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Couple's dream sprouts true with Hallettsville vineyard

By By Dianna Wray - DWRAY@VICAD.COM
Jan. 5, 2012 at 6 p.m.
Updated Jan. 4, 2012 at 7:05 p.m.

The Courthouse wines from Darcy's Vineyard take their name from the courthouse in Hallettsville. More than just recreating the familiar tastes of European classics, the Warrens are aiming to make wines with a distinct Texas identity.

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To get more information about Darcy's Vineyard, go to darcysvineyard.com.

HALLETTSVILLE - Darcy and John Warren weren't even supposed to look at the lot, a hay field just outside of Hallettsville.

But they knew when they saw it - 24 acres of gently rolling land covered in grass that rippled like ocean waves in the steady wind - they would start their vineyard here.

"When you come on the right name for your child, you know it. That's my child's name. It was the same with this land - we knew," Darcy Warren said.

It was only after that thunderbolt of knowledge struck that they stopped to figure out if the land would be good to grow grapes to make wine. The soil had a high PH balance, not ideal for growing grapes, but they decided to give it a try anyway to see what they could make of it, opening the first vineyard in Lavaca County.

John Warren became interested in wine making after he was stationed in Saudi Arabia for Operation Desert Storm.

"Being in a place where wine wasn't available got me thinking about the wine-making process," he said.

The couple met at a party, married three months later, after a whirlwind courtship, and moved to Pakistan, where John was posted for the U.S. State Department. When their lives were blended together, his dream became their dream.

While stationed in South America, they toured a winery in Chile with some visiting diplomats. They were both taken with the beauty of the place, but it didn't seem possible to actually create a winery like that one, John Warren said.

When they were stationed in Mexico, they came across a winery run by a retired Air Force sergeant in New Mexico. His operation was much smaller, but he made good wine. That was the second time starting their own vineyard and winery seemed possible.

"At that moment we realized this really is something we could do, not an unapproachable dream," he said.

He retired from the State Department after a stint in Mexico, and it was time to turn that dream into a reality.

That was seven years ago.

Since then, the couple have poured all of their energy into their vineyard and their goal of making distinct Texas wines.

Because of the difficult soil, it has been a process of trial and error to figure out what vines will successfully grow and flourish on their land. There have been unforeseen problems, too. Their first good crop was eaten by deer before they could get it off the vine.

In summer 2010, vines began dying for no apparent reason. It turned out cotton root rot, a disease that kills plants in only a few days, was preying on their vineyard. They lost 150 vines in a few weeks, while they watched, helpless.

"That set us back. We didn't know what was going to happen then," she said, looking out at the vines that survived.

The vines hang onto the fences, gnarled and brown to protect against the winter cold, but a transformation will occur come spring. Then, the vines will explode with life, a riot of brilliant green leaves protecting a new crop of grapes. In the summer, the grapes will hang heavy from the vine, swollen with juice. The Warrens and their two children will head out into the fields to pick them and bring the crop in to be harvested. They'll crush the grapes, spilling out maroon juice from the grape press. This juice will be used to make red wines.

They are a small vineyard still, but they have chosen the grapes to grow with an eye toward offering a few different types of wine.

The process at Darcy's Vineyard creates very dry wines that they sweeten to taste. They make a dry white wine, a cabernet sauvignon, a sweet blush wine and vanilla mead, wine made from honey. Wine takes on the character of the land, and the wines at Darcy's Vineyard reflect the land the grapes grow from, offering a unique taste pulled from the earth as the grapes grow.

After years of working, the Warrens became an official company last year. They sold their first bottle from their line of Courthouse wines to the school bus driver. The bottle features a detailed etching of the Lavaca County courthouse that John created.

In November they took their bottles to town for Hallettsville's Market Days.

"I don't think I've ever had another situation in my life where I've had to submit something for public approval, like an artist unveiling your work and hoping people like it," he said.

It was nerve-wracking, as they set up their stand that morning. What if no one bought any wine? What if the local people ignored them?

Shoppers swarmed around them to sample their wines, and they sold out in just a few hours. Both of them were left feeling humbled and grateful by the community response, they agreed.

"That's when we knew this was going to work. We just didn't know how we'd be received, and it's been wonderful. It's been better than wonderful," she said.

Now, with that first success, they are forging ahead. They will plant more vines in the spring, and they plan to open a tasting room on the property in April.

They hope to expand, and to establish themselves and their wines as a local staple. After years of work, their dream is coming true. Now, they've got a new goal.

"Everyone is used to cabernet sauvignon and merlot, and those are made from European vines. We want to make something unique, a real Texas wine. That's our goal now," she said.

Being in Texas is what has made their dream possible, he said. In Texas, people aren't limited by preconceived notions of what constitutes a perfect wine, he said.

"People here seem to be so much more receptive to new interpretations and new things. That freedom is what has allowed us to embark on this grand adventure," he said.

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