When visiting a winery, one of the main things I look for is a conversational tasting room attendant. Someone who is knowledgeable about the wines being served, and the uniqueness of their winery. While visiting several wineries back in April, the attendants spanned the gamete. One attendant basically poured us wine and offered little if any information. Others where very informative, not only about their wines, but the awards they’d received, and what separates them from the other wineries. Of the half dozen wineries visited during this particular trek, the visit to Sandstone Cellars Winery in Mason, Texas stands out.
Sandstone Cellars Winery is a small and young winery, having been in operation since 2004. My wife and I arrived early on a Sunday afternoon, and were treated to a tasting of three selections, Number V, Number IV, and Number IV. Curious about the labeling, the attendant was eager to enlighten us on the uniqueness of Sandstone Cellars Wines. First thing we learned was that all the wines were made from grapes grown right there in Mason County. Sandstone themselves don’t own vineyards, but they purchase local grapes. The second thing we learned was that the naming the wines represent the number of wines that the winery has produced. The latest release, 2008 Number VI is the sixth wine produced by the winery. Finally we learned that the wines produced are actually blends, rather than from a single grape. For instance the 2007 Number V is a blend of Syrah, Primitivo, Mourvedre, and Grenache.
For a half hour, my wife and I spoke at length with the tasting room attendant, who I later learned is one of the co-owners of the winery, Manny Silerio. According to a March 2009 article in The Austin Chronicle, Manny Silerio and his college friend Scott Haupert established a restaurant in Mason in 1998 called Santos Taqueria. In 2004, the business partners brought in a self-taught wine maker Don Pullum to start a winery. Don describes his approach to wine making in an conversation with VintageTexas‘ Russ Kane when we states, “we are creating the wine equivalent to what many high profile chefs are now doing – A fusion of the flavor elements of different cultures and cuisines.”
The wines produced by Sandstone have quickly garnered the attention at several wine competitions and by wine lovers. Their second release, number II, received a bronze medal at the San Francisco International Wine Competition. In November 2007, their third release was awarded Texas Champion in its division at the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo International Wine Competition. Manny proudly pointed out the belt buckle from this wine competition, and added that he’s eager to win three more so both partners and the wine maker have one to wear. More recently, in the 2010 Houston Livestock Show & Rodeo – International Wine Competition, Sandstone’s forth release won a silver award and “Texas Class Champion”. Beside the awards, Sandstone was among six Texas wineries that were included in the list “Wineries Worth Discovering in Canada and the ‘Other 46’ States” in Parker’s Wine Buyer’s Guide 7th Edition. VintageTexas has also included Sandstone Cellars wines in it’s annual wrap up of “Texas Best Wines” for 2008 and again in 2009.
Something else that struck me about the winery was their selection of wines from other Texas wineries. Manny commented that besides producing their own wines, which they typically produce around 300 cases annually, they are also promoting the wines of fellow Texas wineries. In fact Sandstone’s wine maker, Don Pullum, is working with Torre de Pietra wine maker Ken Maxwell, as Torre de Pietra experiments with Blanc de Bois and Black Spanish.
I highly recommend everyone take the time to visit Sandstone Cellars Winery. It’s a shinning example of what a Texas winery can do produce, and how a tasting room should operate.