Walla Walla, Washington was the host for the 2018 Wine Bloggers’ Conference. If you have traveled to Seattle but have not ventured east over the Cascade Mountains, you’ve missed the majority of an amazing state. The state of Washington is just filled with awe inspiring …
As part of my journey through the world of wine, I decided to circle back to learn about the production of the juicy source of wine – grapes. I recently had the opportunity to take two trips to Alpine, TX to participate in the annual wine harvest with other supporters of Times Tens Cellars (http://www.timestencellars.com/). Times Ten Cellars is co-owned by Kert Platner and Rob Wilson. Both men are enthusiastic, love their customers and are successful entrepreneurs with wine making being one of their primary ventures. The two separate weekends that I went to pick grapes were each a little different in terms of weather but equally as enjoyable. I learned a tremendous amount about the production side of growing and harvesting grapes. Those who are familiar with the state of Texas – the second largest state in the United States with over 268,000 square miles – know that even a four-hour drive can show a huge difference in terrain. Or “terroir” as oenophiles refer to it. From Dallas; semi-arid, to Austin; hill country, and then Houston; which boasts forests and palm trees- the state is a cacophony of terroir. Alpine, TX is no different. Each of my previous trips to west Texas featured movie quality landscapes complete with tumble weeds and oil rigs dotting the landscape. The terrain I passed on my way to far west Texas is flat. It is so flat that when the weather is cold and dry you can actually see the curvature of the earth! I was excitedly told not to expect the same type of flat semi-arid terrain in Alpine. About an hour before you get to the town of Alpine, the mountains come into view on the horizon. As you get closer to the foothills you see that the mountains are covered in purple sage, prickly pear cactus, and juniper trees. For me, mountains bring me such a sense of peace and tranquility. I start to get happy when I get into the mountains. I love it when the clouds sit on top of the mountains looking just like a white wool cap.
Times Ten Cellars first established Cathedral Mountain Vineyards in 2004 in the mountains of Alpine. The view at dusk is spectacular. Rob and Kert have planted over 10 acres of grapes of numerous varietals including Tempranillo, Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah and Grenache. Cathedral Mountain Vineyards sits at 4,800 feet above sea level, is nestled into the mountains and surrounded by expansive cattle ranches. The area was formed by the eruption of volcanoes and features several large volcanic rocks. The landscape is dotted with massive volcanic rock formations jutting out of the ground at crazy angles. A natural water source is tucked below ground and produces pristine drinkable water from subsurface springs. Our first evening featured a great meal setup on large tables in an out building, Times Ten Cellars’ wines, a lesson on picking grapes and an unobstructed view of the scenery at night. Oh, and a lot more wine after dinner. During my second visit we were treated to a massive bonfire after dark.
My first weekend at Cathedral Mountain Vineyards, I had the pleasure of meeting Dustin Walker – the winemaker for Times Ten Cellars. Dustin is an enthusiastic young man who started his winemaking experience in the High Plains of West Texas helping a friend plant his first vineyard. Times Ten started with 3 wines and now boasts 23 different offerings. Cathedral Mountain Vineyards has experimented with several methods for growing grapes that now includes heavy pruning early in the year and limited fertilization through the watering system. This has resulted in a much heavier yield of grapes. The climate in Alpine has very low humidity which means that the need for direct spraying of chemicals for pest control is limited. Higher humidity areas have a larger dependence on pest control methods.
On the first weekend in late August, we harvested a beautiful yield of Tempranillo grapes. The Tempranillo grape is a sweet grape. It was a little warmer than usual which made for a long morning but, the group of approximately 24 volunteers plus some enthusiastic basketball players from Sal Ross University made for a fun time at work. And work it was. If you’ve never harvested fruits or vegetables, it’s quite an experience to go from theoretical idea of farming to actually picking the fruit that will eventually end up in a bottle of wine you’ll be enjoying in a few years. Harvesting on this weekend took about 5 hours in total with a great dinner celebration in evening in the town of Alpine. The second weekend in early September was a lot cooler with misting rain throughout Friday and Saturday mornings. During this weekend, we picked Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc and Syrah. Cooler weather and more hands allowed the group to pick more acreage faster. We finished up before lunch. This was a slightly different experience as you could tell that the grapes had absorbed some rain and the hope was that it wouldn’t be significant enough to impact the harvest. These grapes looked great so I’m really looking forward to some tasty wines in the next 18-24 months.
This year, the Times Ten crew decided to spend all of the harvest time actually harvesting grapes and send the grapes to a processor for initial fermentation. This allowed the harvesters to focus solely on grape picking. Pallets of grapes in bins were loaded as we collected 5-gallon buckets of grapes. A large truck transported the pallets of grapes to the processing facility. In prior years, initial separation of grapes and stems with crushing was performed on the Cathedral Mountain premises. One of the perks of participating in the harvest was drinking incredibly good wines from Times Ten. My favorite from the weekend is Cathedral Mountain Vineyards Tempranillo. Cathedral Mountain Vineyards Tempranillo is a well-balanced wine. It has a lighter mouth feel than more full-bodied reds like Cabernet Sauvignon. This is a fruit forward wine with some acidity and low tannins.
Harvesting grapes is not for those who are afraid to get a little dirt under their fingernails. It is a lot like real work. And yet it’s a blast. If you have a heart for agriculture, don’t mind a little heat or rain and like to work with your hands consider joining in on the fun next year. It will definitely help you appreciate the origins of each bottle of wine.
In the meantime, visit Times Tens Cellars in the Lakewood area of Dallas. They have a welcoming facility and knowledgeable wine stewards will help with the selection. There is also an extensive menu (my favorite is the Curry Chicken Salad). Take a couple of friends with you after work or on the weekend. And if you aren’t local to the Dallas Metroplex visit their website and order a few bottles to enjoy!
Remember todrink what it is that makes you truly happy and always think positively!