Yet, the gradual awakening finally led to the realization that nearly everyone who is in the wine industry has a passion – everyone, that is, who endeavors to grow, produce and sell the “Nectar of the Gods”. I believe, based on many places visited so far, that there is not one vintner, not one winery, who does not have the love of the grape in the blend of the marketing endeavor. It is that love, that passion, that desire to share, that has touched me, has wound its way onto my palate and into my soul. From the small family owned vineyard/winery, to the big producing patriarchs of the wine business – there is one passion. Continent to continent – this passion is evident. From the seed, to the vine, to the fruit, to the harvest, to the crusher, to the tank, to the barrel, to the bottle, to the consumer; that passion is the impetus, the driving force of the wish to provide the best possible ambrosia. I like to believe that it is truly about passion.
It became, then, one of my hobbies - since several years ago a “tah-dah” occurred - to taste as many wines in as many places as I could visit, and, in as practical a manner as possible. Couple that idea with an additional desire to find good wine for a reasonable cost. Good wine is not just for the oenophile. Good wine doesn’t have to have that high price tag and be that “trophy” bottle from the best vintage (although ‘05 really was a fabulous vintage from Burgundy). This endeavor, mind you, was on a librarian’s budget. Therefore, I decided I would try as many different varietels as were available to me. And, I decided that every city/town I visit, I will investigate the existence of wineries in the vicinity. This has been most enjoyable and the winery count has grown close to 200+ (I think) in the last nine years. Wineries in California (Santa Ynez area), Arizona, Kentucky (twice), Washington State, Virginia, Missouri (twice), France, and Texas have been visited at this writing. But the realization that there is so much wine, and so little time is daunting. Texas alone now has almost 300 wineries (it was around 120 nine years ago when I began this effort.) Yes, and they are not just in one area, they are all over Texas. True, there are many in the Hill County – but, do you have any idea how huge the Hill Country of Texas is? It is just a beginning, ‘cause barely half of these Texas Hill Country winery visits are now on my done list. Yes, only a beginning – but what a swell, luscious beginning.
And so, my very first Texas winery and wine tasting experience began right here in my own back yard – really, in my neighbor city. Having had the thirst, so to speak, and an interest in wines that don’t break the budget, I was fortunate to learn of the nearby winery by word of mouth. My palate was curious – so, I investigated. Thus, a gem was discovered. The winery sits in a strip shopping center off of a main road just on the perimeter of Sugar Land, Circle S Vineyards. It has a swim school and a day care as neighbors. The winemaker and owner, Dave Stacy, takes great pride in what is produced. It is the family tradition that must be maintained and honored. This winery in the “city” is an oasis. Friendly, dedicated folk await your arrival. Let your mouth enjoy and indulge in a tasting at the tasting bar, or take a glass of their vino to the quiet, comfortable lounge area on the “mezzanine.” Sign up for his newsletter and join the fun – art exhibits, dinners, and wine classes. Learn that the wine is actually made right there on the premises, behind those doors just near the bar – no huge production room, but sufficient space and efficiently operated. “Nectar” is achieved right there in the city of Sugar Land. Ask to be taken on a tour. There are vineyards in Centerville and in Tuscany. The tasting room also features wine themed gifts and displays some oak barrels made from some of the finest coopers. Oh, and of course, wine is aging in most of those barrels. It is so hard to pick a favorite, though I will say I adore the Sangiovese and his White Cabernet Sauvignon (when in stock, usually around summer) – extra yummy.
After this venture and discovery, well, I was hooked. Hooked on learning more about wine, its production, and most certainly tasting the products. From that point, began the endeavor to make winery visiting a hobby. So, I branched out – to wineries within an hour or two from home. This led me to several in the Southeast Region of Texas as designated in a wine guide I was following at the time (quite outdated now, it was in print!) I found Haak Vineyard and Winery, Inc. Haak is located in the coastal county of Galveston. Making their mark in the small town of Santa Fe, Texas, Gladys and Raymond Haak began growing grapes in the 70’s. Winemaking was their hobby until their retirement. About six acres is planted, most with the Blanc du Bois grape. Other varietals are purchased from other vineyards in Texas. The Haak tasting room is charming. Granted, it’s a drive to get there – almost to Galveston, Santa Fe (a population of a little over 12,000) finally appears on the radar (or GPS). The winery is just a couple of miles south of Hwy. 6. The tasting room and adjacent winery are built in the Tuscany design, it’s a lovely building. Friendly, knowledgeable staff greet you. There is a tasting menu for a set fee which changes from time to time. You may taste something off the menu for a minimal charge. (Oh, I enjoyed his Tempranillo style wine!) In my opinion, it is worth an extra charge to taste the special of the house, the award winning Jacquez Madeira. Indeed, the facility is very nice – a large covered patio is to the rear of the tasting room (as well as an event space.) Cheeses, sandwiches and snacks are available for purchase for an impromptu picnic allowing time to indulge in a glass of Haak wine and relax in the ambiance. Haak offers winery tours, special dinners, functions and music on a regular basis. The owner himself, Mr. Haak, could be your guide on a tour. Absolutely worth a visit.
