I planned on taking the last week of October off from work to go to Fort Worth and the Texas High Plains for various events. As most things have happened this year because of COVID-19, the events were either cancelled or rearranged. That left me with a decision to make. Do I still take the week off or just stay at home and work that week? I was looking forward to visiting friends and new wineries on the trip, so the decision was made.
I started my road trip on Monday. I said “road trip” and that is unusual for me. Ever since Gloria and I have been going to the High Plains and she heard it was going to be a nine-hour drive from Houston, she said fly, and that’s what we have done. Because of COVID and the original idea of going to Fort Worth first, I had decided to drive for the first time. The order of visits on the trip changed, so the plan was to drive directly to the High Plains first.
I had to make a decision again because a cold front was coming to Texas. Houston was going to be dropping from the 70s to low 50s. Brrr… Unfortunately, the High Plains was supposed to get into the 20s! I decided to brave it though and packed warm clothes for my trip.
The roads were surprisingly very nice with not needing to slow down many times through small towns. Once I got on I-84 heading toward Lubbock, the weather started to change. Soon there was frost on the sides of the road and that followed with a drizzling rain for the rest of the trip. With the temperatures dropping into the 30s and then 20s, that drizzling rain soon turned into ice on the car. I had to fill up with gas with about an hour to go and when I started again, the car kept complaining of the front car sensors not working and to clear them. It turned out in the short time I was pumping gas, the sensors on the bumper had ice form over them and I needed to break it off.
I was heading to our friends, Bill and Gail Day, owners of Buena Suerte Vineyards. I did make it safely in about 8 hours and 15 minutes. Not bad, and to be honest, the trip went well, and I would consider driving again. It was wonderful to see Bill and Gail again, and even better to get inside a warm house! While enjoying some of Buena Suerte Vineyards new wines that had just been bottled (they make wine too!), we discussed the upcoming week.
We then heard the news about Lubbock and COVID-19. Texas Governor Abbott had reopened bars (and winery tasting rooms) a couple weeks prior, but he warned if there should be a spike in COVID-19 hospitalization cases, they would be closed again. That happened in Lubbock and the area. Suddenly our week of plans to visit wineries was now in jeopardy.
We woke up on Tuesday with the threat of snow along with the ice and started to go through our options. COVID-19 shutting tasting rooms was bad enough, but then because of the bad weather, what else was going to happen? We soon learned some of the wineries where we could have had a private tasting were going to be closed because of the snow. The weather made the trip to others risky with the roads and overpasses closed.
With a lot of communication with various people, we ended up still having plans to visit Llano Estacado Winery. Winemakers Greg Bruni and Jason Centanni offered to give us a private tasting in the barrel room. Thankfully Bill had a four-wheel drive vehicle and we made it through snow, slush, and ice to the Llano winery. Along with Greg and Jason, Texas wine lover Susan Roberts met us to enjoy the experience. (She arrived in a Hummer!) We all enjoyed a number of barrel samples and cannot wait for them to be released. Gail had fun with a barrel rack that had rollers which allows the winemakers to turn the contents of the barrel very easily while it is aging. We then had the opportunity to taste some finished wines available only at the winery. Unfortunately for those people who drink Llano Estacado Winery wines by buying them only in retail stores, they are missing out on the other excellent wines made by Llano. I would highly suggest if you cannot make it to the winery, make some purchases of wine online that you can’t find in stores and you will not be disappointed.
Wednesday came and the weather was getting better. Our schedule was adjusted again for what we could do. First up was lunch at Burklee Hill Vineyards in Lubbock. We arrived at the beautifully remodeled building and sat down to decide what to do. We thought the best thing was to have a tasting while we ate lunch and that was a good choice. A five-wine tasting was enjoyed with the delicious food. Co-owner Chace Hill had a few moments to chat with us during our meal and at the end of the meal, we all agreed it was a wise choice to brave the weather.
