By: Dave & Kelli Potter
I will have to admit that this year’s trip to the Texas Hill Country was so organized and tight that a spreadsheet had to be produced just to make sure we were on track and on time. Some might even say that is not a fun way to have a mini vacation. To tell you the truth, it was the best way due to the fact we had a special stop in Mason, Texas to reach.
Our last stop of the day on Saturday was Sandstone Cellars Winery in Mason, TX. We had a special tasting set up with co-owner Scott Haupert and Don Pullum, the winemaker, and later co-owner Manny Silerio stopped in to say hello.
Sandstone’s wines are labeled in roman numerals with vintages and some having NV (no vintage). We tasted 6 wines, which were blends of everything imaginable from Zinfandel to Merlot, Touriga to Mourvedre. I have known winemakers before that blend. I know winemakers that have some outstanding blended wines. After finally meeting, talking about, and experiencing blended wines, Don definitely has this mastered. All I can say is that if I want to learn how to blend wines, and to blend them well, Don is the man to learn from and study with in this magical art form.
We finished up our tastings at the winery and took a walk 30 feet or less next door to eat at Santos Taqueria Mexican restaurant. Family owned and operated it is as authentic as it gets. When I say authentic, as an example, refried beans that you might normally get at a Mexican restaurant will dry on top over the course of your meal. Not these! They were fresh and moist to the end and the food was awesome. Everyone in our group tried something different and loved every bite.
After dinner we hopped into our cars and followed Don on a 25-minute journey back in time to Pontotoc, Texas. We made it to Pontotoc well before sunset and we started the nickel tour of what is to become the next Fredericksburg. This is where Don’s smile got even bigger. Like a kid at Disneyland he laid on the history lessons of the town without skipping a beat. We walked over to the old crumbling school building remains, which is surrounded by wildflowers and cactus. This is a memorial site Don is creating to his wife who loved the bright vibrant colors, the flowers instilled into the landscape. What a truly wonderful dedication to the woman he loves most.
The evening just kept getting better with each turn. Just about the time we walked back to what has got to be one of the first “shopping strips” in Texas, Alphonse Dotson of the 1967-70 Oakland Raiders and his lovely wife Martha pull up. Mr. Dotson has a vineyard and one wine they have produced so far. I was lucky enough to get a photo opportunity with him and I will say he has got to be one of the most down to earth, friendly people you will ever meet. The whole time he was smiling, asking questions to all of us and was genuinely interested in getting to know us all.
We toured each space in the “strip” one-by-one, stepping further back in time. Don gave us the history about each business that once was. At one time this small 60-70 yard building once held a general store, post office and a theater. Now its being restored back to the original state it once was. The tasting room and production room of Pontotoc Winery will take up two spots and Mr. Dotson’s Winery will take up residence right next to Don’s Akashic Winery and the theater will be restored and used once again as an entertainment space with live theater and events.
We all stepped into the production area where Don hosted us to what was not just a show and tell, but a true hands-on experience. At the beginning of this article I mentioned Don’s blending skills. I got more out of this experience than what I even expected. Don started off telling us what was in the tanks and barrels. He then walked to the back with a box of small Mason jars (no pun intended). Funny because we were going to taste with Mason jars in Mason County; how ironic is that?
Don poured a normal size mason jar with tempranillo that was being aged in stainless and then poured each of us a taste. “Now taste this and remember how it tasted” Don says. We continued sampling the single varietals of another Tempranillo, this one aging in oak, as well as cabernet sauvignon, Mouvedre’ and lastly, Alicante Bouchet, all out of stainless steel. Then he began the blending of the same wines out of oak barrels and mixes them with wine from the stainless steel tanks. It was a winemaker magic trick and I feel lucky to have had this experience. Definitely a moment and experience that will be etched in my mind, and one day I can give back the love of winemaking as Don did for us to others.
Right before the beautiful Texas sunset of the Hill Country we walked around to the back to the vineyard. I could not have timed this photo opportunity any better. Looking out over the well maintained Tempranillo vines and working windmill this was a poetic and romantic moment to say the very least. Adjacent to the vineyard stands a beautiful two story home filled with history and love. This place is being restored back to its original state from old photos of its glory days as a station with the German Emigration Company and later a boarding home for the girls attending the San Fernando Academy normal college in the town. If only the home could tell the stories that fills its soul it would be a book with many sequels for sure.
The grounds are maintained and being restored by Ronnie Money, a former agriculture teacher, 30 year railroad man and now vineyard manager. Talking to Ronnie was talking to a man that truly loves his job. He said to us “I think I work harder now than when I was at the railroad” and then goes on to say “I feel better, healthier and happier now than I ever have.” Starting this project back in 2006 to the present he has lots to show off, and his hard work and love for what he does shows not only on the property, but the smile on his face as he and I talked next to the first row of vines at sunset. I hope to be more like Ronnie someday and share the same feelings and smiles when I own a vineyard and share it with others.
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