By Terry Thompson-Anderson
Photography by Andy Sams
Scott Roberts is proud to carry on the tradition of sustainable living that was begun by his ancestors who settled in the area now known as Driftwood in 1867. Ranchers and farmers by trade, they cared for the land and helped establish the small town named for the logjams of driftwood that piled up in the narrows of Onion Creek each year from early-spring floodwaters upstream.
It was an annual annoyance, to be sure, but the floodwaters also carried and dumped copious amounts of fertile Hill Country soil over the rocky land downstream, and provided abundant driftwood for folks to salvage once the water had receded.
Scott’s parents, Thurman and Hisako Roberts, purchased 500 acres of the original family land—on which Thurman had been born—in 1956. They farmed the land and sold their produce to nearby residents from a modest farm stand. Scott remembers that black-eyed peas were an essential crop to plant; if you had those, then people would come and they’d generally buy the other produce you had, too.
In 1969, the Robertses decided to open a bare-bones barbecue place on the ranch, and the now-famous Salt Lick Barbecue was born. In the ensuing years, the Salt Lick grew, both in scope and reputation, and Scott eventually took over the operations of the restaurant and the family land.
In 2006, the family made a joint decision to develop a large swath of the land for a new project. From the beginning, Scott has been dedicated to keeping the project agriculturally focused. He developed the multi-use master plan for the property, which will eventually include homes, parks, restaurants, community gardens, a winery and more—all with self-sustaining elements built in, like green construction restrictions and water conservation methods.
Preceding the project’s groundbreaking by two years was the partial planting of the vineyards that play an important role in the overall project. In the process of determining which grape varietals to plant, soil samples from the vineyard land were sent to labs in California. Surprisingly, the results showed that the soil was better suited for growing wine grapes than 90 percent of the soil in California’s wine-growing regions. After studying the history of grape growing in Texas, Scott and vineyard manager Jay Knepp made the decision to plant equal portions of five Mediterranean varietals: tempranillo, sangiovese, syrah, grenache and Mourvèdre.
Today, the vines are flourishing and producing high-quality fruit. In the three years that the grapes have been harvested, Scott has sold the crops to various Texas wineries, and all have reported that the flavors were outstanding.
Twenty more acres of vines will be planted in 2012, and even more thereafter, with the eventual goal of 65 total acres planted. A state-of-the-art wine-production facility and a tasting room will be built on the highest elevation of the ranch to allow for the use of gravity in the production process. The entire project will eventually be 100 percent solar powered.
Scott continues to work with other area wineries and agricultural enterprises to further the reputation of the Driftwood area—“The Napa Valley of Texas,” as he refers to it—as a mecca for wine and food lovers. One step in this direction is Salt Lick Cellars, a new wine bar with a rustic Hill Country feel that opened on Labor Day of 2010. After the grand opening, Scott immediately turned the operation over to his daughter, Maile.
“It’s obvious she’s watching the bottom line closely and she’s got a good feel for business,” Scott says with a laugh. “She makes me pay when I come to have a glass of wine.”
Within six to eight months, the daughter-dad team intends to have a large selection of Salt Lick Cellars wines produced from their estate grown grapes; for now, they currently offer two (not estate grown): BBQ Red and BBQ White—both of which are very good wines at an extremely affordable price point. Maile describes them simply as wines that “drink so easy.” The rest of the wine list, while not estate-grown, is comprised solely of Texas wines (see sidebar).
Nestled within the pastoral walls of excavated and reused caliche and natural stones that snake the entire Roberts ranch, Salt Lick Cellars is a splendid place to sip a glass or share a bottle of good Texas wine amid beautiful Hill Country vistas. The wine bar also offers excellent cheeses from Antonelli’s Cheese Shop in Austin, as well as a tempting selection of locally produced Texas artisanal products for gift buying. Make Salt Lick Cellars the last stop on a tour of other Driftwood area wineries—Duchman Family Winery, Driftwood Estate Winery and Bell Springs Winery—for a day well spent in the Napa Valley of Texas.
Salt Lick Cellars
18300-C FM 1826, Driftwood
Sampling the Wines of Salt Lick Cellars
Duchman Family Winery Vermentino
Flat Creek Estate pinot grigio
Brennan Vineyards viognier
Bell Springs Winery chardonnay
Flat Creek Estate Buckin’ Horse White
Brennan Vineyards Austin Street White ’09
Driftwood Estate Orange Muscat ’09
Mandola Estate dry rosé
McPherson Cellars sangiovese ’08, cabernet sauvignon ’08 and Tre Colore
Brennan Vineyards Austin Street Red ’07
Bell Springs nebbiolo ’07
Flat Creek Estate Super Texan Tempranillo
Fall Creek Vineyards merlot and Meritus
Ed’s Smooth Red
La Diosa Cellars stunningly refreshing sangria
Award-winning Dotson-Cervantes Gotas de Oro ’08, one of the most outstanding of all Texas dessert wines