Thus, he believes, lower yields are key to the quality of the final output. He adds: “This alone accounts for Napa 2015 making a world-class wine, albeit in an unorthodox method (for them): Crops down 50 percent meant grapes off the vine in September with no decrease in their usual phenol counts.”
He put this theory to the test from 2008 to 2011 by working on two extraordinarily low-yield wines. His 2011 Magnus was a blend of cabernet sauvignon and tempranillo, while the 2011 Colos was 100 percent tempranillo. The wines shared a budget-busting yield of only 0.29 tons per acre (the Hill Country average for tempranillo is 1.9 tons), with a price tag of over $225 a bottle. Gatlin considers them the best wines that he has ever made, and uses them for mind-changing demonstrations similar to the one I experienced years ago, tasting them against the world-class wines that he aspires to better — Magnus against Vega Sicilia's Valbuena 5º from the Ribera del Duero and Colos against Numanthia Termanthia from Toro. Visitors to the 290 tasting room are offered the chance to sample this “super flight” every weekend.
Everything Gatlin has produced since his epiphany is based on his new beliefs. “Chardonnay in Dallas County that tastes like grand cru Chablis,” he says, “and cabernet and tempranillo with fruit-juicy Napa-esque textures and colors. Is there any limit? No. When combined with the other eight to 10 critical yet modern parameters and precision execution of every minute detail during the growing season, anything is possible. Some of those things are correct vineyard design and orientation, modern trellising with high verticality, doggedly persistent canopy management, and high-tech irrigation monitoring and distribution, not to mention critically important selection of clones, and the list goes on.”
On the economics of micro-yields Gatlin says “Is all this economically possible? Well that's a different question. I never promise riches, only great wine. Fortunately, there are a lot of highly educated wine collectors and aficionados out there now who see the value of where all this is headed.”
Inwood's prices are higher than ever today, and the highest in Texas. Yet, Gatlin notes that demand for his wines is higher than ever, too. “Our Wine Club consumes a large portion of everything we make,” he says, “and will soon consume everything. Our contact list extends into almost every major city in the U.S. We no longer accept restaurant and retail accounts. We are convinced we are on the right path.”
Dan Gatlin is acting like a man who is just getting started. What next, Texas pinot noir?