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Southern Hospitality and European Sophistication

Two Different Wine Tasting Experiences on the Texas Wine Trail

Vineyard block at Kuhlman Cellars

Autumn is just now beginning to cast its spell on the Texas Hill Country, with burst of burnt orange and gold scattered among the evergreens. Cruising down Highway 290, also known as the Texas Wine Trail, on a busy Saturday afternoon I encountered party buses and limousines full of eager wine enthusiasts being ferried to their next tasting. With five million annual visitors, the Texas Hill Country wine region is the second most popular wine tasting destination in the United States, Napa Valley being the first. There are 52 wineries in the region, which stretches from Austin to Fredericksburg and Lampasas to New Braunfels. On this day, I visited two wineries each offering its visitors a distinctive tasting experience.

Pedernales Cellars

My first stop was Pedernales Cellars in Stonewall, Texas. Larry and Jeanine Kuhlken planted their first vineyard in 1995 on a small five-acre plot not far from the current tasting room and winery. The concept for Pedernales Cellars was developed in 2005 by the Kuhlken's children, David and Julie, and their spouses. Their vision was to create a boutique winery that created hand-crafted, small-lot wines. "Pedernales" means flint in Spanish. Incidentally, the winery is named for the Pedernales River that runs through the Texas Hill Country, and the flint arrowheads found in the vineyard.

The tasting room and winery is located on a beautiful hillside with remarkable views of the hill country. The cows and goats in the surrounding pastures provide the perfect backdrop for this authentic Texas Hill Country experience. The grounds are peaceful and serene, and as I breathed in the cedar infused air around me, I could feel my shoulders start to noticeably relax. The atmosphere in the tasting room is casual, and the very definition of southern hospitality. There is a large circular bar in the center of the tasting room for standard tastings. To the right as you enter is a row of high-top tables with elegant white table cloth settings near a picture window for reserve tastings.

Tasting room at Pedernales Cellars

I opted for the reserve tasting which was conducted in a vertical format, offering two similar wines to compare and contrast. The first round was the 2015 and 2016 vintages of their Reserve Viognier. The grapes were harvested from Texas High Plains vineyards. Of the two vintages, I preferred the 2016 which is off dry and has citrus and honey flavors. The 2015 was noticeably drier, with subtle citrus flavors and a slight mineral taste, but still a terrific expression of the varietal. Incidentally, the 2012 Reserve Viognier won Grand Gold in the 2013 Lyon International Wine Competition hosted in France, and was the only American wine to achieve this accolade.

Vertical tasting format.

The red varietals include a comparison of their estate grown 2014 red blend Block Zero and the Texas High Plains red blend Newsom North Block 2014, and a comparison of the 2014 and 2013 Texas Family Reserve red blends. However, the standout of the reds was the 2015 Kuhlken Vineyard Reserve, a blend of estate grown Tempranillo, Mourve'dre, Merlot, and Cabernet Sauvignon. Crafted by the father Larry Kuhlken, it has an outstanding ruby red color and an earthy, masculine character much like I imagine its creator to possess.

Afterward, I ventured out to the large deck attached to the tasting room that provides its guests the best views of the countryside. With its southern charm, relaxed atmosphere, and hand-crafted wines, it is no wonder that Pedernales Cellars is a popular destination on the Texas Wine Trail.

Taking in the beautiful hill country views.

Kuhlman Cellars

Located a short distance from Pedernales Cellars, Kuhlman Cellars is a new addition to the Texas Wine Trail that opened in October of 2014. Founded by Chris and Jennifer Cobb, the winery is named for Kuhlman Creek which originates on their family farm. Their winemaker, Bénédicte Rhyne, obtained her Masters in Encology from Universite de Bourgogne in Dijon, France. Rhyne crafts wines according to Old World techniques, consistent with European style wines.

The grounds of the winery are elegant and refined. The tasting room and winery are housed in two separate sleek, modern buildings that face the small, young vineyard. Both have large patios with abundant, cozy seating and flower beds bursting with butterfly attracting blooms. Signature Tastings require reservations and are held in the barrel cellar inside the winery. Standard tastings are conducted in the two-story Wine Garden. Both tasting options are paired with gourmet small bites to enhance the flavor of the wine and the tasting experience. This format is European in nature, and gives the tasting a sophisticated feel.

Tasting room and winery

Their wines exhibit Old World character and flavor profiles. The fruit flavors are subtle and higher on the acidic spectrum in both the white and red varieties. The red varieties are also characterized by lighter tannins, making them wonderful for food pairing. This style of winemaking is geared toward food paring by design, and is consistent with the European wine culture. My favorites were the 2016 Hensell Rosé which paired beautifully with a spicy/salty Tex-Mex inspired hors d'oeuvre, and the 2015 Kuhlman Cellars Red Blend from the Texas High Plains that paired phenomenally well with their Herbed Marcona Almonds.  Kuhlman Cellars has succeeded in providing its guests with a European wine tasting experience in the heart of the Texas Hill Country.

Small bites for pairing with your wine tasting.

Two Different Approaches, One Magical Day

Pedernales Cellars and Kuhlman Cellars offer vastly different wine tasting experiences. The juxtaposition of the two tasting rooms created a wonderfully unique wine tasting adventure. The warmth and Texas charm of Pedernales Cellars put me at ease and helped me put aside all of my cares and worries. The elegance and sophistication of Kuhlman Cellars transported me to a wine tasting in Europe. This diversity is what makes the Texas Hill Country Wine region a magical place to visit.

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