Shelly and I have a Thanksgiving week tradition we started several years ago. Since the boys are out of school the week of Thanksgiving we load them up and take them to Gramma and Grampa’s house then we head out and find some wineries to visit.
We have visited wineries in the Lubbock area, the Saint Jo area, and up and down the Hwy 290 area. This year we chose to head south and east and visit some wineries in east Texas. We started the trip Saturday morning as a vicious winter storm was threatening to engulf the north Texas metroplex the next day. As we took off down the country roads in the rain we were afraid we had missed the beautiful fall colors we’d been hearing about, but that fear was unwarranted! The trees were showing off their colors in rare form. The reds, oranges, browns, yellows, and almost every shade of green imaginable were absolutely beautiful. While we headed south we also noticed that more and more of the ponds and stock tanks were mostly full. I enjoy watching for hawks and other birds perching in trees or on power lines on the side of the road and I was not disappointed, but I did get tickled that they were not the large hawks that we see in central to west Texas, but they were smaller birds and looked like they might have been more of a sparrow hawk. Most were very fluffy as they perched in the damp and cold.
Our first stop was Maydelle Country Wines and we found them on Hwy 84 that runs between Palestine and Rusk. They do have a blue Texas Highway Department sign announcing their winery, but at their drive way they also have a number of signs also showing you are at the right place. We made the turn into the driveway and crossed the railroad tracks, winding our way around to the winery.
One word truly does describe this place – Country! Good country folk making country wines. We were greeted by a rather large goat on the front porch and a very exuberant basset hound bounding around our feet. A gentleman came out on the front porch to sweep the goat’s droppings out of our way and he invited us in stating the hound could come inside, but the goat had to stay outside…she wasn’t house trained! As we came in out of the cold he apologized that it would not be toasty warm inside due to a heater malfunction that morning. The thermocouple had gone out of their furnace in that building. We found a gas heater doing a good job taking the chill out of the air. Steven Harper, owner and winemaker, is a “train nut” and there are lots of references to that lifelong love distributed around the tasting room.
Steven explained that he doesn’t usually do the tastings, but he would get us started hoping his wife would be along shortly from being set up at a local farmer’s market. He began by telling us that “No grapes were harmed in the making of these wines.” I believe it!! He started by pouring their Lemon Wine, then the Lime Wine, and he had just poured the next one, a Peach Wine, as the basset hound started going nuts whining and bouncing at the door. Pretty soon a woman bundled up against the elements came inside and our tasting was put on a quick hold as she unloaded her packages and they switched places, she taking over our tasting and Steven unloading the wine cases out of the vehicle. After the Peach Wine we also tasted Blackberry, Elderberry, and Grapefruit wines. The only grape wines available were sweet and dry Lenoir wines they named Lenore, due to the fact Steven thought that was how the grape was pronounced when he first saw it written. Because of this, they have different stanzas from Edgar Allen Poe’s “The Raven” printed on each vintage’s label. There was also a white zinfandel called Gavyn Blush. During our conversation, we found out that all of the wines are unoaked. We also discussed various books and authors and quoted lines from Mel Brooks movies. We had a wonderful visit and we wish them continued success!
Back up Highway 84 towards Palestine, we went to Texas Vineyard and Smokehaus. We found out pretty quickly that the owner and winemaker, Rafael Hernandez, had just been released from the hospital Thursday after having open heart surgery!! AND he was in the back room still offering direction and suggestions as the tasting progressed. We tasted 10 wines, dries and sweets, whites and reds. Mr. Hernandez leases 100 acres in north Texas. He and a partner bought the property in 2005, opened the winery in 2008, and he bought out his partner in 2011. Shelly learned that the Smokehaus is available for groups of 10 or more.
Our final wine destination for the day was Caney Creek Winery outside of Grapeland off of Hwy 287. We had contacted the winery ahead of time to confirm hours of operation and found Rebecca Gayle in the tasting room waiting for us. We are in the same Facebook wine group, Texas Wine Drinkers, and have seen each other’s comments on various posts so it was great to finally meet in person. I knew that they had three wines, all from the same grape…Blanc du Bois. Disclaimer: I do not like Blanc du Bois!! However, I always believe that somewhere, somehow, some winemaker is going to do something with that grape that I’m going to like. With that, I opened my mind and jumped into the tasting. The first one was dry with lots of floral notes on the nose. I’ve about decided that it’s the floral-ness that I generally don’t like. The next wine was the semi-sweet…this one’s tasting notes mentioned bananas. I don’t know if it was the “power of suggestion,” or the actual flavor, but I liked the first taste so much I went back for another. I liked the second taste so much we bought a bottle to have for Thanksgiving Dinner. The third Blanc du Bois wine was the Portejas, a dessert version and it was too sweet for us, and at 22% alcohol it will never be sold in a grocery store! Rebecca’s final wine to taste was a Lenoir Portejas dessert wine, also 22% alcohol. I did not know they had this Lenoir vintage. Even though she only had the four wines to taste, when we looked at our watch as we were gathering to leave we noticed we had been there for TWO hours chatting and having a great visit! Rebecca really enjoyed telling us about their plans for the winery and how they were looking forward to expanding the tasting room, the operations, and the vineyards. We could hear the excitement and the passion for what she and her husband were doing in the wine industry. We are looking forward to following their progress as they grow.