Monday, March 06, 2006

Zin Valle Vineyards: The Farthest West Texas Goes

Miles Traveled: approx. 866
Wines Tasted: 20
Soundtrack: Air--Talkie Walkie, 10,000 Hz. Legend

Zin Valle Vineyards, Canutillo, TX
Victor Poulos, Winemaker

Before we get started, I want to say that I'm no pro journalist, so here's my disclaimer: I edit for length with the goal of preserving the integrity of the questions and answers. I might change my own stuff (i.e. a statement to a question, to make sense), but I don't change any words spoken by the person interviewed.

When I say that this winery's the 'farthest West Texas Goes', I mean literally. The western fence line is right on the line between Texas and New Mexico. To the east is El Paso; drive past Zin Valle and you're smack dab in pecan country.

Victor Poulos is a very nice guy. And I'm not saying that because he gave me a Hungarian decanter. Okay, I am. But he was also very nice. His wines were impressive in general, particularly his all-Chardonnay sparkler (made in partnership with Gruet's New Mexican winery), the Zinfandel and the sweet Malvasia. Hell, even the White Zin had a suprisingly refreshing zippy acidity, something you don't find in many. His four acres of Zinfandel and a few others produces about 1500 cases a year.

Sweet wines are the bread-and-butter of most tourist-driven wineries in states like Texas. I was suprised to find that most of Mr. Poulos' wines are relatively dry. He told me he doesn't mind going against the market, and that his goal is to make wine that is compatible with food

Interview with Victor Poulos

C&D: You're a lawyer by trade. You've been a wine enthusiast since...

Poulos: I don't know...I think it was the '80's. I remember what made me want to plant Zin was one of the Ravenswood Zins. Plus, it's the only American varietal, and I think it's fun. No one else in this area (Texas) is focusing on it.

You said earlier that this is your hobby, that you put in about twenty hours a week.

Yeah, but in the summer, when the grapes are growing an inch or so a day, literally, I bring in seasonal help to help me train. I do all the pruning myself...general vineyard work I do myself.

The Barrel Room

Are you totally self taught?

Everything I know I learned from reading and playing. I didn't go to wine school, I didn't go to UC Davis. And my neighbors have helped me.

I guess it's true what they say: to make a small fortune in wine, you have to start with a big fortune.

Well, I've heard, three ways to go broke: fast women, slow racehorses and (opening) a winery (laughs). It's been very expensive, but---and this is on the advice of a guy I trusted whose been in the wine business---he said, start small and grow. Don't build these...big ol' castles...then you have to sell a certain amount to pay for it. And I don't care if I sell or don't sell. It's not going to get to where I have to compromise quality to pay for the place.

What does the word 'terroir' mean to you?

I dug out all the dirt here and brought out a mixture of sand from the river, based upon the reading I'd done, what I thought grapes liked, really porous, really...good for drainage. So I make my own terroir (laughs). There's too much clay, there's too much...stuff in the soil here to take any chances with. And the second part of that is, I think it's overrated.

Say more about that.

I don't believe you taste (terroir). I think you taste more of the microclimate, the length of the ripening season.

First Vineyard Dawg of the Tour: Zena

So where do you see this (winery) in ten years?

The only thing I want to do---Texas Monthly had an article about eight years ago---that said Texas had a bad reputation with their grapes, and for good reason. I understood, but...I think Texas can grow as good a grape as California, and that's been my goal, to come close to a California quality wine in Texas.

Robert Carlson and Victor Poulos

Super Bonus: I met Poulos' Good Friend Robert Carlson, the artist responsible for the Duckhorn 'Paraduxx' label. Carlson did the portrait of the hills in the background (which appears on Zin Valle labels), the beautiful handcrafted table in Poulos' Barrel Room, and is now working on more labels for Zin Valle. He is also, how you say? A nice man.

Meeting wine people rules. So far.

Bear with me; I'm about to post another interview, to catch up. I'll try not to do this again.

On the non-wine front, I wasn't yet done with Carlsbad Caverns, so I went back. Check it out.



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