I called my most wine-savvy friend upon receiving the invitation to the event. "Did you know there's a freaking winery in the Heights, just a few blocks from your house?" This was followed by a string of expletives (apparently she was not aware). I continued, "And they're having a little shindig next week to promote - wait for it - wine in kegs." Needless to say, there was no arm-twisting necessary to get her on board.
Vintners Own Winery, nestled back in a cluster of corporate office buildings on W. 12th in the Heights, is one of the best-kept secrets in Houston. Described as a "small-lot" barrel production facility, the micro-winery offers enthusiasts the chance to create their own signature vintages with the same sophisticated machinery and tools available at large-scale operations. From selecting the grapes (most people opt to ship from vineyards in Napa or Sonoma Valley), hand sorting the clusters, de-stemming, crushing, testing for sugars and PH, to the addition of yeast and nutrients, and punching down the cap, you are involved in every aspect of the craft. They'll even assist you in designing your own label once your wine is resting in barrel storage. The service runs around $1,500 for a quarter barrel (six cases), but cost can be split among parties of as many people you'd like to participate in the process. We immediately started rattling off names of friends (with money) that we could pair up with on the endeavor.
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Over the past year the facility began offering wine in kegs (said to be "all the rage" on the West Coast), the reason for our visit on Tuesday evening. My friend was eyeing the eight different varieties of wine on tap like a kid in a candy store, and the product did not disappoint. We both loved the Vintners House Blend and the Zinfandel, but the Petite Syrah was beyond compare, rich with nuances of chocolate and vanilla.
Winemaker Simon Payne outlined the advantages of bottling wine in a keg, a trend gaining steam on both sides of the country. "For one, it's greener," he says, "Each unit holds roughly 120 glasses, eliminating the waste of bottles and corks, as well as freeing up storage space." He went on to explain that the sleek aluminum kegs are reusable and recyclable, the equipment easy to operate. A tapped keg will stay fresh for around three months, thanks to the addition of argon gas. Perfect for restaurants and bars (Ruggles Green is currently using this technology) or private parties and weddings, kegs can either be filled with Vintners Napa and Sonoma wines or custom made signature blends.
For those just interested in learning more about the process, Vintner's own also offers a variety of wine seminars and classes. Those held during the harvest season (July - October) provide hands on experience with the grapes and equipment for around $100. The cost of a "Napa Valley keg stand" has yet to be determined.