Discovering Texas Wines
Don RoarkMeet the new winery guy
After 30 years in the hardware business, Don Roark sounds almost surprised to find himself owning a winery.
"Some friends of mine owned the winery and they asked me to come work with them doing sales and marketing. I helped them out for four or five years and then came on full time as sales manager and then president. My partner and I bought the place a couple of years ago. I didn't really want a winery but the opportunity came about and it worked out well for everyone.
"I wasn't a winery guy when I first got here. I was a salesman. That's where I came in. I worked with the distributors and the retail stores using what experience and expertise I had in sales."
Roark, now co-owner and president of the Cap Rock Winery in Lubbock, is still using that marketing expertise as he takes the winery and meeting venue in new directions.
If Roark wasn't a full-fledged "winery guy" when he arrived, he is now. He and son Kirk also own the Zaragosa Winery in New Mexico.
Cap Rock, named after the geologic formation on which the Texas high plains sit, was founded in 1988 by Dr. James Crisp. The first wine was poured in 1992 under the direction of winemaker Kim McPherson, son of Texas wine making legend Clint "Doc" McPherson. Kim, who earned his food and nutrition degree from Texas Tech, did his wine studies at the University of California at Davis, the country's foremost enology program. McPherson also apprenticed in California's Napa Valley, most notably at the Mondavi Estate, before returning to Texas. After a stint working alongside his father at the Llano Estacado Winery and a brief stay at Texas Vineyards, he became the only winemaker Cap Rock has ever had in 1992.
"Kim's been around long enough that he knows what he's doing," explains Roark. "Give him some good grapes and he's going to make good wine. When everything goes right, it's easy. Everybody's a hero. But when everything doesn't go exactly right, that's when it's up to the winemaker to make everybody look like a hero. Kim's good at that.
"He was one of the first Texas winemakers to blend wine. Everybody thought they had to have a cabernet sauvignon or a syrah or whatever and he was the one who started blending wines and making sangioveses and merlots and what have you. He knows how to take a few pretty good wines and combine them into one really great wine."
The winery is housed in a 23,000 square foot southwestern mission style building with soaring 14-foot ceilings, stone fireplace and an elegant green marble-topped bar. The location features a visitor' center, a popular meeting and wedding site. The well-manicured grounds make an excellent meeting venue. "We get a lot of pharmaceutical companies holding meetings here. They like to bring doctors here to give them their sales presentations. It's a little different than just some meeting room in a hotel."
With a current capacity of 45,000 cases, Cap Rock has enough room left over to top out at 90,000 cases per year.
Roark and McPherson use both stainless steel tanks and oak barrels to age their wines. "We want to make a fruit-forward wine," Roark says. "With our German presses we're able to crush whole berry clusters and during fermentation instead of just stirring the tanks, we blend over our wines, meaning we take the wine from the bottom of the tank and move it to the top.
"Of course, we have oak barrels but we don't use them a whole lot. We're not trying to make a real heavy wine. We want it to be food-friendly. The oak is there for storage and to add a little bit of flavor but our winemaker wants you to taste the grapes, not the wood."
Business ChangesThe biggest change Roark has made since taking over the winery is to pull Cap Rock wines from supermarkets. "That probably cost us 10,000 cases in sales. We hated to do it but we've got to protect the integrity of our product and our brand name. Supermarkets all want you to sell it to them for a nickel. And there's nothing wrong with that, it just makes good business sense. But we just got to the point where we couldn't continue to produce a quality wine and sell it that cheap."
Roark also got out of the grape growing business. "We don't own any vineyards. When we bought the winery we didn't buy the vineyards. That's an entirely separate business. We have about eight farmers growing grapes for us in this region. There are about 1,000 acres of grapes in the high plains."
While Cap Rock wines are produced in a Mediterranean style, the biggest seller is its Texas Blush, a sweet wine. "People prefer a sweet wine," adds Roark. "I don't think it's just Texans either. You get 20 people together and let them taste a wine without telling them whether it's dry or sweet and I'll bet eight of them will prefer the sweet. They won't admit it, but that's what most people like."
Penne CasseroleServes six
Layer ingredients as follows in ungreased 13 x 9-inch baking dish: 1/2 pasta, 1/2 sauce and 1/2 cheese. Repeat layers; cover. Bake for 20 to 25 minutes or until heated through and cheese is melted. # # #
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