By Terry Thompson-Anderson
Photography by Sandy Wilson
A leisurely day trip through the scenic Texas Hill Country to Flat Creek Estate Winery culminates at a delicious destination. The successful growth and expansion of the winery since its opening on Valentine’s Day in 2002 closely mirrors the evolution of the modern Texas wine industry. Founders Rick and Madelyn Naber moved to the Hill Country near Lake Travis after Rick retired from his career as an engineer for a large industrial construction company.
During Rick’s corporate years, the couple lived in several regions of the U.S., becoming familiar with the cultures of regional America. For several years before retiring, the Nabers resided in California, where they became great fans of the local wines.
After the couple moved to the Hill Country, they began to notice that the pace of housing development was accelerating drastically. Developers were buying up parcels of property at an amazing rate to build condominium projects and gated communities. The pair had been watching an 80-acre parcel of property that was for sale in their area. Knowing that it was the last piece of agricultural property in the region, they feared it would be purchased for development. The Nabers bought the parcel with a commitment to maintain its use as a sustainable agricultural endeavor.
They considered and rejected several options for the land, from growing peaches, pecans and mushrooms to raising frogs, before they settled on planting a vineyard and building a winery. To grow the best grapes possible, Rick consulted with a couple of pioneer winemakers in the Texas wine industry. Ed Auler, co-owner with his wife, Susan, of Fall Creek Vineyards, told them of the ups and downs of the Texas industry, ending with, “Can’t say that you’ll make it, but I can’t tell you that you won’t.” Edward and Madeleine Manigold, founders of Spicewood Vineyards, and Gary Gilstrap of Texas Hills Vineyard suggested they plant warm-weather varietals.
The Nabers hired Australian winemaker Craig Parker to produce their wines. Parker established a fine list of wines for Flat Creek during his tenure, including the Super Texan sangiovese blend, which won a double gold medal for the young winery in 2005 from the San Francisco International Wine Competition. It was one of the first of the Super Tuscan-style blends for which Texas is now well known. Tim Drake, Flat Creek’s current winemaker, originally hails from Washington State, where he worked at Columbia Crest Winery and Chateau Ste. Michelle. In 2005, he went to work as cellar master at Matthews Cellars, a Washington State producer of high-end wines. In 2009, after 39 years of Seattle rain and gloom, Drake moved his family to Texas knowing that good wines were being produced here. He met Rick at a meeting of the Texas Wine and Grape Growers Association and took over as winemaker at Flat Creek in 2011, in the middle of the grape harvest. Drake says that it was a mad scramble to find records, and to learn the ins and outs of the winery’s production facilities during the harvest—a true initiation by fire. Drake is committed to Flat Creek’s blended-wines program, and has produced a stellar lineup of exciting wines.
In 2008, the Nabers opened a bistro at the winery. The large, open space of the Tuscan-inspired dining room overlooks the sloping vineyards and provides a relaxing ambiance for enjoying fine foods paired with fine wines to while away an afternoon before returning to the real world. The bistro concept was originally developed with an Italian menu of pasta dishes and panini, but as the Flat Creek wines have evolved, so has the menu. The Nabers hired Sean Fulford in 2010 as the executive chef. They added a wood-fired oven to the well-equipped kitchen, and Fulford developed a full menu of innovative dishes to pair with the wine list. Born in Canada, his family’s move to Houston made a Texan out of him. After graduating from The University of Texas with a degree in literature, he moved to Colorado, where he learned the craft of cooking by working in restaurants. He eventually returned to Houston, where he became executive chef for noted restaurateur Tony Vallone’s catering company, but it was at Zin Bistro, in Austin, where he first learned the serious art of wine and food pairing.
Currently, the Bistro at Flat Creek serves a wide variety of dishes ranging from a menu of small plates from the wood-fired oven to cheese plates, sandwiches, salads, soups and entrees that include game meats and quail, as well as exquisite desserts. Each menu item has a suggested wine pairing from Flat Creek’s extensive wine list.
The winery’s new tasting room and barrel facility, designed around wood and stone, is state-of-the-art. The tasting room is accessed by a breathtaking stairway, with elevator service available. The large tasting bar is front and center, with cozy and inviting tables positioned around the large space for enjoying a glass or bottle of wine. There’s also a private tasting room available.
Flat Creek Estate is truly a destination winery: a place to spend the day immersed in the pleasures of exceptional wine and food in a bucolic setting in the Texas Hill Country.
Flat Creek Estate Vineyard and Winery
24912 Singleton Bend East, Marble Falls • 512-267-6310
Super Texan 2010: This beautiful sangiovese blend is one of Flat Creek’s signature wines—highlighting the balance that all winemakers strive for in a blend. It has notes of dark cherry, plum, earthy spiciness and a thread of underlying smokiness. It’s medium-bodied with supple tannins and a nice acid core that make it a great food wine. It’s the perfect pairing for pasta dishes with tomato-based sauces.
Blanco Brio 2012: A slight effervescence in this wine dances across the palate with beautiful aromatics of jasmine blossoms, orange zest and pear. The acid backbone combined with the effervescence lightens the perception of the 3 percent residual sweetness into a refreshing summertime sipper. The wine is a great blend of muscat canelli and muscat blanc from Flat Creek Estate Vineyard and some orange muscat from Newsom Vineyards in the High Plains. It’s perfect for the sultry days of Texas summer!
Cuvée Blanc 2012: A delightful blend of pinot blanc and pinot grigio from Flat Creek Estate Vineyard, along with chenin blanc from Lepard Vineyards and a bit of viognier from Bingham Family Vineyards, both in the High Plains. The wine shows nice acidity and minerality balanced out by tropical fruit notes of pineapple, guava and melon. Refreshingly bright with a slight hint of creamy vanilla from the small percentage that was barrel fermented. It’s an easy-drinking wine that pairs splendidly with light tapas or cheeses and is fabulous with seafood.