Once they left, neither David nor Julie Kuhlken suspected they would return to the wine business.
The siblings, who each graduated from Highland Park High School, subsequently worked at their parents’ vineyard in the Texas Hill Country in the 1990s, but didn’t plan to make wine the family business.
“They went into it with the expectation that there would never be a winery,” Julie said of her parents. “We started different careers very far away. It just didn’t seem likely.”
He graduated from Rice and went to business school. She graduated from Stanford and lived in Europe for a few years with her husband, Fredrik, who has a background in banking.
But both siblings retained those memories of helping to launch a vineyard just as Texas wines were gaining popularity. Their parents were ready to retire. Suddenly, the idea of keeping the Kuhlken tradition alive didn’t seem so far-fetched.
“For the next 10 years, we moved on,” Julie said. “We’d reached a point where it was the time to try starting this business.”
In 2005, the Kuhlkens launched Pedernales Cellars near Fredericksburg. Their first vintage was the following year.
“The timing worked out,” David said. “Every year you’re dealing with entirely new challenges. It’s never boring. It’s been great.”
David is the winemaker at Pedernales, while Julie works more behind the scenes as the communications and design director. They have since assembled a staff of almost a dozen, but remain involved in the day-to-day operations.
“We’re doing almost all of it, top to bottom,” David said. “There’s room for entirely different interests and skills.”
The winery, which was finished in 2008, includes various tasting rooms and an outdoor wood patio to welcome visitors.
David said that while he inherited the love of wine from his parents, he also educated himself through working at a co-op farm for a couple of years, as well as other wineries. He also brought in some outside people to lend experience and expertise.
The Kuhlkens have since expanded the 17-acre family vineyard, located north of Fredericksburg, and it still supplies most of the grapes for Pedernales.
But the winery also buys grapes from other vineyards throughout the state in order to diversify supply and negate climactic factors in the sometimes rough Texas terrain.
The winery has won several awards for its vinification, with handcrafted specialties including Tempranillo among reds and Viognier on the white side.
Pedernales is a “boutique” winery, meaning its wines aren’t mass-marketed, and volume is kept relatively small. Still, some of its vintages are sold at Whole Foods Market and other retailers in Texas.
“It was never a hobby. We were always serious about making commercially successful wines,” Julie said. “We’re developing along with the Texas wine industry. You’re seeing higher quality wines in Texas, and that helps.”
This story appears in the August edition of Preston Hollow People, on stands now.