by Andrew Chalk
“Texas’ Premier Estate Winery” is what it says on Augusta Vin’s homepage. A bold claim for a winery that has only been in existence for 3 years. However, one visit will leave you in little doubt about owner Scott Felder’s seriousness. Conversations with people previously affiliated with the venture, including freelance consultant John Rivenburgh, confirmed this.
The first indication of Augusta Vin’s intent is in the scale of physical construction at the venue. The visitor drives in the main gate and then round a broad sweeping roadway that levels up into a straight shoot into the parking lot -- 2,000 feet away. It was almost irresistible not to floor it on the empty morning that I visited. That would have been a mistake, for a number of reasons, but among them that I would have missed the labelling on each row of vines giving the name of the grape. Eleven varieties are planted at the estate and 6 at Hoover Valley Estate under long-term contract (hence warranting the ‘Estate’ designation). At present there are 60 planted estate acres and 40 more at Hoover Valley Estate. Little wonder that the drive in at the preferred 10 mph is reminiscent of entering a Tuscan estate.
On arrival in the parking lot one walks over to a courtyard surrounding a magnificent visitor center. The ‘Napa quality’ facility (for I cannot think of a more accurate term to describe it) may be the best in the state. There is a custom wood carved three-sided counter in the center, comfortable chairs around the edge of the large room. Upstairs, a large balcony overlooks the vineyards seen on the drive in, giving the de rigeur panoramic view all the way to SH-16. Inside, the second floor is framed in wood and opens up to a nave-like space soaring skywards. Even the furniture is carved wood.
This structure was clearly no kit, and is architecturally unique. The reason is that Scott Felder’s professional background was in housebuilding in Austin. He has sold his successful company and is now ‘all in’ on Augusta Vin. In addition to a tasting facility, there will be weddings and corporate event hosting in the future.
The winemaking facility is similarly state-of-the-art. Winemaker, Dane Sanvido, came from South Africa and worked at Kim Crawford, Clos du Bois, and Stonestreet. He has also started his own Hill Country winery ‘Untamed’. Augusta Vin output is currently 6-7 thousand cases with plans to move to 30 thousand in the long term. Winemaking has settled into a main list, with a few hundred cases of each wine, and a reserve list with less than 100 cases per selection. The triage is made by barrel selection with barrels representing vineyard lots.
I asked Felder why he had located on SH-16, five miles southwest of Fredericksburg, rather than on US-290, the state’s de facto principal wine route. With a smile he remarked that he had always taken heterodox positions. It has to be noted that Slate Mill Collective (owned by the Jones family from the oil industry) and Kerrville Hills Winery (likely to be revitalized under John Rivenburgh’s ownership) are close neighbors and, without fanfare, the ‘Texas Wine Road’ is becoming the ‘Texas Wine Dog Leg’ with the town of Fredericksburg as the joint. A welcome irony of there being the two big wineries on SH-16, is that many startup wineries who could not afford 290 frontage can afford frontage on the 24 miles of SH-16 between Fredericksburg and Kerrville, where the large wineries will help deliver them good visitor numbers.
Andre Boada is Director of Sales and Marketing. He spent 15 years with Jackson Family Wines and defines his current role as very hands-on, splitting time between the vineyards, winery, and tasting room. When I ask him to compare the wine business in Texas and California he says “There's a magical essence in ‘The Wild West’ spirit of [the] Texas Hill Country. What resonates most, the character of the people and the pride they put forth. Unlike CA, where you tend to see perfect growing conditions, Texas offers high risk, high reward that pushes that pride. It's fascinating to be part of this emerging wine region and foresee extraordinary wines taking shape.”
He took me through a tasting of current selections.
2018 Brisk White ($25)
This white blend was principally trebbiano, the most widely planted white grape in Italy, with Viognier. Made without oak this wine was fresh with high acid and citric notes in the nose and on the palate.
Bronze - 2019 San Francisco International Wine Competition.
2019 Brisk White ($25)
This version of the same wine was drawn from a much broader palette of grapes
Marsanne, Trebbiano, and Albarino. This gave it a nose of yellow apple and a sophisticated mouthfeel. It had precise fruit/acid balance and was also made without oak.
My taste was for 2019 but I would enjoy either as a beverage on a hot day.
2019 Celeste Melange ($34 est.)
Not released yet. Scheduled for Fall 2020.
A reserve white (about 200 cases made). It is a Rhiône blend of marsanne, picpoul blanc, and albarino.
Nose: Nutty oak, lemon.
Taste: Firm mouthfeel with good body. Flavors of green apple and lemon with a minerality that is refreshing,
Next came a duo of malbecs. The regular bottling and the reserve.
2017 Malbec ($38)
Silver & Texas Class Champion - 2020 Houston Livestock Show & Rodeo Uncorked Wine Competition
Gold - 2019 San Francisco International Wine Competition
Appearance of translucent ruby. A nose of blueberry and taste of blueberry fruit.
2017 Malbec Estate Reserve ($44)
Appearance: Translucent ruby;
Nose: More intense oak, blueberry.
Palate: Soft tannins, caramel, good acid, blueberry;
Comparing the regular and reserve bottlings the main difference is the intensity of the fruit and the complexity in the mouth.
2019 Rose, Estate ($28)
A blend of sangiovese, grenache, aglianico. Made using the saignée method.
Appearance: Pink ‘Texas sunset’;
Palate: Strawberry flavors and a high acid backbone;
A great wine for summer quaffing or Asian cuisine.
Giovanna Rosso. NV. ($38)
A blend of aglianico, sagrantino, and sangiovese. This is Augusta Vin’s Italian blend.
Only 400 cases were made.
Appearance: Ruby red.
Nose: Red fruit that bounces out of the glass.
Palate: Loose knit red fruit and chewy tannins.
Next, a duo of petite sirah wines. Petite sirah is the society name for durif, a lowly blending grape in the southern Rhône. One of the unsung achievements of postwar California winemakers was to elevate it to first-class status among varietal red wines. It has shone in Texas (although Wikipedia did not include Texas as one of the places that it is grown -- I have fixed that error). These are both good examples of type-correct wines. Note that the vintages differ, reflecting the longer ageing of the reserve.
2018 Petite Sirah, Estate ($42)
This is the top-selling wine at the estate.
Double Gold San Francisco International Wine Competition
Double Gold Houston Rodeo Wine Competition.
Appearance: Opaque ruby;
Nose: Chocolate, blackberry fruit.
Palate: Round, velvety tannins.
One to drink with red meat now, or age for five years;
2017 Petite Sirah, Estate, Reserve ($49)
The fruit for this wine was given an extreme cold soak. This may explain the deep color saturation.
Appearance: Inky monster, purple.
Nose: Black cherry. blackberry.
Palate: Explosive fruit, dark chocolate, grippy tannins.
This wine warrants a few years ageing.
This is a promising start and if Scott Felder stays the course, Augusta Vin will emerge as one of the best wineries in Texas.