When travel plans are made it’s a good idea to be flexible. Our original plan for the Independence Day holiday weekend involved a trip to McKinney to meet up with our youngest son and his wife at her parents’ home. We decided we could make a slight detour on the way to McKinney to an east Texas winery or two that we haven’t visited in a while. We are always up for a road trip when a winery is involved! However, when well into our trip one of the parties we were going to visit in McKinney came down with an illness, we decided to stay in the east Texas area for the whole weekend.
We left Fredericksburg bright and early Friday morning and headed north so we could end up going east. Six hours later we turned into the entrance at Enoch’s Stomp Vineyard & Winery. We last visited them in early 2011. They have really grown in eleven years! The tasting room is a much larger building now including a large event center. Production is attached to the backside. Winemaker Colin Gipner met us and took us into the production area to have a look around. Tight quarters held barrels, tanks, and equipment. We met his cellar helpers as they were transferring a red wine blend into barrels. Colin pulled a tank sample of their red blend called “All Y’all” that they had just finished blending into the tank that morning. Y’all!! It is luscious! A 2020 vintage of 46% Texas High Plains Cab Sauv, 41% Texas High Plains Merlot, and several other grapes at 4% each.
We next tasted a Texas High Plains Merlot that was stunning. It tasted clean with no muddy cedar notes that tend to make Merlots harsh to me. I noticed a red piece of tape on a tank that just said “ORANGE.” I knew right away that meant an orange-style wine, a white wine left on its skins and made like a red wine. These tend to be a little bigger and fuller-bodied than traditional white wines. I asked Colin about it and he said it was made with their estate Villard Blanc. I told him that was a new one variety for me. He wasn’t sure of it either. Upon further investigation, it turns out to be a French wine hybrid created by French horticulturist Bertille Seyve and his father-in-law Victor Villard. There is a dark skin Villard Noir and the white skin Villard Blanc. It is phylloxera and downy mildew resistant but is susceptible to powdery mildew. It also tends to be high yielding. He let us taste the version that was on tap in the tasting room and it was lovely!
Colin had to get back to work so we stepped into the tasting room and had a quick tasting with Ron, one of Enoch’s Stomp’s tasting ambassadors. We told him we were getting tight on time and to pick a few of the wines from the list that we shouldn’t miss. He happily poured a Cab Sauv, a Sangiovese, and at my insistence, a Cab Franc. They were all lovely and beautiful examples of what Texas grapes can do in the hands of a talented winemaker.
We hated to leave, but the next visit was upon us and we needed to make that appointment. We bid our adieu and made promises to return as soon as possible!
We headed north to Rowdy Creek Ranch where we were to meet their new winemaker Arnulfo Perez. We’ve known Arnulfo since I don’t remember when, but I’ve always thought he was pretty awesome. We met up with Arnulfo and his wife and their team at the production center as they were cleaning up after bottling a Louisiana Blanc du Bois. Texas fruit can be scarce at times, and when a winemaker needs grapes/juice they go where they can get it. He’s hoping his estate Blanc du Bois grape harvest will be enough for this year’s harvest.
After walking through the brand new production area, talking about future plans and dreams, and tasting a few barrel samples of Arnulfo’s future wine label, Arnulfo took us to the covered patio of the production center and pulled the cork on a 2020 Texas Cabernet Sauvignon. I got to practice my limited Spanish as we also visited with Arnulfo’s wife and a cellar hand. They were fine with English, but it was still fun to talk to them.
After the cork was pulled on the second bottle, we made our way to the “bunkhouse” where we were to spend the night. We unloaded and freshened up before we met back with Arnulfo and his wife in the tasting room for dinner and music. Dinner would be a good thing because we had not eaten since a quick cinnamon roll from Sweetbriar Rose at 7:30 that morning when we left Fredericksburg.
Dinner! Oh Wow!!! I ordered the Brisket Quesadillas and Shelly ordered Brisket nachos. I don’t think it was only because we were hungry, but that was some of the best bistro food we’d ever had. The brisket was insanely tender. They have food and music on Friday and Saturday nights. The artist that night was very easy to listen to and was not so loud in the room that we couldn’t still visit with each other.
After dinner, we moseyed on up the hill to our room beside the horse stalls. Super quaint with dark wood-paneled walls, western décor, and a very comfortable bed. Except for a few unidentified thumps in the middle of the night, I didn’t even know there were horses next door.
In the morning, I peeked out the door and there was a horse at the fence peeking back at me. We both said good morning and went back about our business. Him awaiting his breakfast and me sitting on the porch listening to the birds singing. The ranch hands showed up and began tending to the horses in the stalls. It was fun to watch them get anxious about their impending breakfast. One stallion, a very tall roan was very ready to get his day started. After a few cups of coffee, I finally got up and went into our room, and got my own day started.
