Q&A with Russell D. Kane

by Terry Thompson-Anderson

Noted Texas wine writer Russell D. Kane, author of the 2012 best-selling “The Wineslinger Chronicles: Texas on the Vine”—a thorough and colorful history of the birth and growth of the Texas wine industry—has just released his newest book, “Texas Hill Country Wineries.” In it, Kane uses his decades-plus experience and an in-depth knowledge and understanding of the Hill Country and her people to expertly map the wine production region against a backdrop of almost 200 images, both past and present. The result is a front-row seat to the places and faces whose hard work and passion have helped make the area a booming wine destination. Sure to be an important resource for years to come, the book is a must-have for wine trekking in the Texas Hill Country.

Edible Austin: What was your motivation for writing this book?

Russell Kane: The Texas Hill Country wineries, as a group, have received many accolades in recent years, none greater than the inclusion in Wine Enthusiast’s 2014 list of top 10 must-see international wine destinations. I’ve found that many people assumed that this group of wineries just popped up all by themselves, and secondly, there are many new wineries in the Hill Country that people don’t know about. I saw this book as a way to provide historical information, while also breaking down the group of 40 to 50 wineries in the region into smaller trails based on their location. It’s like a birder’s guide, but for Texas wine tourists and aficionados. It’s packed with historic and current photos, and I try to indicate what special things make each winery a unique experience. This book is a convenient reference for the wine traveler on a weekend trip and useful for planning a week in our wine country.

EA: When doing research for the book, were there any surprises lurking in the history?

RK: The first was finding the remnants of the old German wineries in Austin and Columbus Counties and discovering that they were connected to the Germans that eventually came through New Braunfels and on to Fredericksburg and recorded making wine in the 1880s. Then, finding the Vorauer family in Fredericksburg, whose ancestors founded the Texas Winery that lasted until the mid-1950s. This was like finding a missing link in the evolution of Texas between the immigrant farmer and the modern winery period of Texas winemaking. Then, I learned that their son, Michael, was one of the first to make wine at Teysha Cellars (now CapRock) in the 1980s and then again much later, when he returned as winemaker to CapRock around 2009. He has since moved on to make wine in the northwestern part of the U.S.

EA: What kind of feedback have you received from readers?

RK: For those who are already aware of the Texas Hill Country wineries, they’ve found the two initial chapters of historical information surprising. Also, the feedback from people I’ve run into at the wineries, including winery staff, say the book provides useful information, and that the picture-storytelling format makes important information approachable and fun. Before going through the book, most readers didn’t realize all the historical threads of wine culture there were in Texas, going back to the late-1600s through the 1800s, and how they came together to weave the tapestry of wine, cuisine and tourism we see today.

Excerpts from Texas Hill Country Wineries

book2Many Texas wineries were in “dry” areas, where the sale of alcohol was not legal. Winery owners Dr. Bobby Smith of La Buena Vida (right) and Ed Auler of Fall Creek (second from right) worked with Texas legislator Bob McFarland (second from left) to get the Texas Farm Winery Act signed by Gov. Dolph Briscoe (center); on the left is Jim Cooper, Smith’s pilot. This act allowed wine made in dry areas to be sold in “wet” areas, where the sale of alcohol was legal. (Courtesy Dr. Bobby Smith.) 

book1 The “father of the modern Texas wine industry” was Dr. Clinton “Doc” McPherson, a professor in the chemistry department of Texas Tech University in Lubbock. He, along with professors Robert Reed, Dr. Roy Mitchell, and others, started research programs to investigate Texas grape growing and winemaking. Some of the first “modern” Texas wines were made in a basement laboratory in the university’s chemistry building. McPherson is seen here in 2010 with his son Kim.

book4In 2013, Fall Creek Vineyards owners Ed and Susan Auler made a bold move by hiring a talented international winemaker, Sergio Cuadra, from Chile, to lead their winery into the future. In less than a year, Cuadra (shown here with Susan Auler), with his global perspectives, championed a new red GSM blend (Grenache, Syrah and Mourvèdre) for the winery and obtained a double gold for his Fall Creek Texas Sauvignon Blanc.book3For natural wine, see Lewis Dickson (by appointment) at La Cruz de Comal Winery in Starzville. He is shown here in his vineyard with wine journalist Alice Feirling. Since 2001, the winery has been a collaboration between old friends: California winemaker Tony Coturri and Texas lawyer and wine enthusiast Dickson. Their wines are made with local grapes, native yeasts and no sulfite additions. These wines are literally still alive in the bottle.

EA: Any future plans to write about the other wine-producing regions in Texas?

RK: That’s a good question. Perhaps something on the High Plains in the Texas Panhandle from Lubbock to the New Mexico border? This area is developing rapidly as the major wine-growing region, feeding wineries around the state with quality wine grapes.

EA: Whom did you see as your target market for the book?

RK: In one sense, it’s a guide for wine tourists from Texas and those coming to Texas, one of America’s top travel destinations. Originally, I thought of this book as simply a guide to wineries. As the project evolved, so did my vision. I was able to include historical references and photos regarding wine culture in Texas during the Spanish missionary period (1600s–1700s) and later, the European immigrant farmer period (mid- to late-1800s); they really put the modern Texas Hill Country wine experience into context with the legacy of wine in Texas.

EA: How did you gather all of this information?

RK: Honestly, I pursued any and all sources. During the first two months of this project, I frenetically cast a wide net somewhat like a fisherman. It was fascinating to see what was out there. When a project like this is started, you really don’t know what will be available and what juicy items will be found and what people are willing to share. My sources included various archives like newspapers from back in the 1800s through the 1980s; historical societies; personal family records and photos; stories and photos from wineries and their founders; and Texas journalists and bloggers.

EA: What’s the future for the Texas Hill Country wine industry?

RK: The future is the big mystery. It’s somewhat like it was in Napa and Sonoma, California, when I first went there in the late 1970s. Their wineries were riding the crest of the wave after winning the “Judgment” of Paris, but many of those winery owners didn’t have any idea of where it was going to go or what those regions would become. We’ve seen similar accolades in Lyon, France, bestowed on Texas Hill Country wineries for their viognier wines a little more than a year ago. Just like in Napa and Sonoma way back then, these are still the early days of the Texas wine experience. It’s a period of experimentation with the unique growing conditions we have. It includes different grape varieties with a strong emphasis on those from the Mediterranean, grape-growing techniques for our variable weather and winemaking methods that will eventually elevate the industry to what it will become 20 or 50 years from now. Maybe in 20 years I’ll have the opportunity to write a second volume of this book to capture the future evolution of this new, dynamic and exciting international wine region we have in the Texas Hill Country.