For the Texas wine industry, John Rivenburgh is an innovator helping to raise the bar and awareness of Texas winemaking. His devotion to vineyard management and helping fellow winery owners is unsurpassed. At the same time, his passion for his state and his own wines shine through with each sip of wine from Kerrville Hills Winery.
Texas Winemaking and John Rivenburgh
John is a sixth-generation Texan whose roots lie in San Antonio. After working at his family’s at their ranch and in sales, John branched out into construction. The contractor inside of him always wanted to build a winery. In 2006 he headed down the path to forming a winery. He started with grape growing but soon discovered he had the makings of Texas winemaking. His acumen for grape growing is known throughout Texas. He understood the landscape and what grape varieties thrived in the different soil conditions throughout Texas. He has always kept to his motto, “Always be a steward of well-grown grapes.”
In 2015 he became a consultant covering all aspects of the Texas wine industry, including vineyard management, winery construction, winemaking, production, branding, and marketing. The majority of his consulting business clients were those in the Texas Hill Country and the Texas High Plains. By 2019 he purchased his winery Kerrville Hill Winery and created what he calls the wine incubator. John’s wine incubator is a communal space focused on educating the art of sustainable farming and winemaking.
John describes what he does as “the Amish barn raising of wine.” It is his way of elevating the Texas Wine industry and helping it to remain the 5th largest producer of wine in the United States.
John Rivenburgh and Tannat
John’s mentor is Greg Stokes. He created the first Tannat in the United States in the Sierra Foothills. John himself is known as Mr. Tannat. He has achieved great success with the variety. He started his love with this grape when he worked for Bending Branch and has continued ever since.
Texas Winemaking and Vineyard Management
Because John manages 150 vineyards, he sources his fruit from many of those vineyards. John creates his wines in an old-world style where he does not believe in manipulating the grapes. He is a minimalist in every aspect of his Texas winemaking.
When making wine, he utilizes American oak because it has a sweet spot for the wines he produces.
For John, the diversity of grapes is what defines Texas. He describes one popular grape, Tempranillo, as the neediest of his grape children.
Kerrville Hills Wine
2019 Semillon: I found a complex old-world wine with a viscous texture. The wine is unfiltered and unfined and aged 18 months in neutral oak with 1/3 American Oak. The grapes come from the Rustic Spur Vineyards in the Texas Hill Country’s Pedernales River Valley. This full-bodied wine is unusual for white wine. The wine delivers aromas of melon and flavors of stone fruit and lemon with a lingering finish.
2019 Tannat: This wine represents Kerrville Hills’ flagship wine. The wine features ripe high acid that displays ripe fruit. The Tannat needs food to accompany it. The grapes for this wine also come from Rustic Spur vineyards in the Texas Hill Country’s Pedernales River Valley. The wine ages 21 months with 1/3 new American oak. I found a bold and rich wine with flavors of vanilla and ripe dark fruits.
2019 Petite Sirah: Europeans call Petite Sirah Durif. Durif grapes grow in Australia, California, and France. John describes this wine as a fresh Durif. This wine is very different than the typical Petite Sirah, especially those in California. The grapes for this wine come from Newsom Vineyards in the Texas High Plains. The Petite Sirah ages 31 months in neutral, 1/3 American Oak. The wine denotes acidity and minerality. I found a wine that gets fruitier as it sits. I loved the development over two days. This rich, full-bodied wine displays rustic flavors of blueberry, pepper, and spice.
All three wines represent John’s aim to provide “handcrafted Texas wines with true pride of place.” In this case, John achieves his goal with full-bodied wines that deliver complexity and texture.
Featured Photo: John Rivenburgh with partner Kelly Hagemeier. Photo courtesy of Kerrville Hills Winery
Note: Common to the wine industry, this writer received hosted wine samples. While it has not influenced this review, the writer believes in full disclosure.