Here’s why Inwood Estates, the esteemed Dallas winery, continues to improve with age
I enjoyed my conversation with Kert Plantar over at Times Ten Cellars so much that I decided to talk to more urban wineries and see if I could get answers to the questions, “Who are these inspired crazies making wine in Dallas? What makes them tick?”
I figured I’d flush a couple more out, have a sit-down with them, hear their stories, and drink some great wine in the process. Pretty much my idea of a high old time.
I also want to understand where Texas is going with all this wine kerfuffle. A recent trip to the Hill Country helped me see that Texas wine-making has become a serious business, and some world-class wines are now being made from grapes grown right here in the Lone Star State.
It boggles my mind. Ten years ago, I have to admit, I wouldn’t have thought it possible.
Also, I’ve noticed something about winemakers. They generally don’t grow up with anxious parents pushing them toward their chosen profession, nor do they start with a carefully constructed business plan of how they’ll make millions. They stumble into winemaking almost accidentally. Maybe the idea hatches when they wander through Northern California on a business trip, or when they travel to France and drink a life-changing glass of Bordeaux. Somewhere along the line, they have a Damascus-road experience where wine grabs their imaginations and doesn’t let go.
Then there’s Spencer Gatlin, second-generation oenologist at Inwood Estates. His father, Dan Gatlin, is an early pioneer of Texas winemaking, and so Spencer practically has Cabernet flowing in his veins. He grew up in the business, and while he didn’t originally envision himself working in his father’s winery, he’s definitely well-rooted and flourishing in it now.
I talked to Spencer at the production facility late on a Friday afternoon when it’s open for retail traffic and tasting. Most the time, the no-frills warehouse building on Manufacturing Street is strictly about production, but every Friday from 4:00 – 6:00 PM you can stop by, sip a glass, and maybe chat up the assistant winemaker, Marc Moberg.
Since the Gatlin family has played a leading role in the Texas wine industry for about 30 years, I asked Spencer if growing up, he felt like the kid in the commercial where his family name is synonymous with jelly and jam making—only in his case, with winemaking.
“I was entirely unaware of what my father was doing to help the Texas wine industry and, to a certain extent, I never really considered my father as a winemaker,” said Spencer. “Of course, that all changed in the early 2000’s when we went fully into the wine industry and released our first wine. Growing up, my perception of what he was doing was minimized by the fact that he was a regular business owner; he just happened to experiment with winemaking on the side. We had a vineyard in our backyard that we still tend to this day. But I didn’t put together father’s constant fiddling in the backyard with his contribution to viniculture until we went fulltime into winemaking.”
Spencer went on to describe in some technical detail all the trial-and-error experimentation that led to better growing techniques for Texas grapes. Clearly, he’d learned a thing or two at his father’s knee, not to mention his university studies in Wine Business. He launched into a description of UV exposure and phenolic compounds that quickly went over my wine-laden head and straight into the same file as my college algebra. I do want to learn everything I can about wine, but at that particular moment, I was more interested in the glass of Chardonnay at my elbow than I was in trellising methods.
Inwood Estates does its wine production in Dallas, and the retail storefronts and tasting rooms are down in Fredericksburg and Florence, Texas. I would have thought it would be the other way around, but the model seems to be working for them. Their wines have made their way into some of Dallas’ better restaurants as well as the shelves of Spec’s Wine, Spirits, and Finer Foods.
While there, I tried several wines, including the 2012 Dallas County Chardonnay which retails at the winery for $39.50. Incredibly, all of the grapes in this particular wine were produced in Dallas County, and some from within the City of Dallas. To me, it seemed more like an old world wine, with just a hint of oak and minerality, which is more reminiscent of French Chardonnays than American ones.
Of course, my favorite would be the 2010 “Mericana” 100% Cabernet Sauvignon which, at $69.50, was a bit above the usual price point I explore at my favorite wholesale warehouse. It was definitely an American Cabernet, intense and tannic, yet round and full with a warm perfume of black currant and pepper. Once that aroma hit my nostrils and taste buds, I knew I’d have to take a bottle home and lay it up for some fine evening when the occasion is just right.
I asked Spencer where he thinks all this Texas wine madness is headed.
“I think we’re on the edge of a breakthrough like California was 30 years ago,” he said. “The time and money we’ve invested has resulted in a better product, and eventually, we’ll be able to hold our own with any wine region in the world.”
As a born-and-bred native Texan and wine lover, I’m ready to carry the banner forth. Remember the Alamo, but more importantly, don’t forget the Merlot!
1350 Manufacturing Street, #209
Dallas, TX 75207