Rancho Loma Vineyards -- Fast Start by the Winery from Coleman
by Andrew Chalk
An odd duck is Rancho Loma Vineyards (generally known as RLV). Founded in Coleman, TX (population 4,379). Why choose Coleman (indeed, where is Coleman)? Because that is where four of the five founders met regularly at Robert Williamson’s BYOB restaurant Rancho Loma to share and talk about great wine. There was pain medicine specialist (MD), Ed Brandecker, Williamson, Tony Bowden who had grown up in Crane, Texas, with Williamson and had been part owner of the most legendary winery in California, Screaming Eagle, early on (he sold out too early!), Tom Headstream, another physician, and businessman Tom Munson. This group may have amounted to the sum total of all the wine cognoscenti in Coleman at that time.
They mused (maybe over too much Pinot Noir and Cabernet Sauvignon) about starting a winery. Things got serious. They flirted with Oregon for a time, on account of its already established worldwide reputation and still sane land prices (plus, Antifa was not yet responsible for Portland’s architecture). Research on Texas revealed the same thing that interested me in writing about it’s wines: separate from the ‘For Sale In Texas Only’ California jug wines sold in supermarkets with labels designed to mislead consumers into thinking they were Texas wines (the moral equivalent of child pornography) was a hard-working industry producing Texas wines from Texas grapes. And they were succeeding. Texas wines were winning more medals every year at out of state wine competitions. From roughly 22 a year prior to 2010 up to 143 in 2016.
Source: Texas Wineries. Created by the author.
They decided to stay with their Texas roots. Ed Brandecker took a role that eventually became formalised as Director of Winemaking. He took courses in viticulture at Texas Tech. and enology at Washington State University. On a trip to Châteauneuf-du-Pape in 2015 he hit the jackpot as a result of a chance conversation with Kelly McAuliffe, a former sommelier at Alan Ducasse’s Las Vegas restaurant, who recommended Guenhaël Kessler, Graduate of the University of Bordeaux, trained at Château Angelus, and consultant to over 40 wineries in the Rhône, as a winemaking consultant. It began a business relationship that continues today. A gap on the viticultural side was filled by bringing Ed Hellman, professor of viticulture at Texas Tech University and the single best known academic in Texas wine, into the ownership structure.
RLV’s first vintage was 2016. Right out of the gate the wines won medals at competitions wherever they competed. These included several in Texas but, most prestigiously, the San Francisco International Wine Competition and the San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition. In these competitions the little winery from Coleman competed head-to-head with top names from California, Washington, Oregon, and elsewhere, and won gold medals. They may not have marketed to any of those states, but it made their halo shine very brightly.
The astonishing thing has been the speed of RLV’s ascent up the quality ranks of Texas wineries. Ed Brandecker summarizes it as starting with a philosophy to make quality wine, and then “try to incrementally improve” each vintage. After getting the right people in place they sought out the best grapes. Hence, a scan of their bottles shows wine made from Newsom Vineyards, Reddy Vineyards, and Lahey Vineyards. To date, they have sourced entirely from the Texas High Plains (the area around Lubbock that has altitudes up to 3,900 ft. and desert-low humidities that creates large diurnal swings in temperature for slow maturation of grapes to phenolic ripeness). Ed Brandecker says that they expect to focus on Mediterranean varieties. Grapes from Spain, Italy, and the southern Rhone. When Guenhaël Kessler visits, the moment he steps off the plane the tasting starts. Often they will spend twelve hours tasting through over 100 blends.
Winemaking was in Coleman 2016-2018 but moved to the High Plains in 2019 to be nearer to the vineyards. Reddy Vineyards have built a new winery and it serves as a custom crush. Brandecker went full time to handle the growth.
Marketing has started too. Wine club is important. Some wines are distributed by RNDC, the Texas distributor with the largest number of Texas wines in its portfolio. The tasting room in Coleman attracted an enthusiastic but small crowd of followers so in February 2020 the winery opened a tasting room in Fort Worth’s impossibly cool Near South Side district (Fort Worth is the nearest large population center to Coleman). On the staff is a sommelier with the globally recognized WSET Level 3 certification so wine education is being taken seriously.
As an observer, I see a carefully calibrated deliberateness to RLV’s expansion and I would not be surprised to see a tasting room opening on US-290 in the ‘near future’. Output is 2,500 to 5,500 cases at present, with a long-term target of 10,000 cases. To sell that they have to project their presence, and US-290 is the Texas wine industry’s storefront.
RLV makes an imposing selection of wines. Ed Brandecker took me through a few of his favorites.
2018 Tres Rose, Texas High Plains ($19)
40% Cinsault, 40% Syrah, 20% Mourvedre
Cinsault - Picked low brix. Syrah and Mourvedre Saignee. No malolactic fermentation. Settled and clarified.
Appearance; Salmon, copper color;
Nose: Strawberry, raspberry, soft. Floral notes. earthy smell;
Palate: Good acidic, softness, no oak, no astringency.
2017 III, Reddy Vineyards, Texas High Plains ($32)
White Rhone blend: 50% Viognier, 25% Roussanne, 25% Marsanne
14% alcohol. All stainless. Fermented separately. No malo.
Gold medal in Texas International Wine Competition, Gold medal in San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition. The name derives from its composition of three grapes.
Appearance: Deep straw;
Nose: Lemon, apricot, honey;
Palate: Mango, apricot. Good body;
2018 III Especial, Reddy Vineyards, Texas High Plains ($32)
25% Viognier, 25% Roussanne, 50% Marsanne. 12.5% alc. Two year old oak. 6-9 mths.
Double gold medal San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition;
Nose: Honey, creme brulee, apricot, peaches;
Palate: Hint of vanilla, apricot, smooth, good body;
2017 Syrah, Texas High Plains ($45)
75% Syrah, 25% Tempranillo.
Silver medal, 2020 San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition.
Texas Class Champion, 2020 Rodeo Uncorked! International Wine Competition, Houston Livestock Show & Rodeo.
A: Ruby, translucent;
N: Forward, lush, blackberries, and raspberries. Cedar notes.
T: High acid, mouth coated with red fruit, blackberry, smoky meat; Silky tannins
2017 Tempter, Reddy Vineyards, Texas High Plains ($45)
50% Tempranillo, 35% Merlot, 15% Tannat.
30% new French oak.
Silver medal, 2020 San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition.
Gold medal, 2019 San Francisco International Wine Competition.
Gold medal, 2020 Rodeo Uncorked! International Wine Competition, Houston Livestock Show & Rodeo.
A: Translucent garnet;
N: Red fruit (raspberries), wood, black pepper;
T: Effusive raspberries, toastiness, herbs thyme;
2018 Tempter Reserve Red Wine
Tempranillo, Tannat, Merlot
A: Almost opaque ruby
N: More closed than 2017. More grapey. Toasty oak.
T: Fruit very forward (despite the closed nose). Firm tannic structure. Likely ageworthy.