By Terry Thompson-Anderson
Photography by Sandy Wilson
Mason County, Texas is becoming known as an excellent region for growing Mediterranean grape varietals. The combination of Hickory Sands soil and moderate weather has proven exceptional for creating wines with a particularly distinctive Lone Star terroir. Currently, there are seven grape-growers in Mason County who provide fruit to many of the state’s well-known wineries like Fall Creek Vineyards, Becker Vineyards and Torre di Pietra Winery, as well as to Sandstone Cellars Winery, an up-and-coming winery garnering some second and third looks.
Sandstone’s owners, Scott Haupert, a former concert violist, and Manny Silerio, a former marketing executive for Gap Inc.—close friends since their college days in San Antonio—were looking for a simple change of pace when they landed in Mason in 2000. The friends opened a taqueria with Manny’s mother and purchased the rented building next door for additional parking spaces. The pair also bought a house a few miles outside of Mason, across the road from a vineyard owned by winemaker Don Pullum—a move that would prove both fateful and fruitful.
Soon, Scott and Manny began to hear more and more about the growing wine industry in Texas, and their interest in starting a winery grew, too. Yet the roadblock of living in a dry county remained. Within a few short months, though, the Texas Legislature passed a new law allowing winery tasting rooms in dry counties. Then the tenant living in the building next to the taqueria moved out, and suddenly things fell into place. “We both agreed that these random events had certainly paved our way toward opening a winery,” Haupert says. “Don helped us formulate a plan, and after two years of paperwork the winery became a reality.” In 2003, Sandstone Cellars opened its doors on the square in downtown Mason.
Since then, across-the-road neighbor Don has crafted some impressive wines for Sandstone, using varietals from his own Akashic Vineyards, as well as several varietals from other Mason County vineyards. Sandstone is unique in that only one wine is produced per year. The first, Sandstone I, an elegant syrah, was released in 2005, followed in 2006 by Sandstone II, a blend of eight Mediterranean varietals. Both wines won critical acclaim, with Sandstone II being awarded a bronze medal at the prestigious 2007 San Francisco Wine Festival—beating out even well-known California wines.
Sandstone Cellars 2006 III, released in 2007, brought rave reviews from noted wine writers like Russ Kane and Wes Marshall, and was named Texas Champion in its class at the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo International Wine Competition. Available in only 106 cases—half of which were sold within two months of its release—Sandstone Cellars 2006 III also sparked interest from Texas chefs, including Monica Pope, who purchased the last six cases of Sandstone III for her renowned t’afia restaurant in Houston.
When Robert Parker, one of the country’s most respected wine writers, released the 7th Edition of Parker’s Wine Buyer’s Guide, he added a new chapter titled “East of the West Coast” to cover wineries from all states other than Washington, Oregon and California. Within this section, Parker featured six Texas wineries, giving a huge boost of credibility to the Texas wine industry. Sandstone Cellars Winery was one of the six listed along with Alamosa Wine Cellars, Becker Vineyards, Cap Rock Winery, Inwood Estates Vineyards and McPherson Cellars Winery.
Sandstone Cellars IV—2006 Vintage Port Style Dessert Wine. This port-style wine won top honors in the Red Wine–Sweet division at a recent DrinkLocalWine.com competition at Le Cordon Bleu Institute of Culinary Arts Dallas. It’s a big, well-balanced wine with brilliant dark garnet coloring. The wine presents aromas of boysenberry, chocolate, crème brûlée, toasted oak and wintergreen. On the palate you’ll experience heavenly sweetness with boysenberry, crème brûlée and chocolate flavors balanced with nuances of toasted oak, licorice, orange peel and wintergreen. It has a pleasurable, lengthy finish—perfect for après-dinner chocolates and a roaring fire.
Sandstone Cellars VI—2008 Touriga Nacional, Barbera, Primitivo, Zinfandel. Winemaker Don Pullum is very fond of using the touriga nacional grape, which he sources from Paul and Nancy Buist’s Robert Clay Vineyards in Mason County. Sandstone Cellars VI, released in November 2008, is a fusion wine—a blend of wine grapes with origins in various Mediterranean wine regions, but grown in Mason County. In the blend, the touriga grape (45 percent) offers concentrated boysenberry and pomegranate fruit along with sturdy tannins. The primitivo (16 percent) and zinfandel (14 percent) grapes add a true zinfandel briar, or peppery, character, and the barbera grape (25 percent) offers nice acidity. Sandstone Cellars VI is a young wine, structured for aging, and will develop new character and complexity as it ages. It is such a pleasurable wine, however, that it may be difficult to resist its youthful charms long enough to enjoy its mature complexity!
Sandstone Cellars Winery
211 San Antonio Street (US-87 N), Mason, Texas
325-347-9463 • sandstonecellarswinery.com