Tuesday, August 20, 2013

New Friends in Hye: Hye Meadow Winery’s Grand Opening

Many people knew about Hye Meadow Winery long before it opened. Owners Mike and Denise Batek shared their journey on Facebook, posting updates on the development of the property. Visits by bloggers Jeff Cope and Dave Potter also chronicled the winery’s progress. And before the winery was open, Texas wine fans could try out the wines; I had my first taste at Hye Market, the winery’s next door neighbor, back in June (check out my blog post here). And just before the official opening, the winery welcomed guests to the production room floor to taste wines, providing a growing sample of the Hye Meadow portfolio.

 Figure 1: Hye Meadow Production Floor as Tasting Room

Opening Day
After a long wait, August 3rd rolled around, and Hye Meadow opened the tasting room doors and invited us all in. To mark the occasion, visitors left a bit of themselves on the chalkboard posts that are found throughout the tasting room. The wine tasting included seven wines (a sparkling, three whites, a blush, two reds), but the highlight was the newly released sparkling cuvee. This non-vintage white blend became the base for two different adult slushies: the sparkling with Chambord or the sparkling, Chambord, and Orange Muscat.

Figure 2: Chalkboard "Graffiti"

Good company, great music, tasty food, and a comfortable atmosphere could be found at the grand opening. The staff at the winery, including the owners and winemaker, made sure to make each person feel welcome and comfortable. To aid in this endeavor, the Peached Tortilla came from Austin to provide unique tacos and other light bites. The highlight was the performance by Joe Dalton. Joe, a friend of owners Mike and Denise, sang a mix of well-known songs and original material. His most recent song, “Hye Meadow,” expressed his joy in visiting the winery; inspired by a visit to the scenic grounds and the dreams and hopes of his friends, Joe crafted a heartfelt song that embodies the Texas wine spirit. And as a special gift, visitors received a copy of the single.

Crafting a Texas Wine Experience
Now that the fanfare is quieting down, the winery can focus on its mission. Hye Meadow is still coming together; the back rooms and offices are still being worked out, the new equipment has arrived from Italy and is being prepped for the upcoming harvest, and little pieces are still being tweaked on the grounds. During the quiet times, work is furious and excited behind the scenes. All of this is in hopes of creating a memorable Texas wine experience.

Figure 3: Tasting Room View of Back Porch

One of the goals is to create a relaxing and enjoyable experience. Both Mike and winemaker Jeff Ivy shared what they consider this best sort of experience: one where the guest gets the chance to talk with owners and winemakers. At the grand opening, Mike and Jeff worked to make that a reality, one that will continue. In addition to a warm welcome, comfort is also important. Hye Meadow is set up so guests can wind down: the back porch situated off the tasting room is well shaded, and the open property before it allows for a great breeze. Another aspect Mike is particularly proud of is all the work to make the winery open to everyone; the back porch bar provides access to guests in wheelchairs.

Figure 4: Back View from Front to Back: Outside Bar, Porch, Dance Floor, Events Center

The winery also hopes to host numerous events. The outdoor events center provides a covered getaway for parties and weddings. The ample space offers plenty of room for a large group to dine and relax. It also has an extended porch; guests will feel among the trees as they look out from this elevated space. It also has the best view of the dance floor, nestled among nearby shade trees. And to help with any sort of event, there is a full kitchen for caterers, as well as an extra room right off the women’s restroom. And when the area isn’t reserved, the rest of us can enjoy the shade and view.

Figure 5: Hye Meadow Events Center

As for a wine club, that is still being ironed out. Chris Black informed me that they are still working out the numbers. However, Friends in Hye Places will be available shortly. Mike even has ideas for wine club events; he hopes to bring something unique to his members and is already looking into different ideas.

