By Terry Thompson-Anderson
Photography by Marla Camp
Is it something in the blood or in the soil that creates a master winemaker? For native Texan Kim McPherson, it’s probably a combination of both. Kim is the longest-tenured winemaker in the state, and literally grew up with the Texas wine industry. His father, Clinton “Doc” McPherson, was a chemistry professor at Texas Tech University and an avid wine lover and amateur winemaker. According to Kim, the family garage was always full of experimental wines in various stages of production, as well as all sorts of winemaking apparatus.
Doc McPherson and Robert Reed, a horticulture professor at Texas Tech, would eventually found the Sandy Land Grape Growers Association—a group that later morphed into the Llano Estacado Winery. Today, Doc McPherson is regarded as the father of the modern Texas wine industry.
Kim graduated from Texas Tech with a degree in food and nutrition science. His dad suggested he continue his education at the University of California, Davis, pursuing a degree in oenology and viticulture. Kim did, though he envisioned his future would be in the field of food science. Ultimately, he worked in both disciplines—first at a large food-manufacturing firm, and then for the highly acclaimed Trefethen Family Vineyards. During this time, he also met the woman who would eventually become his wife.
After opening the Llano Estacado Winery, Doc McPherson asked Kim to return to Lubbock to become the winemaker for the new venture. He accepted the job and became a staunch supporter of the fledgling Texas wine industry. From the beginning, Kim preached the importance of growing varietals that best fit the Texas terroir—the magic combination of geography, soil, weather conditions, temperature fluctuations and local environment that creates the unique characteristics of grapes grown in a particular region. Terroir gives a wine a special sense of place, and according to Kim, Mediterranean and Rhône Valley varietals are best suited for Texas.
Eventually Kim left Llano Estacado and spent over 16 years as the winemaker at Cap*Rock Winery in Lubbock. He describes the early frustrations of selling Texas wines to reluctant consumers and the almost impossible task of convincing Texas restaurants to include them on their wine lists. “Hell, we had to carry the wine into restaurants in brown paper bags to get them to even try it,” he recalls. The fact that he was bottling the sangiovese varietal made it even more challenging to get noticed. Most Texans had never heard of the grape, yet today, it produces one of his most sought-after wines. Kim still uses the sangiovese grapes from his dad’s original Sagmore Vineyard (so named because the original trellis wires sagged noticeably).
During his stint at Cap*Rock, Kim hired noted wine consultant Tony Soto to help him overcome the problems associated with growing red wine grapes in a warm climate. Soto’s advice changed Kim’s style of winemaking.
“I make wine for women’s palates, because they buy 80 percent of the wine,” says Kim. “Women are now drinking reds, but they want soft, elegant red wines—just the type of wine Tony taught me how to make using extended skin maceration.”
When Kim left Cap*Rock, he was ready to start his own winery. He wanted a location in downtown Lubbock—preferably in the depot district—and found the perfect spot at the old Coca-Cola production facility. Kim spent three and a half years transforming the space into a state-of-the-art winery and tasting room with the help of his wife, Sylvia, an interior designer. Their objective was to transform the large facility into the spaces needed, while maintaining the integrity of the original structure. The long, oval window in the front of the building was left as a sunny focal point of the tasting room. Sylvia’s penchant for vivid color combinations, textures and materials is evident in every part of the facility, from the tasting room to the bottling room.
The original brick walls were left intact, giving the winery a feel of strength and endurance, and a contrasting softness was added by hanging large works of local art throughout. Though Kim and Sylvia admit it would have been cheaper to raze the building and start fresh, they’re both committed to sustainable architecture and believe in utilizing existing structures. Kim purchased most of his equipment from California wineries, including a massive crusher that can process 18 tons of grapes per hour and one of the biggest bottling lines in the state. Kim and Sylvia created a large special-events room and an inviting outdoor patio—both built around soothing fountains made from found materials and bricks reclaimed from the remodeling. McPherson Cellars opened in the winter of 2010.
Always a trendsetter in the Texas wine industry, Kim has a few more superlative surprises in store for fans this year. In late spring of 2010, he released 100 cases of Chansa Solera Reserva Single Cream Sherry. The sherry, made from French colombard, chenin blanc and muscat grapes, was aged in French oak for four years in the Lubbock sun. In the summer of 2010, Kim plans to release 400 cases of a sparkling wine made from French colombard and chenin blanc grapes (available for purchase only at the winery). And for those who love Spanish varietals, Kim will work his magic via two acres of Texas High Plains albariño grapes—another perfect grape for the High Plains climate and terroir. From this batch he’ll create the McPherson Cellars version of the classic Galician albariños of Spain’s Rías Baixas region. He hopes to have it bottled by December of 2010.
