by Andrew Chalk, Senior Writer, Texas Wine and Trail Magazine
After I saw and reported success for Solaro Estate Winery wines in national competitions I decided to stop by and see for myself what was going on at this winery and vineyard that had previously flown beneath my radar. What I found was an Italian-inspired boutique operation focused on making the best wine possible from Texas grapes. They are well capitalized and engaged in vineyard expansion. Owner/winemaker Robert Fritz is self-taught (making his first wine at age 10) and has acquired set views about winemaking, grape growing, and Texas politics.
Fritz wondered what to do with his time when he turned 60. A successful legal career continued but he wanted a diversion. Like dreamers before him, he planted grapes, built a winery, and started making wine. The result, Solaro Estate Winery, occupies 160 acres in Dripping Springs. Part of the land is given over to horsey pursuits, something that Robert and his partner Barbara Hederlein still take seriously, 35 acres is planted to grapes, and there is a tourist-friendly tasting room as well as the winery.
The estate vineyard was planted in 2006 with Barbera. Fritz extolls the quality of the grape in Hill Country soils: “better than in Italy” he declares. A major focus of the planting operation was the search for rootstock that is resistant to Pierce’s Disease. In 2002-2004 Solaro worked with the University of Texas to develop the first rootstock and the effort continues today. Every new planting takes advantage of the latest developments in root stock that is resistant to Pierce’s Disease. It is an ongoing battle, attested to by the sight of some brown vines visible from the tasting room. The holy grail, he says, is a late budding grape variety (to miss spring frosts) that can be successfully grafted onto Pierce’s Disease resistant root stocks.
Fritz has found Barbera lacking in vigour. That was one of the factors leading him to base later plantings around Montepulciano, a central Italian variety. He is on his third harvest and describes the grape as solving the vigor problem and producing “world class” wine.
Consistent with his legal training he gives summary judgement to other varieties he has worked with in the Texas Hill Country:
Tempranillo: good – but not as good as in the Texas High Plains;
Sangiovese: world class;
Montepulciano: world class
Chenin Blanc: good – but not as good as in the Texas High Plains;
Blanc du Bois: good
Syrah: An enological success but an economic failure. The Texas bottle has to sell for $35 vs. an Australian that sells for less.
He is adamant that the future of Texas grape growing is in the High Plains. My suggestion that the 100-year frost of 2013 in the High Plains should lead us to conclude that the state needs to diversify its vineyard sources to include north east Texas and the Hill Country leads to an immediate dismissal of the feasibility of reaching the same quality.
Somewhat paradoxically, he is consulting on planting a 120 acre vinifera vineyard in San Saba, a little ways north of the current vineyard.
We went on to taste the following selection of Solaro wines (shown with their awards).
2010 Barbera Estate Grown, Texas Hill Country (Not Yet Released)
Gold Medal, 2013 International Women’s Wine Competition, Sonoma County
2011 Barbera Estate Grown, Texas Hill Country ($117)
Double Gold Medal, 2013 International Women’s Wine Competition, Sonoma County
Best in Classl, 2013 International Women’s Wine Competition, Sonoma County
Bronze Medal, 2013 New York International Wine Competition
2012 Miscela Bianco, Texas High Plains ($27).
Silver Medal, 2013 International Women’s Wine Competition, Sonoma County
2011 Miscela Bianco, Texas High Plains
Bronze Medal, 2012 International Women’s Wine Competition, Sonoma County
2012 Tempranillo Reserve, Texas High Plains ($38)
Bronze Medal, 2013 International Women’s Wine Competition, Sonoma County
Throughout, the winemaking is very clean. The Barbera wines seem to hold the most promise but are also the most youthful developmentally at the moment. It will be interesting to taste these red wines when they are ready. Watch the Solaro Tempranillo wines in the future. It swill be interesting to taste the Montepulciano when ready.
Disclosure: Solaro Estate Winery provided the tasting samples of their wine. I paid my own transportation cost to their winery in Dripping Springs..