Hill Country Wineries Tasting Stop: Lewis Wines 2021 Chenin Blanc, Expect the Unexpected… Can you say Botrytis?

Want to visit a winery where the people that own and run it are driven by the philosophy that great wine is made in the vineyard. Well, Lewis Wines on Route 290 just west of Johnson City is the place for you.

Back in 2010, Doug Lewis opened Lewis Wine joining a group of winegrowers and winemakers I once referred to as the “Young Turks” of the Texas wine movement who are looking to produce quality wine with 100 percent Texas-grown grapes. Doug Lewis and his partner Duncan McNab cover the state in the effort to make the best wines possible. This includes growing Vitis vinifera (European wine grapes) in the Hill Country in central Texas and the High Plains of the Texas panhandle to make their red, white and rosé wines. Click here for more on their grape growing exploits. But, Lewis and McNab also work with hybrid Blanc Du Bois grapes grown, maybe for you, unexpectedly in east Texas to make their widely acclaimed Swim Spot, a slightly effervescent dry white wine made for Texas summertime sipping.

Lewis Wines Swim Spot – Made from Blanc Du Bois grape and slightly sparkling.

On this Hill Country tasting stop, I did some wine tasting with co-owner and winemaker Doug Lewis and, in doing so, found an unusual suspect (i.e. wine) that offers something special and unlikely to be found at other Texas wineries.

Doug Lewis – Co-owner and winemaker at Lewis Wines near Johnson City, TX.

What I tasted was Lewis Wines 2021 Chenin Blanc, Texas High Plains from Tony and Madonnna Phillips vineyard near Brownfield, TX, in the high plains. These Chenin grapevines were planted specifically for Lewis Vineyards in 2019 and this 2021 Chenin Blanc is the first wine made from these vines. But, what’s so special?

Just wait a minutes, let’s talk about the winery first – The Venue. It a wonderful property with a vineyard, production facilities and a large partly outdoor tasting room made for lounging, sipping and relaxing.

Lewis Wines tasting room – open but can be closed-in for inclement weather.

OK, back to the Chenin Blanc, what’s special? The 2021 Lewis Wine Chenin Blanc is uncommonly good. It has an almost unique combination of aromas and flavors of honeyed ginger, earthiness and ripe apricot that compliment the traditional pear, quince and minerally characteristics found in Texas grown Chenin Blanc. It is also, slightly sweet with super-refreshing and crisp acidity, and has a pleasantly low level of alcohol at only 11 percent – oh so good accompanying charcuterie and cheeses. This Lewis Wines Chenin Blanc is likely one of Texas’s best summertime wines released this year, but it also has the attributes that will please you for the rest of the year, too. You say, you don’t drink sweet. Oh please… don’t show what you don’t know about wine. Think again as to what you will be missing here. This wine comes with an incredible story.

The summer of 2021 had unusual humid conditions on the Texas High Plains that caused boytrytis (pronounced bot-try-tis) to develop in a portion of the Phillips Chenin Blanc grapes. Now, is when you ask, ”What in the world is boytrytis?”

To answer that question, and it is a long answer, we need to go to the Loire Valley of France where Chenin Blanc is grown and turn back the clock to about the 15th century. Interested? All this with just at a simple Hill Country tasting stop at Lewis Wines.

Lewis Wines 2021 Chenin Blanc goes so well with Charcuterie (a little sweet with the salty)

Chenin Blanc likely came to the Loire Valley of France more than a thousand years ago. We know that it was firmly established there by the 15th century. Through the centuries, Chenin Blanc proved its worth by its flexibility, being made in a range of styles from dry and minerally to rich, honeyed and sweet, and also a sparkling wine.

What makes this possible is Chenin Blanc tends to bud early and ripen late providing ample time for the grapes to hang on the vine. Just like in the NFL, a lot can happen during hang time while the ball is in the air… some good and some bad. The long grape hang time for Chenin grapes also presents an element of risk. If the humidity is very high, the peril is of serious fungal diseases and loss of crop. But, if the temperatures and humidty are just in the right range, Chenin Blanc is subject to Botrytis Cinerea, also called “Noble Rot”, a very special type of mold. You’re probably saying right now, “But, that sounds bad.”

Au contraire, this particular mold on grapes is a coveted thing to winemakers the world over. As a mold, when in full force, it is responsible for all the great sweet dessert wines of Europe: Sauternes in Bordeaux, Germany’s Trockenbeerenauslese, and Hungary’s Tokaji. As shown in the picture below, botrytis causes the grape skins to leak, allowing water in the grapes to evaporate, and causing the grapes to shrivel on the vine while the sugar and acid concentrates.

A partially botrytisized Chenin Blanc grape cluster from 2021.

While the High Plains aren’t known for being cold and wet, some vintages like 2015 provided perfect conditions for a full-on botrytis attack because of late summer Monsoon rains; consequently, that year Lewis Wines made a dessert Chenin Blanc wine. In 2021, however, botrytis was not spread across the whole crop, boytrytis only partially developed (see photo above) creating just the right conditions to make this slightly sweet Chenin Blanc wine with enhanced honey, ginger and earthy notes.

With this background on Chenin Blanc and this very refreshing and slightly sweet wine, I hope that you will make Lewis Wines one of your Hill Country tasting stops. Their outdoor tasting room is spacious and can accommodate larger groups and events, and the winery offers fun weekend events.

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Address: 3209 Hwy. 290 West, Johnson City

Hours: 10:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. Thursday through Monday

Wines to try: Chenin Blanc, Rosé, Grenache-Mourvèdre, Swim Spot 

Click here for more details on how to get to Lewis Wines, their offered wines and events. Make it your next Hill Country tasting stop.

Another of my personal faves is this Lewis Wines 2019 Grenache-Mourvèdre, served slightly chilled, it makes for a wonderful summer dinner or cheese-plate accompaniment.

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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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