Anyone who’s driven the stretch of U.S. Highway 290 between Johnson City and Fredericksburg lately knows that it’s beginning to look a lot like Napa in the Hill Country; new wineries, and now tasting rooms, are popping up all along the road at an astonishing rate. But hang onto your hats, wine lovers, because the latest addition to the grape-strewn route is shaking up the status quo with a unique blend of great wines and marketing savvy.
4.0 Cellars is the brainchild of three well-respected winemakers who have years of medals to attest to the quality of their wines. The wineries represented, McPherson Cellars, Brennan Vineyards and Lost Oak (formerly Lone Oak) Winery, all have wineries and production facilities located somewhat off the beaten tourist path in Lubbock, Comanche and Burleson, respectively. But being old friends, the trio often talked about their desire to have representation on the so-called Wine Road 290 which culminates at Fredericksburg—the Texas city named by Orbitz.com as the second largest wine-tourist destination behind the Napa Valley. During one such conversation, the trio decided to pool their resources and efforts and build a tasting room that would represent all three interests. They agreed that the design should be unique and very un-Fredericksburg in style, and they achieved the goal early on, when the 290 buzz centered on the question: “What is that ultracontemporary place just before Grape Creek going to be?”
McPherson Cellars owner Kim McPherson is the son of Clinton “Doc” McPherson, known as one of the fathers of the Texas wine industry. Doc McPherson founded Llano Estacado Winery in 1976, and Kim grew up in the business—recalling that in his early childhood, the family garage always contained vats of various fermenting wine experiments. After completing the viticulture and enology program at the University of California, Davis, and working in the industry in California for a few years, Kim returned to Texas to become the winemaker at Llano Estacado, and eventually at CapRock Winery. In 2000, he established the McPherson Cellars label in honor of his dad, and in 2008, he opened McPherson Cellars in the space formerly occupied by the Coca-Cola bottling plant in downtown Lubbock. His wife, Sylvia, designed the efficient and stunning interior spaces in the facility.
Kim has long been a proponent of planting the varieties of grapes that thrive best in Texas, and he’s been a pioneer in developing blends made from Rhône, Italian and Spanish varietals; a great example is his recently released albariño. Kim’s Texas wines have won over 450 medals in state, national and international wine competitions—including two double gold medals at the prestigious San Francisco Wine Fair.
In 1997, retired physician Pat Brennan and his wife, Trellise, purchased the historic McCrary House in Comanche. Soon after, they purchased 33 adjacent acres, then established the vineyard in 2002. They were joined by the Wilkerson family, and the winery was completed in 2005. Today, there are three buildings that comprise Brennan Vineyards: the McCrary House Tasting Room and Gift Shop, a state-of-the-art production facility and the Austin House Events Center. The winery has 37 acres of vineyards growing 12 varieties of vinifera, or old-world grapes, all of which were chosen because of their ability to thrive in the Texas terroir, but they also purchase grapes from growers in the Texas High Plains.
Their wines have fared very well in competition—particularly for a relatively new winery. The 2006 Viognier won the Grand Star Award for best white wine in Texas at the 2007 Lone Star International Wine Competition. Their 2006 Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve won a concordance (double) gold at this year’s Indy International Wine Competition—one of the biggest competitions in the U.S. The wines are also marketed under the Austin Street label and the two labels represent different wine styles, grape origins and price points. Currently, Brennan Vineyards has 12 wines on the market: eight under the Brennen Vineyards label and 4 under the Austin Street label.
Gene Estes, the founder and winemaker of Lost Oak Winery, obtained a master’s degree in microbiology and worked in the pharmaceuticals industry in North Carolina, and then Texas, for 28 years. He bought a picturesque 53-acre parcel of property on Village Creek, outside of Burleson, and planted an acre of experimental grapes. Gene studied viticulture through correspondence, and had the good fortune to learn from native growers in Alsace, France, during an extended assignment in his final years with the pharmaceutical company Alcon. Since retiring, Gene continues to study through programs offered by both Texas Tech and Texas A&M Universities. He opened Lost Oak Vineyards in 2006, and the winery has experienced phenomenal growth in its first six years—increasing the number of cases sold per year from 400 to 3,000. Gene’s stepdaughter, Roxanne, joined the winery in 2007 and is in charge of events and marketing.
The Lost Oak estate vineyard, which comprises five acres, grows shiraz, tempranillo, blanc du bois, malvasia bianca, chardonel, ruby cabernet and chambourcin grapes. Originally, Gene also planted chardonnay, sauvignon blanc, riesling, gewürztraminer, Léon Millot and cabernet sauvignon, which did not thrive. Those vines were eventually pulled and replaced by varieties which not only thrived, but produced great fruit. Lost Oak also purchases grapes from other growers in north central Texas and the Texas High Plains. Gene focuses on varietal wines, but also specializes in blends, as in the Bordeaux-style wine named Mosaic made from four to six varieties depending on the year and the quality of the grapes. He has a fierce passion and enthusiasm backed by the energy to produce excellent wines in Texas—perhaps one of the more hostile environments in the world to do so. “But,” he replies proudly, “it’s a testament to the Texas spirit of doing the impossible.”
4.0 Cellars offers tastings from the three wineries in its open space with high ceilings and exposed beams, a wraparound tasting bar and a private tasting room. The landscaped grounds provide covered outdoor seating for a leisurely afternoon of wine sipping, and the tasting room offers a selection of cheese, meat and fruit trays with crackers. They recently hired a chef to expand the menu, and added a new happy hour every Thursday from 4 to 7 p.m., with live music and complimentary chips and salsa.
Future plans include a line of collaborative wines under the 4.0 Cellars label, and general manager Kelly Aldridge says the first will be a sherry produced in Lubbock and bottled at 4.0 Cellars. She hopes the wine will be available within the year.
McPherson Cellars 2011 Albariño: Albariño is Spain’s most popular white wine—originating in the northwestern region of Galicia. The grape has made its way to Texas, where it appears to be thriving well. McPherson’s take strikes the perfect balance of crisp fruit aromas of banana, pear, kiwi and pineapple. On the palate, the wine presents a crisp, dry mouthfeel with a rich velvety texture and flavors of mango, green apple and a nice, light lemony finish. The grapes were sourced from Castaño Prado Vineyards in Brownfield. The wine is very true to the varietal and is perfect with fish and shellfish.
Brennan Vineyards 2008 Malbec: Produced with fruit from the Brennan estate vineyard, this excellent wine has old-world aromas of tobacco and blackberry balanced with a new-world, fruit-forward style on the palate and a smooth finish. This is a medium-bodied wine that pairs well with steak, pork or game birds.
Lost Oak Winery 2010 Syrah: One glance at the dark, burgundy hue of this syrah blend (45 percent syrah from the Red Wing Dove winery, in Hamilton, and 55 percent syrah from Post Oak Vineyards in Burleson) foretells that it will be a big, bold wine. The nose explodes with the aromas of dark red berry, cherry and jam typical of a good syrah. On the palate, there are complex layers of fruit with a nice balance of oak and well-integrated tannins. The finish is smooth and lingering. It’s a perfect pairing for lamb or beef.