Producing Great Wine
For winemaker Jeff Ivy, his primary goal is to make high quality wines. To do this, Jeff and Mike look for the best grapes. Jeff admitted that if that means occasionally going outside of Texas (poor quality, limited supply, etc.), he will. As many know, quality and quantity is an issue here in Texas. There are lots of winemakers scrambling for limited grapes, which can make getting good ones difficult. Add in the unpredictable weather, and the market can become rather problematic. This is what the winery faced in its earliest days.
When Hye Meadow was getting started, they struggled to find grapes. Most grapes were promised to others, so Mike and Jeff looked outside the state and turned to Washington state’s Columbia Valley (which is clearly labeled on the wine). These grapes are found in the new sparkling cuvee, the Edelzwicker (Riesling-Gew├╝rztrminer), Shade Tree Blush (Riesling-Cab), and Sangiovese. If the future plans hold, Sangiovese will be sourced from Texas and will remain a part of the portfolio, as well as the sparkling. They would also like to make a Texas version of their Edelzwicker; the grapes in the current blend aren’t particularly Texas friendly, so more Texas friendly grapes are being sought out for future vintages. 

 The future of the winery is Texas. Hye Meadow plans on making wines that are Texas food, clientele, and climate friendly. Right now, three wines are all Texas sourced: the Viognier, the Junkyard Red (Mourvdre-Merlot-Tempranillo), and the Orange Muscat. Early next year, a single varietal Tempranillo will be released (currently, the wine’s nose is lush with oak and pepper that is matched by a subtle progression of flavors). And further down the line will be other warm weather varietals, especially Italian ones. For whites, Jeff wants to work with Trebbiano, Roussane, and Malvasia Bianca. Reds will include Dolcetto, Aglianico, and Montepulciano. The Trebbiano and Dolcetto are the grapes Jeff hopes to make into flagship wines. To help with all of this, Jeff and Mike have been working with a number of Texas growers, including Andy and Dusty Timmons, and will be growing on the Hye Meadow property next to the events center.


Figure 6: From Left to Right: Mike Batek, Chris Blakc, Jeff Ivy

Though each member of the Hye Meadow team looks toward tomorrow, they are clearly aware of how they got to this moment. Mike will happily share the process of building the winery, including how many screws were needed to build the back porch. Jeff tells stories of the lucky breaks in getting grapes, as well as the diverted grape disasters. Chris Black has moved beyond the place holder website to one with a more personal touch. Now all that the winery needs is smiling faces ready to enjoy what they have created.

This article was first published at 

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

A Different Take on Old Favorites: Visiting Spicewood Vineyards

I don't often venture much past the 290 wine trail here in Texas. I have to do almost all my winery visits as day trips, so staying near home is easier. But that regular circuit of wineries doesn't always inspire me. When there are new wines, events, etc., it is easy to get inspired, but as the days turn long and the winery folks are intent on the grapes ripening on the vine, I look for different pastures. I start close, usually the Driftwood/Dripping Springs area. Recently I went a tad bit further afield and stopped in the Marble Falls area. Sean and I hadn't been to the area wineries in several years; our last visit was right after my grandparents moved from Lago Vista in 2011. On a nice, bright June Saturday, we visited Spicewood Vineyards.

We visited Spicewood back in 2011. At the time, we found the wines decent but lacking some character. We decided to file the winery away and wait to see what happened. Recently, the folks at Vinously Speaking made a visit to Spicewood. There were tales of good times and great wine; and with that said, Spicewood wines ended up on the shop's shelves (The Tempranillo, Merlot, Merlot Rose, and Sauvignon Blanc). This peaked my interest, and so we made the slightly longer drive up 281.

The winery was a bit quiet for a Saturday afternoon -- there were three other small groups besides us. We didn't mind, as they left before we finished, giving us ample time to chat with vineyard manager Brad Dixon and owner Ron Yates. Brad took us through a leisurely tasting as we enjoyed the company of the three winery dogs.We mainly tasted the available menu, but at the end, we were able to taste a few more wines. This tasting was what we had hoped for two years ago. All the wines are small production and use primarily Texas grapes (grape appellation is notated on the tasting menu). The wines also had their own voice, each with its own take on the mainly single variety wines.

