Inwood Estates Vineyards is one of the best wineries in Texas, and its owner/winemaker, Dan Gatlin, one of the most influential winemakers in the state. As a result, the wines and stylistic nuances revealed at their release parties are something of a bellwether for the direction that other serious wine makers in the state will take down the road. For example, Inwood ‘proved’ the suitability of the Tempranillo grape and the Texas High Plains as its site a decade ago. That conclusion was the result of over a decade of research during which Inwood did not release a single wine (while producing hundreds of experiments). That conclusion is also accepted as one of the known facts or truisms among vignerons and wine makers statewide.
Another state truism is that the most popular grape among American consumers, Chardonnay, does not do well in Texas. Last week’s release party at the winery’s Dallas location may be about to make a bonfire of that truism.
I was a media guest at the release party where an enthusiastic and knowledgeable crowd had arrived at the dot of noon to catch the opening of the afternoon’s festivities, before the small facility became totally packed.
Gatlin started the tasting with the 2012 Inwood Estate Vineyards Chardonnay, William Fears Vineyard, Dallas County ($39.50). You read that right. The grapes were sourced from Dallas County, grown in a small vineyard on Bear Creek Road. Gatlin ferments the wine in stainless steel. An essential technique is the use of full-cluster pressing. Under this procedure, the grape cluster cut from the vine is put into the fermentation vessel without the grapes being first stripped from the stems. The process of fermentation (conversion of sugar to alcohol and carbon dioxide) makes the grapes swell inside their skins and eventually burst. Part of the fermentation has actually occurred inside the grape skin. Gatlin prefers the technique because “it reduces the opportunity for stems to be sliced or grazed thereby releasing grassy flavors into the wine. The resulting wines are fresh and clean with fruit driven character and unobstructed florals”.
The wine then goes through a malolactic fermentation (a naturally occurring secondary fermentation in which malic acid, the sharp taste in green apples, is converted to softer lactic acid). It is optional on the part of the wine maker whether he permits this so commercially available white wines vary in the amount of malolactic fermentation they have undergone. This wine had a 100% conversion. Following fermentation the wine is aged with what Gatlin calls a ‘kiss’ of oak.
The result is a wine ebullient with French Chardonnay characteristics. There is the goût de terroir of Burgundy, the steeliness of Chablis. This is not a New World oak monster in any sense. It is very well balanced, medium weight and would be best with white fleshed fish or other light, delicate food (the Dover Sole that I had at Driftwood last week would have been a good match). Given its firmly registered acidity I would happily age it. Maybe checking on my stash every couple of years.
Only twelve cases were produced.
Next was the 2012 Palomino-Chardonnay, Hunt County/Dallas County ($79.50). The blend here is 67% Palomino, all from Hunt County and 33% Chardonnay, all from Dallas County, indeed from the same vineyard as the aforementioned Chardonnay. Palomino is best known as the backbone of sherry, the famous fortified wine from the Andalusian region of Spain. However, Inwood is not making a sherry, or a wine remotely like it. Furthermore, despite the novelty of using a grape that almost nobody else in the U.S. uses Inwood has made a wine that demands to be taken seriously. It does not exhibit any of the low acid/low sugar characteristics of Palomino that have doomed it to a blending role in the few non-fortified settings where it is used.
This is a dry table wine with nuttiness and an earthy complexity. It is a thing of itself that makes no concessions to the forces of uniformity. It is a wine you try if you think for yourself; if you once contemplated putting a Chevy small block in a Segway; and you already have your tickets for SpaceShipTwo.
Only 42 cases were produced, of which 21 are for sale. Interestingly, the remaining cases are being committed to a series of educational tastings in the Spring of 2014 in which Inwood Estates wines will be pitted against Grand Cru Burgundies. These tastings will likely take place at their Fredericksburg winery. Sign up for the mailing list at the company web site.
Postscript: The release party is being repeated at Inwood Estates Winery in Fredericksburg this Saturday September 28th ($7). Winemaker will be there to present the wines.