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William Chris Vineyards winemakers dream big with Hye Society events

Austin Photo Set: News_McGinnis_watermelon throwdown_July 2011_bottle
Photo by Miguel Lecuona Courtesy of William Chris Vineyards
Austin Photo Set: News_McGinnis_watermelon throwdown_July 2011_people
Photo by Miguel Lecuona Courtesy of William Chris Vineyards
Austin Photo Set: News_McGinnis_watermelon throwdown_July 2011_watermelon
Photo by Miguel Lecuona Courtesy of William Chris Vineyards

When William “Bill” Blackmon and Chris Brundrett first saw a 100-year-old dilapidated house situated on a vast a plot of land on Highway 290 in Hye, Texas, they didn’t just see fallow farmland. Rather, they saw the perfect location for William Chris Vineyards, a family owned and operated winery that they would open in 2009.

Blackmon and Brundrett converted that old house into a rustic tasting room, built production and storage facilities and planted their main vineyard in Granite Hill near Fredericksburg. Since its inception, the winery has enjoyed a steady growth in production of its 13 varieties and has more than 40 acres of vineyards under management in the Hill Country and High Plains of Texas. 

In the first year, William Chris produced 800 cases using 100 percent Texas-grown grapes. In its second year, the winery doubled its production. And today? The team is increased its output to about 6,500 cases per year. 

Though William Chris Vineyards has come a long way since its opening, but Blackmon and Brundrett still have dreams they wish to see realized.

The winery is intended to be a destination for wine tourism and events, as well as food and wine education. The regular Hye Society Wine Club events do a great job of showing off the facilities, educating on wine pairings and giving guests a glimpse into the winery’s future. 

This month, I attended one of those information-soaked Hye Society events — The Watermelon Thump and Chef Throw Down.

The event featured a vineyard tour to help guests "connect" with the land where the wine is born. We began in the gorgeous Oak Grove, a focal point of the estate vineyards and future home to weddings and other large-scale celebrations. There, we were treated to a taste of the 2010 William Chris Current rosé with fresh watermelon. 

William Chris Vineyards also regularly features the artisanal cheeses from Brazos Valley Cheese, a Waco-based family venture. A representative of the company brought a selection of cheese made from raw cow’s milk sourced within a 25 mile radius. Each of the cheeses paired well with the 2010 William Chris Blanc du Bois, a refreshing tart and citrusy white wine. 

With those summer pairings in hand, we toured the newly planted vineyards. The highlight of the evening, however, was the Chef Throw Down portion of the Hye Society event. Four Austin-area chefs were tasked with creating two courses, the first of which had to feature fresh Go Texan watermelon, while the second reflected the cuisine of each chef's respective restaurant.

Chef Ben Huselton of Paggi House prepared compressed watermelon with mascarpone, black salt, micro-mint and extra virgin olive oil. The dish let the watermelon speak for itself. His second course was Black tea brined duck breast, with quinoa salad and orange gremolata, dressed with natural au jus made with the duck bones. The duck paired particularly well with the 2010 William Chris Enchante Bordeaux blend.

Chef Shane Stark of Kenichi prepared a fresh summer salad of sweet and sour watermelon, with cucumbers, arugula and goat feta. His second course was a delightfully light watermelon carpaccio with tuna crudo, wasabi granita and water cress. He compressed the watermelon with plum wine and yuzu juice. This dish paired well with the slightly sweet William Chris Current rosé.

Chef Rich Taylor of Quality Seafood created a watermelon ceviche lettuce wrap featuring lobster, shrimp, scallop, orange, mint ginger and hint of lime. His second course was an amazing Texas Bouillabaisse made with Texas Gulf shrimp, Gulf oysters, mussels and clams, cooked with William Chris wine in the clam juice and fish stock. The fruity 2010 William Chris Emotion red blend complimented with this fish stew nicely.

Chef Joseph Bannister of Rose Hill Manor whipped up a light appetizer of seared scallop, watermelon kohlrabi salad and watermelon ketchup, served with an icy watermelon mint sorbet. His second course centered around smoked duck ham, with fresh black eyed pea salad, goat cheese aioli and crunchy house-made puff rice. The 2010 William Chris Hunter Merlot and Cabernet blend made a good bedfellow with the salty, bold duck.   

With so much fantastic food that paired so well with William Chris wines, the voting was tight. In the end, Chef Stark took the prize for his watermelon summer salad, but Chef Taylor definitely wowed the crowd with his Texas Bouillabaisse.

The evening was capped off by Brundrett's blending of wine from barrels of the 2011 vintage, which was a great way to get everyone excited for the upcoming bottling.

Events like the The Watermelon Thump and Chef Throw Down are a fantastic way for William Chris Vineyards to achieve its dream of becoming a destination for all things Texas food and wine. It certainly is a far cry from the desolate farmland they found just three years ago.

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