Tag Archives: Saint Jo

Saying Good-Bye

John Fredrick, Jr.
John Fredrick, Jr.

Yesterday we said good-bye to a true gentleman, in every sense and meaning of the word, I had the privilege of only just getting to know. The first time we met John Fredrick, Jr. was on our yearly Thanksgiving wine tour in 2012. On Facebook I had been watching the progress of the pergola being built and other things going on at Blue Ostrich Winery and I knew it was a winery we HAD to visit! We dropped the kid off at Gramma and Grampa’s, packed a picnic of bread, cheeses, and meats and we headed north. We drove…and drove…and DROVE!! It wasn’t so bad, just a couple of hours…NORTH of I-20!


We arrived and pulled into the parking lot noticing the pens of ostriches and the winery that was a gorgeous whitewashed barn. We stepped inside and were greeted by a couple of lovely ladies behind the bar, who turned out to be Julie Whitehead (one of the owners and who is married to the winemaker and another owner Patrick Whitehead) and Danna Fredrick (who is married to the vineyard manager and other co owner). They kind of tag-teamed between us and another couple at the bar easily keeping track of where we were on the tasting list and what we’d like to try next. We thoroughly enjoyed the wines we tasted and the visit with the ladies. We chose a Zinfandel for our picnic wine and took the bottle out to the patio and enjoyed a chilly fall afternoon under the pergola overlooking the vineyard as it swept across and down into the valley. After we completed our wine and picnic a tall lanky gentleman strode up from the vineyard and introduced himself to us as John Fredrick, vineyard manager and asked how we were enjoying the wine and did we have any questions. We assured him we enjoyed it very much and began talking to him about the ostriches, the vines, the grapes…he patiently, graciously, and thoroughly answered our questions and offered general funny comments and stories. He told us of his foray from cattle rancher to ostrich rancher (farmer?) to grape grower. We totally enjoyed his stories, his candor, his humor, and the way he talked to us like he’d known us for years. What a wonderful ambassador he was for Blue Ostrich Vineyards and the Texas wine industry as a whole. We left that day knowing we had made friends and that we would definitely return.


We joined their wine club on a subsequent visit and we now had an excuse to make the trip to Saint Jo regularly to visit our friends at Blue Ostrich and drink their wines. We’ve been several more times to pick up our wine club, to help with crush and bottling, and to just visit for a little bit and hang out. More often than not if John wasn’t in the vineyard tending to his precious “babies” he would be hanging around the tasting room and patio making his way around to the various groups visiting and answering the same questions over and over, but you wouldn’t know it by listening to his answers. He had a way about him that made you feel like yours was the most important question he’d answer that day.


Yesterday I made the trip to Saint Jo to join with several hundred of his family and friends to say our final good-byes to John.  As members of his family bravely stood before us and recounted funny and touching stories about John from his childhood and younger years to more recent times I listened and laughed and was reminded that John was a man who was easy to like, he enjoyed his family and friends, and he would help anyone with any problem of any kind. We heard stories of hunting trips, raising quality cattle, herding ostriches, and making sure the lines in the vineyard were straight. He loved life. I know that is cliché, but John packed a whole lot of life in his 53 short years and he loved every minute of it! He adored his wife, Danna, and their 4 boys. He was busy working on spoiling their grandson, much to his son’s dismay (and amusement!).

After the church service we made our way to the cemetery just down the road past Blue Ostrich Winery. I think I was about car #30 in a line of at least 50. As we passed cars on the little country road, they respectfully pulled to the side, but instead of like in the cities now these drivers waited until the whole line of cars had passed before they pulled back out to be on their way. I made a mental note to slow myself down and do the same the next time I encountered a funeral procession. We gathered around the graveside and more beautiful words were spoken, the Bois d’Arcs sang, then Patrick stepped up to say some final words and read a poem about Texas wine. Several of us had been asked to pass out cups and pour a taste of wine so we could offer a toast. As a group we raised our glasses and said, “To John!”

I realize now that much of my sadness comes from the fact that I will not get to know the man better that was described to me yesterday. Yes, that is selfish, but often times our sadness is just that. A selfish act of wanting something for ourselves that we cannot have. I will enjoy the memories of John that I do have, but I would love to have learned more from him about the fine art of growing grapes as he was enjoying learning about it and sharing what he’d learned.

Several times during the service it was mentioned that John’s favorite Bible verse was Philippians 4:13 “I can do all things through Christ, who strengthens me.” But as I sat there and listened to all the wonderful things his family and friends were saying about him I couldn’t help but think about Matthew 25:21 “Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master’s happiness!” I can certainly see John in charge of the heavenly vineyards growing some awesome grapes in nothing less than perfectly straight lines!!


