Ab Astris: The Dream of Winemaking Comes to Life in the Texas Hill Country

By Published On: January 9, 2023

Ab Astris Winery, located in the Texas Hill Country, is a family-run operation that takes its name from the Latin phrase “of the stars,” a reference to a quote by Galileo about wine being “sunlight, held together by water.” The winery is owned by Erin and Tony Smith, and features Kristen and Mike Nelson (daughter and son-in-law) as co-founders and general manager and winemaker, respectively.

Mike had always dreamed of becoming a winemaker, but the cost of law school kept this dream out of reach. However, when the Texas wine industry began to gain recognition and the family tasted a delicious Tannat from a local winery, they decided it was time to pursue their dream or move on from it altogether. In 2015, Erin and Tony purchased the Ab Astris property and hired a winemaking consultant to teach Mike the art. The vineyard was planted in 2018, which Kristen refers to as the “Ab Astris moment,” when the stars aligned for them to pursue their passionate venture.

Credit: Ab Astris Winery

The estate vineyard is located in the Pedernales River Basin and features calcareous soil, which is composed of loam topsoil over limestone and is found in many of the world’s premier vineyards. This type of soil is beneficial for grapevines as the roots secrete a chemical that allows them to bore through the limestone in search of water and nutrients, adding a minerality to the wines. In the cellar, Mike focuses on attention to detail, trusting his instincts, and maintaining a clean environment while making wines that are not overwhelmed with oak flavors. “My role is to be a shepherd for the process of turning great grapes into great wine. In Texas, sometimes that means having to make adjustments to the pH of the wine or supplementation of the tannins, and I will definitely do that if that is what will yield the best wine,” said Mike.

Ab Astris makes a Tannat, which is a popular variety in Texas. Originally from the southwest of France, Tannat is well suited for warm climates like Texas because of its thick skin’s ability to maintain a consistent pH level.  This allows for the grape to be grown in warm regions without sacrificing quality. In Texas, Tannats tend to have deep, rich flavors with undertones of black and blue fruits.

Credit: Ab Astris Winery

They also make a white  Rhône blend called “Stello.” The blend is inspired by the traditional Châteauneuf-du-Pape region in France and benefits from the climate and soil conditions of the Texas Hill Country as well as the winery’s use of Clairette Blanche, a rare and distinctive variety. The composition of the blend varies from vintage to vintage, with Roussanne and Clairette Blanche serving as the base varieties.

When it comes to food pairings, the Texas Hill Country offers a variety of options, including pairing the rich fruit and high tannins of Tannat with gamey meat or venison, or the spiciness of Tempranillo with Tex-Mex. Despite the challenges of being a new entrant into the wine industry, Ab Astris has benefited from the welcoming and inclusive atmosphere of the Texas Hill Country wine scene. The family’s top priority is ensuring that every single guest is treated with dignity and respect while they enjoy the unique wine and food options of the region.

Ab Astris keeps pushing forward. “Our approach to the business and industry has been to hustle, spread the word, and engage on social media– we’ve seen that the most successful wine brands are the ones who interact with their customers in a variety of ways and never stop trying to push their brands. You can’t rest on your laurels if you want to stay relevant,” said Mike.

Disclosure: The wines featured in the Wine Recommendations section were provided by the winery for the purpose of review. The selection and tasting of these wines were independently conducted. No compensation or incentives was provided from wineries or importers for inclusion in the story. As always, the top priority is to provide readers with informative and unbiased reporting.

Wine Recommendations

2021 Estate Clairette Blanche- presents a clear straw yellow hue in the glass, with tropical aromas and flavors of lime, pear, and lemongrass. This variety is a rare find in the Texas Hill Country, and boasts chalky minerality and a crisp, clean finish.

2021 “Stello” White Blend-  on the palate flavors of honeysuckle, citrus and a touch of apple. This white Rhône Blend is composed of 45% Clairette Blanche, 22% Roussanne, 18% Marsanne and 15% Picpoul Blanc showcasing lively acidity, minerality and a silky mouthfeel.

2019 “Avignon” Red Blend- deep cherry red color that immediately catches the eye. On the palate, flavors of raspberry and cranberry are prominent, with subtle earthy notes adding depth and complexity. This Texas Hill Country Rhone based blend, which is composed of 50% Mourvèdre, 25% Grenache, 17% Cinsault, and 8% Petite Sirah, is a true testament to the traditions of the region, and pays tribute to the city of Avignon, a key player in the Châteauneuf-du-Pape region. The wine finishes with a smooth and harmonious close.

2019 Tannat- on the palate, flavors of licorice, plum, blackberry, and espresso are balanced by hints of vanilla and sweet tobacco. This wine has a highly tannic structure, making it a powerful and robust choice.

2019 Cabernet Sauvignon-  flavors of blueberry, blackberry and raspberry. This full bodied wine has lush tannins and a long finish.

About the Author: Joe Campbell

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Located out of the Sierra Foothills of California, Joe Campbell provides color commentary as well as insight within the wine industry both from the lifestyle consumer and business segments of the industry. He can be reached via email at : joe@winebulletin.net .