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Kiepersol Estates: East Texas Winery Advances With Quality Wine

View of the vineyards from the Winery at Kiepersol Estates in East Texas.

Tyler is not, as you may have heard, a world famous wine making center. Nor is it renowned for its vineyards. However, quietly and for over a decade one winery has been working assiduously to change that impression: Kiepersol Estates. The winery makes all of its wine from grapes grown  on the 66 acres surrounding  the wine making facility and tasting room. There are 14 varietals and these are viniferous varieties, the species of vine from which virtually all serious wine is made.

During a recent stay at the winery’s’ B&B, I took a grand tour of the whole operation. Jump for the details.

You see the seriousness extend from the viticulture to the winemaking as well. In the winery is a fully equipped laboratory and on staff is a trained laboratory operator. Most red wines are aged in oak barrels (either American or French). At nearly $1,000 per French oak barrel and $400 for the American equivalent, the investment is huge.

Pierre de Wet founded Kiepersol and planted the first vines in 1998 but he has now passed it on to his two daughters. Marnelle de Wet Durrett handles wine making and Velmay de Wet handles marketing and operations. The vinifera vines they grow are:

White (French and Italian origin): Sauvignon Blanc, Semillon, Viognier, Chardonnay, Pinot Grigio;

Red (French origin): Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Malbec, Syrah;

Red (Spanish origin):, Monastrell (aka Mourvedre), Tempranillo;

Red (Italian Origin): Sangiovese;

Red (Other Origin): Zinfandel;

Winemaker Marnelle de Wet Durrett and Assistant Winemaker Justin Wiggins in the Kiepersol Aging Cellar

Plans are afoot to expand the lineup still further as Pierre de Wet admits the winery is in an experimentation phase with what grapes grow best in the Tyler, Texas climate and terroir. So far, he thinks that Syrah performs best.

You see that Kiepersol is a pathfinder when you look at the Texas winery map. The Tyler area is not a part of Texas characterized by a large concentration of wineries. Most in the area make fruit wines (literally, wines made of fruit, such as peach wine, etc.). Pierre de Wet’s background in farming is what explains Kiepersol’s success with vinifera grapes, and in that lies at least two lessons for other Texas wineries. First, to those who whine that there are no Texas grapes (and import surplus from California): stop whining. If Kiepersol can grow grapes, and have them productive in the second year, so can others. Second, those who say that vinifera grapes cannot be grown in Texas need better agricultural expertise. Kiepersol, and a select group of growers out in West Texas, show that it can be done.

One anomaly. These bottles all say “Vinted and Bottled by Kiepersol Estates Winery”. The phrase ‘Vinted and Bottled..” should make you run a mile. It is a very low-level designation. Under federal Law the wine could have been made by another winery and just stored at the premises of the winery on the label. The most stringent designation is “Estate Bottled”, meaning the winery on the label made the wine and owned the vineyards that were the source of the grapes. Kiepersol is doing exactly that. Future bottlings will reflect this.

Ultimately, all of the viticulturalist and winemaker effort comes down to what is in the bottle. We had a tasting of the currently available wines at the Kiepersol cellar and came away with some opinions. Here are some highlights:

2010 Kiepersol Estate Winery Viognier, Texas. Medium yellow color. Wine gums and lemon on the nose. Green apples and lemons in the mouth. A precise and carefully selected fruit-acid balance mean this wine will not get heavy or tiring. Could do with a little more fragrance in the nose. We tried a second bottle with Malaysian Chicken Curry with Potato a week later and its acidity cut through the coconut milk to form an impressive match.

2009 Kiepersol Estate Semillon, Texas. Good acid. Good fruit-acid balance. A little metallic in the nose. Guava and mango in the mouth.

N/V Kiepersol Estate Bridge Mengsel, Texas. A blend of the Sangiovese, Tempranillo, Syrah, Merlot and Malbec from the estate. A lively blend that exhibits the Tempranillo for sure. Pierre laments that there is (apparently) little demand for a single varietal Tempranillo. I think that he should keep producing a separate bottling as Tempranillo is emerging as the State’s go-to red.

2007 Kiepersol Estate Winery Cabernet Sauvignon, Texas. Characteristic Texas opacity. Nose of dark fruit. The mouth feel has a backbone of tannin and the wine exhibits that characteristic Texas Cabernet character of a slightly burned taste of stone fruit. Also raspberry jam. This wine is loosely structured which may reflect the rain that hit the vineyards heavily that year. Kiepersol evaporated 1/2 litre per month from each 59 gallon barrel during aging to raise the intensity. A second bottle, tried a week later with Thai Crying Tiger Beef with Sticky Rice and then with Lamb Curry from the same menu was a strongly recommended match. Drink this wine now or in the next year. (Gold Medal at 2010 American Wine Society International Competition).

