We’ve been trying to catch up with Cindy Steinbeck for a number of years now, ever since we met her at a Rhone Rangers tasting. She and her family own Steinbeck Vineyards and Winery. Steinbeck is the head of marketing, wine sales and public relations for the business. However, what got us excited are Steinbeck’s Crash Courses that she gives in the vineyard. They’re a series of tours the family gives on winegrowing, as opposed to winemaking.
The family has 520 acres planted out in 13 different varieties, 99 percent of which are sold to other wineries in the area, including Eberle and San Antonio.
So we asked Steinbeck why it’s important for consumers to know what happens in the vineyard.
“Wine starts in the vineyard,” she said. “The soil, wind, rainfall, those all affect the flavor of the grape. It’s a sense of place.”
As in that word wine geeks love to toss around “Terroir.’
Steinbeck says, yes, it’s for real – even in her family’s vineyard.
“On the south slopes of my vineyard, the grapes taste slightly different,” she said. “Grapes don’t grow in a vaccuum. Evey single factor is beyond our control. It’s not like making Bud. This is completely related to nature.”
But even though grape growers are mostly at the mercy of Nature, there are things that can be done.
“If I add too much water, then I’m going to grow too much leaf,” Steinbeck said. “If I have too much green leaf, I get bitterness [in the wine.] Too little canopy [leafy coverage], I’ve got raisins.”
For her, growing grapes is as much about art as it is knowledge, especially when it comes to knowing the best time to pick the grapes. Using instruments to measure the sugar in the grape can help, but there’s nothing like tasting one to see what’s happening.
“I’ve got to bite the seeds, to bit the skins in my teeth,” she said.
The family has been farming in the Paso area since the 1860s, and were growing wine grapes back then, as well. Cindy’s grandparents bought the current family farm in 1921, but grapes were grown on the property until 1982, when the family went into business with Gary Eberle, an early winery in the area. Today, the Steinbecks have 520 acres planted out with 13 different varieties of grapes, with 99 percent of them sold to folks like Eberle and San Antonio wineries. The one percent the family keeps is made into wine that they sell under their own label.