by Robin English-Bircher, Travel Writer, Texas Wine and Trail
On a warm Saturday afternoon, Westcave Cellars’ owner and winemaker, Allen Fetty took me for a quick tour of the winery’s tanks and barrel room. These tight spaces hidden behind the tasting bar holds works of art slowly working from an idea to something greater. Here, I sipped on wines — some nearly ready to move from barrel or tank into the bottle and others that are still a good year or so from being ready. Some of these wines are well known among the winery’s portfolio and others may never see an individual release, but will instead make their way into many of the other wines to further character and strength. By the end of the day, as the sun began to settle into the oaks around the property, I had a better idea of what the future holds for the wines of Westcave Cellars.
An important point to know, from the very beginning, is that Westcave Cellars is a small, boutique winery. Off the beaten path by Hamilton Pool near Dripping Springs and Round Mountain, they do not get the traffic so often associated with Hill Country wineries. This matches the winery’s production scale. Production of any wine is relatively small, but some special wines may be only a handful of barrels, occasionally a single barrel. So, the limited production wines are often under 100 cases and sell out.
A Taste of Something New
The first new release of this year is the brand new Ruby Cabernet Dry Rosé. Released at the end of February, this limited production wine proved to be a perfect match for the month’s rather warm days and a perfect prelude to the coming Spring and Summer when rosés will be many drinkers’ wine of choice. The wine is primarily Ruby Cab with some additional Malvasia Bianca. After using the Saignée method, winemaker Allen Fetty aged the wine for one year in stainless steel.
From the beginning, the wine is a treat. Before bottling it was a bold, bright ruddy pink, but it has softened and lightened a bit; it is still bright and a darker shade of pink than most typical rosés (a trend I have seen a lot among recent Texas rosés). The nose matches the color well, barely ripe strawberries, tart cherries, and a hint of under-ripe raspberry dominate before a crispness rounds it out. This aroma gives way to a taste made up of the same fruit but softer and more mellow compared to the nose. The crispness in the nose rounds out the wine, as a hint of minerality finishes it all off (from the Malvasia Bianca). This wine ends clean and smooth and will make a great summer sipper.
Early in February, I was lucky enough to try the 2012 Estate Petite Sirah. The wine will be bottled soon; however, this very limited run will not likely be available until early fall release. As of late February, the Petite Sirah has been aged 12 months in French oak and 8 months in American. This wine is an inky dream with a dark aroma. Dark, bright fruits (plum, tart blackberry) mingle with the heady smell of earth on the nose. This wine smells of early summer: fruits that hang too long beneath a hot sun and warmed, freshly turned earth. At times, the nose moves toward a woody vanilla and anise, but that is only secondary to the earthiness. The taste is that of a quintessential Petite, but it also seems very red. The dark fruits are almost reminiscent of red licorice – the dark fruit and anise.
Later this year, Sangiovese will also join the Westcave portfolio. The grapes came from nearby Bella Vista in Wimberley. Allen Fetty split the batch and then used two different yeasts. So far, the wine has aged for about 6 months in French oak. It is a strong wine with a great sense of fruit and the richness of many Italian Sangioveses.
In addition to the Sangiovese, a new Syrah – not Shiraz which is already being made – will come out. Right now, the wine is rather ruddy in color and is dominated by a fruit flavor with a hint of pepper at the end. It will be a nice addition, along with the rich Sangiovese, to the Westcave portfolio.
The big surprise during the tasting was news of a new blend. Westcave Cellars is best known for single varietal wines. These wines are mainly one grape with a little bit of another to add character and depth. So an actual planned blend was a surprise. In the vineyard, there were some less successful vines. These vines were pulled up and replaced by a mix of reds already found throughout the vineyard. This odd collection of grapes will be brought together to make a unique red blend.
A Taste of the Familiar
The 2012 Cabernet Sauvignon blended with Tannat will likely be available later this Spring. The Cabernets at Westcave are always rich and full; there is a deepness that comes from adding the Tannat to the rather smooth Cabernet. In the previous vintage, the Tannat was quite noticeable; its darker fruit and tannins adding an obvious layer of depth. However, in the current 2012 blend, Cabernet dominates with its long, smooth finish, while the Tannat adds depth and structure to this Texas red.
The regulars among the Westcave portfolio will also see new releases. There will be a new Merlot release this year as well as a Ruby Cab, different from the rosé. There are other new wines further down the road.
The second vintage of estate grown Tannat will be released in 2015. The wine has only been produced once in 2010; that wine was very fruit driven with a hint of tannin and oak. Since then, there have not been enough grapes from the estate to make a single varietal Tannat; it has been used solely for blending. The 2012 harvest finally yielded enough grapes for both, and so a new release is coming. When I tasted the very young wine, it showed more earth and tannin than the previous vintage; however, the fruit so powerful in the first lingers and hides in the wine, biding its time. During the tasting, the fruit snuck up on me, bringing depth to the more earthy elements. In the time the wine has to grow, it shows signs of being more balanced – a great harmony of earth, tannin, and fruit – compared to the first vintage.
Not to Forget the Whites
This past year, Allen Fetty was able to get Chardonnay from a vineyard in La Mesa. From this, he chose to take two different approaches: oaked and unoaked.
The oaked Chardonnay has been aged in untoasted French oak for 18 months. Knowing that, I expected a more buttery, California-like Chardonnay. Instead, the wine is very fruity, with a strong note of citrus, especially lemon. It is a soft, fruit driven sipper.
After the oaked Chardonnay, I was surprised to find that the unoaked more resembled the typical California wine. The same citrus notes came through; however, the lemon was less pronounced. Added to the fruit was a buttery flavor that created a different sensation. This wine will pair well with food.
What the Future Holds
These days Texas wineries strive to use as much Texas fruit as possible. Few can achieve this considering the recent struggles last year. Westcave Cellars prides themselves on their ability to remain 100% Texas with a strong reliance on their estate vines. This pride finds itself into the glass, as each wine is lovingly nurtured on the vine, carefully molded during fermentation, and closely tended to in the tanks and barrels. In the end, high quality wines find their way to the eager Texas wine fan. Unfortunately high quality often leads to low quantity. This means these great wines will not be available for long. With the wildflowers about to bloom and warm temperatures becoming more the norm, it may be time for a visit to acquire one of these many great wines.