Three thriving Texas wineries with Dallas roots

Since John Neely Bryan visited North Texas in 1839 in search of a place to set up a trading post, Dallas has been a landmark in entrepreneurship in almost every industry, including winemaking.

These Texan winemakers were either born in Dallas or “came here as soon as they could,” as they say. Among them, they have careers in investment, higher education, and IT engineering. You drive Harley-Davidsons, visited Stanford and lived in Paris. They share an intense love for wine, and it turns out they are incredibly talented at making it too.

Rob Barney is the winemaker / owner of Stressed Vines Wines.Rob Barney is the winemaker / owner of Stressed Vines Wines.(Stressed grapevine wines)

Robert Barney, President of DHLC Investments, Inc., didn’t know he was fond of wine until 2014 when a friend introduced him to mountain grapes from the hills of the western Sonoma coast and Howell Mountain in the Napa Valley. Rocky soil and exposure to wind stress the plants, which means the vines have to work harder to produce berries. “When a plant is concerned about its survival,” says Barney, “it puts its best efforts into its fruits. There is an old saying, “Stressed vines make better wine.”

With his advisory winemaker Erica Stancliff, Barney produced three varieties from hand-picked Californian vineyards in 2017. The next year, Stressed Vines appeared on wine lists at major Dallas restaurants such as Boulevardier, Terilli’s, and Nick & Sam’s.

Being a bachelor who doesn’t like to cook, Barney says it has paid off in a way to take his motorcycle out to dinner on a regular basis that he never originally expected, as it has been these connections from the last 20 years, who made progress in restaurants.

It’s not just Barney’s industry connections who like Stressed Vines, however. Wine Enthusiast recently awarded the Sonoma Coast’s Pinot Noir a rating of 91 for 2018. Reviewer Virginie Boone calls it a “well-made wine” with notes of “juicy black cherries and strawberries” enlivened by “wooded spice accents”.

In addition to the growing list of restaurants, the three varieties of Stressed Vines – Cabernet Sauvignon, Pinot Noir, and Chardonnay – can be purchased at Dallas Fine Wine and Spirits, Trova Wine + Market, Royal Blue Grocery, and Veritas Wine Room.

While Barney describes Stressed Vines as “a hobby that pays off” for now, his goal is to drive direct sales to consumers while continuing to work with Stancliff, whose winemaking philosophy is to “give a voice to the vineyard” without adding anything to get a result. Barney’s hope is that Stressed Vines will bring a happily productive retirement in 10 or 15 years.

Stressed Vines Tasting Room, 660 N. Glenville, Richardson. stressvines.com.

In this photo, taken on Tuesday October 8th 2019, Parmigiano Reggiano Parmesan cheese wheels are stored in Noceto near Parma, Italy.Julie Kuhlken from Pedernales CellarsJulie Kuhlken from Pedernales Cellars(Matt McGinnis, Pen & Tell Us)

The Pedernales Cellars Kuhlken family are sixth generation Texans who arrived in Dallas County in 1853 – just 12 years after Dallas became a permanent settlement.

After graduating from Highland Park High School as a valedictorian in 1987, co-founder Julie Kuhlken attended Stanford University, where she received three degrees. She taught at universities in the United States and abroad before she and her brother David Kuhlken came to live with their parents Larry and Jeanine, who planted the first vines of the Kuhlken Vineyard in Stonewall in 1995.

While the Kuhlkens’ ancestors helped forge the city of Dallas, David and Julie Kuhlken are pioneers of Texan wine. It was first vintage in 2006, and the Texan wine industry has “hit a snowball” since then, says Julie.

“It wasn’t until the 1970s or 80s that people realized that the grapes grow well in the hill country,” she adds. She says it was also in the 1980s when farmers in the High Plains region of the Texas Panhandle learned that grapes use less water than cotton and peanuts.

The Kuhlkens wine, which uses Spanish and Rhône varieties from the plateaus and their Hill Country winery, has received a long list of awards. The Tempranillo Reservation won double gold twice at the San Francisco International Wine Competition, and Pedernales won the prestigious Jefferson Cup three times in a competition that consists largely of California wineries.

Perhaps the most standout was when the Viognier won a blind tasting against French wines at the Lyon International Wine Competition in 2012, held in the region where the Viognier grape comes from.

Julie says she noticed a change in people’s willingness to try new wines, and that is what the Texan wine industry is all about – “making it accessible and eliminating snobbery”.

Pedernales Cellars wines can be found in all restaurants and wine shops in the Dallas area. Additionally, the East Dallas wine therapist wears the hard-to-find 2017 Viognier as well as a Tempranillo from the High Plains. Owner Phillip Nikpour often runs blind tastings of Pedernales wines, where customers can judge Texan wine against international wines.

Greg and Nikhila Narra Davis debut in Fredericksburg in their new tasting room for Kalasi Cellars.Benjamin Calais, right, is the owner and winemaker of the Calais winery.Benjamin Calais, right, is the owner and winemaker of the Calais winery.(Calais winery)

Benjamin Calais, owner and winemaker of the Calais winery, moved from Paris to Dallas as an engineer specializing in computer security software. Making wine was a side project and hobby for Calais that took center stage when he opened the Deep Ellum winery in 2008.

The site stayed open for six years until Calais moved operations to Hye in the Texas Hill Country, which has more space to make wine and grow his own grapes using French techniques he learned at home. Along with grapes from the High Plains and Texas mountain ranges such as Fort Davis and Alpine, the surrounding vineyards in Hye produced 2,500 boxes in 2019, a steep increase from 200 in 2018. Calais says volume won’t grow much further with its focus now to “exceed the limits of quality”.

While Calais wines are primarily Bordeaux varietals, including the popular Texan Cabernet Sauvignon, you must become a member to get access to many of these wines. According to Calais, the membership program is his way of offering his best, most loyal customers the first selection of its wines – all of which are sold out.

More accessible are the French Connection Wines recently launched by Calais, made from Rhône varieties and available online.

Benjamin Calais has never entered any of his wines for competitions. He’s more interested in working with Texas Winegrowers to promote a bill requiring every bottle with a Texas label to be made from 100 percent Texan grapes than the current 75 percent rule.

He calls the future of Texan wine “bright and diverse”.

“Texas is bigger than France, so it will be different for every region and winery,” says Calais, speaking of a future where people can enjoy wine tastings without the risk of a pandemic. “This should result in interesting tasting experiences when visiting three wineries in our neighborhood and tasting Bordeaux, Italian and Portuguese varieties in one day.”

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