This article originally appeared in Lubbock Magazine.
Maybe it’s a holiday party with friends. Maybe you’re gathering with work colleagues or family members. Whatever the case, it’s the holiday season. Regardless of the food being served, you want to provide a selection of wines to meet the diverse tastes and preferences of those in attendance. What do you choose? When it comes to wine, is it possible to find something for everyone?
According to Elizabeth Hill, who with her husband, Chace, co-owns Burklee Hill Vineyards near Levelland, it is definitely possible. When wine is on the menu, Hill believes every host should provide enough variety to appeal “to most of your party goers, so they will feel like there’s something they will enjoy,” Hill says.
She knows her stuff. Hill isn’t just the owner of a vineyard. Her husband, Chace, has been growing grapes since 2002. The couple helped open Trilogy Cellars, a Levelland tasting room, in 2016. Currently, they are in the process of opening a tasting room in downtown Lubbock, in the old Kress building. And Hill, an attorney, focuses on vineyard and winery law in her private practice.
Hill says having three particular types of wine available at a gathering should cover most preferences. “I try to remember that not everyone likes the same type of wine that I like,” she says. “So basically my rule of thumb is to have a white, a red and a sweet, then think about what you’re going to serve with the food.”
Hill recommends two red varietals available through Burklee Hill. The vineyard’s 2017 Montepulciano is a dry red. “It’s a smooth, lighter red that would be similar to a Pinot Noir,” she says. Prominent to central Italy, the grape isn’t as commonly known in the United States but pairs well with rich foods. “It grows very well here. A lot of the Spanish and Italian varieties grow well in this area because our climate and elevation are similar.”
The second red wine she recommends is a 2017 GSM. A blend of Grenache, Syrah, and Mourvédre, this wine offers something for those who want a more robust red. “This is very earthy and complex and a little bit jammy,” Hill says. “It gives you a lot of fruit tones and is very savory.”
She chose two red wines due to the season. “During the winter, people tend to prefer reds,” she says.
One of Burklee Hill’s most popular wines is the Courtney, a dry white blend of Viognier and Marsanne. The Courtney is named for Chace’s grandparents, Eddie and JoBeth Courtney. Because Chardonnay grapes don’t grow well in Texas, a blend like the Courtney offers an alternative. “It’s a little bit buttery and was aged in oak for just a bit,” Hill says. “That’s a good, dry white for those who prefer to drink white but don’t like sweet wine.”
Every gathering will have someone who likes sweeter-tasting wines. “I have found that almost anywhere you go, you do have those wine drinkers that prefer sweet wine,” Hill explains. “Sometimes they’re newer wine drinkers.” And sometimes they are veteran imbibers, but that’s simply the taste they prefer. “We always try to offer a sweet option everywhere we go.” For this, Hill recommends her vineyard’s 2017 Moscato, which falls into the “sweet wine” category without being overly sweet.
Once the wine has been selected, how many should a host provide? “Each bottle of wine has about five glasses,” Hill says. Not everyone present is going to drink a glass of wine, she explains. Some might drink beer. Others might prefer cocktails. But if the hosts provides one bottle of wine for every five people in attendance – with perhaps one more bottle as a buffer – the quantity tends to work itself out. “I always try to have a little bit extra to make sure I don’t run out,” she says. “That’s what no host wants to do.”
Meet the Expert: Elizabeth Hill
“A lot of people are starting to acknowledge that we are able to grow grapes really well here in this area,” says Elizabeth Hill of Burklee Hill Vineyards. In fact, she says, Texas just passed New York to become the fourth-largest wine-producing state in the nation, behind California, Washington and Oregon. As a result, she and her husband, Chace, have become advocates for making the South Plains area a wine destination. “Not just with the vineyards, but also having tasting rooms and growers who can chat with the customers about growing that specific grape and how we get it from the grape all the way to the glass. The neat thing that’s happening in this area is a lot of growers are becoming winery owners and producing their own wine from their own grapes. That’s exciting.”
Burklee Hill Vineyards is right in the thick of it. Elizabeth’s husband Chace has a degree in horticulture from Texas Tech University and began growing grapes in 2002 – a time when planting a vineyard in the Lubbock area was unusual. When Chace and Elizabeth met a decade ago, wine became one of the passions they shared. “That was always an interest that we’d had, and we always talked about wanting to pursue it. We weren’t exactly sure how that would work,” Hill says. The original five acres under cultivation has now grown to 55 acres, and a few years back, the couple founded Burklee Hill Vineyards to begin turning their grapes into wine. They named it after Chace’s grandfathers, Burk Roberts and Eddie “Lee” Courtney.
Today, they own a tasting room in Levelland and, in 2019, will open another in downtown Lubbock.
In addition to posting regularly about wine and wine pairings on the Burklee Hill website, Hill also practices winery law. She assists other vineyards with the often complicated federal and state permitting process. “It’s very intensive and can take several months,” she says.
Despite the challenges, more and more local growers are turning to grapes as an agricultural product. She’s heard plenty of stories of locals who traveled to wineries in Fredericksburg or Grapevine, only to hear that those wineries were using grapes from the Lubbock area. The Texas High Plains American Viticultural Area (AVA) region – including the vineyards located southwest of Lubbock – currently produces 85 percent of all Texas wine grapes.