15 comments on “Kiepersol Estates: East Texas Winery Advances With Quality Wine

  1. I work in the East Texas area and stop by Keipersol from Time to time. I will given them credit for producing the new Bridge Texas Mengsel it is a great red wine blend especially for the 12.00 price tag. Keipersol has made a pretty dramatic price decrease in the last few months and I am hoping that this will keep them afloat. But the price points for the wine are not more close to the quality than they were before.
    I want to point out some things that you have failed to mention…Keipersol over the past few years has done some major replanting.
    The stat I heard from the locals was that Keipersol was having to replace about 30-40% of their vines every year to 2 years and have been over the past 5-6yrs of operation. They have even done treatments to the soil along with many other things to try to make vinefera grow and from a cost issues for a normal grape grower it is almost not worth the hassle or investment, which is why no one is growing vinefera other than them.
    I will agree if you want to talk Texas grapes and Texas Mindset Keipersol has it. I mean they are head strong about growing vinefera and have done more than anyone else I know to plant vinefera in East Texas (where Pierce disease is rampant)
    The main reason why many in East Texas are not growing Vinifera is because Pierce disease has been spotted in many areas around east Texas. One that I know of well is in Palestine (about 50-60 miles from Keipersol) and It is very dangerous to grow such grapes in the area.
    But do not discredit many of the other wineries in the area. There are 3 other “estate” wineries within 70-100 miles as well as many other vineyard growing grapes in East Txas. Tara (Athens) Enoch Stomp (Harelton)Fairhaven (Hawkins)
    All of these grow their own grapes.

    When you speak of fruit wine in East Texas you are probably referring to Steve Harper at Maydelle Country wines (Maydelle, between Rusk and Palestin) now you can snob your nose at his sugary sweet fruit wines that he makes from scratch but I will have you know that Steve has all his wines in every Specs south of I-20 and at many other stores around all around the state. Something that Keipersol does not have. I am not much of a fan of sweet wine but you have to give the man credit for being the fruit wine king of Texas.

    Also Currently the only way for anyone in the state to purchase Keipersol wines is from them or KE Cellars directly.

  2. James: Thank you for your detailed and considered comment. You raise several good points:

    1) Price: Among the 200 (approx.) wineries in Texas I detect four categories. One category is “aspirational”, meaning that they aim to make the best product possible. You can’t do that and make wine ‘to a price’. The artisanal scale, the cost of the raw materials, the training and the amount of experimentation required must all be covered in the sale price.

    2) Losses and Vineyard Treatments: Not sure where you got your information on vine losses. Kiepersol gave me numbers that are very different. All viticulturalists treat their vines, it is part of the normal grape growing process.

    3) Pierce’s disease: Is rampant in East/Central Texas. You are dead right. More on this in a future article.

    4) Other producers: I welcome those other producers and I wish them all the best.

  3. Texas isn’t the only vineyard area with Pierce’s disease. I can tell you with experience, Pierce’s disease was always a major problem with not only mine, but also many other vineyards in the Russian River area in Sonoma County in Northern California.

  4. Andrew, just from looking at the photo that you posted, it is clear to see that many of their vines have been lost. Look at the spacing of the vines coming out of the ground some are closer together than others. If I am not right about the 30-40% then what are the numbers? This photo you posted makes me think my numbers are very close.
    It is also clear to see that many of the vines are only a few yeas old where the others in the front of the pic are 6-8yrs. Am I the only one who caught this?

    Regarding price, you can say “artisan wine” all day long, but what it comes down to is who is going to pay the money for the “artisan wine”. Just as all the other Estate Wineries in the area they are doing their best to make the best quality wines sparing no expense. Its not like they are all making swill. And it is clear to see from the recent price cut across the board at KE Cellars that consumer do not get their “artisan wine” price. You can blame it on he economy or on bad growing season, but still it all comes down to how does the wine compare in quality and price with a wine you can buy at a local wine shop or liquor store. From what I was told by many employees of KE Cellars The Sweet Mengsel and the other sweet wines are Keipersol’s most popular wines just as any other “artisan” winery in the state.
    But then there is another issues, Tyler/Smith county is mostly dry so no one can go anywhere else and buy other wines. unless they leave the county.

    Why was price not in this article? Did you buy the wines yourself or were they given to you? Did you pay for the tastings and visit to the winery like all us normal consumers do or was it all free? Were you invited or did you decide to write about it from research that you did on the Texas wine regions? Did you pay for your stay at the B&B. This is important information that must be disclosed to the reader.

    By the way I only commented on this post because the wording you used when referencing the other wineries in the area sounded like someone who has only visited the area once and took all the information that was told to them face value without checking sources or doing their own research. I myself have done my own research and have come to a different conclusion. And can I say that when you pay for this out of your own pocket you look at it differently.
    I believe every Estate Winery/Bodega/Chateau in the world is “artisan” and from the conversations that I have had with many of the winemakers in the area, I do not believe they make “wine to a price”
    Keipersol is a beautiful place and very upscale/classy. Pierre is also spending allot of money on the winery and in the development of the Bullard area especially with the addition of the “Bushman”
    Yes their wines are made the best that can be done for the area just as many other producers around, but the wording you used in referring to the others estate wineries in the area I take deep offense too. You can not comment on them until you have visited several others, which I challenge you to do.

  5. James, you can buy Kiepersol at many locations other than the winery itself. This wine is distributed in Texas. Go to your local Sigel’s store. Go have a glass, yes by the glass at numerous restaurants in town. Though Spec’s might not have it case stacked, they have a great presence that is only growing due to the champions of this great winery.

