Texas cattle ranchers, Ed and Susan Auler, became excited with the idea of growing wine grapes after a trip to France in 1973. Ed saw many similarities in the soils and climates in the great vineyard areas of France and his land back home. He was certain that some of the unique features of the Texas Hill Country would make it ideal for grape growing. Over the next decade, they began to bring their dream to fruition by first planting a test vineyard on a corner of their Fall Creek Ranch in 1975 and then eventually progressing into making wine.The couple was also the force behind the Texas Hill Country getting their AVA status.
Today, Fall Creek Winery produces many award winning wines and has long been revered for their Bordeaux-style blend Meritus. A recent project by current winemaker, Sergio Cuadra, is the single varietal ExTerra line. This premium group of three wines is sourced from the Salt Lick Vineyards and includes wine made from Tempranillo, Syrah, and Mourvedre and all have received high scores from critics.
I visited with Ed Auler at the Fall Creek tasting room in Driftwood when I first arrived to the Hill Country. I sampled three of the rosé wines they are producing this year, the Chez Rosé, the Merlot Rosé “Vintner’s Selection”, and the Grenache Rosé “Vintner’s Selection,” all from 2019. Each one is sourced from the Texas Hill Country appellation and is charming in their own unique way. Ed shared the story of his and Susan’s early trip to France with me. They initially went to look at a French breed of cattle that they were interested in breeding with their Angus beef. Ed laughed as he recounted how they spent two days looking at cattle and nineteen days touring and tasting wine across France. Their family thought they had lost their minds when they returned home and discussed their idea to plant a vineyard.
On day 2 of my trip, I went to the original Fall Creek location in Tow, TX and was greeted by Sergio Cuadra who led me out to the estate vineyard. He explained that they were in the process of retraining their vines to help “renew the plant.” The vines have been spur pruned for decades and they are transitioning to cane pruning. The goal is to improve both yields and quality. Most Texas vineyards had followed the California method of cordon training and spur pruning when they were originally planted. Sergio feels that this is not the best method for these Hill Country vineyards. He has previously worked for Viña San Pedro, Anakena, and Viña Concha y Toro in Chile and said, “I did not come here to make great Texas wines, instead I came here to make great, world-class wines that just happen to grow in Texas.”
Forty-five years later. the Aulers, along with the other first families of Texas wine, have proven they were visionaries and not so crazy after all. Today, the winery produces five different lines of wine priced from $12-100 which allows wine lovers at every price point to enjoy a taste of Texas from one of the modern day pioneer couples of Texas wine.
Fall Creek Vineyards Sauvignon Blanc Vintner’s Selection Escondido Valley 2019 - This area was once under the Gulf. Its formation dates back to the Cretaceous period, the soils are composed of clay, sandstone, siltstone, and limestone. The sandstone is highly calcareous and, in some areas, contains beds of oyster shells. It is very dry with little rain which has kept the minerals from leaching from the soils. The vineyard was an experiment planted in the 1970s by Texas A&M and the University of Texas. Very little Sauvignon Blanc is grown in Texas, the acreage isn’t even counted, so this is a very unique wine for the state. The wine is fresh and lightly fruity with citrus notes and a distinct saline minerality that persists through the lingering finish.
Fall Creek Vineyards Chardonnay Vintner’s Selection Texas Hill Country 2018 - Sourced from sandy loam soils with fragmented sandstone and mixed clay below, this wine is fermented and aged with sur lie stirring for five months in a stainless steel tank before bottling. It is fresh and flavorful with a medium body, classic notes of apple and citrus and a lush feel from the lees stirring and has a lengthy finish.
Fall Creek Vineyards Chardonnay Terroir Reflection Certenberg Vineyard 2019 - This wine was a barrel sample, it still looked a bit cloudy and is not ready for release. The grapes are hand selected from a single vineyard with sandy loam soils with fragmented sandstone and mixed clay. It goes through malolactic fermentation and will be aged sur lie in French oak barrique for about 13 months before bottling. Sergio waits for the natural Diacetyl, which gives wine a buttery note to dissipate. This wine has juicy, tropical notes and a hint of spice with a bigger structure and a richer texture than the previous Chardonnay.
Fall Creek Vineyards Chez Rosé 2019 - This was the most affordable rosé in the lineup that I tasted yesterday. It is composed primarily of Merlot (87%) with some Tempranillo and Cabernet Sauvignon. The grapes were grown to be a rosé wine versus an early bleeding off from a red wine production. It is dry, fresh, and fruity with notes of sweet red fruit.
Fall Creek Vineyards GSM Terroir Reflection Salt Lick Vineyards 2017 - This wine is made from a blend of Grenache 4%, Syrah 36%, and Mourvèdre 60% sourced from clay and loam topsoils over weathered limestone. The vineyard is deep and nutrient rich from years of flooding from nearby Onion Creek. The wine is loaded with red fruit flavors and has a savory edge to the finish.
Fall Creek Vineyards Tempranillo Terroir Reflection Salt Lick Vineyards 2018 - This wine was a barrel sample. It is barrel aged for 18 months in predominantly American oak of which 20% new. The wine is showing red fruit and sweet spice notes.
Fall Creek Vineyards Tempranillo ExTerra Salt Lick Vineyards 2017 - This wine has just been released. This wine is produced from the same clay and loam topsoils over weathered limestone of the Salt Lick Vineyards but from the highest quality grapes which are carefully selected. In the last vintage, only 72 cases were produced. The wine is full-bodied and robust with a firm tannic structure with notes of red cherry, plum, and currant fruit with hints of tobacco smoke, sweet spice, and coffee along with a persistent finish. It is barrel-aged for 18 months in 66% new American oak.
Fall Creek Vineyards Meritus Certenberg Vineyards 2018 - Prior to the advent of the ExTerra line, this wine was the most premium priced in the line up. Like the ExTerra line, it is only made when the quality of the vintage warrants it. The blend is composed of Merlot (80%) and Cabernet Sauvignon (20%) from the Certenberg Vineyards and is aged for 18 months in French oak barrels with an additional 2 years in bottle before release. The plum notes from the Merlot defines the flavor profile of the wine while the Cabernet Sauvignon adds black currant and floral violet notes. It is firmly structured yet elegant with good aging potential.
In addition to these wines, Sergio offered up barrel samples of three new wines which are not finished yet but with which they are experimenting: a Pinot Noir, a Carignan, and a Cabernet Sauvignon from a new vineyard area. I was quite taken with both the pale and elegant Pinot Noir and the fruit forward Cabernet. The Carignan was very acidic and quite earthy, Sergio stated that he is looking at it as a potential blending component due to its natural higher acidity.
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