by Andrew Chalk for CRAVEDFW | JULY 1, 2013
It is eight thirty AM on warm, and warming, Saturday morning in McKinney, Texas. I am sitting in my car in a parking lot alongside more than twenty other cars awaiting a 50-seater coach to take us on a tour of four Texas vineyards in Collin and Grayson Counties. The tour, organized by the Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service is for potential grape growers, wine makers or persons just interested in viticulture and enology.
The map below shows our route. From the parking lot we have a short drive to Celina to visit the Hornbaker Family at their Eden Hill Farm & Vineyard (A). Then a short spurt down the road to the oddly-named Square Cloud Winery (B) in Gunter. After that we trek all the way north to Grayson College Viticulture and Enology Department next to the Grayson County Airport (C). After lunch it is back south, and a ways east, to Grayson Hills Winery (D). Finally, almost home, to Mitus Hill Vineyard in McKinney (E). Everyone is ready to do lengthy walking around vineyards in steadily increasing temperatures as the days high is expected to be around 94⁰. Our tour guide is Chris Hornbaker, winemaker at Eden Hill, enology student at Grayson College and director of web design for a major semiconductor company in the area. This background lets him bring studiousness, experience and frustration to his commentary, even overcoming a glitchy microphone circuit.
Eden Hill Farm & Vineyard is located just out of Celina, about 30 minutes north of Dallas. The two acre vineyards were planted in 2008 and now comprise mainly Tempranillo with a little Orange Muscat. Clark Hornbaker is the viticulturalist and his son, Chris, the winemaker. Chris considers the northeast of the state to be one the two most promising grape growing areas (the other being the High Plains). Many growers in the Hill Country would dispute that, but he considers that area too hot.
The rows of vines line up east-west because that way went with the flow of the land when Clark planted them. He says that if he had it to do again he would line the up southwest to northeast to get more even sun exposure. The large number of unclouded sun-hours in Texas makes that a major issue and a lot of the resolution is in ensuring that vines have the right ‘canopy’ (basically trellising and cut) to ripen evenly, and fully. Clark shows himself to have a deft hand on the literature as he reels off names of prominent viticulturalists who have contributed to the area.
Linda, Chris and Clark Hornbaker work the tasting room at Eden Hill Vineyard.
I taste the 2011 Tempranillo. Tempranillo always invites comparison with the wines of Spain where it grows in over a dozen major areas (and under more synonyms). Hornbaker’s early effort is surprisingly true to type with red fruit, tobacco and coffee in the nose, confirmation of the red fruit in the mouth and some herbal notes as well. The finish is surprisingly long. What is off putting is a lack of color saturation. The wine looks correct, but thin, almost a rosado. Hornbaker is unconcerned, attributing it to shorter hotter growing season in Texas vs. Northern Spain. He adds “Recently, some Spanish producers have been pushed by wine critics to blend a bit of Syrah or Carignan into their Tempranillo to darken the color in what is considered more of an “international” style, to match the dark wines of northern California. In our winery, we really wanted to see what a 100% Tempranillo from Texas tasted like, so we did not blend in any Syrah because we like the classic ruby red color of Tempranillo, and because we did not want to change the flavor profile…we wanted to taste Texas terroir. Our customers also love the ruby red color of classic Tempranillo. I suppose we could blend some Syrah into the Tempranillo in hotter years, but people have really fallen in love with the 100% Tempranillo and its native color, so I’d rather let the vintage speak for itself rather than try to change the color just to fit the international style, which is not what I’m trying to do as a winemaker.” Visit CraveDFW for 4 more wineries on the tour.