Kuhlman Cellars: For Love of Vina Vita and the Re-creation of a First Kiss
On a busy Fall afternoon, while rushing back to my cottage on the hill at the end of a long drive, I was encouraged by Jennifer Beckmann to stop by the newly opened Kuhlman Cellars. After stopping-in to a take a peek, I’ll admit to being far too distracted by many things that day. But, the winery did leave impressions of unpretentious yet fine food/wine pairings and the aromatics of new pine paneling. It also gave me the urge to return, which is something that I was just recently able to do.
Driving up to the winery on Route 290, I saw the future hopes of owners Chris and Jennifer Cobb in Kuhlman Cellars’ newly planted estate vineyard populated with mostly Mediterranean-style grapes. Present were Marsanne, Roussanne, Carignan and Mourvèdre. These are all sun-loving varieties, that have been known for centuries to express their terroir (their vineyard environment including the soil, topography, and climate).
In the winery, greeted again by the ever-smiling Jennifer Beckmann, I was invited to savor the Kuhlman concept of Vina Vita (or Wine Life). This time it came at a slower pace allowing me to enjoy bites of food and matching sips of wine (five bites and five wines, perfectly paired) in a guided tasting. It was a personal wine and food journey of sorts with Jennifer as my guide.
The Kuhlman wines tasted that day were made under the direction of winemaker Bénédicte Rhyne, native of Aix en Provence, France, who attained her master in oenology (the study of wine) from the Université de Bourgogne (Dijon) and received her first experience at “THE” Chateau Pétrus in Pomerol, Bordeaux. This is no doubt why the first wine served that day was a white Bordeaux-style Kuhlman Cellars (Texas) Sauvignon Blanc blended, as they do in Bordeaux, with Semillon. It gave a silky rich feel that yielded to mouthwatering acidity to give a lively expression of pear and lemon citrus that effortlessly fused with a tarragon goat cheese mousse potato chip morsel.
Jennifer said, “This pairing is all about the salt in the potato chips that activates the palate and goat cheese that works in combination with the acidity of the wine for a fine experience. It’s simple but effective.” I agreed that this was a case where the wine and food equates to a case of one-plus-one-equaling-three.
The wine/food tasting continued with two more white wines…
Kuhlman Cellars Calcaria (White blend of Trebbiano (Ugni Blanc), Roussanne, Viognier – Texas High Plains)
Comments: This white wine expresses grapes that thrive on limestone rocks and soils that can also handle the Texas heat. It is a blend of French grapes yielding stone fruit (peach and apricot) nuances with a hint of residual sugar fused with the punch of grapefruit citrus notes. Pairing of this wine with a spicy pineapple, pepper pico de gallo shows the natural match between quite common piquant foods here in Texas (from Tex-Mex to Thai) and wines that offer an almost imperceptible hint of sweetness.
Kuhlman Cellars Roussanne (White Rhone varietal wine – Texas High Plains)
Comments: This big rich floral wine hits you will its aromatics, but with a rather eclectic pairing of mango caviar, blue cheese and cotton candy something unique happens. When the sweetness of the cotton candy and tropical shades of the Roussanne come together with the blue cheese, it’s a one-bite symphony to behold that illustrates the true magic of wine and food pairing.
As Jennifer explained, “Most people think you need to have matching elements in both the food and wine to get a favorable match. Finding contrast is also valuable aspect, too. This wine/food match is almost bizarre. The morsel has varied and highly compartmentalized tastes, but when the Roussanne meets the blue cheese it grabs it ‘by the collar’ and provides integration of the many varied flavors that both the wine and food bring.” The only statement that I could muster at that point was “now that’s pretty darn cool”.
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We finished our wine/food tasting with two blended red wines, both strong on the Carignan grape grown in California’s Sonoma County. However, these wines are aimed straight at the future vision of The Cobbs and Kuhlman Cellars that is strong on grapes like Carignan and wines that they feel they can eventually produce with Texas fruit from their estate vineyard. They are:
Kuhlman Cellars Alluvé (Red blend of Carignan, Petit Sirah, Grenache – Sonoma County) and Kuhlman Cellars Barranca (Extended oak aged red blend of Carignan, Petit Sirah, Grenache – Sonoma County).
Comments: The Kuhlman Alluvé and Barranca are cut from the same mold; both leading with Carignan but with the Barranca being the more heavily oak-aged and structured tannic wine with the Alluvé being the softer, more fruit-forward wine. Consequently, the food pairing for these two wines differed. The Alluvé was presented with herb-roasted and salted almonds that allowed the fruit in this wine to envelop the almond texture and delicate flavor with its fruit richness. By comparison, the sturdier and more tannic Barranca was paired with a terrine of short rib. In this case, the tannins in the wine, which create its dry dusty finish, were also able to cut through the fattiness of the short rib on the palate resulting in a continuation of the rich meaty flavor of the short rib to prevail through my three bites of this tidbit.
Jennifer willingly shares her love of wine and food pairing with visitors in the Kuhlman tasting room as do the other members of the tasting room staff. She exudes a passion for it that she describes as “something like trying to recreate a first kiss”.
I highly recommend the tasting experience at Kuhlman Cellars. It’s a cut above what is available at many other tasting rooms in the Texas hill country that are aimed mainly at mass tastings. Also, if you are a bit intimidated by the “whole-wine-and-food-pairing-thing”, then by all means, this is a stop you need to make. All pretensions are stripped away allowing fun, tasting pleasure and education to prevail. It does require that you plan ahead and make a reservation, but the enhanced Kuhlman Cellars experience will be very much worth your while.
Kuhlman Cellars, 18421 E US 290, Stonewall, TX; tel: (512) 920-2675 (CORK); email: firstname.lastname@example.org