While we were in downtown Lubbock, winery McPherson Cellars was close by, so we had to stop. Thankfully when Lubbock closed tasting rooms again, those that had previously gotten the 51% of total sales from alcoholic beverage sales exemption, were still open. I love the wine at McPherson Cellars, and we had a wonderful tasting of the recent wines. Lubbock had just opened a new H-E-B and we learned that owner Kim McPherson was pouring wines there, so we did not get a chance to see him or assistant winemaker Spenser Igo. The wine was excellent though!
Our next stop was a private tasting at Bolen Vineyards in Levelland. Co-owner Rowdy Bolen led our tasting of the award-winning wines, and we had the opportunity to taste two new wines which were newer vintages of the existing wines. It was interesting comparing the newer vintages and we all agreed there is a bright future at Bolen Vineyards.
I had one more full day in the High Plains left. Since most Texas grapes are grown in the Texas High Plains, you need to visit a vineyard, and we had plans to do that on Thursday besides the vineyard where the Days live as the weather was getting warmer.
We had originally planned on visiting Adelphos Cellars located east of Lubbock. The tasting room had not really opened but co-owner Jim Irwin was willing to provide a private tasting for us. The weather was getting even nicer and the roads were now fine to make the trek, however because of the previous weather and storms, a couple power lines near the winery were damaged so it had been without power for days. Vicky Keller, another Texas wine lover, came to the rescue. Vicky’s house is located midway between the towns of Lorenzo and Meadow, she knew the Adelphos Cellars owners, and she volunteered to host the tasting at her house.
Jim Irwin met us at Vicky’s house with a full lineup of Adelphos Cellars wines. Vicky went overboard and had an incredible charcuterie tray for us to snack on while doing our tasting. During the tasting, I learned that Adelphos Cellars owns Cerro Santo Vineyard which I have seen on wine labels in the past. They decided to start their own winery in 2018 and the large selection of wines in front of us was the result. We were all impressed with the wines and cannot wait to visit the winery when it is open.
It was lunchtime and we were headed to Brownfield which meant it was a convenient time to visit the Triple D Winery and Restaurant. We were seated with owners Mary and Ty Wilmeth, and later Ty’s brother Jet arrived. Based on our lunch experience at Burklee Hill Vineyards, we were hoping to do the same thing with a wine tasting of Triple D’s wines with lunch, and Mary was generous to allow that. The winery has more wines than the last time I visited, and all were very good. I have always had a fun time at the Triple D Winery, and this was no exception.
It was time for our first vineyard tour of John Friesen’s vineyard south of Brownfield. The grapes from Friesen Vineyards have been used in multiple award-winning wines at Ron Yates, and owner Ron Yates has raved how immaculate John’s vineyard is. That was enough for me and I needed to see his vineyard. John met us at the vineyard which is behind a new house they are in the process of building. It is going to be an incredible house and the vineyard behind the house completes the combination.
We drove through the vineyard and Ron Yates was right, it is immaculate! John told us of some new grapes that he had planted in the 34-acre vineyard including Petit Manseng and Souzão. It was a wonderful visit with John Friesen, and we were getting thirsty again. (By the way, Ron Yates Friesen Vineyards 2017 red blend just won a Double Gold at the 2020 San Francisco International Wine Competition!)
Back in Brownfield, we arrived at the Oswald Vineyard. John and Dina-Marie Oswald have been selling their fantastic grapes to wineries over the years for award-winning wines and have decided to venture into their own winemaking by opening a winery. The winery is still in the works, but they already have four wines. We were able to taste a Roussanne, Moscato, Montepulciano, and Aglianico in their future winery tasting room. Watch out for these wines! It was a fun visit with the Oswalds and a great ending to our wine day.
Friday came and unfortunately, I had to leave. I had a wonderful time with our friends Bill and Gail Day and cannot wait to visit again!
Be sure to read Part 2 where I visited North Texas and Fort Worth area wineries.