NARROW PATH WINERY -- THE QUIET TEXAS PRODUCER
by Andrew Chalk
It is easy to overlook Narrow Path Winery in the rising crescendo of the US-290 wine road. Set back two and a half miles from the drumbeat of tasting room traffic, south of Stonewall and Hye, Bob Turbeville and his family produce 2,500 cases of very respectable Texas wine each year. The 11 acre estate vineyard grows alicante bouchet, grenache, merlot, mourvedre, picpoul blanc, roussanne, sangiovese, syrah, tannat, tempranillo, and viognier, and supplies about 20% of their needs. The oldest vines are 20 years old, effectively in their peak production years. The remainder comes from Texas High Plains and other Texas Hill Country growers. They have used California fruit occasionally but avoided the scam of ‘for sale in Texas only’.
Plans are to grow to about 5,000 cases annually, which would put Narrow Path at the size of a medium size boutique winery. The vineyard has to be maintainable by Bob and son Tyler (and occasional help from other son John) who is the general manager (and sidelined at the moment by the birth of a daughter). Bob’s wife Mary Ann is his counsel and has her hands full running their stores in Fredericksburg. Also assisting is Maggie, the vineyard black labrador, who provides aesthetic services to visiting tasters.
The tasting room is an impressive, predominantly glass, building that brings the outside in, creating a transparent flow from room to patio. The Patio is effectively extended by a set of cabanas strung in a line overlooking the vineyard on a sight line that goes down the valley towards Hye. It is a beautiful place to relax on a hot Texas afternoon. Another architectural feature is the most physically interesting front entrance I have seen on any winery in Texas. Rocks are encased in a wall-shaped steel mesh and a large steel plate with the winery name mounted in front.
Maggie approaching at high speed.
The architectural singularity of the tasting room and the front entrance is no surprise given Bob’s background as a homebuilder. He and his wife moved down to the Hill Country from Dallas to open two stores in the commercial capital of the region, Fredericksburg: Hill Country Outfitters and the Grasshopper Gift Shop (now also a supplementary tasting room). The vineyard came later and basically grew fruit for others at first. Only later did it become the opioid it has for so many visitors to the Hill Country. Sixteen years ago, Bob took classes in winemaking and worked with local Texas Agrilife extension experts Jim Kamas and Penny Adams. His mentor was Dick Holmberg, founder of Singing Water Vineyards.
Like Singing Water, Narrow Path is off the primary tourist route. I asked whether this was an impediment to direct-to-consumer sales. With a wry smile he said he felt missing out on the drinking parties in favor of those seeking an experience was an advantage. Wine club has grown to 40% of total sales, and 65% of club members pick up their orders at the quarterly pickup parties.
I asked what challenges Hill Country Terroir posed. Like other Hill Country Growers he confirmed “almost everything”. The Hill Country gets all the mildews. 2019 saw an 80% loss from hail. Birds are militant, waiting until ripeness before stripping a vineyard of all its grapes. Pierce’s disease, via the glassy-winged sharpshooter, is controlled with imidacloprid, and a late frost attacks young buds 1 out of 10 years. A more recent problem comes from 2,4-D herbicide used on nearby coastal bermuda. Drift causes it to kill all the vines that it contacts. If Turbeville becomes aware of it being used he goes to the grower (who is typically oblivious of the harm he is causing) and offers to destroy the weeds himself -- at his own expense. So far it has worked.
Despite this chamber of horrors, 2020 should produce 25 tons of fruit.
Bob took me through a tasting of his current offerings. My notes are too brief as we got talking about other aspects of the winery, but they give an overview of the wines. My advice is to visit Narrow Path Winery and form your own opinion. The staff are helpful and the vista is impressive. Oh, and you can meet Maggie.
2018 Marsanne, Texas High Plains ($20)
Fruit from Oneway Vineyard in Floyd County Texas.
Nose: Grapefruit, earthy.
Taste: Lemons, minerality;
2018 Fieldstone ($25)
Estate viognier and roussanne, chenin blanc from the Texas High Plains.
Nose: White flowers, grapefruit,
Taste: Off dry, lemon, bread.
2018 Merlot Blanc ($28)
Estate merlot and 25% High Plains chenin blanc. Whole cluster pressed.
Appearance: Golden sunset color.
2019 Viognier, Texas High Plains ($28)
Nose: white peaches;
Taste: Bright acid, peaches.
2018 Switchback Red ($30)
50% Aglianico/50% Syrah
Nose: Raspberry, bacon;
Taste: Earthy, forest floor, red fruit;
2018 Tempranillo, Texas High Plains ($30)
Taste: Tobacco, grippy, good acid;
2018 Select Red, Texas ($35)
Only 125 cases produced.
45% Cabernet Sauvignon
2% Petit Verdot;
Appearance: Ruby red;
Nose: Red fruit;
Palate: Chewy tannins, red fruits;