Matthew Champion, Texas Wine and Trail February 04, 2014
Not only is Dave Reilly one of the best winemakers in Texas, he’s also one of the better guys I know. I was fortunate enough to work alongside Dave for a few years and get a rare, behind-the-scenes look at a giant in the Texas wine industry.
I remember how I returned to work from a vacation and found he had restrung my favorite guitar for me, simply because it needed to be done. When I lost my wedding ring while planting in the vineyard and freaked out, he calmly came over and found it within a matter of minutes.
While at his house for a party, I saw him puff out his chest in his driveway to protect the neighborhood kids playing in his backyard from some rowdy drunks that had shown up. And I saw him string holiday decorations all over his Airstream, inside and out, to take those same kids Christmas caroling throughout the local community.
He takes the same approach to his winemaking: never flustered, quality and the consumer are always the priority, and he remains true to supporting the community of local growers and the great state of Texas, no matter what. Needless to say, I was more than happy to be able to reunite and talk with Dave recently.
When did you get your start in the winemaking industry?
I planted Limestone Terrace Vineyard in Wimberley in 2000, from which I sold grapes to wineries in the surrounding area over the next six years. In 2006, I began selling to and working for Duchman Family Winery.
Coming from a construction background, do you see any similarities between construction and winemaking?
I’m not sure I would say they are similar, but I’m a very mechanically-inclined person. I can build things and fix all kinds of equipment, which actually comes in very handy here at the winery.
What are you most excited about seeing in the coming year from the Texas wine industry?
Winemakers working with grapes better suited for the Texas growing environment and that resulting in better wines being produced.
What are you growing currently in the vineyards? (Estate and Wimberley)
We’re growing mostly Italian varietals, Aglianico and Sangiovese to name a couple. We’re also planting Tempranillo and a few others.
You work with 100% Texas fruit, why do you find it important to do that year after year?
Texas wine should support Texas agriculture: Texas’ farmers, not California’s. Texas can grow much better fruit that will result in much better wine than that which can be purchased in bulk from California. California is keeping their good stuff and shipping out the rest. In my opinion, the best wines made here in Texas have a Texas appellation. You won’t find “For Sale in Texas Only” on the label.
Miles Elsey has been your apprentice for a few years now. In what ways do your experiences with him remind you of those you had with your mentor, Mark Penna?
Mark Penna was a great teacher. I hope that one day Miles goes on to say the same about me.
What’s the most important thing you learned from Mark?
The years I spent working with Mark changed my life. He taught me how to make wine; that was pretty huge.
What are your favorite Texas grapes to work with?
I like all of the varietals I work with here. Each is unique.
Are there other Texas producers making a wine that you love at the moment?
To me, the “body of work” is more important than a single wine. Some producers make one or two very nice wines and the rest may be not so nice. I think that McPherson Cellars and Pedernales Cellars have a very good portfolio. You won’t find a bad one in the bunch.
What is a Texas wine you’ve made that stands out to you as a personal favorite?
Is the next question: of your 3 children, which one is your favorite? That’s a tough one. If I wasn’t totally happy with the wine, it wouldn’t have been bottled. That being said, I like the 2012 Vermentino and the 2011 Tempranillo a lot.
Most of the white wines you produce are steely clean and refreshingly crisp, why do you stick to that approach with your whites?
I find that style of wine to be very refreshing. They’re great to drink in the summertime, or any time really, and they go great with seafood and a ton of other dishes.
What keeps you in Texas as opposed to producing elsewhere?
We are growing wonderful wine grapes here. I love Texas. I was born and raised here and this is my home.
What’s your favorite time of year at the winery and why?
I love Harvest. The hours are very long and we get very little sleep, but that’s when the vintage is born. It’s exciting. We also cook a lot of great meals at the winery during that time. I love to cook a good meal and eat with the team. It’s a real morale booster when we are working long hours.
You’ve had a LONG day at the vineyard, what’s your go-to drink to wind down?
I love wine, I really do. But at the end of a long day where I’ve been working with wine all day, nothing beats an ice cold Fireman’s 4 from Real Ale Brewing Company in Blanco. Gotta keep it local!
How’s Large Marge? (Dave’s Airstream)
She’s awesome, just went on a short weekend trip with the wife and kids.
What’s the best thing about being a Texas Winemaker?
Right now is a very exciting time to be a winemaker in Texas. The industry is growing and getting better every year and Texas is really getting on the map on a national level. I’m glad to be a part of it.
Duchman Family Winery
13308 FM 150, Driftwood Texas, 78619