Winemaking is a talent, much like the talent of a noteworthy chef. Both disciplines require a sophisticated palate capable of discerning minute nuances of flavor, and the ability to mentally create flavor pairings that will result in wines and foods that bring immense pleasure to the taster. Kim McPherson is a master of his craft, but with each of his wines, he reminds himself of a question once posed to him by a respected California winemaker: “Yes, this is a good, structurally sound wine, but would you have a second glass?” Kim creates wines that definitely beckon the pouring of that second glass.
1615 Texas Avenue, Lubbock
806-687-9463 • mcphersoncellars.com
2009 Viognier. Viognier is quickly gaining popularity in Texas, but only three or four wineries produce noteworthy examples. McPherson Cellars Viognier is stellar. The viognier grape is native to France’s Rhône Valley and is also the top white wine grape grown in the Languedoc region. Kim’s 2009 viognier is a voluptuous, rich wine with a whipped-cream texture. The wine is dry and soft with a well-rounded body, and the aromas of grapefruit and lemon blossom with hints of musky pear, apple, citrus and tropical fruit are compelling. The complex taste begins with tart green apple and finishes with delicate pear and soft honeysuckle. Kim’s viognier has just the right hint of oak, and although fairly low in acid, the wine has muscle and pairs well with bold-flavored and spicy foods, grilled fish and chicken, and cream-based soups and sauces. Also because of its low acidity, it can be confidently served with salads and vinegar-based dressings.
2009 Rosé of Syrah. This unique Rhône-style rosé has been exposed to minimal grape skin to create the perfect balance of taste and beautiful watermelon-red color. Aromas of violets, ripe peaches, apricots and light citrus notes overwhelm the nose of this wine. The taste begins with soft peaches and finishes with delicate roses. Feature this wine at your next backyard barbecue, or try it with your favorite spicy Mexican or Asian dish.
2008 DBS. This very soft, quaffable wine is a blend of three Italian varietals: dolcetto, barbera and sangiovese. Dolcetto and barbera are rarely seen in Texas wines, but Kim has done a masterful job of blending this food-friendly, yet complex and delicious wine. The aroma is of red raspberries and baked cherries with hints of cedar, and the barbera and dolcetto add hints of licorice and bitter chocolate. Barbera is a grape that’s considered a diamond in the rough, and the quality of wine it produces is at the mercy of the winemaker. Kim’s DBS has a jammy, slightly earthy taste from the dolcetto, along with a nuance of honey, a well-balanced acidity and a hint of leafy tobacco. The finish is seductively smooth. This one’s got a lot of zip and a vibrancy that begs for classic, bold Italian dishes.
The Other Half
Those who might question the old adage that behind every successful man is a great woman haven’t met Sylvia McPherson—the other half of the McPherson wine mecca in Lubbock.
An interior designer by trade, Sylvia met her husband, Kim McPherson, in Los Angeles while he was busy forging the career niche he now pursues. They were married in 1979, and for many years Sylvia operated her own successful interior design business. But by the early 2000s, Sylvia had begun to yearn for a different creativity outlet—perhaps one that could be productively parallel to the Texas wine industry to which her husband had dedicated his passion. Through her years in the design business, Sylvia had amassed a vast collection of treasured accessories and architectural salvage pieces. When she found an old building in the depot district of downtown Lubbock, she knew she had found the perfect spot to house her treasures, and perhaps her new project. Lubbock became “wet” in 2003, and Sylvia hit upon the idea of opening a winery. She asked Kim to be her winemaking consultant and La Diosa Cellars was born.
The winery/wine bar/tapas bar/bistro/coffee shop opened in January of 2004, complete with its own La Diosa wines that included cabernet sauvignon, merlot, viognier, sangiovese, sparkling wine and rosé. There are also house blends and a special sangria Kim created using zinfandel from 90-year-old vines. The wine list also includes wines from other Texas wineries, as well as a few international labels.
The La Diosa space is an eclectic collection of design elements, furnishings, fabulously outlandish lighting fixtures and textures. Sylvia says that brides love the space for rehearsal dinners, showers and receptions because it’s already decorated. The menu is a delightful and sensuous romp through some of the best traditional tapas, as well as some masterful innovations on the classics.
Downtown Lubbock’s renaissance has been a driving force behind Sylvia’s passion. “When I first thought about this venture,” she says, “the revival of the depot district was in its infancy—spurred to life by the opening of the Buddy Holly Museum. Now we’re edging toward toddlerhood. We get college students, ladies who lunch, girlfriends out for the evening and lots of bridal and graduation events.”
La Diosa Cellars
901 17th Street, Lubbock
806-744-3600 • ladiosacellars.com
La Diosa Rosé of Grenache Syrah. A light-bodied yet full-spirited wine that pairs well with everything. It’s a delightfully dry rosé with notes of fresh, soft berries and a sneaky little hint of citrus.
La Diosa Sangria. One of La Diosa’s signature wines. It’s a dry rosé loaded with front-of-the mouth, over-the-top fruitiness and great notes of citrus. Perfect for Texas spring and summer quaffing. Serve over ice and garnish with a slice of orange.