p>By Terry Thompson-Anderson
Photography Courtesy of Perissos Vineyard and Winery
The general consensus among fans of Texas wines is that the quality has increased dramatically in the past five years. There are many factors that have contributed to the upping of the quality ante, but probably the most important is that winemakers—from both well-established and new wineries alike—have had the luxury of being able to study the 35-plus-year history of the Texas wine industry for a crash course in dos and don’ts.
During those years, the industry pioneers, who learned the craft with a seat-of-the-pants approach, made many costly mistakes. The initial industry model was to plant the varietals that had been successful in California. But Texas’s dirt, weather and topography aren’t anything like California’s, so the early winemakers did the homework of weeding out the varietals that didn’t thrive. Along the way, countless trips have been made to wine-producing regions outside the U.S. that have conditions more in common with those in Texas—France’s Rhône Valley, Italy in general, Argentina’s Mendoza region and Spain’s Rioja. The verdict now is that the Mediterranean and Argentine grape varietals will pave the way for the Texas wine industry’s future.
Two of the newer wine producers who’ve become successful and benefited from the path paved before them are Seth and Laura Martin, founders of Perissos Vineyards and Winery. Seth was a homebuilder and contractor in Austin when he and Laura started growing grapes next to their home in 1999. The pair had long loved wine, but knew little about growing grapes or producing wine. Nevertheless, they began making small batches in their garage as a hobby.
Around this time, Seth was hired to build a grand home for a man who happened to be a serious wine collector. As work progressed, a friendship between the two men blossomed, and the collector became an inspiration to the couple, as well as a valued font of wine knowledge. The Martins began to experiment with various varietals in their little vineyard—noting those that thrived and produced the best wines. Now hooked on their hobby, they decided to one day plant a large vineyard and open a winery, but they wanted to do some homework first. So they planted two other experimental vineyards—one in East Austin and one on Seth’s brother’s property in the Colorado River Basin near the Burnet area. The Burnet vines thrived, producing excellent-quality fruit.
Seth studied the hottest grape-growing regions in the world and compared their heat indices with those in Texas. In the growing regions of California, for example, the heat index factor is around 4,300; in Portugal’s Douro Valley, it’s 4,500. In the Texas Hill Country, it’s 5,500, and the nights don’t cool down as they do in other hot-weather growing regions. The Martins knew they needed to grow varietals from the hottest growing regions, and for their canvas, they selected a piece of property in the Hoover’s Valley region near Burnet known for its mineral-rich, decomposed granite soil blended with clay for their vineyard and winery. Tons of organic compost were brought in to prepare the soil for planting.
In 2005, the couple planted their first test block of 13 different Rhône, Mediterranean and Argentine varietals. From these varietals, they weeded out those that didn’t thrive or produce decent fruit. They took note of those that had a good secondary bloom after moderate freezes, which often occur after initial bud break in the Hill Country. Once they determined the best varietals for their terroir, they added an additional 5,000 vines on 11 acres. Seth studied irrigation systems and eventually settled on a system designed in Israel, where water is a precious commodity. One of the Martins’ goals in the production of the wines was to never use grapes that weren’t grown in Texas. Ninety percent of their wines are produced from grapes grown on their estate, with the remainder sourced from vineyards in the Texas High Plains. Perissos’s 2010 production was 2,500 cases.
The Martins view their winery as a completely hands-on operation—personally tending and overseeing the vineyards each day. As the most important part of the winemaking process, the grapes are monitored and tasted as they mature—eventually ending up at the state-of-the-art winery and barrel-storage facility. The tasting room is an inviting, Hill Country–rustic spot nestled among the fermenting tanks overlooking the vineyards.
Perissos Vineyard and Winery
2009 Roussanne Blend: A stunning white Mediterranean blend of roussanne, viognier and muscat canelli grapes, the wine exhibits a vibrant nose of fruits and citrus like Meyer lemon blossoms. On the palate, it offers a multidimensional experience of peach and citrus blended seamlessly with notes of herbs, flowers and almonds. A slight nuance of musk lurks in the mouth and adds to the complexity and lush, rich taste. The finish is vibrant and dry, and leaves a pleasant ting of minerality. Perissos 2009 Roussanne Blend won Texas Class Champion at the 2011 Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo International Wine Competition and was selected as one of the 2010 Ten Best Texas Wines by Dr. Russell Kane in his prestigious VintageTexas.com wine blog.
2009 Tempranillo Blend: The tempranillo grape, which originated in Spain’s Rioja region, is a vivacious grape that’s proving to be a winner in the Texas terroir. Many say it will figure largely in the future of Texas wines. The Perissos 2009 blend of 85 percent tempranillo and 15 percent touriga nacional is an excellent wine—very characteristic of the tempranillos produced in Spain’s northern and central regions. It’s a medium-bodied wine because of the young age of the vines from which it was produced, though it exhibits the classic notes of smoke and herbs with a hint of sweet tobacco. There’s a touch of vanilla from the American oak barrels and a nice finish redolent of cranberries. Tempranillo is a low-acid grape, so the heavy tannins of the touriga in this blend add a bright, acidic backbone. This balanced wine pairs well with foods—think Spanish chorizo and Manchego cheese.
2009 Petite Sirah: Petite sirah is a much-loved red that hasn’t received a great deal of attention in Texas to date. It’s great to see this shining example of the varietal being produced at Perissos. This inky-red wine with an intense body exhibits the unmistakable bouquet of earthiness, dark cocoa and rich espresso. On the palate, the flavor of wild blackberries blends with smooth coffee and rich vanilla. The experience from nose to palate to lingering finish is one of elegance—this is a wine you won’t soon forget. Although there was no discernable immaturity in the wine, a vertical tasting of the 2010 vintage from the barrel shows that this wine will continue to develop richness as the vines mature. Production of the petite sirah is very limited, so if you’re a fan of the varietal, make a trip to the winery soon to nab a few bottles before it’s gone. Perhaps Seth should offer “futures” of the 2010 vintage!