A Trip to Flat Creek Estate Winery
The morning was truly a wonderful Texas Hill country morning….70 degrees, clear and bone dry. I was in my car with the top open and trying to navigate for the first time with my new toy – a GPS.
My starting point was our small cottage on the “Big Hill”between Comfort and Fredericksburg. My destination was Flat Creek Estates to visit its owners – Rick and Madelyn Naber. I punched in the address of my destination – 24912 Singleton Bend East, Marble Falls, TX and just that quick, I had my path and time of arrival given to me.
While on this drive through the heart of the Texas Hill Country, I was struck with my recollections from a book that I had just read: Languedoc Roussillon: The Wines and Winemakers by Paul Strang.
He describes Languedoc Roussillon (LR) as a large and varied region. It encompasses areas with dry heat and those that have floods and hail; coastal plains and mountains; a combination of cold north winds, humidity and fog, and and amazing array of soil types. LR has a centuries old winemaking tradition based on Mediterranean varietals (mostly, Carignan, Grenach, and Syrah).
LP has had a history of boom-bust cycles with grape shortages and periods of over production. He also describes LR’s exciting rebirth with emphasis on the use of non-local varietals (Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon and Pinot Noir, and even Viogier), a new understanding of their terroir, and experimentation with the regions complex microclimates.
What occurred to me during the drive were the similarities beween the LR region of France and some of the current challenges and opportunities present in Texas.
Upon arrival at Flat Creek Estate, it was obvious that Rick and Madelyn have created a “Heaven on Earth” winery on the north shore of Lake Travis near Marble Falls. This 80-acre estate is reminiscent of something you might see in Sonoma or even in Tuscany. It has about 20 acres of vineyards and a modern 10,000-case boutique winery.
I was relieved to find out that they had survived the Trial-by-Flood” that had hit Marble Falls last Summer and see that they were rather excited about the activities at their winery as well as the prospects for the rapidly growing Texas wine industry.
I was greeted by Madelyn while Rick was working with a crew getting the foundation set for their new winery and tasting room facilities to be completed in October of this year. While we looked over their operation, she related, “Rick has worked hard to bring amenities to our winery such as a picnic area, walking trails and well- stocked ponds on the estate. Our expanding winery includes an event center, pavilion, and “Vintner’s Quarters” guest house. We are able to host and present events, gatherings, business retreats and wine and food education classes.”
Rick joined me in their tasting room and volunteered to discuss his points of view. He started by describing his excitement with the increased support given to the wineries by the Texas Department of Agriculture (TDA) and the state universities in Texas. Rick said, “Dr. Ed Hellman has put together the Texas WineGrape Network which has organized and presents, via the Internet, a wide range of information on geography, soil types, temperatures, rainfall, humidity and climate. This has been a great help to the Texas growers. These are resources that we just did not have access to in the past.”
He also commented that State resources had made it possible to hire a Texas State Enologist with the goal of helping to optimize the quality of the state’s already fine wines and to support new wineries that may not have the resources available in the larger operations. As he indicated, “ I really think that Texas has reached critical mass, now having all of the essentials to be a leading force in producing fine wines”.
Rick mentioned that, while things have been difficult the past few years with late freezes, summer rains and hail, 2008 looks to be a good quality harvest. He said, “The late freeze did reduce our production, but the hot, dry summer has produced high quality, ripe fruit”.
He acknowledged that the Texas grape crop shortages the past few years and the rapid growth in the number of Texas wineries (current total is over 150 wineries) have lead to some use of out-of-state grapes. Most winery owners that he has talked to are still very committed to using as many Texas grapes as can be produced.
In fact, he mentioned that the TDA had initiated a trial program to support increased production by sharing a portion of the cost required to plant more grapes. Since my meeting with Rick, I have talked to Bobby Champion, Coordinator for the TDA Wine Market Assistance Program, and he mentioned that the they had over 40 proposals in response to their program and have a budget to fund only ten successful candidates. But, he promised that there is more to come.
With the boom and bust cycle for Texas grapes, use of some out-of-state grapes will likely be a part of the program until Texas grape production increases. Rick said, “If we do it, it will be in the context of trying to maintain at least 75% Texas grapes.”
Rick continued, “The remainder of the grapes will come from other states, only as needed. We will only do it so that our brands will be sustainable year after year. This situation should be mitigated as Texas increases its grape production”.
I agreed with Rick that brand sustainability has been one of the problems in Texas in the past. I have personally noticed that one year you find a super wine that you really like, then the next year you can’t find it, particularly from a small boutique winery.
Rick and his tasting room manager, Katy, tasted me through a selection of Flat Creek wines:
Flat Creek Estate, Pinot Grigio 2007 – Wonderful nose of lemon zest with a hint of thyme, a flavorful dry white wine with lemon and a hazelnut note with a long crisp finish.
Flat Creek Estate, Super Texan 2005 – A combo of aromas and flavors of red cherry, cola and light toasty smoke. Light body and refreshing.
Buckin’s Horse Red (New Release) – A true mouthful of flavors coming from this blend of Syrah, Primotivo, Cabernet, Sangiovese, and Merlot yielding raspberry and cranberry notes, cracked black pepper on the nose, nice lively acidity and long finish. One of those rare Summertime reds!
Flat Creek Estate, Muscato Blanco 2006 – Floral tones of citrus blossoms and honeysuckle, great acid sugar balance. Excellent for sipping or with a spicy fish or fowl preparation.
Flat Creek Select, Muscato D’Arancia 2006 – Soft, silky and sweet with orange peel on the nose, it fills on the nooks and crannies of your mouth with flavor.
Flat Creek Estate Port – Full bodied wine with essence of chocolate, leather on the nose overlaid on the dark fruit, plum flavor. Thick, flavorful and delightful!
2006 Flat Creek Estate Cabernet Sauvignon & Shiraz –
In September 2008.
New winery & tasting room complex – In October 2008.
Upcoming Events – Jammin’ in the Vineyard, Concert Series,
August 31, September 14 & 28, October 12 & 25; 1-4 pm;
More information on Flat Creek Estate, their wines and
events at: http://www.flatcreekestate.com/
Driving home… A great Texas sunset…..