Making Wine

Richard and Bunny Becker on making Texas wine.
Photograph by Kenny Braun

NAME: Richard and Bunny Becker | AGES: 66 | HOMETOWNS: San Antonio | QUALIFICATIONS: Owners of Stonewall-based Becker Vineyards, which produces wines from fourteen different French vinifera grapes / Becker Vineyards consistently garners medals at the Long Beach Grand Cru, Dallas Morning News , and San Antonio Express-News wine competitions, among others

• When we started—our first planting was in 1992—everybody was saying, “You gotta make sweet wine. Go with muscat canelli, or Riesling. Put sugar in your cabernet sauvignon.” Well, we don’t like sweet wine, and we never did that. Texas wine is about intuition—what style do you love?—and being hardheaded enough to think that you can make it here.

• There’s a school of thought that says Texas is a hot weather climate so you ought to grow hot weather grapes. But people forget how hot it is in Napa and in Bordeaux.

• Robert Mondavi once told us there is a misconception about hot climate and good wines. He said, “Don’t let people tell you that because you don’t have morning fog you won’t have great reds. Tell them you make good wine because you don’t have a morning fog.”

• You can grow the classic varietals here, you just have to adjust. We let our grapes get ripe, let them hang longer. You get very rich flavors.

• A winemaker is an artist. You can talk to him all day about your favorite wine or how you think the wine should be made, and he’ll say, “Yes, yes.” Then he’ll make the wine the way that he wants to make the wine, like a painter or a musician.

• The art of winemaking has to do with the ability to smell, taste, and remember. There’s an olfactory memory, a taste memory. Some people have it, some don’t.

• You cannot cut corners. We recently ordered six hundred new barrels—American oak for our cabernet and French oak for our whites—just for one year. You have to do that.

• There’s a perception that Texas wine is low quality. But a number of glowing examples are coming forward. Llano Estacado makes some nice wines, and then there’s McPherson Cellars and Messina Hof. Haak has made a wonderful Madeira.

• There’s just not a lot of winemaking expertise in Texas yet. We don’t have universities that train people in vinology and viticulture, like California.

• We do a lot of smelling and tasting all year. We’ll harvest in the summer—this year into October because of the overcast weather—then there’s fermentation. In the spring we think about the wines from the year before and their components: Are we going to make a cabernet sauvignon that’s 100 percent cabernet or with 2 percent Malbec? We finish the bottling, then we’re into harvest again.

• You’re never going to make a fortune in Texas wine. But it’s a wonderful thing to do.

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