This month, we’re launching a new column to introduce Texas Monthly readers to the people behind Texas Wine. Sometimes it helps to know a little bit about the person behind the wine in your glass.
Todd Webster is the winemaker for Brennan Vineyards, a winery in Comanche located halfway between the Texas High Plains and the Texas Hill Country. Celebrating its 10th Anniversary this year, Brennan Vineyards began as a vineyard project that soon turned into a full-scale winery by owners Pat and Trelise Brennan. Today, the winery produces a portfolio of 13 wines from their 30 acres of estate vineyard as well as from vineyards in the High Plains. Webster’s winemaking philosophy blends old world traditions with modern innovations to produce wines that are expressive of the Texas regions from which the are grown.
TM: What made you decide to become a winemaker?
Todd Webster: I wish I would have come to this realization 20 years ago. I did normal things like going to college and getting a job with an oil and gas company in Forth Worth. I eventually got burned out on that and my wife and I decided to take some time off to redirect where we wanted to go. I had always had a fascination with wine. When my brother was in the Navy in Alameda. I’d go visit him quite a bit and we’d always go up to Napa and Sonoma. That’s when I really fell in love with wine.
So I started looking for a job in wine. The first thing I found was as a driver for a small distributing company called the Wine Frog. It was a way to get my foot in the door and eventually I worked my way up to being second-in-command. At one point we began distributing Brennan Vineyards wines and that’s when I met Pat. As I got to know him, we developed a good friendship and in 2008, he asked me to come on board. He taught me everything he knew in the vineyard. And how he made wine. As each year passed, he’d let me have a little more control over the decision-making process with the wines—and he always made sure to let me know when I was going in the wrong direction.
By 2010, the winemaking was my show. It was definitely a learn-on-the-job experience. I did the Texas Tech Viticulture Certificate program and the Washington State certificate program. A lot of people have asked me how hard it is to make wine. The basic concept actually only takes about 5 minutes to learn. But it takes a lifetime to master.
TM: What are some of their favorite non-Texas wines?
Webster: It would have to be Champagne. Any day of the week. I like sparkling wine from different regions as well. But I love Champagne. I also like Chateauneuf du Pape and Bordeaux wines. Since Tempranillo has taken such a hold in Texas, I also like trying different Spanish wines. It helps keep me informed.
TM: What do you drink when you’re not drinking wine?
Webster: Plenty of beer. Ask any winemaker and that makes up about 90 percent of our non-wine beverage consumption.
TM: What grapes do you like working with in Texas?
Webster: When I got here, what we had Viognier, Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah planted. Of those, I really love Viognier. It was the flagship wine at Brennan. I love Syrah, but in our vineyard it’s so finicky and we don’t get a consistent crop. When we expanded the vineyard, we planted Mourvedre, Tempranillo and more Viognier and I’ve really loved working with the new varieties. We get great yields on the Tempranillo and Mourvedre and the fruit is great.
TM: What are some of the wines you’re most excited about?
Webster: The Winemaker’s Choice, “W” is a multi-varietal, multi-vintage wine. I had always heard that nonvintage wines weren’t that great, but that’s not the case. W is made completely in the reverse of how we make our other wines. It’s the first wine we make from the best of the best of what we have. It’s a fun project, but we have to get it right from the get-go.
I also really love the Lily, which is generally a white Rhone blend. The 2013 vintage has quite a bit of Muscat de Alexandria, which is not a widely planted grape, but I’ve really come to love it. We had so few white grapes from 2013, that we decided to use it in this blend and it turned out beautifully. It ended up winning Double Gold at the San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition this year, which we are really excited about.
TM: Aside from your wines? What other Texas wineries do you feel are raising the bar for Texas?
Webster: There are a lot of great wineries in Texas. Personally, I’ve learned so much from Kim McPherson of McPherson Cellars. My colleagues who are in the Texas Fine Wine group including Duchman Family Winery, Bending Branch Winery and Pedernales Cellars are all fantastic producers. William Chris Vineyards is right up there for me and what I’ve had from Hilmy Cellars is great. Messina Hof also has some really top notch wines. But there are so many others as well.
TM: What are some of your biggest challenges growing grapes/making wine in Texas?
Webster: It comes down to Texas heat and spring freezes. It means that every year we’re going to have completely different wines. But that’s also exciting because you have to adapt to what the climate is and work with what you get in a certain year. We take a minimalist approach to winemaking, which means you really get to taste what the conditions in a specific year had to offer.
TM: What do you think some of the biggest myths are about Texas wine?
Webster: For consumers outside of the state, I think they’re surprised that there are wineries in Texas. My Washington State classmates were stunned that there were wineries here.
Inside the state, it’s trying to overcome a bad perception about the quality of our wines. There are a lot of people who have had bad experiences with Texas wines. In my opinion, one bad Texas wines does worse for our market than 10 great Texas wines. It’s hard to get consumers past that one bad experience and give the whole industry a chance.