In 2008, two Texas grape growers happened to meet at a wine-industry event, and began a partnership that has blossomed into one of Texas’s most successful and well-respected wine-producing ventures.
Bill Blackmon graduated from Texas Tech University in Lubbock with a degree in agriculture, and over a decades-long career, became an in-demand wine grower and vineyard manager for some of the largest grape producers in the Texas High Plains.
Chris Brundrett graduated from Texas A&M University with a degree in horticulture, and was hired as a vineyard manager by some of the burgeoning winemakers in the Texas Hill Country.
Both men developed a philosophy of favoring terroir over popularity. Terroir is a French term that encompasses all of the physical attributes of a particular vineyard that affect the quality and characteristics of the grapes produced there: mineral content and particle size of the soil; quantity and seasonality of rain; cool air flow; slope aspect and degree; etc. If a grape grower concentrates on the terroir characteristics of a particular plot of land, they can select the best variety of grapes and growing techniques that will take advantage of that terroir. However, many grape growers will simply plant the grape varietals that produce the most popular wines, and will sell the best: chardonnay, cabernet sauvignon, merlot, zinfandel, and so on. These grapes are not particularly well-suited for the growing conditions in Texas, though, and insisting on planting them may result in inconsistent yields, and less-than-ideal quality.
Bill and Chris discovered their shared desire to feature and accentuate the best that the Texas terroir can produce. With help from a loan by Bill’s artist mother, Mary Ruth, the pair purchased a plot of land in Hye, Texas. It had originally been a turkey farm owned by the German immigrant Deike family, who raised nine boys, three girls, and uncounted thousands of turkeys from a two-room farmhouse they built themselves in 1901. Although the land had been left unused for decades, it had the right slope, soil components, and a rich layer of turkey-dropping fertilizer to produce quality Texas Hill Country grapes.
The William Chris Vineyards tasting room, located in the original Deike farmhouse, opened its doors in 2010. In the vineyard, Bill & Chris planted mourvedre, a little-known variety from the Rhone River Valley of France. In Cote du Rhone wines, this grape is blended with others to make a classic red wine blend. But Bill and Chris had determined that, despite its obscurity, Mourvedre was the grape to produce the highest-quality wines in their vineyard. Since then, mourvedre has become a darling of the Texas wine industry, and a common grape used to show off what Texas wine can be. More recently, they have pioneered the growing of tannat, another obscure and neglected European grape variety, which also grows remarkably well in the Hill Country climate. You will see more and more tannat-based wines coming out of Texas in the next few years, and William Chris Vineyards is in the vanguard of this trend.
In a few short years, William Chris has gone from a small, boutique winery to a major player in the Texas wine industry. A big contribution to this success is their insistence on always using 100% Texas-grown grapes. State law requires at least 75% of a wine’s grapes come from Texas in order to be labeled Texas wine, but William Chris has always taken a stand on 100% Texas fruit. They quickly outgrew the century-old farmhouse, and built a new, modern tasting room with a beautiful view overlooking their Hye Estate Vineyard.
Their signature wine is a blend of three white grape varieties, called Mary Ruth, in honor of Bill’s mother. In addition to their mourvedre and tannat wines, they are known for two red blends, Enchante and Skeleton Key. The actual recipe for each changes every year, based on the quality of grapes they get from different vineyards as determined by that year’s weather. They are also known for excellent tempranillo wines.
William Chris Vineyards is one of the most popular destinations we visit on our guided wine tours. If you stop there, you will be sure to enjoy not only the spectacular views and top-notch service, but also some of the best wine Texas produces, from one of the largest producers of 100% Texas wine.