Texas Wine Legends — Jon McPherson Follows in His Iconic Dad’s Footprints

We're Talking Grapes

BY // 01.04.21

love to talk about wine with people who share my passion for it. We open bottles, we trade stories about travel and soil types, terroir and residual sugar, and we talk of taste and food and restaurants. We recommend wines to one another, we drink, and we learn a lot.

In Wine Talk, I introduce you to friends, acquaintances, and people I meet as I make my way around the world, individuals who love wine as much as I do, who live to taste, who farm and make wine. You’ll appreciate their insight, and I hope you’ll learn something from them as well. 

A few weeks ago, a shipment of sample wines came my way from Carter Creek Winery, which is located in Johnson City, Texas. I had previously tasted a tempranillo from the producer, but that was several years ago, so I was looking forward to opening the bottles.

They did not disappoint, and I’ll have reviews of them in this space, but the man who made them is today’s subject. His name is Jon McPherson, and he has roots in Texas, and in the Lone Star State’s wine industry. In fact, one might call him a member of Texas’ Founding Family of Wine.

McPherson’s father, Clinton “Doc” McPherson, was a pioneer in the modern Texas wine industry. He began experimenting with grapes in Lubbock in the late sixties, and in 1968 planted sangiovese in the Sagmor Vineyard (now owned by Kim McPherson, of McPherson Cellars, Jon’s brother). Doc and his business partner, Bob Reed, founded Llano Estacado Winery in 1976. McPherson senior passed away in 2014, at the age of 95.

Jon McPherson says that he has always known wine — he worked at his father’s winery digging postholes for stakes and planting vines, among other forms of manual labor. He attended and graduated from Texas Tech University (bachelor of science in food and technology) and holds a second degree in chemistry.

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McPherson worked at the family winery for a while, then moved to California in 1985, taking a job at Culbertson Winery, where he earned much-deserved acclaim in the early 1990s for his sparkling wines. In 2003, he joined the Carter family group of wineries — Carter Estate Winery and South Coast Winery in Temecula, and Carter Creek Winery in Texas’ Hill Country.

McPherson has 43 harvests under his belt, and says that he hopes to make it to “at least” 50, a laudable and realistic goal, especially when you consider his mentor was “Doc” McPherson.

James Brock: How has COVID-19 changed your work and life?

Jon McPherson: We are viewed as essential workers, so beyond wearing a mask every day at work, we are making a little less wine, but still doing the same cellar work. Wholesale sales are up, but the tasting room is a little slower.

JB: Tell us about three wines you think are drinking well at the moment. What makes them worthwhile? How about a food pairing for each one?

JM: Our Carter Creek 2017 Maverick, a red Rhône blend, is drinking very well, especially if you pair it with grilled meat, like beef or lamb. The 2017 viognier-roussanne is showing wonderful fruit notes of peach and honeysuckle, very rich and very sexy. Any fish dish would be lucky to have this wine served alongside of it.

Our new release of the brut sparkling is exceptional, and if bubbles are your scene, this wine gets very high marks. It is a Charmat product that drinks like a Méthode Champenoise.

Carter Creek Family Winery’s Brut Sparkling and Group Therapy red blend

JB: If cost was no consideration, tell us the one bottle you would add to your personal collection, and why.

JM: I would probably add a Château Haut-Brion or a Château d’Yquem. I think these wines are so elegant and such wonderful examples of Bordeaux and Sauternes.

JB: What is your favorite grape, and why?

JM: I love pinot blanc for its versatility in making not only great table wine, but for sparkling wine as well. Of course, that goes for chardonnay and pinot noir as well.

JB: How about one bottle that our readers should buy now to cellar for 10 years, to celebrate a birth, anniversary, or other red-letter day? Can be one of your wines, but does not need to be.

JM: Cellaring for 10 years can be a bit of a crap shoot, but vintage Ports can cover that time span and then some. Late-disgorged sparkling (Champagne is always nice), or perhaps another first growth? I recently had the 2013 Ayala Blanc de Blancs and it was amazing.

Tempranillo and Texas: An evolving and growing relationship.

JB: Where is your go-to place when you want to have a glass or bottle (outside your home and workplace)?

JM: Jeune et Jolie in Carlsbad, California (post-pandemic, of course).

JB: If there was one thing you wish everyone would keep in mind when buying and drinking wine, what is it?

JM: Appellation and price are not always the answer.

JB: What is your “wine eureka moment,” the incident/taste/encounter that put you and wine on an intimate plane forever?

JM: I was in Hungary and drinking a pre-WW1 Tokay. The wine was amazing and the history that it held was equally amazing. It came from the cellars of a producer that had been a supplier to the Czar.

The Carter Creek tasting room is located in Johnson City, Texas.

JB: What has been the strangest moment/incident involving wine that you have experienced in your career?

JM: When an intern left a valve off of a tank and she started filling it without us being aware she was operating a pump without supervision. A big no-no.

JB: Your favorite wine reference in a work of literature?

JM: Hugh Johnson’s Vintage: The Story of Wine. Not only a great book, but it became a great PBS series as well.

For more wine, travel and other stories from James Brock, check out his site, Mise en Place.

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