Discovering Texas Wines
Texas Hills Vineyard
Gary & Kathy Gilstrap welcome visitors"If you're gonna be a bear, be a grizzly."
at Texas Hills Vineyard
That was Gary Gilstrap's philosophy ten years ago when he pulled up stakes in Colleyville, a suburb of Dallas, and moved his wife, Kathy and their dog, Natasha, to Johnson City and opened the Texas Hills Winery. It all began with little more than a big idea and a small soil sample.
"I was driving from Austin to Fredericksburg for dinner one night and I saw a 'For Sale' sign on a fence," Gilstrap explains. "The layout reminded me of the land a friend of ours owns in Italy. I called Kathy and asked her what we were doing that weekend."
"I had never even been to the hill country before," Kathy interjects.
The Gilstraps had soil samples analyzed and were excited when the results were very positive. Gary was ready to pull the trigger but Kathy was more cautious. "I told him we couldn't just buy the first place we looked at, so we looked around a little more." That hesitation almost ended the dream of owning a winery. By the time the Gilstraps made an offer on the land it had already been sold. "We looked around some more. We even looked in New Mexico and west Texas," Gary says.
Fortunately for the wannabee winemakers, the deal for the property fell through. "They called me six weeks later and asked if I was still interested," Gary laughs. "I asked them to give me four hours to get back down here with a deposit."
The deal for the land closed in October of 1994 and the Gilstraps moved in in January 1995 and started planting grapevines. "This was just a pasture the first time I saw it," Gary says, waving his hand in the direction of the 25-acre vineyard. Construction of the winery building was completed in the fall of 1998, and Texas Hills popped its first cork in the spring of 1999.
Texas Hills wines are manufactured in the Italian style, with lingering flavors that complement a variety of foods.
Gilstrap doesn't compare his wine to what is considered the U.S. Gold Standard ,California wines. "California wines have gotten to the point where they're all oak. It's like they're asking, 'how much wine do you want with your oak?' They overpower food. They're too big, too hot," he explains.
"We'd never even made wine at home when we bought the place," Kathy admits. "We used a consultant in the beginning to teach us how to do it." Both the Gilstraps are retired pharmacists so it didn't take them long to understand the chemistry of blending grape juice.
"We work hard at making balanced wine that goes with food and is food friendly," Gary explains. "Not everybody is going to love our wine and, of course, everyone's going to compare it to California. But we're not California. We're our own entity and, if you enjoy the wine for what it is instead of trying to make it a California wine, you'll find that it's a very good quality wine."
The Gilstraps make 85 percent of their wine from their own grapes and enjoy seeing the reactions it gets in the tasting room. Most people, they say, come in with low expectations, considering Texas wine little more than a novelty item. That perception usually changes with the first sip.
"We get that a lot," Kathy says. "They don't expect it to be this good."
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