Mike McHenry didn’t start out with dreams of owning a winery. He was a farmer, not a tasting room manager or someone who’d ever dealt with busloads of thirsty tourists. He simply grew grapes on his property near the small Hill Country town of San Saba and sold them to other winemakers, people like Jim Johnson of Alamosa Cellars.
But a few years back, McHenry became convinced that his grapes were good enough to base a winery on. Together with a group of friends, he opened Wedding Oak Winery on June 1, 2012, and word has spread in a few short years that his wines are well worth seeking out.
“My deal is Rhones,” he says, explaining that he specializes in French varietals such as Grenache, Syrah, Mourvèdre, Cinsault, Viognier, Roussane and Marsanne as well as Tempranillo and Tannat, all of which are proving to be adaptable to the extremes of Texas’ various climates.
McHenry hired Penny Adams to be his winemaker. She was the first woman in Texas to earn the Master of Wine designation, and her tastes seem to mirror his own in how to showcase the grapes. “They are Penny’s wines,” he says. “They are made in collaboration, but they are definitely her wine.”
The whites are fermented entirely in stainless steel, resulting in crisp, clean expressions of the grapes used, whether you’re tasting Wedding Oak’s 100 percent Viognier or its Terre Blanc, a lively blend of Marsanne, Viognier and Roussanne.
“Whites are difficult to make” that way, McHenry admits, because each one has to be “clean and well-made, without flaw.” Otherwise, it would show in the glass. So, when you encounter the refreshing stone fruit and bright acidity in the 2014 Viognier, you’re made aware of how “the grape sings,” he adds.
For a look at several of Wedding Oak’s wines, click here.
Reds, meanwhile, are aged in neutral oak barrels that McHenry buys from Bryant Family Winery in Rutherford. The end results are fruit-dense wines with touches of minerality and earthiness from the Texas soil, whether you tasting the 2013 Sangiovese or the 2013 Tioja, a play on Spain’s Rioja and a winning blend of Tempranillo, Tannat and Cabernet Sauvignon.
Not all of the grapes needed for Wedding Oak’s wines are from McHenry’s vineyards or even the Hill Country. Some are from the Texas High Plains and occasionally from California.
His 2013 Albariño, Wedding Oak’s lone wine to be made entirely with non-Texas fruit, won the Double Gold Medal from the Houston Stock Show’s competition. It’s a beautiful wine, and it’s easy to see why most of it sold quickly after news of the medal was released. It’s also easy to see why McHenry quickly adds that he’s planted more Albariño with plans of making a Texas version as soon as the vines are ready.
“From a business standpoint, we want all Texas fruit,” he says, adding that a great many of the state’s more than 300 wineries want the same. Unfortunately, there’s just not enough fruit to go around. “We’re solving that by planting more,” he says.
McHenry’s not waiting around for more grapes to come in. He’s got plans for new projects, including one that would involve planting grapes in the Fredericksburg area.
He and his wife, Lynn, are heavily involved in the seven-day-a-week operation of the tasting room in downtown San Saba. It’s housed in a restored space that dates back to 1926 and is next to the 7,800-square-foot production facility, which can produce up to 10,000 cases. Current production is less than half that amount.
Each person who comes in gets a tour of the winery, and those visitors have helped make sure that all of Wedding Oak’s wines have sold out up to the new releases. While they’re in town, they can also take in the rebirth of San Saba’s downtown area.
About 2 ½ miles northeast of the tasting room, there stands a tree known as the Wedding Oak. It has been the site of numerous weddings and other ceremonies through the years. They continue to this day, celebrating in their way the natural treasures of Texas. McHenry’s wines do much the same.
Wedding Oak Winery
316 W. Wallace