If you ain't from 'round here, you might not know that Texas is a major producer of grapes. Wine grapes! Within just a few hours of Austin sit lots of adorable boutique wineries, some of them turning out products that are not just drinkable, but actually tasty.
At the Central Market bloggers' event a couple of weeks ago, we were lucky to meet Charlie Kidd, the newish winemaker at Flat Creek Estates, a vineyard and winery in the rocky, rolling hills thirty miles northwest of Austin.
Our meeting him was especially fortuitous because Flat Creek was only days away from bottling the '08 vintage of all of their white wines.
So, last Wednesday, we took the scenic curving drive out 1431 to the winery and its new bistro and tasting room. We were quickly led to Charlie, who very kindly shepherded us around the outbuildings even though he was in the middle of a day during which very little had gone right.
The source of the frustration was unsurprisingly the bottling process. The bottling equipment was housed in what looked like a very large horse trailer that had pulled up to the back of the building containing the wine barrels and vats. Progress was slow, since the wine bottles Flat Creek uses are apparently nonstandard.
According to Charlie, there is one guy in Texas who owns this bottling equipment. I can't even come close to estimating how busy he must be year-round, given that there are around two hundred wineries in Texas.
Bags of corks, cases of empty bottles, and stacks of labels waited to be combined.
We followed a narrow hose that snaked its way from the bottling equipment back towards the stainless steel vats housed behind the tasting room.
Here, Charlie gave us a brief runthrough of his winemaking process. Flat Creek has about 20 acres under cultivation, with a mix of grapes including traditional Portuguese port-making varietals. As is the case with many Texas wineries, demand for their wine outstrips the amount they can make from grapes grown in Texas, so Flat Creek does import some juice from California for their Bucking Horse label.
We got to take a peek at Charlie's laboratory, full of scientific geegaws and widgets and beakers... and wine glasses.
Charlie grabbed wine glasses for the three of us and allowed us to taste a couple of the wines being bottled, including something I'd never seen before - Mistella, made by adding grape brandy to unfermented muscat juice. DANGER. The mixture was sweet, perfect for dessert, and about 20% alcohol. I could see overimbibing in this!
We also tried the muscat and the pinot bianco, both of which were quite nice, and checked out the dormant harvesting and extracting machines. This one is used to juice grapes - the bladder inflates all the way, pushing grapes against the holes in the sides of the metal container.
Texas law mandates that every so often, a bottle of wine has to be pulled off of the bottling line and tested to make sure that not only is the correct amount of wine making it into the bottles, but that the wine contains the advertised percent of alcohol.
It was such a treat to get to go behind the scenes in a wine-making operation that's midscale like Flat Creek. Everything seemed personally cared for, unlike some wine barns you visit, and Charlie and the other folks we met couldn't have been friendlier. Plus, they have a cute new tasting room.
We whiled away a happy hour or so, hanging out at the tasting room bar eating wine-filled chocolates and sipping many tiny glasses of surprisingly enjoyable Texas wines while Charlie laid out the future of Flat Creek's offerings. Texas is a really difficult place to grow grapes, with our unpredictable (but usually hellishly hot) weather, and I do admire the people trying to make a go of it.
So yeah, I'd recommend a visit out to Flat Creek. Try to go soon, before it's 105 degrees outside in the shade. We're hoping to get back sometime soon to check out their new bistro, but if not, we'll be back in July for the grape harvest!
Flat Creek is located off of 1431 6 miles west of Lago Vista, and their tasting room is open daily Tuesday-Sunday.