April 6-10, 2017 – Day Two of Four
For some time now Laurie Ware and I have been talking about a wine trail trip to the Texas High Plains, the source of at least 75% of the wine grapes grown in Texas. Laurie took the lead in planning and managing this Texas High Plains excursion, helping to develop skills for what she envisions as a Texas Wine Trail Travel Agent business. Here is part two of the story of the wine trail trip that Laurie Ware planned for me, entitled “Carl’s Epic High Plains Vines to Wine Extravaganza.” Be sure to read Day One.
Day Two – April 7, Friday
The morning dawned brightly for day two of our trip. Laurie Ware, her husband, Shelly, and I had enjoyed a restful night in the home of Gail and Bill Day at Buena Suerte Vineyards near Meadow, TX. As we gathered in the kitchen, Bill served us Mimosa cocktails and Gail prepared a wonderful breakfast omelet that included some sausage leftover from the previous night’s dinner. We visited as long as possible until the time to pack, load, and depart for the next stop. It was sad to part company with such good friends, but there would be many wonderful memories of this visit with Gail and Bill Day upon which to reflect.
It was a relatively short drive from Buena Suerte Vineyards to Farmhouse Vineyards headquarters, located just off FM-303. Farmhouse is owned and operated by Katy Jane and Nicolas Seaton, along with Anthony and Traci Furgeson. We were greeted warmly by Katy Jane and Nicolas, and their son, McClain. Nicolas has been a farmer all his life, starting with row crops and gradually adding vineyards to his portfolio. He now helps grow some of the best fruit available on the Texas High Plains. Katy Jane is not only a lovely lady, but a dynamo in the Texas Wine Industry. She now serves as Executive Director of the High Plains Winegrowers, an organization of grape growers whose “goal is to promote awareness of the superior quality of High Plains Wine Grapes.” Katy Jane is involved in just about every aspect of the Texas Wine Industry, and it is a pleasure and a bonus to have her working on our behalf.
We visited with Katy Jane and Nicolas for a bit in the house, and then loaded into Nicolas’ pickup for a tour of the three vineyards that they farm. Katy Jane supplied us with cocktails in sealed cups with straws for the trip. Neat! The first two vineyards were located out in the country away from Brownfield, and were clearly well-managed. Nicolas pointed out the varieties planted and identified whether the vines were own rooted or grafted onto rootstocks (mostly 1103-P or 101-14). Most of the world’s grapevines are grafted onto disease resistant rootstocks to protect against the phylloxera root louse. However, the phylloxera louse finds it difficult to survive in sandier soils, like those common on some parts of the Texas High Plains. Thus, own rooted vines in sandy soil can often do well. Own rooted vines are also believed to provide a greater winter cold tolerance than grafted vines, resulting in less winter kill when temperatures drop to 0 degrees Fahrenheit or below. On the topic of cold weather, Nicolas also pointed out the wind machines in the vineyards, his frost protection method of choice. These wind machines are designed to pull warmer air from above and push it into the vineyard below, displacing colder air near the ground that can damage leaves and fruit. Many grape growers on the High Plains have opted for wind machines to protect their vineyards from spring frost damage.
The third vineyard was located at the southeast outskirts of Brownfield, overlooking a relatively lovely scene. It was not immediately obvious that the scenery beyond the vineyard was really a waste treatment pond and municipal landfill. The trees, the pond in the valley, and the grass-covered green slopes all made for a surprisingly lovely backdrop. We met two of Nicolas’ vineyard workers and walked with them as they reviewed some of the tasks at hand. McClain was all too eager to join in on the walk, and he shuffled down the road as quickly as he could, toppling only a couple of times. He bounced right up and kept following his Daddy. What I remember most about this vineyard was the story about Nicolas getting his first loan at the bank to buy a tractor to work this land when he was only 13. This guy is not only a farmer with deep roots, but a damned good farmer – one that I am pleased to know and have growing grapes for our industry.
