My Cup O’ Texas Chardonnay from Robert Clay Vineyards
It was in the dead of winter when I met Dan McLaughlin for the first time at Sandstone Cellars in Mason, Texas. I had seen a Facebook posting or two from his Robert Clay Vineyards, but not much more. That evening was spent mainly watching Texas consultant winemaker (and reality cooking show star) Don Pullum’s debut on the ABC Series, The Taste.
Near the end of the evening, I started talking to Dan and the word “Texas” and “Chardonnay” came up in one of his comments. In quick response, I said glibly, “That’s something that I wish Texas winemakers would do less of. To me, Good Chardonnay is like a Texas oxymoron.” Before I knew it, Dan hauled me over to the bar and asked someone to find the last bottle of Pilot Knob Vineyard Chardonnay. As I found out shortly thereafter, his interest in this wine was because the grapes were grown in his Mason County vineyard.
After also requesting a handful of glasses, Dan poured out the golden liquid and waited for my taste and reaction. It came quick and with an expletive when I said, “Damn it Dan, this wine is good!” It was in a medium bodied style and had a moderate dose of oak.
Ever since that evening, I’ve had to temper back my thoughts on Texas Chardonnay. Now I say that it’s not something that you can depend on being good every year or from every vineyard site, or something on which you would base you winery’s business. But, if the year brings it, definitely savor it and enjoy it.
Fast forward to last month…
I get an email from Dan advising that his 2014 Chardonnay is about ready for harvest and things are looking very good. I asked him how he knew they were so good. Dan replied, “You can taste it in the grapes.”
To make a long story short, after gaining Dan’s permission, I stopped out to Robert Clay Vineyards this past Saturday. According to Dan, he and friends harvested half of his crop of Chardonnay the night before and it was destined for this year’s Pinot Knob Vineyard Chardonnay. The other half was to be harvested shortly and going to be headed to Compass Rose Cellars. This left me time to see if what Dan was saying about his Chardonnay grapes was true – possibly 2014 was another opportunity year for Texas Chardonnay.
When I arrived, the prior night’s activity was plain to see from my position at the gate. The hand made “Park Here” sign was still up, there were a few up-ended plastic chairs and several rows of stripped naked Chardonnay vines to my left I as drove into the center of the front vineyard block.
After I stopped, I walked out into the rows of remaining Chardonnay until I found a few clusters to my liking. I had enough to fill a plastic cup to take back to the car….my afternoon Cup O’ Chardonnay.
Well, I will have to admit that the grapes were fine: ripe but not overripe, the seeds were mostly brown and crunchy. To me, these grapes would make a quite nice, lighter-styled Chardonnay perhaps with the ability to take just a light hit of oak (French would be interesting) and make a respectable wine. The second harvest would likely be even riper and make an even sturdier wine, if that is to your liking.
But, only time will tell. The wines need to be made, aged and bottled. In the meantime, I’m left with the memory of an afternoon delight with my Dan McLaughlin Robert Clay Vineyards Cup O’ Texas Chardonnay.