Photos Courtesy of Saint Tryphon Farm and Vineyards
This article is featured in the Summer 2021 issue of Texas LAND magazine. Click here to find out more.
Silouan “Sil” Bradford founded Saint Tryphon (pronounced tree-fon) Farm and Vineyards near Boerne to ride—and redefine—the third wave of the Texas wine industry.
“To sit shoulder to shoulder with fine wines around the world, Texas winemakers, in my mind, have to embrace what grows well here and reflects the state’s own unique terroir,” Bradford said. “To me, the fascinating thing about wine is how the character of the land and the people combine to express something completely different in every corner of the world.”
Catching a Wave
First wave winemaking pioneers laid the foundation in the early 1990s by commercially producing wines where none had been produced before. In their efforts to establish an industry, they often purchased grapes grown elsewhere, bottled the wine here and presented it as Texas wine.
Bradford, a level III sommelier, spent 12 years in the retail and wholesale wine industry managing a portfolio of 10,000 fine wines from around the world with an emphasis on high-end offerings from Bordeaux, Burgundy and Napa. As he globe-trotted, he kept an eye on the Texas wine industry.
“I was always curious about the wine in my own backyard,” Bradford said.
Periodically, he’d taste through the state’s offerings. Early on, the Texas wines left him underwhelmed because for the most part they were “adequate but not compelling.”
As the industry matured, second wave pioneers began searching for grape varieties that would thrive in Texas. They also sought out growers who were interested in focusing on quality over quantity.
“Grapes are an agricultural commodity and for families whose livings have been based on mass producing cotton, wheat or corn, it’s a major philosophical and operational shift to transition from quantity to quality,” Bradford said.
Winemakers and growers responded to the challenge. Today, Tannat, a red varietal associated with the Madiran in France, and Mourvèdre, a red varietal originating in the South of France, are now a part of the lexicon of Texas wines.
With the availability of high-quality, Texas-centric grapes, third wave pioneers including Dr. Bob Young at Bending Branch Winery near Comfort and William “Bill” Blackmon and Chris Brundrett at William Chris Vineyards near Hye made their mark on the industry; they began producing wines that reflected the character of the Lone Star State and turned heads within the broader wine industry.
“Their wines aren’t pinot noirs and Chardonnays wrapped in a Texas flag, their offerings say something about these people and this place,” Bradford said. “And Texas, with its vast geography and different climates, has a lot to say.”
He continued, “It’s the wild west of the wine world because there are so many places within the state that have untapped potential.”
Counterintuitively, the rise in craft brewing has assisted the Texas wine industry.
The burgeoning interest in new, locally grown food and drink is serendipitous for Texas winemakers. According to Bradford, Texans are the fourth largest consumers of wine in the U.S. and yet less than five percent of their purchases are Texas wines.
“In Texas, we just have so much room for exploration, discovery and growth,” Bradford said.
Riding the Wave at Saint Tryphon
In 2011, Bradford’s own quest for new tastes and techniques took him to La Cruz de Comal, a small winery near Canyon Lake operated by Lewis Dickson, a criminal defense attorney turned winemaker. In Dickson’s wines and his tasting room, Bradford found his inspiration and a muse.
“The property is beautiful, but it is the wine that got my attention,” Bradford said.
Dickson produces his wines without adding sugar, yeast, tannins or sulfites. It is unfiltered and un-fined, a process for removing unwanted materials from wine in the cellar.
“His process is hands-on and I was really drawn to his techniques that highlighted terroir by highlighting the fruit through minimal intervention,” he said.
Bradford’s personal Texas winemaking journey began in 2013 when he purchased a six-acre property with a circa 1890s farmhouse just nine miles north of Boerne en route to Sisterdale. His dream, owning and operating a boutique winery, was clear. The timeline wasn’t.
“Ours has been a self-funded, bootstrap operation,” said Bradford, noting that when the winery began, both he and his ex-wife were working full-time. “Even so, Saint Tryphon came together faster than any of us imagined.”
In 2014, they erected a high fence to protect the vineyard from hungry deer. That year and the next, they planted cuttings of Blanc du Bois and Black Spanish grapes.
Our goal is to be part of the land instead of just sitting on top of it.”—SILOUAN “SIL” BRADFORD Saint Tryphon Farm and Vineyards
“Our goal is to be part of the land instead of just sitting on top of it,” Bradford said.
Bradford sought out fellow grape growers who share his passion for quality and sense of place. In 2016, Saint Tryphon produced its first wine using Mourvèdre and Tempranillo grown by Farmhouse Vineyards near Meadow in the Texas High Plains. The first bottle was released in February 2018. Today, Saint Tryphon uses Mourvèdre, Tannat, Tempranillo, Albariño and Cinsaut, among others from the Texas High Plains.
High-quality, expressive fruit allows Bradford to produce European-style wines with “balanced ripeness and acidity and a wild character that when nurtured in the bottle will continue to develop over time.”
To achieve this authentic character, the grapes must be harvested at just the right moment to provide the right acidity and color. To further express the terroir, Bradford draws on the techniques of ancient winemakers and uses wild yeast, which occurs everywhere. The abundance and types of wild yeast depend on the variety of grapes and the growers’ farming techniques.
“In my opinion, wild yeast paired with minimal intervention strengthens a wine’s sense of place and gives it a rawness and freshness that is lacking in wines that have been inoculated with cultivated yeasts,” Bradford said.
By design, Saint Tryphon will never be a mega winery. At full capacity, Bradford anticipates Saint Tryphon will produce between 5,000–8,000 cases per year.
“We believe that production level is what our property can sustain responsibly and well,” Bradford said.
Saint Tryphon’s tasting room, which opened in February 2018, is as authentic as the wine it showcases. It is nestled in the midst of the 19th century homestead with its chickens, horses and raised bed gardens. The space was designed to be simple and rustic with touches of modern elegance. Pretense is as foreign to the experience as added sugar and other additives are to the wines.
“We love people and hospitality so we created a place where we would like to hang out ourselves,” Bradford said. “We stay out of the way of the warm, welcoming vibe we’ve created and let people enjoy themselves.”
Guests come from all walks of life and all levels of wine knowledge and interest. All are welcome.
“If our guests want to talk wine and learn wine, we can do that, but we don’t ever preach wine,” Sil said. “If they just want to spend time with friends, we can do that too. We want the experience to be what they want it to be.”
Self-expression, be it for people or wines, is the reason Saint Tryphon exists.
“We don’t believe in manipulation,” Sil said. “We’re letting Texas be what Texas wants to be.”
What’s in a Name?
“Saint Tryphon is a Third Century Christian martyr who is the patron saint of hunters, horsemen, gardeners and grape growers. Although he is more well-known in Eastern Orthodoxy than in the West, we related to him on many levels. We are hunters, our land is home to horses and we came to grape growing through gardening. Plus, we wanted to honor someone other than ourselves with our work and our wine.”
—Silouan “Sil” Bradford
Saint Tryphon Farm and Vineyards
24 Wasp Creek Road
Boerne, Texas 78006
Thursday 12 P.M. – 5 P.M.
Friday 12 P.M. – 5 P.M.
Saturday 11 A.M. – 6 P.M.
Sunday 12 P.M. – 5 P.M.
*Reservations are strongly recommended for individuals and small groups. Parties of 8 or more require a reservation.
**Saint Tryphon is available for private events and industry tastings.