MASON'S TOP GUN
by Andrew Chalk
Robb and Dilek Parr, founders of Parr Vineyards, can say exactly when their futures became interwoven with Texas wine. It was when Robb was stationed in England with the US Air Force and they would eat at a local restaurant where the owner paid attention to the wine list. That ultimately lit the blue touch paper and led to them planting vineyards and producing grapes of such quality that they are regularly used in award-winning wines by wineries across the state. However, that was down the road.
The gentle bucolic lifestyle of vinegrower was not always Robb Parr’s lot. His first career got faster as it progressed through the USAF. He flew three generations of fighters. At the start of his service he piloted an F-100 Super Sabre, the first USAF jet capable of exceeding the speed of sound in level flight. Then he saw a major increase in speed when he was assigned to the almighty, all-conquering, F-4 Phantom. It did Mach 2 and, at one point, held just about every fighter world record. His final assignment was the technically refined F-16 Fighting Falcon.
There was no way retirement could be faster still, not that he did not try. His first ‘project’ was building his own plane, an RV-8. It took six years because he designed-in so many additional safety features and refinements. It was after that he said to Dilek ‘We are going to plant a vineyard’. She pointed out the cost, irrigation, and countless other issues, but in 2005 they bought land in Mason County and, in 2006, planted their first grapes.
At first, it was the latest iteration of the family background in agriculture, and they just sold all their grapes to other people. Among their customers were Pedernales Cellars (their first customer), William Chris Vineyards, Lewis Wines (Lewis named them as the source on the label) and, more recently, Adelho Vinho (of Stonewall), and Slate Mill Collective.
FROM GROWER TO WINEGROWER
As a grower, they ran into the problem that besets all growers. They were barely making any money. Like many before them the solution was to expand vertically into winemaking. For their wines they used, then and now, only their own fruit. Thus, a trip to the tasting room just off the main square in Mason today entails a joyful plunge through a flight of Parr Vineyards Estate Bottled wines. Grape sales to other wineries are still important at about 60% of total output. Two important outsiders are Fritz Westover, Vineyard Advisor, and Robert Nida, winemaker.
They want that estate fruit to be the component that shines, so oak treatment is limited. They have 10 hectolitre and 20 hectolitre French oak vats that are used enough to be neutral in terms of phenols, etc. and just permit natural micro-oxygenation of the wine as it ages.
They grow mainly red grapes. Tempranillo, Touriga, and Mourvèdre are the stars. The Tempranillo winemaking style is to age for three years in neutral French oak (they find American oak too heavy). Dilek describes the 2015 Touriga as the wine she wants to cook for. It has smoke, tobacco, stone fruit (cherry and dry plums), attributes that it also contributes to table wines in Portugal.
The white grape vines are younger and the Parr’s are still working out their favorite styles for each of the roussanne, sémillon, and viognier.
They make 1200 cases/year. Enough wine that they can distribute it all ‘from the cellar door’ (tasting room and web site) and supply the local restaurants that are their on-premise customers. They do not go through distribution or have any intention to do so.
Hospitality from the tasting room has expanded so much since the end of the pandemic that the normally unflappable Dilek, who prepares Mediterranean food and leads cooking classes, says ‘some days I feel like I’m crazy’. That was part of what persuaded them to expand to an area over three times the size of their old tasting room. That, plus the fact that it has a kitchen and is on the main square, implying much better customer exposure.
So what is the connection between flying at Mach 2 and making wine? According to Dilek, Robb “is meticulous, incredibly focused and passionate about the end product in the Vineyard, as well as the cellar.” That helps at any speed.