“myLong Distance Winemaking

Many people enjoy an occasional glass of wine – and for good reason. More than a few make it one of their life’s great interests: learning, collecting, socializing, traveling to the world’s great wine regions and more, all for the sake of increasing the fun and satisfaction derived from their involvement with their favorite beverage. But it is the rare oenophile who takes their interest to the extreme of actually owning a vineyard or winery. It should be no surprise that Houston, with more than its fair share of spunky, can-do residents, has a number of people who have done just that. Let’s take a look at a few.

Revana Family Vineyards

Dr. Madaiah Revana is a cardiologist who has been a wine lover and collector for many years. He was especially fond of visiting Tuscany and spending time among some of the most beautiful vineyards anywhere. His interest in wine turned from being a hobby into becoming a major part of his life when, in 1997, he found a parcel of land in Napa Valley that he thought would be perfect for growing Bordeaux varietals. He purchased the nine acres, teamed up with a number of talented professionals, and began planting Cabernet Sauvignon and other Bordeaux grapes in 1998. Revana Family Vineyards released its first vintage in 2001. Dr. Revana now has almost daily contact with the winery, working with his winemaker, Thomas Brown, as well as having significant input on marketing and business strategy. His favorite part of the undertaking is creating a portfolio of age-worthy, elegant wines, noted for their finesse. Not content to rest on the laurels of what he has accomplished in Napa Valley, he has purchased vineyards in Oregon. His new winery will open there in late 2012 and will feature wines made from the varietals of Burgundy: Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. They will be bottled under the Sitar label. To fill out his offerings even more, he has planted 11 acres in Argentina in the prime wine region of Mendoza. His goal is for these wines to provide great quality at a lower price point than is possible in Napa or Oregon. They are bottled under the Corazon del Sol label and feature Malbec and other Bordeaux varietals, as well as several Rhône varietals such as Syrah and Granache. Its first vintage was 2011. As a cardiologist, Dr. Revana is quick to point out the heart-healthy benefits that wine offers. He considers wine to be a gift from God, and strives to make the best wine possible.

Steward Cellars

Michael Stewart had always had a keen interest in wine, and after he sold the technology company that he had founded and ran in Houston for 25 years, he saw his opportunity to build a new business making wine in Napa Valley. In 2000 he was able to purchase a majority interest in the 475-acre Juliana Vineyards in the Pope Valley. Also in 2000, Michael started Stewart Cellars and, with the help of winemaker Paul Hobbs, produced its first vintage of Cabernet Sauvignon and Pinot Noir with grapes sourced from top quality vineyards in Napa Valley and the Russian River Valley. Mr. Hobbs is still the consulting winemaker for the Stewart line of wines, with Michael Stewart taking a major winemaking role in their Slingshot label, as well as managing the all-important relationships with the areas top growers. His wife, Anne, has been very involved from the beginning, and as the chief epicure in residence, has been instrumental in introducing the wines to many. Their son, James, is now handling the marketing, distribution and sales. Their daughter, Caroline, has studied winemaking in California, Argentina and Australia and has her eye on eventually becoming the winemaker at Stewart Cellars.

Ikal Winery

Sandra Beltran is the Vice President of sales and marketing in a company that markets luxury hotels in Latin America and Europe. In 2006, Beltran became a partner in Ikal winery in Tupungato, Argentina, which produces Ikal 1150 wines. She got into the business out of her love of wine, but now realizes how naïve she was about just how much work actually goes into producing great wine. But as much work as it entails, she finds it just as fulfilling to be able to sell something she’s responsible for that is so special. She strives to make wines in a new-world style, but still appreciates the excellent terroir in her vineyard and works hard to produce wines that are not “manipulated.” She has built a state of the art winery on the property. Ikal makes a total of 3,000 cases of wine a year, mostly distributed in Texas, with some in California. They produce Malbec, Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Torrontes. Ricardo Alvarez is the vigneron, and Luis Martinez, the winemaker. Both are from Argentina, and Sandra allows them much freedom in their craft. Sandra’s main job for Ikal is in promotion and sales. She loves doing tastings at happy hours and restaurants, listening carefully to comments and opinions, many of which work their way back to Ricardo and Luis and help them create their wines. Sandra loves that by making her wines, she is also creating great memories for the people who enjoy drinking them.

Zaca Mesa Winery & Vineyards

Louis B. Cushman has been at the pinnacle of the commercial real estate brokerage business for many years, building on a family legacy started by his great grandfather and great uncle in 1917. In 1972 along with his twin brother, John Cushman, and a number of senior executives in the oil industry, he founded Zaca Mesa Winery & Vineyards in Santa Ynez Valley in Santa Barbara County. Of the 750 acres on the estate, 244 are plantable. The property is especially beautiful and propitious for grape growing. Unusual for California, the mountain range here runs east west, allowing the breezes from the Pacific Ocean to positively influence the microclimate. The loamy soil and good drainage add to the distinct terroir. Because of the high amount of capital required to develop the kind of winery the Cushmans were interested in having, the initial investors, save the Cushman twins, eventually dropped out. Since 1988, Zaca Mesa has been totally family-owned. In the beginning, a wide variety of grape types were grown in an effort to determine what worked best on the property. Because of these experiments, since 1997 the production has been mostly Rhône varietals: Syrah, Roussanne and Viognier. The wines are excellent, and a good value as well. The 1993 Syrah was rated as the 6th best Syrah in the world by Wine Spectator magazine, and it cost about $13.

Pheasant Ridge Winery

Bill Gipson is one of the most respected and well-liked oilmen in Houston, as well as being a true enthusiast of great wine. It was early in the Texas wine industry’s history that Bill recognized the unusual potential the Texas High Plains had for growing the fruit to make excellent wine. A geologist by trade, he saw the similarities the region had with Bordeaux: good irrigation from the Ogallala Aquifer, warm days and cool nights during the growing season due to its altitude of 3,300 feet above sea level and loamy, calcareous soil. Bill, along with a group of investors, own Pheasant Ridge Winery, which has been producing some of the best Texas wines for 28 years. The 45-acre vineyard was originally planted in 1979, which is quite a long time ago when you consider that the modern Texas wine industry started in 1976. The grapes used are all traditional French varietals: Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, Chenin Blanc and Semillon. The fruit is handpicked and 100% of the wines are estate grown. The winery produces about 5,000 cases a year. Bill strives to make his wines in the old-world style, with much finesse, evident terroir, good acidity, integration and balance. He does not produce super-high alcohol fruit bombs. The Pheasant Ridge Chenin Blanc is especially nice, and is reminiscent of a good, dry Vouvray.

Joe Abuso is the chef/owner of Recipes & Rotations – Real Food for Mom and Dad, menus, recipes and associated tools to senior-living communities. He is a graduate of the Culinary Institute of America and has cooked at some of the country’s best restaurants.