Meet the Winemaker: Kim McPherson, McPherson Cellars
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Those running in the Texas wine circle are well acquainted with Kim McPherson. He owns his own label, McPherson Cellars, and he’s been instrumental in moving the industry forward, consulting for many of the wineries across the state.
He seems to have been bred for wine-making. His father, “Doc,” a former chemistry professor at Texas Tech University, is considered one of the ‘fathers’ of the Texas wine industry for co-founding Llano Estacado Winery, in 1976. Kim received a food science degree from Tech and later completed the enology and viticulture program at the University of California at Davis. He’s worked in wine—both in California and Texas—ever since.
In 2008 he opened McPherson Cellars out of an historic thirties-era Coca Cola bottling plant in downtown Lubbock. His wines routinely win local and national medals, and his precision with wines made from French Rhone, Italian and Spanish varietals has caught the attention of wine experts across the country.
Last August, I joined McPherson during grape harvest in the High Plains as he made his first ever Dry Chenin Blanc, a beautifully fruity, yet crisp and balanced wine that was just released this month. (It’s currently only available for restaurants or in his Lubbock tasting room and at 4.0 Cellars in the Hill Country.)
Jessica Dupuy: How do you go about selecting which grape varietals you want to use for your wines? Is there a process by which you select the types of grapes you’re going to use? How do you determine what you’re going to use?
Kim McPherson: I’m always thinking about styles of wine and how I can make those styles based on the grapes we can grow in Texas.
Chenin Blanc always comes to mind because it grows so well in the High Plains and it’s so versatile as a blending grape. It goes really well with Muscat to make a blush with red wine. If you put it with Viognier, it makes a beautiful white wine.
JD: Speaking of Chenin Blanc, this year you’re releasing a single varietal Chenin Blanc wine. There are a couple of Chenin Blanc wines in Texas, but they are more on the sweet side, similar to a Vouvray style you might find in the Loire Valley of France. But you chose to make a very dry style of Chenin Blanc, something you also find in a different style in parts of the Loire as well as in South Africa.
KM: My broker always had the adage that you could make the best Chenin Blanc in the state, put it on the sidewalk, and people wouldn’t steal it. There’s just a big misconception about what Chenin Blanc is. Everyone thinks it’s going to be a sweet wine, but it really doesn’t have to be.
My daughter, Kassandra made me do it. She’s always been on my case to make a dry Chenin. So last summer, when she was working with me, I made her help me do it. It just so happened that my wholesaler was interested in having a wine like this for restaurants. which is a pretty big deal. All of a sudden the stars aligned. So, I asked my friend Joe Vasquez, who grows grapes up near me in Lubbock for all the Chenin he could get me. I’ve used his grapes for ten years now for different blends and he had 28 year-old Chenin Blanc vines that I knew I could use for this.
JD: What are some of the other releases you’re excited about this year?
KM: I’ve usually put out a dry rosé, and this year, I’m releasing the rosé under the name Vin Gris. It’s a blend of Mourvedre, Cinsault, and Grenache. And it’s the best rosé yet. It’s just like a dry rosé from Provence. The juice was only on the skins for the amount of time it took the grapes to get from grape grower Andy Timmons’ vineyard to my winery. After that, the grapes were pressed directly and the skins removed. So it has a very light pink color, but all of these wonderful fruit and floral aromas that you’d get from Provence rosés. I think it’s unbelievable!
We just released a new La Herencia (2011) and a new Les Copains (2012). La Herencia is my Tempranillo blend with 79 percent Tempranillo, 14 percent Mourvedre, and a little bit of Grenache and Syrah. A lot of people really loved the 2010, but I think this one is the best one. I used French oak this time and it integrated really nicely with the other grapes. Especially the Mourvedre, which I think does really well with Tempranillo. We made about 800 cases of that. For the Les Copains, it’s still a blend of Viognier, Roussanne, Grenache Blanc, and a little Marsanne. It’s sort of an accidental wine in that I made it with some of the left over juice I had from 2011. But it was such a runaway success that I decided to do it again. Unfortunately, it won’t be carried in Spec’s this year, so people are going to have to go to the other retailers we use, or you can get it through the winery.
JD: These are mainly blends. Are you also releasing some of your single varietals?
KM: Oh, yes. The Viognier, Albariño, and Sangiovese are solid wines for us, and I’ll do them every year. But I’ve also added Roussanne to the list. Last year we did a regular release as well as a more limited reserve. Both of them were beautiful and I think it’s safe to say that even though Viognier is a strong white grape for Texas, the Roussanne is a close second. It may even pull ahead in coming years.
This year’s  Reserve Roussanne is unbelievable. I left it on heavy lees [the spent yeast from fermentation] and stirred it every day for three months. We also micro-oxidized it and used French Oak and it just has this amazing texture and flavor. We only made 300 cases for the winery, but if you can get it, do it quick.
I also did a little bit of a Dry Muscat. Like Chenin Blanc, it’s also a grape that is usually made into a sweet wine, but it can also make a beautiful, crisp, dry white wine. It’s the first time I did it, so I put it under my wine club label, which is “Chansa.” It’s Spanish for “chance.” And I definitely took a chance on it. But Melissa Monosoff, one of Texas’ master sommeliers, recently tasted it and almost fell out of her chair. We were both blown away by how good it is. I hope to make it again.
This year I also played with a little Vermentino and Trebbiano, but there was only enough to bottle each for our wine club. I think next year I’ll be able to release those for retail.
JD: Are there any other grapes that you think are strong enough to make as a single varietal wine?
KM: Absolutely. I really want to make a Mourvedre. I think that grape is a dark horse for Texas. It does so well here and it is strong enough to stand on its own. I also have some Marsanne, Picpoul, Cinsault and Carignan. But we’ll see how they mature in the next few years.
JD: Most of your wines are available between $10-$15 retail with a few, more select wines inching up closer to $20. But overall, your wines are really accessible and affordable. From your perspective, why has this been an important decision in releasing your wines?
KM: Here in Texas, if you keep the wine away from the general public, they’ll never know what it is. A guy in El Paso is not going to drive all the way over to a winery Fredericksburg, just to buy a wine. That’s not going to work. Especially as we start to have more grapes from the High Plains and our production grows in the next twenty years.
I’m all for getting wine out there at a decent price.
JD: What advice do you have for the new generation of Texas winemakers?
KM: It’s simple. You’ve got to be a motorboat, you can’t be an ocean liner. You’ve got to be able to turn the corner and speed around the rocks. You’ve got to be able to think quick. And you have to be objective about the wine you’re making. Don’t fall in love with the stuff. If it’s not good when you put it in a barrel, chances are it’s not going to get any better. You can’t put lipstick on a pig. Take it while it’s young and hot and do something else with it before it’s too late. You’ve got to be creative about what to do with what you have.