Interview with Fall Creek Vineyards' Co-Founder, Susan Auler
If you’re wondering where Texas Hill country wine began, look no further than Fall Creek Vineyards. Susan and her husband Ed Auler started Fall Creek Vineyards in 1975, pioneering what would become the thriving Texas Hill Country wine industry. The couple have endless stories to tell about their journey. And they don’t plan on slowing down anytime soon!
Like many aspiring winemakers, the Auler’s fascination with wine began in France. At the time, however, Ed Auler wasn’t originally as interested in grape varietals as cattle breeds. When his father turned over Fall Creek Ranch to the family’s fifth generation, he saw the trip to France as an economic opportunity to upgrade its herd. It was Susan who innocently suggested they take time to see the major wine regions while they were abroad. A driving tour led them from Paris to Burgundy, to Rhone, Bordeaux, and Loire. In the midst of driving through the south of France to Bordeaux, Ed couldn’t help but notice that the area started to look a little familiar…
“This looks a lot like the Texas Hill Country,” said Ed, quoted by Susan. “I wonder if anyone’s thought about growing grapes in Texas.” As they got back from that trip Susan recalled, “He queried his ranch foreman and said, ‘Go see if we can find someone who knows about growing grapes in Texas.’
Sure enough there was already a grape growing pilot underway that was a result of a partnership between the University of Texas and Texas A&M. The experimental plot of land was initially slated exclusively for oil production, but 1,000 acres at Fort Stockton could be utilized for wine-growing on the surface, by recommendation of the land management team. Since Llano Estacado was the other primary winery in the state, Fall Creek and Llano partnered to produce experimental wines for the universities using the vineyards that they had planted in Fort Stockton.
Meanwhile, the Aulers planted a test plot on a corner of the Fall Creek Ranch to experiment with grape growing, and they jumped at the opportunity to expand their own vineyards. With the encouragement and experimental research from Texas A&M and Texas Tech Universities, and looking for inspiration and advice on which varieties to plant, they were once again inspired by France.
Admiring the hills and the wines of the Bordeaux wine region, Auler said, “Well this is what we want to plant. Why wouldn’t we plant what we enjoy drinking?”
So they decided to use their test plot to experiment with Cabernet, Merlot, Malbec, Cabernet Franc, and Petit Verdot to reflect their travels, and bring some of their experience back to the Texas Hill Country. When they shared their Texas Cabernet Sauvignon with André Tchelistcheff, a renowned winemaker and pioneer of viticulture in the US, the Aulers received encouragement to plant more! And so they did.
“That was really the impetus that gave us the confidence to go and plant all five of the varietals. Tchelistcheff even offered to be our consultant. So for us, it was overwhelming and humbling at the same time that this giant in the wine industry would consult with aspiring Texan grape growers in the ‘80s,” said Auler.
The test plot grew from ¼ of an acre to 7 ½ acres by 1979. Ed took this growth as a sign to retire his law practice and commit to establishing the winery facilities and what Susan described as what would become “their wine endeavor”. From those initial five varietals, the Fall Creek name and wines would expand beyond five more vineyards, add interest statewide, and bring countless opportunities to the Texas Hill Country.
“We’re getting close to five decades and we’ve learned a lot. We’ve been able to grow a sizable industry here in Texas. That’s very heartwarming, especially for people who like living in the rural areas, we’ve created a lot of jobs and economic development which was always part of our dream. Starting early on, it wasn’t just about growing world class wines for Fall Creek Vineyards, but to encourage others and to create good economic development,” said Auler.
As a pioneer of the wine industry in Texas, Fall Creek Vineyards has been able to witness over 500+ wineries start their own vineyards and contribute to the up-and-coming name for Texas wine. Success for Fall Creek Vineyards is a success for Texas wine.
“Well, the fact that we created an industry for Texas, namely the first family of Texas wine, I’ve almost been too busy to think about our success. I’m certainly not one to ever pat myself on my back. But it is heartwarming to me when I see the number of wineries there are today,” said Auler.
Fall Creek Vineyards is always looking to see new vines planted and new partnerships grown, which is why the Aulers, via their marketing team’s recommendation, were quick to join the Sommly’s direct-to-consumer social marketplace and community.
“I always look at partnerships as a win-win situation. I think we’re going to give Sommly good historical perspective, exceptional wines, and good things to write and talk about, and we’re benefitting as an early adopter of the Sommly community. Partnerships are always a win-win,” said Auler.
Despite Fall Creek’s status as a classic winery in Texas, the owners still have their eyes on the horizon, as to what’s next. One active project is their standing partnership with the College of Natural Sciences at UT Austin to understand climate adaptive grapes through research. They’re always looking to leverage educational opportunities, to learn more about what the terroir can offer, and to focus their support. As such, they have partnered with the newly established Texas Grape and Wine Institute, which focuses on Viticulture and Enology research, which could transform Texas vineyards and the future of Texas wine as well as the wines of the world.
“I’ve often said that wine is like a magnet drawing good people together for good times. Good wine, and good friendship. And that’s what it’s all about. Wine just multiplies all three.”
If you want to take a trip out to see where it all started, visit Fall Creek Vineyards in Tow, Texas and try pioneered wines. While you’re there, leave a review and explore even more on Sommly!