Estate Vineyards

The whites were a nice treat. The two we tasted were two of my favorites, Viognier and Albarino. For both, the grapes came from the Texas High Plains; the wines also provided light, subtle takes on the grapes. The Albarino had strong notes of pear with a crisp finish. This was a surprise, as I often expect a hint of sweet in Albraino; instead, I found it in the Viognier, as the aroma of honeysuckle and tastes of melon came through.
Wines for sale at Vinously Speaking, San Antonio, Texas 

Spicewood has a number of roses. The one we tried was the Tempranillo. I first worried that is would resemble the Rose of Tempranillo from Hilmy, but it was a dry rose compared to Hilmy's slightly sweet. Both roses bring out hints of strawberry, but as the Spicewood wine is dry, the strawberry was light, almost floral. 

One of the main reasons we came to Spicewood was their Claret. Sean still stands by Becker's Claret -- even if oftentimes the grapes are not from Texas. Knowing that Spicewood is known for their Claret -- they even have an annual Claret chili cook-off in March -- we were eager to give the newest one a try. This Claret, despite being dominated by Tempranillo (at 55%), is oddly sweet. In fact, I noticed attributes of the other grapes -- 27% Cabernet Sauvignon, 13% Merlot, and 5% Syrah. The fruit notes are very pronounced and give a sense of sweetness not found in Claret. 

We drank one non-Texas wine, the Grenache from Paso Robles, CA. The nose on this wine reminded me of a Spanish version of this wine, oak and earth. I expected the wine to be more fruity and light, as the variety is often a light-bodied red (check out Becker's Reserve for a good example). However, this Grenache provide depths of flavors with an oak feel mid-palate and ending with a balance of tea and fruit. This unique red asked me to take my time and taste it carefully.

Wines for sale at Vinously Speaking, San Antonio, Texas
We rounded out the main tasting with a High Plains Tempranillo (80% with 20% cCb) and an estate grown  Hill Country Merlot. The Tempranillo hearkened back to the Claret; it was light and fruity with only a hint of the typical spice and earth so often found in Texas Tempranillos. It had hints of the typical Temp found laced through a lighter, fruitier take; I could easily just sip at this wine. The Merlot was the only wine I didn't feel surprised by; it fell in line with many of the Texas Merlot's we had recently been tasting, which is a good thing. The tannins were pronounced in the aroma, leading into flavors of spice and limestone; the fruit was light and interlaced itself through the stronger earthier flavors.

After our main tasting, Brad offered to let us re-taste or taste other wines. Of course, Sean and I were both drawn to the 100% Touriga. Brad informed us that they had been tending the Touriga -- located in Round Mountain -- for someone else. For taking care of the grapes, they got access to the crop. This wine was the result of that hard work. It ended up our favorite of the day. It was a lighter, softer Touriga, especially compared to the ones coming out of  Mason, TX (one of the areas producing the most of it). The fruit flavors, dark berries, dominated but were well supported by spice and earth (the opposite of what we were use to). The balance found in this wine was incredible. We were blown away, and then disappointed. This past year, the owner of the vineyard decided to start charging Spicewood, and they were not interested in the new price. This means no Touriga in the new future. However, the success of the vineyard encouraged them to plant some of their own; that means there will be Touriga again several years from now. 

Painting found at the winery
This recent trip to Spicewood won us over. This was something different, despite the same old varieties. I like to taste the depth and breadth of a grape, to know its various forms. Here, I was provided yet another look at some of my favorites. This year, especially after a trip like this, I have come to appreciate the uniqueness of Texas wines. Different vineyards, different winemakers, etc, craft such a wide range of wines, even when using the same grapes. Because of this, a Texas wine drinker never knows what to expect with each new wine; it is such a wonderful adventure.