Texas Hill Country Wineries Tasting Stop: Driftwood Estate Winery… 100% Texas, 100% Gold Medal Winners, 100% Best View

Still to this day, the RUMOR PERSISTS that Texas wineries are not making “REAL TEXAS” wines, choosing instead to simply relabel wines or use grapes from west coast winegrowing regions. There is a SECOND RUMOR that says, Texas wines aren’t any good.

The aim of this story is to tell you… DON’T BELIEVE THESE RUMORS! They are not true and we have two wines today that nicely make my point.

Tasting Stop Venue –  One of the Most Picturesque in the State

To reach our tasting stop today, let’s wander down Route 12 south from Highway 290 (west of Austin) at Dripping Springs. It’s a quite nice drive with mildly winding roads and classic bucolic scenery at the uplifted and eroded eastern edge of the Texas hill country’s Edwards Plateau. Our destination is Driftwood. This is where we find two wines from Driftwood Estate Winery run by Gary Elliott, master skier, professional pilot, and finally turned vineyard and winery owner. Note: If you click the link you will immediately be transported to Elliott’s estate vineyard and see Gary driving his harvester down a row of grapevines.

Gary Elliott, Owner of Driftwood Estate Winery

Over the years starting before 2000, Elliot has built his Texas wine reputation at Driftwood Estate Winery where quality is interwoven with individualistic character of his family-owned and operated estate vineyard and winery. There, he attained a reputation for (a) having the neatest and most well-kept vineyard in the Texas hill country, (b)  for seeing opportunities for growing the right grapes for his area – think Viognier, Muscat and Syrah – for some of these, he may have been the first to do it, and (c) having one of the most picturesque winery/vineyard views in the whole dang state of Texas.

Gary Elliott driving his harvester.

The Driftwood Estate Winery “Double-Gold” Tasting

Let’s focus on red wines today made by winemaker Jackie van Sant Downes, that speak of their Texas terroir – Texas High Plains – and come from the highly regarded and awarded Newsom Vineyards in Plains, Texas. We have two Gold-winning wines (two times – Double No. 1) and one itself is a Double Gold winning wine (Double No. 2). So, maybe this makes this tasting actually a Double-Double Gold Tasting!

Driftwood Estate Winery 2019 Alamo Red, Newsom Vineyards, Texas High Plains –This award winning red wine is a classic Merlot-dominant Bordeaux-style blend. It is the “full monty” containing all five Bordeaux grape varieties: 40% Merlot, 24% Cabernet Sauvignon, 20% Malbec, 10% Cabernet Franc, and 6% Petite Verdot. It is aged 30 months in French and American oak barrels. All this culminates, while at a comfortable 13.2% alcohol, in aromas of currant/cassis, black cherry, vanilla, and spice. The palate is full-bodied with extracted and juicy dark-red fruit, baking spice, and a hint of charred coconut, with a long finish. Food pairings: beef, lamb or game with simply prepared sauces from herbed butter, mushroom, Dijon mustard or red wine reduction. But, personally I’m partial to Merlot and mushroom pairings.

The wine’s accolades attest to its ability to hold top honors on the world stage selected by judges in some of the best international wine competitions:

  • Best of Class/Double Gold – 2023 San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition
  • Gold – 2024 Houston Rodeo Uncorked Wine Competition

Driftwood Estate Winery 2019 Sangiovese, Newsom Vineyards, Barrel Reserve – This Sangiovese is aged for an incredible 36 months in French and American oak barrels and shows it well. Like most Sangioveses I’ve had the opportunity to taste, it benefits from being served slightly under room temperature for an optimal effect.  This Sangiovese shows elevated acidity and friendly but elevated tannins. The aroma carries tart red cherries and plums with green herbs (sage and rosemary). With the extended barrel aging, savory notes of leather and pipe tobacco have started to develop. Food Pairings: grilled meats, fowl or veggies, or tacos of the same, or the ultimate… pizza.

This wine also ranks high in critical acclaim garnering Gold in the 2022 San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition

Winemaker Jackie van Sant Downes

Winemaker Credit

Driftwood Estate Winery’s winemaker Jackie van Sant Downes, a native of Houston, Texas, got her degree at Texas Tech University and immediately started a winery internship in Sonoma, California over a decade ago. After starting her own successful brand there, she returned to Texas in 2021 to become winemaker at Elliot’s winery while still continuing to make her wines in Sonoma. Cheers to Jackie, for her winemaking successes both in California and back home here in Texas!

A double-double gold medal tasting!


Photo credits: Driftwood Estate Winery, VintageTexas.com, others.

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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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