by Robin English-Bircher, Travel & Events Writer, Texas Wine and Trail August 07, 2014
On a sunny June morning, Brock Estes and Adam Nelson took a small band of intrepid wine drinkers along Mason County back roads. We seemed to wind further up the rolling hills, but it wasn’t as clear as that with all the scrub and rich red soil. Towards the crest of a hill, Brock stopped to show us Fly Gap. Off in the distance, two large hills reached out towards one another; a slender gap provided a view of the horizon.
Here, we were introduced to the story of the land Brock’s and Adam’s families would settle and they would call home. It seems, area settlers, hoping to ambush a group of Native Americans, hid among the area scrub and rocks. They left their horses away from the ambush. When they returned to the horses, the animals wore the signs of a hot Texas day; the animals were covered in bites, mostly likely from horseflies. Despite this setback, the settlers didn’t give in and continued in the area, as tenacious as the horseflies themselves. Today, Brock, with Adam’s help, hopes to bring another story of tenacity to the region, that of Fly Gap Winery.
At the moment, Fly Gap is a dream in progress. The long term goal is to have a winery that showcases the best of Mason County, especially the Fly Gap area. However, Fly Gap is only a project as Brock slowly builds the winery with Adam. For now, both work full-time jobs to support their families and invest in their dream as Fly Gap is built one step at a time. However, there is a current incarnation of Fly Gap, DANK Wines, that helps to move them one step closer to making Fly Gap a reality.
One way Fly Gap works towards it goals is through DANK wines. This is the label used for wines produced from various fruit and juice from throughout Texas. Sometimes this does mean Mason County fruit but not always. All four DANK wines are 100% Texas.
DANK Wines are an important part of the Fly Gap process. For one, creating these wines helps with creating a clear voice. The wines give Brock a chance to harness his winemaking skills. Most importantly, these wines also provide much needed funds to help reach the Fly Gap goal.
The first two DANK wines gained the fledgling winery a lot of notice in 2013. Vox Populi was chosen as a top Texas red by Texas Monthly. This blend of Tempranillo and Touriga spoke of hot, dry Texas summers and lots of sweat. It also tasted of heart, so it is no surprise that it received a number of accolades. The other, a Pinot Grigio based white, Transition, was a softer side of its red sibling with a more nuanced crispness and minerality.
Most recently, Fly Gap released Lights Out. This wine is a blend of Syrah and Mourvedre. What is most astonishing here is one of the marketing techniques used. The bottle is nearly purely black – except for the back label. However, under black light, the DANK logo shows up bright and powerful. For more on Fly Gap’s unique marketing approaches, check out Brock and Adam’s article. This wine is not as bold and brash as Vox Populi; it is a heady journey through Texas scrub land under a full moon.
The newest release, on August 9 of this year, is Johnny Rojo. Brock admits it isn’t the same sort as the first two reds. This wine, made from a blend of primarily Mourvedre and Carginan (as well as Cinsault, Syrah, Tempranillo, and Sangiovese) came out a bit softer and with a bit of residual sugar. This is a new direction for Fly Gap’s DANK Wines.
For now, Brock and Adam will gather the grapes and juice that they can and make DANK Wines. These wines are an excellent example of the Texas wine community. Since Fly Gap has no vineyards yet, just one experimental Touriga bush, they need grapes. Local growers, like Dan McLaughlin of Robert Clay Vineyards, will make that possible. Recently, Dan helped Brock harvest some wild Merlot. And like a lack of grapes, the winery also has no complete facility yet; the small facility in Mason is currently under construction. For now, though, other Texas wineries have been kind enough to allow Fly Gap the space and equipment to make DANK.
The key to Fly Gap’s future success is innovation. Not only will the winery and its wine exemplify Mason County and the Fly Gap region, they will showcase unique and thoughtful approaches to winemaking and the wine business.
One place innovation is necessary is in the vineyard. The region where Fly Gap’s vineyards will be located offers both benefits and obstacles. Benefits include the diverse soil made up of sedimentary rock, much like what is found throughout much of the Texas Hill Country, as well as Texas granite. During our drive, what stood out was the reddish sandstone that seemed more reminiscent of Australia. Fly Gap’s terroir is an obvious asset that will add character to the wines.
The obstacle here is water. Water is a limited resource in the area. Luckily, the granite found several feet below the surface is decomposing and so retains water like clay; a definite bonus for an area that gets low rainfall amounts. But even that is not enough. So to overcome this obstacle, Brock and Adam have turned to different approaches. The first concern is with grapes, especially the planting of more drought friendly ones. As many Fly Gap fans know, the standout grape here is Touriga Nationale. Other grapes found in Spain and especially Portugal are likely to be planted. Their hardy nature will succeed in a region that struggles with a limited water supply as well as the heat and sun.
In addition to grape choice, planting and growing techniques are needed to make sure the grapes do well. Brock and Adam plan to grow much of the grapes as bushes. This provides two great benefits. First, the grapes grow lower to the ground. This helps with heat and water. Next, this technique doesn’t require trellises; in the end, it is less costly. There is one drawback, the yield is low. This technique doesn’t allow for as many clusters or larger clusters to form. But this one drawback may help provide grapes that are more concentrated and flavorful.
Once the grapes are ready, Fly Gap won’t take the usual route with fermentation. Brock and Adam, when recently working in Portugal, learned about a different method of fermentation. Fly Gap plans to use concrete vessels in place of typical approaches. Currently at the growing facility in Mason, there are two distinct vessels. One is a taller that would rely on gravity instead of pumps. The taller one makes crush and punch down difficult in the low-ceilinged room, so another consisting of a low bed has been made to make the process easier. This year the two are set to be finished.
These vessels are unique to our region, but not to Portugal. But building them wasn’t easy. First, a combination of Portland low alkali concrete with area granite and river rock made up the construction of the vessels. All of this work was done by hand; one of the ways Fly Gap keeps construction costs down. After completion, there is still another step; vessels like this have issues with calcium and other deposits that could affect the wine. To deal with that, Brock uses a solution of tartaric acid to remove the calcium. When we visited, he applied the acid for the first time.
The acid application was an interesting experience. Brock had read about its uses, but had never seen it done or knew exactly how things would work. So during our visit, he conducted the first test. Upon contact, the acid began to bubble and foam, a good sign the desired chemical reaction was taking place. At the time, only a small portion of the vessel had been scrubbed. Before the vessel’s first use, this scrubbing must be completed.
For now, Fly Gap will slowly grow. With each new bottle of DANK, Brock and Adam are one step closer to Fly Gap. With each new step in building the winery, they become more and more independent. With each year of hard work, Fly Gap comes to be.
For Brock Estes and partner Adam Nelson, Fly Gap is their heart. When talking to them, they speak with great fondness of the small community where they grew up. They both searched for a reason to stay and build their homes in their hometown. Texas wine had given them that opportunity.
To taste Fly Gap wines, contact Brock Estes for an appointment. He can be contacted by phone at 832-723-2203 or email at firstname.lastname@example.org. I also recommend following Fly Gap on Facebook; they do tasting throughout the state, when wine is available, and posts those events on Facebook.