The city of Orange, TX used to have a very popular winery that won awards at wine competitions. Since that time, the winery was closed, sold, and new winery Free State Cellars is soon to be opened. The new winery is owned by the Swope family. Dana Swope orchestrated the purchase of the winery, and the other partners are her son Nick, and four of her siblings. The rest of the family then got involved with all winery aspects.
On the day I visited Free State Cellars, I first attended the Sages Vintage Symposium in Nacogdoches. I had the chance to meet Dana Swope and Nick there. They told me a little about the winery and I was excited I had already planned to visit it after the Symposium.
I arrived at the winery and it was in the same location as the previous one. However, at that point, all similarities ended except for the vineyard in the rear of the winery. The winery was first purchased in January 2017 and remodeling had begun. Progress was happening nicely and then Hurricane Harvey in August 2017 came to visit ruining a large portion of the vineyard and buildings. The family could have given up, but they knew they had a winner and started again determined to finish and open the winery. If the weather cooperates, they are hoping to open at the end of May 2019. Right now, they are doing private tastings for preparation to open, and I was fortunate to get a preview of what is to come.
Jessie Pickett, niece of Dana Swope, introduced herself as she would be providing my tasting. We first took a tour outside of the property and vineyard. However, the very first thing done was to give me a glass of sangria to enjoy while we toured. The winery makes the sangria from whatever wine is available at that time. The day I visited, Riesling was used in the Sangria and it was excellent.
The winery is built on the same lot where the existing winery was. The winery wants to provide a wine experience in Orange, and part of that is being able to walk through the vineyard. We walked through the seven acres of Muscadine grapes to the rear of the vineyard where Adams Bayou provides the rear border of the property. Also on Adams Bayou, is Shangri La Botanical Gardens and Nature Center, who provides boat tours of the Bayou. The winery is hoping to eventually partner with the Gardens and showcase their vineyards visible from the Bayou. Also, the winery is planning on building decking at the rear of the vineyard where patrons can sit and enjoy the water and a glass of wine. This was just the start of learning the many plans already being thought of for the winery.
Walking back through the vineyard, which is growing Noble and Magnolia grapes, Jessie said when the property was purchased, many members of her family helped in the vineyards planting, repairing stake posts, etc. for a true family affair. Unfortunately, because of Hurricane Harvey, a large portion of the vineyard had to be replanted. When we arrived back to the winery, the former house on the property was pointed out which is currently being remodeled into a culinary kitchen and a chef will be available for events. The winery now also has a beautiful covered and uncovered patio for people to enjoy.
But enough about the property, what about the wine? We headed into the tasting room to try it. Tastings are done at the tasting bar or in my case, at one of the small tables. First, all wines offered by Free State Cellars are and will be 100% Texas wines. They will be providing a selection of wines from their estate vineyard in addition to other vineyards around Texas. The production of the estate vineyard grapes will take place at the winery, whereas the other wines offered will be done elsewhere from vineyards in the state.
These are the wines that were available at my tasting:
- 2017 Muscat Canelli – dry – West Texas
- 2016 Riesling – dry – Texas Hill Country
- 2017 Moscato – sweet – West Texas
- 2017 Ruby Cabernet – Texas High Plains
- 2017 Tempranillo (aged 18 months in oak barrel) – North Texas
- 2017 Rio Dulce (75% Cabernet Sauvignon, 25% Zinfandel) – sweet – Texas High Plains
We finished with a tank sample of their Noble grape Muscadine wine which will soon be bottled. One interesting thing is elaborate bottles will be used for the wines produced at the winery to differentiate them from the other wines. Current Muscadine plans are two red and two white wines. Also interesting are the wines will have an interesting story on the back label. For example, the Tempranillo label told the story of the Free State of Sabine, hence the name Free State Cellars.
During the tastings to enhance the wine experience, extensive tasting notes are told instead of just printing them on a piece of paper for you to read. You will also be able to purchase food during your tasting like meat and cheese boards and they will be available in a little market for selection.
At the end of your visit, a small gift shop is available for you to purchase items such as clothing. A wine club will eventually be available including wine club pick up parties.
As mentioned, the winery has many plans to further enhance your wine experience. Besides the food events with the culinary kitchen, a trailer was purchased that is being remodeled and will be used for wine festivals to pour wine in addition to being available for winery events. The winery has also partnered with a micro-roaster in Lake Charles, LA, and will offer guests an exclusive coffee experience as well. They initially will offer pour overs but are hoping to branch out into “fireside” Turkish coffee experiences.
At the end of my visit, I had the chance to meet Dana’s sister and general manager, Mandy Swope Hernandez, who was helping another group of tasters at the winery.
Oh, that winery that used to be at the same location as Free State Cellars? Piney Woods Country Winery and Vineyards. It was the 14th winery in Texas at the time and owned by Alfred J. Flies. Unfortunately, Mr. Flies passed away and the new owners of Free State Cellars hope he is looking down at them and proud of what they have accomplished. I am sure he would be extremely proud.