Perissos Vineyards and Winery: Harvest Visit
It was back in 2010 when I first trekked out to Perissos Vineyards (in the Texas hill country near Burnet, TX) to visit Seth Martin, then a new face on the Texas hill country wine trail, not knowing much more than he worked with Roussanne. Then, sight unseen as to my winemaking skills (which were and still are meager), Seth pointed to a ladder and told me to take hold of a hose of rushing thick purple juice (See: http://vintagetexas.com/blog/?p=2188). Then, nearly a year later, a tasting session at Perissos Vineyards ended up with finding Native American artifacts in his vineyard (See: http://vintagetexas.com/blog/?p=5092).
Yesterday, unsolicited I showed up to see what Seth was doing. It was a remarkable August 1st harvest day for his estate vineyard’s Viognier. The Muscat was already in the winery, the temperatures were hanging around the upper 80s, refreshing breezes whisked through the vines, vineyard hands were lunching on pizza and juice was running from his press.
Taking a mid-day break, Seth led me through his estate vineyard where he is working hard to use natural methods to control plant vigor while encouraging better vine heath and grape quality. The proof of success was seen in his high cordon, second leaf (2nd year old) Malbec that pushed a respectable (even remarkable) crop. Aglianico, one of his favorite grape varieties, challenged in areas by a patch of high pH soil and cotton root rot, was getting treated with an innovative technique of microbes. Seth’s vision is for these microbes to set after the soil fungus that causes this vineyard scourge.
Here was Seth, the winemaker and vineyardist (wearing sunglasses and with his trusty pruning shears always on his belt) show above earlier in the year, that had come miles in experience and knowledge in just four short years when I first met him. Having gained experience and the courage, he was now prepared to try his hand at increasingly advance techniques.
I also had the chance to taste through several of the Perissos Vineyard wines. Starting with a cup of fresh juice from the day’s harvest, I can say that this year’s Perissos Viognier is, like usual, going to be a substantial wine. Seth is not shy in producing riper and higher alcohol white wines from Viognier, Roussanne and blends. His wines are not shy either: a bit heady, but still in balance, full in ripe fruit favor and tropical aromas. I was glad to see that he still is producing his Petite Sirah and varietal Syrah (seriously good and fruit-forward red wines), and that he has added a Rhone-style rosé made from his estate Grenache and Syrah.
By the end of the day, I left Seth engaged in trying something new in the winery. He was doing his first whole cluster pressing of his Viognier. This pursuit was from his study of others that utilize this winemaking technique. It involves entire grape bunches that are (very gently) pressed to extract the juice, which minimizes the amount of harsher malic acid and astringent tannins that naturally exist in the skins, seeds and stems liberated by the usual destemming and crushing techniques.
My guess that this process will make a different style wine for Seth. It generally creates a more delicate, lighter-styled wine than using conventional destemming and crushing. However, it can also bring a few new high notes and tannins to the wine derived from the seeds and stems if higher pressing pressures are used. Such are the yin-yang stylistic dilemmas of a winemaker that try to push their limits.
When I arrive back a home, I fired up the charcoal, slapped down two steaks and popped the top on a bottle of one of Seth’s early wines: 2007 Newsom Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon that I found in my wine cooler. After seven years, this wine had some nice partially muted fruit character. It was also giving off secondary character in the form of cedar, baking spices, leather and mineral. Don’t let anyone tell you that Texas wines don’t age well. The good ones like this one do.
Seth knew that whole cluster pressing was going to be a more laborious process. However, he did seem a bit surprised late in the evening. I got an email saying, “Still pressing the Viognier. The whole cluster route takes about 500% longer by the way! This wine better be a whole lot more awesome as the process is sure a lot slower.”
I guess such is the life of a Texas winemaker, not really as glamorous as we think it is, watching the slow process of pressing at 11 pm on a Friday night with the hope of making an even “more awesome” wine.