When a fellow Texas wine lover talks about making a trip out to one of my favorite areas of Texas—that I don’t get to visit often enough, but I tell everyone they need to—I immediately go into planning mode and start telling her about my not to miss wineries in the vicinity. Laurinda Thomas and her mother Irene are not strangers to the Texas wine scene. They are always ready to make frequent trips to their favorite Texoma and north Texas area wineries looking to find the next jewel in their journeys. They added a few hundred miles to their search this trip as they headed to east Texas. I recommended my favorites Kiepersol and Pelle Legna both in the Tyler vicinity. She added them to her itinerary and wisely contacted the venues to make the necessary arrangements.
As soon as Kiepersol ambassador Ron Martin got wind of this visit and relayed the news to Marnelle Durrett, Kiepersol’s co-owner/winemaker, wheels started turning. Within a short period of time a Merlot vertical tasting that would span ten years was put together. A stellar group of Texas wine lovers was invited, and all agreed to assemble in east Texas on a certain Saturday afternoon in March. [Read about it here]
We decided to begin the day down the road from Kiepersol at Pelle Legna. Dawn Leatherwood (Leatherwood is Pelle Legna in Italian), the owner and winemaker, was as excited to have us start our tasting day at her beautiful location as we all were. Her “small” operation seems to have seriously blossomed and grown as of late. For years she has been “by appointment only” as she was able to run the whole show by herself. Lately she has desired to expand, and hired a few local girls to help her run the tasting room. While she is still by appointment only, she has been able to add one Saturday a month to accommodate more people on a given day.
When Shelly and I arrived after our five-hour trek from Fredericksburg, we joined the rest of the Texas wine lovers in a large back room where we sat around a long rustic wooden table beautifully set with light meat and cheese boards and hand painted plates. We had to pass through the front room where there was already a large birthday group gathered. A small group arrived and were seated around a table in what once would have been the dining room in this house-turned-tasting room. So, it is safe to say this little wine house was already hopping early in the day.
One of the servers arrived and poured our first tasting…a sweet Moscato which turns out to be from the Muscat Canelli grape grown on the property along the road leading up to her house. This white wine had vibrant notes of apricot, pineapple, honeysuckle, and orange zest.
While we enjoyed this wine, Jeff and Gloria, and Shelly and I were able to tell the others about each of our separate earlier visits and how wonderful we’ve always felt Dawn’s wines and hospitality have been. About the time the second wine was being poured, Dawn arrived and after quick hugs and introductions, she effectively took over our wine tasting and offered a much more personal story and touch to the wines.
One of my favorite parts of Dawn’s story is her philanthropy. She is very involved in the local community where she helps raise money for various charities. One way she does this is by offering her labels to local artists to design where proceeds from the sales of the wines are donated to the artist’s charity of choice.
They also host an event called The Boot Bash which was held this year on April 14th. This event supports and celebrates military veterans and this year is the 10-year anniversary. Find out more here.
The other white wine that we tasted was the 2017 Allegro which was 55% Sauvignon Blanc and 45% Pinot Grigio. This wine is a nice and fruit filled dry with zesty layers of citrus, apple, and pear with a nice honey finish.
Dawn makes some great whites, but it’s her reds that make my heart flutter! Her 2013 Bilancia blend is 50% Cabernet Sauvignon, 25% Syrah, 10% Merlot, 8% Zinfandel, and 7% Sangiovese. This blend is definitely “balanced” since it was aged for 20 months in French and American oak and offered some subtly delicious dark berries with soft tannins. I definitely love this blend, but I also fell in love with her single varietals as well.
She has released her first Merlot from the 2012 vintage. She definitely captures the elegant nuances of this noble grape. To quote her label, “The elegant structure of cherries, pomegranate, cacao, and baking spices combine and release into a velvety finish.” This is an absolutely perfect description!! It has such lovely fruit and definitely has a subtle velvet finish.
She also has a 2012 Cabernet Sauvignon and a 2013 Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon. Again, these are amazing examples of what this grape can be.
All of Dawn’s grapes are estate grown, right there in East Texas. Because of labeling laws, she cannot label her wines as “Estate” nor is there an AVA in the area, but I cannot stress enough that you can believe her wines are ALL East Texas ESTATE grown fruit. So yes, Texas can grow amazing quality grapes in every “corner” of the state.