by Andrew Chalk
One thing you have to admire about Inwood Estates Vineyards founder and veteran Texas winemaker Dan Gatlin is that he never stops experimenting. Combine that with a modesty that lets him admit when his theories failed and you have a kind of Elon Musk proclivity to reinvent everything in grape growing and winemaking.
With the catchily-named Oentrepid line of wines, Gatlin introduces a cabernet sauvignon-specific wine label in which the differences between the wines in the range is the clone or blend of clones of cabernet sauvignon, rather than relying on the usual differentiators of vineyard name or grape variety.
TERROIR OR CLONES?
There is something fundamentally revolutionary behind this idea. We live in a world where terroir is near-universally exalted as the motherlode of wine quality. But here, over on left field, is a little winery in Fredericksburg, TX with the gall to follow a philosophy that says that winemaking practices being equal, what matters is:
Careful clonal selection;
Vineyard practices designed to propagate ‘superclones’. I.e. propagate the vines that produce the best fruit until they take over the vineyard;
Such ideas are certainly the minority view but they are not plucked out of the ether the way of tendencious biodynamic 'theories'. They are expressed from the academic viewpoint by Mark A. Matthews, Prof. of Viticulture at the Robert Mondavi Institute for Food and Wine Science at the University of California, Davis in his book Terroir and Other Myths of Winegrowing.
It may seem that Gatlin is Matthews' disciple. In fact, they arrived at their conclusions independently. When Matthews book was published in 2015, Gatlin had already reserved his share of new Bordeaux cabernet sauvignon clones admitted into US quarantine. When they were released, he was one of literally a handful of U.S. wineries to get the first supply. He planted them in his vineyard in Gillespie County near his winery. Just now they are yielding fruit, and Gatlin describes the early results as “very promising”.
That leads to the first release of Oentrepid, a word so cute that autocorrect wants to change it.
One piece of bad news is that the 2017 vintage has sold out and the 2018 sold out before release. The 2019 is not bottled yet but will likely be sold out on release.
There are two wines. I did not have a technical sheet so questions like: ”How long in oak. How much racking. etc…” I will have to pass on.
Oentrepid C, 2017 Texas, 100% Cabernet Sauvignon from 100% Texas Grapes ($175)
Oentrepid X, 2017 Texas, 100% Cabernet Sauvignon from 100% Texas Grapes ($175)
The C is a blend of 4 clones. The X of 6. In each case the harvest date was clone-dependent and the miserly yields were less than 2 tons per acre.
Oentrepid C: A Napa style cabernet sauvignon in that it has a herbal note to the nose, chewy but not rough tannins, ripe dark fruit (blackberries, plums, black cherries) in the nose and a full body that rests in the mouth ready for the steak you plan to serve with it. Swallow and revel in the long, seductive finish.
Oentrepid X: Starting from Oentrepid C, the nose has more of a red fruit character (raspberry). There is also a dusty note that is very pleasant. Slightly softer tannins, lighter body, tannins are smoother, more pincushion than chewy. This is more of a wine to serve now. Oentrepid C is likely to age longer. This wine actually looks older than C in that C is ruby in color and X is garnet.
I assume the growing and winemaking conditions were close enough that it is the clonal difference we are experiencing here. If so, must we not grant Dan Gatlin his point that clonal differences alone can account for substantial character definition? Furthermore, his contention that disciplined yields are a building block of good wine?
The owner of the most expensive vineyard in Napa, Andy Beckstoffer, likely does not know where the hell Gillespie County is, but I am pretty sure he would love the fruit that made these wines. And it didn’t need a grain of Napa soil to do so.