We drove back to the Seaton home and gathered in the kitchen area for more fun discussions and some wine tasting. Again, I had noted what varieties were growing at Farmhouse Vineyards and brought examples of those varieties from wine regions other than Texas. The grape varieties noted on the Farmhouse Vineyards website included the following: Cabernet Franc, Cinsault, Counoise, Dolcetto, Durif (Petite Sirah), Malbec, Malvasia Bianca, Montepulciano, Mourvèdre, Muscat Blanc, Orange Muscat, Petit Verdot, Roussanne, Sangiovese, Syrah, Tempranillo, and Viognier. The wines I brought to open and share are listed below.
- 4.0 Cellars Label Roussanne Reddy Vineyards 2015 (Texas High Plains by Brennan Vineyards)
- Renieri Rosso di Montalcino 2013 (DOC, Sangiovese 100%)
- Famille Perrin Côtes du Rhône Réserve 2014 (AOC Rhone Valley France)
- A delicious and inexpensive GSM blend
- Stags’ Leap Petite Sirah 2012 (Napa Valley CA, an example of Durif)
- Dom Tempier Bandol Cuvee special la Migoua 1995 (AOC Bandol Provence France, Mourvèdre 65%, Cinsault 20%, remainder Grenache and Syrah)
We opened and tasted all of these wines except the Rosso di Montalcino which was left for Katy Jane and Nicolas to try later. The most amazing wine of this group was the Dom. Tempier Bandol which had aged to perfection in my cellar, and showed off the delicious fruit and marvelous structure of a well-aged Mourvèdre. The small Bandol appellation is in Provence in southeastern France, and to be labeled Bandol, a wine must contain greater than 51% Mourvèdre. Nicolas and I visited for several minutes about the great potential for Mourvèdre to be a premier red grape variety in Texas. Finally, noting the time was past noon, we bid the Seatons goodbye and loaded up for the next appointment on our schedule.
Following a quick stop at Dairy Queen for a burger, the drive to Soleado Vineyards near Seagraves was relatively quick. We had contacted owner Jeremy Nelson so that he could meet us at the vineyard which sits adjacent to his parents’ home on FM-1780. We arrived a bit before Jeremy, and just enjoyed the bright Texas sunshine and brisk breeze that was beginning to pick up velocity for the afternoon. Around the south and west sides of the 10 acre vineyard were round hay bales positioned for frost protection should such be required. We noted that one of the bales had been burned, and Jeremy intimated that although the temperatures had not dropped low enough to threaten the vines, while he was monitoring the situation, he got chilled and burned that bale to stay warm. If you are going to get up in the chilly predawn hours to check on your grapes, it certainly makes sense to stay as warm and comfortable as possible.
Jeremy pointed out the varieties he was growing and we noted that the vines looked generally healthy and well-managed. One interesting thing that I had never seen was some damage on leaves near the ground, apparently caused by static electricity “burns” from sand blowing across the vineyard floor. The little holes in the leaves looked a bit like insect damage, but Jeremy assured us that the blowing sand had created the holes. If young vines, with leaves close to the ground, are protected by grow tubes, this type of damage will not occur. And when vines grow larger and leaves are farther from the ground, this sand damage is also less likely. As we finished looking at the vineyard, Jeremy’s parents, Tona and Larry Nelson, stopped to visit and told us they would join us later for the winemaker presentation and dinner at Triple D Restaurant in Brownfield.
We moved to the equipment barn next door to look at the vineyard sprayer that Jeremy had designed and built. The system had required a lot of tinkering and adjusting, but was now a very effective machine for delivering fungicide to the vines. A small gasoline-powered engine attached by pulleys drove a fan that delivered quite a force through a housing to which spray nozzles were attached on both sides. A metered pump system injected the chemical mix into the housing where the spray was then driven through the nozzles by the forced air from the fan. This was actually a prototype that Jeremy had built with the help of the folks at Wylie Implement and Spray Center where he works. From this prototype, Wylie is now building other spray rigs for area vineyard owners.
Although Jeremy’s lovely wife, Bree, could not join us for this afternoon visit, she, their son, and Jeremy’s parents, Tona and Larry Nelson, joined us later for dinner in Brownfield.