Next I traveled to Frascone Winery, about an hour from my home base, east on I10 then south to the bay. Instructions to the winery were clear, drive 15 miles, turn here, then turn here, then turn here, and after I felt as if I was going to drive off into the bay, I saw the last sign – and what a welcome sight. Truly, a winery in a little fishing village. The winery was in a brown clapboard cottage type building surrounded by lovely trees – another oasis. It was a quiet Sunday, the day I chose to visit, and I was the only guest. The proprietor was welcoming and eager to share his product. This was a free tasting. During the course of the tasting, and the conversation, I learned that wine making was in the family, and they were originally from Missouri – that although he was a biker by nature, he loved making wine – it was kind of like a second chance for him. In 2005, during the scare of Katrina and Rita, he almost lost his stock due to no electricity. After that, he added really good insulation to his barrel and storage room to keep out the hot bay humidity. This was a delightful visit, and I bought some of his raspberry wine for a friend. Of course, I purchased some of his Merlot to please my palate. So, I headed back to my home base, thoroughly enjoying the results of my endeavor. (Since I visited Frascone, Hurricane Ike in 2008 totally destroyed his home and winery. I am sorry to say I don’t believe he has ever re-built.)
It was a couple of months before I could get away again. But one Sunday, I headed toward Brenham, Texas; northwest from my home. I had always wanted to visit that town, and so now I was on my way. In just a little over an hour I was in Brenham. Since I had left early enough I planned on trying to locate more than one winery – it turned out to be two this day. Wonderful! I had packed some cheese, crackers and an apple, and had plenty of water. I’m just not one to stop at any old restaurant when my aim is wineries. However, you do need some food!
It had rained on my travels, but I arrived at Brenham close to noon. I wound my way through the lovely town attempting to locate the way to Hwy.105 – finally, after a couple of wrong turns, I found the way. It is a good thing I printed the instructions to Windy Winery’s location, else, I’d still be searching. Now in the rolling hills of the land just to the east of Brenham, I found the correct road off of Hwy.105. Just a little further north and I turned into the lane leading to the winery. Rain was softly falling, but I was able to park close enough to the main door. Once inside, the couple attending the tasting room gave a warm welcome. One other couple was ahead of me. The tasting room was small, but pleasant. The winemaker and owner, Mr. Meitzen, led me through his process; tastings were free if a bottle was purchased. More than 11 wines were available – and fortunately the pours were not too large, definitely adequate for enough nose and flavor to come forth. This winery boasts “Texas Wines from Texas Grapes”, and his products range from traditional vinifera grapes grown in Texas AVAs and American hybrids adapted to Texas climates grown on the estate. The Meitzen’s have been involved with wine making for over twenty years and their dream is to enlarge the current space. (Which they had done as of 2013 when I last visited.) After a delightful tasting, I decided on their Independent Red and their Yellow Rose (a chardonnay style, but definitely in possession of its own individuality.)
The second winery I located was a couple of miles to the west of Hwy. 36, south of Hwy.290. Pleasant Hill Winery is just that. It sits on a lovely hillside with vineyards to the south. Their wine label is an excellent representation – it depicts the allure of the place. It was a rainy afternoon, yet this winery was busy when I arrived. There is a charge for tastings, but with such a wide variety of wines ranging from Blanc du bois, Chardonnay, Rosés, and a delicious Cabernet Sauvignon, the charge is nominal in comparison. I was told that some of the grapes, specifically for the Cab, come from the Davis Mountains. Wine making is a family tradition for the Cottles, handed down over these oh so many years – and a fine one at that. Their tasting room invites the visitor to browse a large selection of gifts. In a kind of dining room setting, there are cases of wine bottle mementos surrounding the tables. One can choose to relax with a glass of wine in this room or out on the deck. Either choice provides a pleasant atmosphere. With it being past noon, and after tasting some wine, I decided on having my own humble repast. After this enjoyable and fulfilling picnic, I headed back home. A happy wine taster.
Thus began my winery visiting experiences. There have been many added to this short list, and most of the ones I’ve discussed above, I’ve visited again. More Texas wineries keep appearing broadening my challenge and exciting my palate. Here’s to more wineries visited and more palates made glad. A votre santé.