John Rivenburgh (Rye – Vin – Berg), Tell me about your Red Zin

John Rivenburgh, Kerrville Hills Winery

“In full discloser, I’m a bit surprised how well this wine turned out”, said winemaker John Rivenburgh (aka Rye – Vin – Berg, as he emblazoned on his new hats) referring to his newly released Texas Red Zinfandel. My retort was something like, historically, I’ve NOT found Zinfandel to be one of the notable red wines in Texas like it certainly has been for decades, if not longer, in California. This brief exchange served as a preamble to our December outdoor tasting of the Kerrville Hills Winery, 2019 Reddy Vineyard Zinfandel, at a table situated near the winery entrance with the warm winter sun at our backs.

As we tasted, John continued, “Myself, I was pleasantly shocked.” Some of the pleasant qualities of his wine he feels come from the known and sometimes undesirable trait of the Zinfandel grape for uneven bunch ripening if used in a positive sense to enhance acidity as the riper, lower acid grapes reach maturity and high sugar content.

John said, “In 2019, we received Zinfandel from Reddy Vineyard that looked pretty nice. I gave several in my winery crew some of the Zinfandel as a bonus. One of them, who has become a pretty good winemaker over time is Kevin Spivey. I have a background in making Red Zin, so I gave him some of my winemaking notes and asked him to go ahead and make the wine. His Zinfandel turned out so well that we gave him the winemaking credit on the bottle.”

John Rivenburgh – Owner/Winemaker Kerrville Hills Winery
(photo credit lead & this picture: Big Thirst Marketing)

From my tasting of the 2019 Kerrville Hills Zinfandel, it showed a medium-plus body in the glass offering red/black fruits, perhaps with black cherry in the lead followed by a savory quality with earth, tobacco, black pepper, and notes of aromatic wood on the nose. The wine was spot-on varietally correct for Red Zin, and it was in balance with medium alcohol, crisp acidity, not overly ripened and flabby. For those of you that have been searching for a Texas Red Zinfandel that can meet your expectations, this is one for you to try.

As our tasting discussion evolved, I mentioned our last meet-up in College Station for the Texas A&M Viticulture and Enology Research Symposium earlier this month. I reminded him how much I was blown away by his Kerrville Hills 2019 Semillon from Rustic Spur Vineyard. If you are not familiar with Semillon, it is a blending component mostly found with Sauvignon Blanc in White Bordeaux wines. It occasionally appears as a single-varietal wine, but not often, especially in Texas.

John’s Semillon is a full-bodied white wine paired nicely with oak aging to create a silky mouthfeel with hints of lemon-citrus, yellow apple, and, although a dry wine, beeswax honeycomb that finishes smooth and buttery. If this is your type of wine, you better get some soon. Semillon grapevines in Texas took direct hits from the freeze spells in recent vintages. As a result, it will likely be a few more years before Semillon will be back in the hands of Texas winemakers.

Both the 2019 Zinfandel and 2019 Semillon are available on the Kerrville Hills Winery website by clicking the links provided here. I’ll be back in a while with my notes on John’s Petite Sirah. See you then.

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Love to taste, talk and tweet about Texas wines and where they are in the global scheme for wines. After all that's the only way they will reach the full potential.

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