The in-room “breakfast” consisted of a Keurig coffee maker and a basket of granola bars. By now I was ready for a little more than that. We took off into the thriving metropolis of Gilmer in search of some breakfast/brunch options. After a quick tour of the square (no luck), we drove the main drag. We found the normal fast-food culprits, but that was not what we wanted. On the north end of town about the time we decided to turn around and settle for a fast-food joint, we saw the word CAFÉ. I whipped in really quickly and found a parking spot between a couple of large pickup trucks. We opened the door and weren’t sure for a brief moment that we were even in a restaurant. The furnishings were super simple and extremely unassuming. Library tables with padded folding chairs. Very little decorations on the walls other than the mandatory license postings and the special of the day chalkboard. After the waitress handed us laminated menus and took our coffee order, I looked at Shelly and said, “Well, this could be freaking amazing…or…???” If the coffee was the foreteller of the meal we were definitely in for “freaking amazing!!” After perusing the menu a few times, we both decided on the chicken fried steak and eggs breakfast choosing hashbrowns and biscuits as our add-ons. I was right! “Freaking amazing” didn’t even come close to how good it was! Fork tender, in-house breaded chicken fried steak. Eggs over medium cooked perfectly with no lace. Crisp tender hash browns and a light, fluffy biscuit that was as large as the palm of my hand. The ONLY thing that would have made the whole thing any better was my gramma’s homemade peach jelly!
Now that we were fortified for the day, we went back to our room at Rowdy Creek to see how we were going to spend it. We played out several options. We considered visiting wineries a couple of towns over in any direction, but when I reached out to them, I found out my owner/winemaker friends wouldn’t be there. One of the owners of Rowdy Creek, Debra Bolnick met us at the cabin to greet us and she offered the John Deere side-by-side for us to take on a tour of the 450-acre ranch. We thought that was a great idea and we decided to just stay on property and enjoy a very relaxing day. After a quick tidy-up of our cabin, we walked to the Tasting Center building and inquired about the side-by-side. A darling tasting guide named Emmie escorted us out back and gave us a quick lesson on basic operations and sent us on our way. We took off on a well-worn trail and witnessed some devastating recent tornado damage. Debra had told us about the tornado that tore through the area back in March. It bore down on their property and just about the time it seemed like it would hit the main buildings, it took a sharp left and missed them. It did take the top off the horses’ hay barn and ripped many old, tall trees out of the ground by their roots like you’d pull a weed out of your garden. It took the tops off some trees, snapping them like twigs. Such devastating power.
We toured the forest area, around the pond, and made our way to view the grapevines. The vines look great and the grapes are getting plump and full. Arnulfo told us of plans where he’d like to plant more grapes in the fields around the production building. That would be great because they could always use more fruit.
We returned the side-by-side back to its starting point and we stepped in to have a glass of peach mango wine slushie. We took our glasses and headed to the bench swing down by the pond’s edge. We sat and watched the breeze ripple the surface and the occasional fish jump. A flock of Canada geese and a few white geese on the far side of the pond took to the water and glided to another area to hang out under the trees. As the afternoon passed, cars would come and go as people visited the Tasting Center to enjoy a glass of wine or, like us, a refreshing wine slushie.
We met up with another owner, Dr. Harold, and Arnulfo back at the Tasting Center and we were introduced to their Tasting Room Manager Alma Perez, and we tagged along with her and another guest as we toured the accommodations set up like a retro trailer park surrounding a courtyard. It turns out Debra used to “flip” retro travel trailers back in the day when she lived in Montana. They have acquired several antique trailers and fixed them up to be some of the most darling Glamper B&B’s. They aren’t much smaller than a tiny house B&B with a double bed, sink, small dining table, and coffee service. One or two might be a little larger with a tiny bathroom included. We looked at some of the bungalows in the same courtyard and they had about the same accommodations as the trailers, but at least one had two twin beds. The ones without bathrooms included were only steps away from a luxurious communal bathhouse.
Lovely landscaping offered borders between the dwellings and pretty flowers to look at. Just down the way from the camping courtyard was a pickleball court with all the equipment needed to enjoy a rousing game. By the road coming in and down in a natural bowl area, is where they have a covered flatbed trailer set up as a band stage. They plan to have musicians play outside during the cooler months. There are many tables set around and lots of green lawn for quilts, blankets, and lawn chairs. Have a glass of wine while you play cornhole, giant Connect Four, ping pong, or just sit and read a book. There is also a cute boutique gift shop with some snazzy swag and farmhouse décor.
While the venue has been open for a while as a place to go for weekend food, music, and wine they only recently completed construction of their wine production facility during which time they hired Arnulfo as their winemaker to oversee the equipment acquisition and ultimate winemaking. They are ready to celebrate this accomplishment with a Grand Opening Party on Saturday, September 10th. There will be a ribbon cutting at Noon, tours of the winery showing off all of the shiny new tanks and winemaking equipment, and then stay for the live music starting at 5:00 p.m.
Rowdy Creek Ranch is a great place to get away from the craziness of the city and relax and enjoy nature at a slower pace. They are an easy distance from the Dallas/Fort Worth metroplex, Shreveport, Texarkana, and not too far from the Houston area.