to coax me into dancing a samba in its honor. It’s decent enough to accompany the sound of crashing waves on the beach on a lazy afternoon, but it’s not going to replace the Caipirinha as the drink of choice at the clubs in Cococabana after the sun goes down.

What are you drinking?

Feelin Tinto Fino

Properly decanted and ready for action
Subject show prior to consumption


Lately I’ve been itchin for a taste for Spain, so I grabbed a few bottles of Dehesa la Granja 2001 to scratch that itch. This fine juice comes from the vineyard Alejandro Fernandez  in the Ribera del Duero region. Our man Alejandro has been in business since 1972, and is well known for some of his other labels – Tinto Pesquera, Condado de Haza  and El Vinculo. He makes his wines exclusively from the Tempranillo grape, which I’m partial to. 

The pop of the cork released a dusty raspberry bramble scent. The rusty brick brown wine had kicked off a bit of sediment, so I decanted it so I didn’t have to chew it. 

Even though its only 9 years old, my buddy Dehesa is already showing signs of maturity. Tasty enough, but missing a little of the roundness and pizzaz I was looking for. Tasted more like the inside of a wallet than I want. I don’t think I’ll leave the other bottles lyin around too much longer. So, I popped a second bottle later on to see if it was holding up better than the first. 

This one, classic Tinto Fino. Medium bodied, with the lively step of a flamenco dancer springing forth to smash berries with wooden shoes on my tongue. Can’t blame ’em, the flavors. After being cooped up in a barrel for two years before being bottled, then all that time sittin in that glass jail for seven more, ya gotten expect the flavors to burst forth. Then the tannins and oak restrained a few of the more susceptible fruit flavors with leather straps, forcing them to linger for a long finish. This I like. I like it a lot.

This is a great wine to pair with a meal. Lamb, venison, duck, pizza would all benefit from a visit by old Dehesa. I didn’t bother though. Food seemed like too much effort. This wine had me fully occupied on a Wednesday night.

You might have a tough time finding the ’01 vintage, but I encourage you to go out and grab a bottle of the year you find. It retails for about $25 and is widely distributed. Go get ya some.