  6. In an attempt to avoid the consumer/restaurant/retail confusion caused by the preceding posts, I wanted to let the readers know that Kiepersol is represented in the State of Texas by Texas distributor Virtuoso Selections. Any requests for wholesale distribution can be directed to me at whit@virtuososelections.com. For the consumer, a variety of restaurants have placed Kiepersol on their wine lists since Virtuoso began its’ representation. Locally, Abacus, Bob’s Steakhouse, Charlie Palmer’s, Del Frisco’s (FW), The Pyramid Room, Grace, Into the Glass, Jaspers, Kent’s Blue Plate, Kenichi, Rafa’s, Restaurant Ava, The Green Room, Tillman’s, and Winslow’s have all had Kiepersol wines on their lists in the last year or so. Sigel’s also carries the wine in local retail. I also encourage you to visit the Kiepersol website, they have not only a winery, but restaurant and bed & breakfast, if you want to make it more than a day visit. Please direct those inquiries to winery@kiepersol.com. And most importantly, I appreciate the growing understanding of the importance of the distinction of “estate grown” fruit in “estate bottled” wines from Texas. When Texans make wines with a Texas pedigree (as opposed to chasing another style be it French or California), we all benefit from a truly unique and authentic TEXAS wine experience. This is something Texas lacked when I first arrived here 28 years ago and clearly the thirst for these Texas wines is only expanding. Thanks for letting me join the debate.

    Whit

  7. Just got a confirmation from Keipersol that the 2010 Viognier that Andrew “tasted” has not been released and will not be for some time.
    Kind of bad to try a wine and then post comments about it and not tell anyone that the wine is not available yet. The 09 semmillon is not available either. But I will say trying several previous vintages of the Semmillon has not been that great, but Im not a fan of 100% Semmillon.
    Kind of reminds me of the post done a while back about Keipersol having TexVit in Central Market. That was a farce as well…..
    Good to hear that Keipersol has a new Distributor I am very excited about this!
    Ummm…. might I also point out that NO ONE can use “Estate Bottled” or “Estate” anything unless they are in a designated AVA So the words “Estate” in the names is NOT legal and does not show up anywhere on the labels.

  8. Im sorry Andrew but I am going to disagree with you.
    About a year ago I went to Red Caboose outside of Meridian, Tx. (they are an estate winery you need to visit)
    The owner and winemaker advised me that they so badly wanted to put “Estate Bottled” on all their wines but could not because they (like Keipersol) are not inside an AVA. The info that you provided is for wines located inside an AVA and if you looked further into it you would find that there is an exclusion on the Estate Bottled for wineries in unrecognized AVAs.
    The winemaker at red caboose told me that they tried to put estate bottled but the state did not allow it.
    Here is an image of the $25.73 bottle of 2010 Viognier (which I will say is the most expensive Texas Viognier I have ever seen) http://kiepersol.com/shopping/index.php?main_page=popup_image&pID=33
    “Estate Bottled” is not on the label.
    Look on Keipersol’s website none of their wines have “estate Bottled” on them.
    They bend the rules a bit by saying “Keipersol Estates”
    http://www.kiepersol.com/shopping/index.php

    Also too here is some information about AVA and Estate Bottled in unrecognized AVAs
    http://wine.lovetoknow.com/wiki/What_Is_an_Estate_Wine

  9. James: Good news for the owner of Red Caboose! The fact that they are not in an AVA does not preclude them from putting “Estate Bottled” on their wine so long as they comply with the conditions in the Federal Government publication that I linked to (above). They were badly advised.
    Their county is the relevent viticultural area in their case. Please refer to the link document and respond with the page and line number that contradicts that. Note the distinction between the legal term AVA (American Viticultural Area) and the more generic term “viticultural area”. Do not assume that where the Federal Government means one it clumsily uses the other.

  10. OK. I just checked the actual regulation which is more complete. Estate Bottled is restricted to AVA grown grapes in addition to the other conditions. Kiepersol could certainly designate theri wines as “produced and Bottled…” however.

  11. Texas is a completely messed up state when it comes to wine and wine laws. Here is where the Texas wine laws get crazier. Keipersol could put “Estate Bottled” on the label but then would also have to put “For Sale In Texas Only” on it as well.
    Wineries like Keipersol and others that I have mentioned that are in dry counties are forced by the state to be estate wineries. They must keep 75% local juice on hand at all times or they are not allowed to be an alcohol producer. Yet they can not use “Estate Bottled.” What frustrates me is wineries like Keipersol are mandated to have this requirement, yet the ones in “wet” counties can do whatever they want? Its not fair to places like Keipersol, Tara, Red Caboose, Enochs Stomp, Alamosa and Fairhaven.
    BTW Texas has 2 AVAs that are not even being used yet an area like East Texas which is planting more and more vines does not have an AVA…. go figure. The submission process I have been told takes a very long time.

  12. I agree there. “For Sale in Texas Only” should be repealed. It is a subterfuge to escape Federal origin labelling laws.

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