Pedernales Cellars

By Terry Thompson-Anderson  
Photography by Sandy Wilson 

There’s no question that the Texas wine industry is growing at an amazing pace—Texas now boasts over 200 wineries. Our wineries have become so popular that many of those located in remote areas are opening separate tasting rooms in the Hill Country or other metropolitan areas. But the true marker of a strong and enduring industry is when the second generation steps in and takes the reins at the older firms.

We are certainly seeing this happen as many of the pioneer Texas wineries are now either being completely operated by the second generation of the families, or the grown children are actively involved in the day-to-day operations and are being groomed to take over completely. One such winery is Pedernales Cellars, located in Stonewall.

The original estate vineyard was planted and tended in the mid-90s by Larry and Jeanine Kuhlken, with the help of their son, David, and daughter, Julie. The elder Kuhlkens both worked in the tech industry until 1991, when they retired and bought the vineyard property. The winery’s tasting room was opened in 2008 by David and the Kuhlken’s son-in-law, Fredrik Osterberg.

The original vineyard—which was planted in Willow City in 1995—consisted of five acres of Mediterranean varietals; another twelve acres were added the following year. David and Fredrik both left successful careers in software and banking, respectively, with the goal of expanding the family-owned and -operated vineyard into a small, high-quality commercial winery. Both were inspired by the vision of Larry and Jeanine working part-time in the vineyard and learning viticulture. They also gleaned knowledge from other growers and winemakers and formulated a realistic approach to making wine. By the time they began to plan the winery facility, they had over 10 years’ experience behind them. Larry and Jeanine retired from involvement in the vineyard when David and Fredrik opened the winery. David now provides viticulture leadership together with vineyard manager Jim Brown.

From the initial planning stages of the winery, David and Fredrik envisioned a sustainable facility. The pair contracted with Dallas architect and winemaker Gary McKibben to design their underground production/barrel room—the largest in the state. The facility uses a geothermal temperature-control system to reduce its environmental footprint, and plans are in the works for an overhead fermentation facility that will use a gravity-flow system to move wine to the tanks below.

Their commitment to sustainability extends to the winemaking practices, as well. There’s an emphasis on open-bin fermentation, which requires less active cooling and relies primarily on manual management, and refurbished barrels (in addition to new) are used providing new-barrel quality without consuming new wood. Pedernales Cellars also uses many winemaking by-products for vineyard compost—minimizing water use through ground-cover management, and they recycle the majority of tasting-room glass and cardboard waste.

Fredrik describes the Pedernales philosophy as a basic one: “Keep it simple, keep it traditional and produce quality wine by working with the varietals best suited to the Texas terroir.” From the beginning, the grapes have dictated the focus of the winery. All wines produced by Pedernales Cellars are Texas appellation, meaning grapes grown in Texas.

Fredrik and David chose the 146-acre site in Stonewall because of its proximity to the family’s estate vineyard and its access to Fredericksburg—arguably the epicenter of the Texas wine country. Often referred to as “the winery with a view,” Pedernales Cellars is perched atop a particularly spectacular rolling hill. The tasting room and adjacent outdoor deck offer a panoramic view that invites visitors to linger over a glass of wine. In the spring of 2012, the tasting room was expanded to better serve the growing number of visitors.

Pedernales Cellars released its first vintages in 2006. In its first five years, the winery has built a strong reputation among wine lovers and industry insiders for consistently producing high-quality wines in small lots using both a hands-on, traditional winemaking process and the latest technological advances. The wines are fermented and barreled in small micro-lots in order to arrive at more nuanced flavors for distinctive blending.

“We’re committed to one thing,” notes David, “making consistently great wine. We do that by taking extra care in our process and letting each vintage speak for itself. As a smaller producer, we have the luxury of doing that. We are committed to spreading the word about the quality of Texas wine—one medal at a time.”


Noteworthy Vintages

Texas Viognier Reserve 2011: Grapes from the Bingham Family Vineyards and Farm and Reddy Vineyards in the Texas High Plains were used to craft this first reserve vintage of viognier. 2011 was a memorable year for all Texans as it brought a historic drought. The dry, hot conditions reduced vine yield drastically, but at the same time produced small concentrated berries brimming with flavor and high fermentable sugars. The vintage provided many lots of grapes with intense varietal aromas and elevated alcohol levels—prompting the winemaker to produce a reserve offering. The fruit was pressed near the vineyards immediately following the harvest to limit skin contact. Fermentation was done at Pedernales Cellars, initially in stainless steel, and a portion of the grapes were finished in new French Allier barrels for three months. The final blend provides a compelling marriage of the intense fresh-fruit qualities of the vintage found in the stainless-aged lot with the tannins of the barrel-aged lot. Aromas of tropical fruit with notes of vanilla seem to burst from the glass. On the palate, the wine is supple and smooth with mild tannins. The brilliant flavors remain through the clean finish.

Texas GSM 2010: Released in April 2012, this small-batch (285 cases) wine is crafted in the tradition of a classic Rhône red. The blend is 54 percent syrah, 30 percent Mourvèdre and 16 percent grenache. The 2010 blend is predominantly Texas Hill Country fruit from the Kuhlken estate vineyard, and Tallent Vineyard in Mason County. 2010 was a notable year for growing conditions with cool, wet weather throughout the winter and an early spring followed by consistent summer sunlight. The results were high yields and well-balanced fruit. The wine, aged in American oak for 15 months, shows a good balance of the traditional fruity notes of syrah over a distinct but well-integrated nuance of black pepper and roasted almonds. On the palate, the wine exhibits well-integrated acidity and tannins—resulting in an excellent mouthfeel and a long, satisfying finish.

Texas Tempranillo Reserve 2010: This excellent wine is yet another indicator that the tempranillo grape is an important focus in Texas winemaking. The grapes for this vintage came primarily from the Kuhlken family’s estate vineyard, with two small lots from Bingham Family Vineyards and Farm and Reddy Vineyards added in the final blend. This reserve blending reflects the best of the 2010 tempranillo harvest. Traditional Rioja yeast strains were used and fermentations lasted for seven to ten days, followed by gentle basket pressing. The wine was aged in a mix of American and French barrels for 15 months, then racked, blended and bottled in February 2012. This reserve vintage delivers tempranillo’s characteristic notes of cherry with underlying notes of our Texas minerality matching those of Rioja with a subtle, but sensual, layering of fine dark chocolate. The long finish is rich and smooth.