Fifteen miles west of Lampasas, the absence of ambient noise is just one of the many perks of living on a vineyard in a region that boasts of four small-batch wineries and five vineyards, each with a different approach to grape growing and wine production and all of them unmistakably Texan.
On a grassy hill near Pillar Bluff Creek, far from shopping malls and parking lots, the heat of a summer day steals away with the first breeze of the evening, and Gill Bledsoe waits out the growing season, religiously checking the sugar levels in his grapes.
Six acres of grapes separate his winery from his twin brother’s wine shop, making the men the only identical twin brothers making wine in the state.
For Bledsoe, heat plays a huge role in wine making.
“At 95 degrees the vine shuts down,” Bledsoe said. “It is the plant’s way of protecting itself.”
When the veins in the plant close up, it stops producing sugar — the central molecule in wine chemistry.
If he could be known for anything, it would be for growing grapes with high sugar content, said the entrepreneur. Sugar allows for a higher alcohol content and more depth of flavor to the wine, but high sugar doesn’t mean the wines are sweet. That is up to the wine maker.
Purists, Bledsoe explains, believe that only Italian and Rhone varietals should be grown in the state because they are the only grapes suited to the Texas heat.
Just as challenging as a heat wave can be to his grape vines, Bledsoe said a late winter cold front like the one in April 2009 can wipe out a vineyard.
Of the 3,000 gallons of wine Pillar Bluff Vineyards produces each year, Bledsoe was only able to save 135 gallons from the freeze in 2009.
Refusing to quit, Bledsoe the next year turned out his best wine to date — the 2010 Merlot — winning numerous awards and capturing a taste he had spent 15 years perfecting.
After working with his brother for several years, in 2007, Bill Bledsoe and his wife, Sulynn, caught the wine making bug and bought the land neighboring Pillar Bluff Vineyards for their own wine enterprise, Texas Legato Winery.
Texas Legato sells nine varieties of wine, which are generally sweeter than Pillar Bluff.
The winery grows a small portion — three acres — of their grapes on site, but buys a larger portion of the fruit from a Lampasas-area vineyard called Mariscal Vineyards.
The tall Tuscan villa-style tasting room sports a high, vaulted ceiling and wide wooden bar. When you sit on a stool at Texas Legato, you do not have to know anything about soil composition, taste profiles or Rhone varietals.
Sulynn Bledsoe prides herself in being the most unintimidating wine seller in Texas. “If you wanted to produce something cheap and mass produce it, you could,” she said. “If you want to produce something that is you, you have to do it on a smaller scale.”
The cowboy varietal
While a traditional French sommelier may smirk at the provincial names like Skinny Dippin’, Fiestarita and Texas Well Water Wine, the Fiesta Winery is unapologetically Texan.
Located about 15 miles west of Lampasas, Fiesta Winery recently joined “Top of the Hill Country” wine trail and has experienced growth in the past three years.
Just three months ago, their bottles began showing up at H-E-B.
Winery owners Stephen and Sally Baxter have stepped up production and are in the process of opening a wine bar on Main Street in Fredericksburg.
As a newcomer to the Hill Country wine circuit, Sally Baxter has identified the essential difference between wine making and other industries.
“Wine making is the only business where the competition helps you,” Sally Baxter said. “It’s because there’s life in that bottle.”