“It only took me… eleven years!” remarked Ron Yates, owner of the family-run Spicewood Vineyards, which produces about three thousand cases from about forty acres in the about-as-unlikely-as-they-come-at-first-but-upon-further-review-kind-of-inevitable fine wine region of Texas Hill Country.
Yates was speaking about the fact that he and Texas-native winemaker Todd Crowell can now offer an all-estate tasting list. Getting there, apparently, wasn’t all that easy; or, at least, not straightforward. Yates was studying law and working in the record label business (High Wire Music, once home of Toad the Wet Sprocket front-man Glen Phillips, a personal 1WD fave), when he caught the fine wine bug. In unlikely-but-inevitable fashion, his cousins Ed and Susan Auler own Fall Creek Vineyards; but that’s not really what got him into wine. That would be… Spanish Tempranillo. Of course, right?
“That’s my favorite grape in the whole world,” Yates told me when I visited his tasting room in Spicewood, TX (as part of a media jaunt). While a student in his twenties at the University of Texas, Yates spent a semester in Spain, living with a host family whose son just happened to be grape grower in Ribera del Duero (see what I mean about kind-of-inevitable?). A love affair with that region’s signature red grape thus ensued. “A good bottle of Tempranillo was as cheap as a bottle of water back then” Yates recalled.
Years later, in 2007, thoroughly enthralled with things vinous, Yates began courting then Spicewood’s then owners Edward and Madeleine Manigold, eventually buying from them. The vineyards, sandy loam with a well-draining limestone bed, had potential; the vines, though, needed some work. They reduced the `92 plantings, removing “stuff that just shouldn’t be here [in Texas] with the heat.” Yates’ grandfather helped him with the lease and purchase; “he was so excited that his long-haired, hippy grandchild was leaving the music biz and getting into agriculture!” Turns out, it was a pretty good move after all…
2017 Ron Yates Malvasia Pétillant Naturel Farmhouse Vineyard (Texas High Plains, $25)
An odd introduction to Texas wine, perhaps, but not one that any reasonable person would turn down on a hot Texas afternoon. It’s Pet-Nat; it’s screw-cap; it’s floral, funky, fresh, and fun. In other words, it’s unlikely-but-inevitable from a long-haired, bearded, former-music-biz guy, I suppose. Even your non-hipster friends will like it (just don’t tell them what it is at first).
2017 Spicewood Vineyards Sauvignon Blanc (Texas Hill Country, $20)
I’ll freely admit, I wasn’t expecting this, either. You would expect, given the region’s ample heat and sunshine, something more on the melon spectrum, and you’d be right. More unexpected are the notes of grass, minerality, pepper, and fresh vivacity, which this sports in abundance.
2016 Spicewood Vineyards “Tandem” Red (Texas, $28)
This blend changes every vintage, with the 2016 combining Syrah from Ft. Stockton, and Carignan from Bingham. Leather, spice, game, and juicy red fruits introduce things, with a tangy, perky, savoy, and juicy red fruit core bringing up the rear. Delicious, and incredibly tough to dislike. Even the at-first-too-cute label eventually grows on you.
2016 Spicewood Vineyards Syrah (Texas Hill Country, $30)
“I dig it,” Yates said about this sexy, softer red. “I was told it wouldn’t work here.” Yates thankfully ignored that warning, and in 2010 planted the vines that would eventually produce this red-berry-filled, meaty, and spicy little number. Pepper, leather, and wood notes round things out on what amounts to a damned good date-night pick.
2015 Spicewood Vineyards Tempranillo (Texas Hill Country, $24)
C’mon, you knew that this one was coming… Having spent twenty-five months in new French oak, this is Spicewood’s attempt at a big-style Spanish red. It’s earthy, with dark tobacco, wet stone, and black and sour cherry action. There’s depth and focus, and big acidity to go along with the big structure. Stewed plums show up on the finish. All-in-all, this is a good case for Texas being the next Arizona when it comes to this grape; which is to say, a place in the USA where one can grow Tempranillo and still have the result taste appropriately like Tempranillo.
2015 Spicewood Vineyards “The Good Guy” (Texas Hill Country, $42)
The obligatory small producer premium wine? Inevitably, yes; but with the unlikely pairing of likely bedfellows Tempranillo/Graciano with Cabernet Sauvignon/Merlot. Mineral, juicy, tangy, and appealing, with floral hints, plummy flavors, red berry notes, and a 1-2-punch combo of back-end grit and ample freshness. My tasting notes read “this is excellent;” but at the time I was tasting it, I missed the inevitably/unlikely adverbs…