Dirk’s Vodka: The Spirit of Texas and Kiepersol – Going Against the Grain
When I’ve had too many harvested Meyer lemons, I’ve made juice (frozen in cubes for later use). When I’ve had too many farm eggs, I’ve made frittata. But, what did Kiepersol Estate winemaker Marnelle Durrett and her father Pierre de Wet do last year when they ended up harvesting more grapes from their estate vineyard near Tyler than they could handle? For the first time, they sold grapes to other Texas winemakers who were in the midst of the 2013 all-time bad grape shortage suffered at the hands of a series of late spring freezes. That offering was much appreciated, I’m sure.
Secondly, they took some of the remaining overage and made more wine than they could use. Then, Pierre went to work designing and building four custom stills with which Jim Durrett distilled what is the first domestic (and Texas) grape-based vodka. If you’ve had Ciroc from France, you’ve tasted the only other vodka of this kind in the world.
On a recent warm east Texas evening, Marnelle, Jim and Pierre hosted friends, winery VIPs and media to the opening of their new Kiepersol wine tasting room and a short walkway away to the distillery for an advance taste of the new product called Dirk’s Vodka.
As you may know, Vodka is a distillate containing ethanol and residual (or added) water usually made from fermented grains or potatoes, though it can be made from other starting materials (e.g. grapes or wine). East Texas has a long history and storied past making distilled beverages behind barns and tucked in cedar breaks often referred to as “moonshine”. Well, with the release of Dirk’s Vodka to the public this past Tuesday, the tradition of east Texas distillation took a big leap forward.
The evening was complete with a peek at the modern distilling operation set in the back of what used to be the old Kiepersol tasting room. I can’t image what was involved to de-bond a winery building and re-bond it as a distillery. It sounds like an administrative and paperwork nightmare involving local, state and federal agencies. But, they were successful whatever it took. This is something that characterizes the collective “spirits” of the operations principals.
Upon entering the distillery, the residual heat of the stills was evident in the room as master distiller, Jim Durrett stood front and center and explained the process. After which, he pointed to overhead pipes that lead through the wall. On the other side was a large covered stainless steel tank.
As Jim lifted the large metal lid, the heady, alcoholic vapors permeated into my sinuses while the dipping sound of the pure unadulterated distilled alcohol echoed reminiscently like spring water in a deep cave. Jim also revealed his other works in progress that included rum (made from molasses) and corn-based whiskey both of which were quietly resting in oak barrels gaining age and flavor. A tasting of a few milliliters of each showed promise of other new products that will hopefully follow Dirk’s Vodka to market. My key tasting descriptors for Dirk’s Vodka were crispness, citrus-like tang, and minerally finish.
The night was complete with food and tastings of Dirk’s Vodka, neat and smooth, and blended in cocktails. Meanwhile, the sunset casted long shadows in the adjoining vineyard while toasts were made to the expanding realm of the Kiepersol Estate. Dirk’s vodka is currently available (two bottles per person over 21 years old per month) only at the distillery at 4120 FM 344 E, Tyler, TX 75703; tele: (903) 894-8995.