Discovering Texas Wines
Woodrose Winery's Mike Guilette
The last thing Mike Guilette needs is more work. He's got a full time job with an Austin-based technology company where he's just taken over the task of restructuring the data engineering side of the entire corporation. On top of that, he's the owner and winemaker at the Woodrose Winery in nearby Stonewall.
As if that weren't enough, he's also an aspiring chef. "I was talking to my banker about the long range goal of turning the winery into a resort and opening a restaurant and he just laughed at me. He told me, 'You just think you're busy now; wait until you open a restaurant.'
"And he's right. I am busy. But I really am enjoying myself."
Guilette's dream of opening a restaurant may not be so far fetched. The Woodrose Winery already has a restaurant feel to it. The tasting room is set up more like a bistro than a bar with tables scattered around the room where guests are served wine samples and invited to ask questions. The layout is meant to relax visitors and take away the intimidation factor many first-time patrons feel.
"There are some wineries and tasting rooms that are very intimidating and, in some cases, maybe they should be because they're making very complex wine and you're not going to be able to appreciate all the nuances of what they're doing."
Woodrose Winery's Affordable WinesGuilette, who says his goal is to make approachable wines in the $15-$20 range, doesn't feel like complicated wines are what Texas needs right now. He wants to create an atmosphere where people can come in and say, "I don't know anything about wine or winemaking. I don't even know how you're supposed to swirl it in the glass. Why do you do that? What are you looking for?"
"I'm trying to create an environment where you can be comfortable asking those kinds of questions. We don't have a gift shop or even a bar. It's all restaurant style seating. We'll bring everything to you at the table. We want you to experience wine and learn about it on your own terms."
Guilette's unusual approach reflects his unusual introduction to the industry. An electrical engineer, he moved to Texas when he got tired of the snow in Illinois. "That was part of it. Austin is a technology town and I thought it would be a good fit. I've been here 23 years now. I certainly didn't come here to go into the winery business."
His high tech job meant Guilette spent a fair amount of time in California's Silicon Valley. He took advantage of the opportunity to visit the state's wine country.
"I was in a conference in the Bay Area when I decided to visit a couple wineries and instead, I ended up at this little place, I probably couldn't even find it again, but it was this little winery where I met the owner. He was retired and was just enjoying life and running this little winery. I ended up following him around and helping for the entire afternoon and that's when I decided that's what I wanted to do when I reached that stage of my life."
"That stage" is still a little way off for Guilette who's 45. "I wanted to have a decent, working winery at 55 so I've still got about nine years to get this to where I really want it to be."
He intends to use the time to expand his current operation with the long term goal of creating a resort in the Texas Hill Country. "Ultimately we want to create a place where people can come out and be part of the winemaking process. My original plan had been to start construction on the first cabins this winter, but that may have to wait. I just don't have time."
Guilette says he also needs more time to learn more about winemaking. He's currently working with wine-making consultant Benedict Rhyne. "She's a fourth generation winemaker and very good at what she does.
"When people ask me where I learned to make wine I usually say to come back in five years and I'll tell them. I haven't had any formal training but I have enough chemistry in my background that I can pick it up. The tough part is the practical application of it all.
"I've done a lot of reading and spent a lot of time talking to other winemakers and winery owners."
Guilette describes his wines as everything from fruit-forward, food-friendly reds to a heavy oak white blend.
"I want to make approachable wines. I'm never going to be one of those guys who makes a $70 cabernet. That's not my aspiration. The cabernet sauvignon we're bottling right now is a rich, dark cab with a lot of flavors and a few tannins that can stand up to a pretty hardy dish. I'd describe it as medium oak. I've got a couple of wines that are heavy oak by design, but that's not what I wanted for the cabernet.
"I have a white wine that we've just released that's a mix of sauvignon blanc, chenin blanc and chardonnay. When we made the sauvignon blanc it came out very fruity; a very nose-friendly wine. The chenin blanc was crisp with a very light, smooth finish. So a blend of the two provided a nice nose to start with and a smooth finish. I was looking for something to give it a little more body and I like to use chardonnay for that. So I added the chardonnay and then let the whole thing sit in new oak barrels for about nine months. It's a nice blend that carries all the way through with a strong oaky nose and a buttery finish."
With the construction of the resort and restaurant, Guilette intends to eventually double the size of the property to 50 acres. He's also planning to add more grapes so he can increase production from today's 1,200 cases to 2,000. "We've got the facilities to produce 2,000 cases and that's our goal for this year but getting enough grapes to do that can be difficult," he admits. "We get a lot of our grapes from the Lubbock area. They can grow things that we just can't produce here. I'd eventually like to have about a dozen acres of vineyard on the property though."
Guilette is philosophical about the operation's growth and his role in it. "I'm still committed to my day job. This is my night job right now. There are parts of it that are pretty painful. I end up putting a lot of times into both of my jobs because they both require it. But I have to say, this is the most satisfying work I've ever done in my life."
Woodrose Winery Salmon in White Sauce with Shrimp
Serve over angel hair pasta. Garnish with parsley. Pairs well with Woodrose Winery Three Dog White.
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