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The Best of Both Worlds

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Adrienne Ballou discusses her path to winemaking and brewing.

Story by Kaiti Neuman

Adrienne Ballou has always been told she must choose between winemaking and brewing. So now she is on a mission to prove she can do both and have the best of both worlds.

Ballou started her career in Walla Walla, Washington at Forgeron Cellars in 2008, after deferring her enrollment for the fall semester at The University of Texas. The experience was pivotal, providing both experience and inspiring role models.

“It was really cool that my first experience in wine was working for a strong, female winemaker with an assistant who is a very strong, female winemaker,” Ballou says.

After cultivating her passion for wine at Forgeron Cellars, Ballou transferred to UC Davis, where she completed her Bachelor of Science in Viticulture and Enology. She continued to work in wine for a few years but soon beer sparked her curiosity and she reached out to Austin brewery Jester King to see if they had any availabilities. Unbeknownst to Ballou, Jester King was looking to expand into fruit refermentation, making her background in wine an intriguing asset. She began as an apprentice and eventually became the head of the barrel program, providing her an outlet for creativity.

“They gave us a lot of creative control,” she recalls. “They were kind of like ‘Go for it,’ and gave us all the resources to really go for it.”

As much as Ballou enjoyed brewing, the wine world called her back. She missed the seasonality of winemaking, being outside working in the vineyards and the unpredictability of a product dictated by the harvest.

“That’s why we’re winemakers,” Ballou says, “and sometimes that’s not the easiest thing, but you know, it’s not brewing. You’re not making a consistent thing every single time.”

Her time at Jester King came to a close in early 2016, and Ballou has been in wine ever since, eventually winding up at the small Calais Winery in Hye, Texas, where she currently works.

“I never really thought I’d end up in Texas making wine,” Ballou says. But while at Jester King, she met Hill Country winemakers who impressed her with the quality of their wine and changed her mind.

Ballou acknowledges that working in Texas is not without its challenges. She sees the main obstacles as a lack of international recognition and an initial reputation for wines that were too sweet, oaky, over-extracted or otherwise less than stellar. She has seen substantial growth in the past five to six years, but there is still work to be done.

“I believe there are over 400 winery permits in Texas now,” Ballou says, “but there are only a handful of us that only use Texas grapes.”

Many wineries in Texas buy fruit from out of state to make their wine or buy wine in bulk and sell it under a Texas label. Both wineries Ballou has worked at in Texas belong to the group Real Texas Wine, a group of eight wineries that work exclusively with Texas grapes.

Real Texas Wine aims to change the labeling laws to require that 100 percent of the fruit used to make a wine be grown in Texas in order to sell it under a Texas label. As of right now, only 75 percent is required to be grown in Texas.

Although advocating for change can often be frustrating – last year, Ballou visited the Capitol with other winemakers and witnessed backlash from larger wineries against the proposed legislation – Ballou is proud to participate. She believes in the potential of Texas wine.

“It’s exciting to be part of a group of winemakers that’s really fighting for that,” she says.

Even with the difficulties that come with being a winemaker in Texas, Ballou couldn’t be happier. She loves the energy and community and “wouldn’t want to be working in wine anywhere else.”

Her next project is helping her now-partner work to open a brewery in the area. “We have pretty strong roots in the Hill Country, so it made sense to stay here,” she says. They purchased a bit of land last year and are currently finishing up acquiring the funding they need to begin building.

Her future in wine looking bright and with a brewery on the way, Ballou seems to be proving to the naysayers she can pursue both her love of brewing and her passion for winemaking. “I think it’s doable,” Ballou says. “You just have to be creative.”

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