Wine making hobby expands to include vineyard, winery and tasting room

Jennifer Lee Preyss By Jennifer Lee Preyss

Jan. 26, 2012 at 8:04 p.m.
Updated Jan. 25, 2012 at 7:26 p.m.

Doug Reed, co-owner of Lavaca Bluffs vineyard and winery, pours wine samples in his tasting room, which is open to the public in Lolita.

Doug Reed, co-owner of Lavaca Bluffs vineyard and winery, pours wine samples in his tasting room, which is open to the public in Lolita.

LOLITA - Before returning to Jackson County to retire in the country, Doug and Beth Reed weren't connoisseurs of wine.

The former educators and history enthusiasts purchased their 5-acre property near Lolita in 1998 to spend their later years growing old together, and enjoying the organic views of the Lavaca River from the backyard.

But a pesky, oversized oak tree situated in the rear of their property - and the wild grapevines growing around it - would alter the couple's retirement plans forever, and foster a passion for homegrown regional wine production.

"I'd go out to the tree and regularly cut back these wild mustang grape vines. Well, of course they'd keep growing back and growing back, and I'd have to cut them back each time. I realized later I was pruning them," said Doug Reed, Lavaca Bluffs Winery and Vineyard owner.

After a few years of battling the vines around the tree, he decided he'd turn his vine cutting chore into a year-round wine making hobby.

"I think I just realized grapes will grow here," Doug, 60, said. "And I thought, 'I wonder what else will grow here.'"

Shortly after the epiphany, the Reeds grew fascinated with learning the process of juice fermentation and decided to enroll in several wine classes to hone their craft and knowledge of wine.

"It started out as a hobby that just got out of control. I'd make wine for my son or for a wedding," he said. "But Beth appropriately pointed out all the money we could be making was going out the door."

So about a year ago, the Reeds opened Lavaca Bluffs Vineyard and Winery on their retirement property, which features 22 distinct handcrafted wines made from regional fruit and estate-grown Black Spanish and Blanc Du Bois grapes. The vineyard grows about 500 vines of the white and black grapes.

Lavaca Bluffs also offers a tasting room, open Friday, Saturday and Sunday and by appointment throughout the week.

And since the Reeds are both education buffs, they decided to pair their newfound love of wine with regional history lessons printed on the bottle.

Every bottle produced onsite has the "History in the Bottle" story to couple the cleverly-named flavor of wine.

"Wine is important, but we love the stories as well," Beth said.

Guests of the vineyard can enjoy tales of the French nuns of Brownsville in the 1850s, or the New York, Texas and Mexican railroad built by Count Telferner's Italian laborers, while sipping fine wine in the tasting room, or on the deck overlooking the river.

"As educators, we can't help ourselves," Beth, 66, said.

Lavaca Bluffs has attracted visitors from across the region, Beth said. And as the couple grows their variety in reds and whites, interest and word-of-mouth about their homegrown and homemade wines continues to expand as well.

"We exceeded our expectations for the first year," Doug said. "But we're not doing this to make a living."

Even though the Reeds entered the business of wine-making in an accidental fashion, they join a statewide trend of winery and vineyard growth.

The Texas Department of Agriculture reports fast growth among grape growers and winery businesses statewide.

"The wine industry is one of Texas agriculture's fastest-growing industries," said Bryan Black, Texas Department of Agriculture Director of Communications. "Ten years ago there were 46 Texas wineries. Now there are more than 215."

Black also said the Agriculture Department encourages and assists grape growers across the state, especially in rural Texas. "Texas is the fifth largest wine-producing state in the nation; we're seeing exciting growth in wine tourism and we're opening doors to new markets inside and outside Texas," he said. "This success is because of our winemakers' hard work. Their risk-taking is achieving extraordinary success in identifying the varietals and techniques best suited to our region's climate and terrain."

As the Reeds, wine-making hobby continues to expand, they plan to incorporate new vines, new flavors and tastes.

But they plan to stay regional, paying homage to the land and region their wine venture began.

"We just want to make good friends and have fun," Doug said. "This isn't a statewide project. It's regional."



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