A very interesting and fortuitous connection occurred Friday evening as Jim Evans, a good friend and the head winemaker at Lost Oak Winery in Burleson, was in Brownfield to make a presentation at the Triple D Restaurant. Jim lives in Odessa which is not too far away from Brownfield by Texas standards (about 100 miles), and had been invited to make a winemaker presentation by Mary and Ty Wilmeth, proprietors of Triple D. Laurie and Shelly are like the “No. 1 Wine Club Members” at Lost Oak Winery in Burleson, which is located just a few miles from their home. So, they have a great connection with Jim Evans. And, since Lost Oak Winery is one of the owner/partners at 4.0 Cellars where I serve as Wine Educator, I too, have a very strong connection with Jim. It was a reunion of sorts, just in a different place than we normally see Jim.
The Triple D Restaurant, 519 West Main St., Brownfield, TX, sits on the north side of the downtown courthouse square. It is an interesting place with lots of barn-wood charm. Mary Wilmeth runs the place and has created a haven for locals, and a destination spot for out-of-towners. Ty Wilmeth, Mary’s husband, is her partner, but certainly leaves the day-to-day workings to Mary. Ty and Jet Wilmeth are brothers and grape farmers near Tokio, west of Brownfield. These guys are real characters and a lot of fun to be around. It was a treat for us to be invited, along with Jim Evans, to join the Wilmeths at their family table for dinner. After Jim gave his talk about several Lost Oak Winery wines being offered at Triple D, we sat down for dinner and ordered several bottles of Texas wine. Triple D carries and serves only wines from Texas! Ty, Jet, and his wife, Gay, sat with us while Mary made sure that everyone was comfortable, had a full wine glass, and got food ordered for dinner.
I should have written down all the wines that were opened and shared throughout the evening. But I just got caught up in the conversations, and did not apply the necessary discipline. With Laurie’s help, and as best I can remember, the following wines were shared.
- Lost Oak Winery Saku White (Riesling/Orange Muscat blend at about 1% RS; Texas High Plains fruit from Jet Wilmeth’s Diamante Doble Vineyards)
- Lost Oak Winery Sweet Grass White (Riesling/Orange Muscat blend at about 5% RS; Texas High Plains fruit from Jet Wilmeth’s Diamante Doble Vineyards)
- Lost Oak Winery Double Diamond Merlot (100% Merlot; Texas High Plains fruit from Jet Wilmeth’s Diamante Doble Vineyards)
- Perissos Vineyards Dolcetto Diamante Doble Vineyards 2015 (Italian variety grown by Jet Wilmeth and produced by Hill Country winemaker, Seth Martin)
- Perissos Vineyards Italian Stallion (blend of Italian varieties produced by Hill Country winemaker, Seth Martin)
- Perissos Vineyards Aglianico (Italian variety produced by Hill Country winemaker, Seth Martin)
- Becker Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve Wilmeth Family Vineyards 2014 (Texas High Plains)
A number of friends and neighbors from the Brownfield area came in for dinner, or just to enjoy a visit and glass of wine. Kevin and Michelle Hart, who own Six Harts Vineyards that Jet Wilmeth manages, were there. Also among the dozen or so other folks that sat at or adjacent to the family table were Jeremy and Bree Nelson, their son, Jeremy’s parents, Tona and Larry Nelson, and Tony and Madonna Phillips of Phillips Vineyard. It was quite a gathering. In addition, there was live music at the Triple D. Jerry Slater, a local, played some amazing music on his guitar. He and his partner, Brenda Williams, sang a number of songs, mostly ones with which we were familiar (older music), and added a great deal of enjoyment to the evening.
Eventually the evening came to an end. Jim Evans took off for the drive back to Odessa. Laurie, Shelly, and I bid a slow and heartfelt adieu to our hosts, Mary and Ty Wilmeth, and Gay and Jet Wilmeth. Parting was made easier since the plan was to meet them all at Diamante Doble Vineyards in Tokio the next morning. We then made our way to the Best Western Caprock Inn located at 321 Lubbock Rd (US-62, 82 & 385 ), just a few blocks away from Triple D. Laurie Ware had certainly done a wonderful job as my travel agent as this was an awesome day two of “Carl’s Epic High Plains Vines to Wine Extravaganza.”
Part Three of this Four Part story will follow in a separate article, covering visits to Diamante Doble Vineyards, La Diosa Cellars, McPherson Cellars, Triple J’s Chop House and Brewpub, and The Funky Door Bistro
See more photos from Day Two on the Texas Wine Lover Facebook page’s photo album.