Will Work For Wine

“Free Labor”

My husband, Shelly, and I have enjoyed drinking Texas wines for quite some time now. We’ve followed the stories of how the wines are made, where the grapes are grown, and how they get to the winery. We “get” the basics and we’ve often talked about participating in the various steps of getting the grapes from the vineyard into our glass.

Earlier this summer we had the opportunity to spend a day with fellow wine friends Dave and Kelli Potter at Blue Ostrich Winery and Vineyard near Saint Jo, Texas, as they received Tempranillo grapes from Adam Bishop’s vineyard in Childress, Texas, and Dr. Bobby Smith’s vineyards just down the road in Springtown.

We stepped in and helped shovel grapes, stems and all, into the hopper as the auger took them into the crusher de-stemmer.

Loading the destemmer
Loading the destemmer

The only problem with that process came when the grape clusters were so tight that the berries were holding on too tight to the stems! There was no room for the grapes to slip inside the holes of the barrel to be pulled off and then be dropped into the bin, while the stems are dropped into another bin for composting.

Watching to see if the grapes make it off the stem
Watching to see if the grapes make it off the stem

With these tight clusters, too many grapes were being left on the stems and the whole cluster was being dropped into the compost bin. This was not good at all! So we were taking these clusters by the double handfuls and dropping them back into the de-stemmer. As they were rolled back around and grapes were still left on the stems we reached in and started pulling the grapes off the stems by hand!!

After purple fingers and sunburned necks and legs we got all the bins processed and into the cellar to start the fermentation process. Several groups of people came out and watched as the grapes began their transformation from vine to wine.

Visitors coming to watch destemming process
Visitors coming to watch destemming process

Both Dave and Shelly assisted Patrick Whitehead, the winemaker, in doing pH analysis and brix readings as well as creating the yeast culture that would be used to inoculate the just crushed grapes. Other additions to the “must” included pectin enzymes, and untoasted oak dust to aid in color extraction.

Dave wants to have his own vineyard and winery one day so he was paying particular attention to the process and asking questions of Patrick and John, the vineyard manager.

While Patrick, Presley, and other employees cleaned up the equipment, Shelly and I along with the Potters went to the front porch and enjoyed the picnic lunch we brought ….and some Texas wine, of course!

Perfect picnic spot
Perfect picnic spot

It was very interesting to see the beginning process of how the grapes become wine!!

Weekend Winery Road Trip

So…do you have a free weekend coming up soon? Here’s a great idea – how about taking a road trip? But, wait, not just any road trip…a winery road trip!! How does a picnic lunch on a patio sound? Good? OK, how about pizza and wine for dinner? Oh, yeah, now I have your attention. What about an overnight stay in an old hotel on a quiet town square to end the relaxing day? Let’s put this plan in motion…

Check your calendar for a couple of dates and make a phone call to Ancient Ovens (940-366-4255) and see which one is available, they have a tendency to sell out rather quickly. Next call Texas Kings Hotel (940-995-2565) and make reservations for the same night, trust me after the wine and pizza you will not want to drive home.

OK, now that the dates are set and reservations are made lets plan the rest of the weekend!

The morning of your reservations, pack an easy picnic lunch of maybe a pasta salad, French bread, cheeses, deli meats, whatever you enjoy eating as a picnic, and water. The secret to a good winery trip is to stay hydrated. Load up and head up the road a couple of hours to Blue Ostrich Winery. Their building once housed a herd?…a flock?…a gaggle?…of ostrich and the barrel room was the hatchery. Be sure and have them tell you the story, it is very interesting! As you go through your tasting keep in mind that you will want to take some wine to the pizza dinner. Maybe Poppy’s Garden if you like a little sweeter? Hmmmmm…Meritage? What about Cielo? I know, so many choices! These are just some of the reds, they still have a handful of whites to try. The good news is you don’t have to make the decision yet. Choose a glass of wine and take your picnic out to their pergola covered patio. You can enjoy the view overlooking the vineyard as it drops into the valley. Maybe the ostrich will do his dance for you, ask your tasting guide how to get him started. Most of all relax as you enjoy your day. Now you can make your decisions, but remember you still have another winery just down the road to visit.

Leave enough time in your schedule to call and meet at the hotel to check in and pick up your keys.

Now it’s time to go to Arche’. More than likely Amy will be at the tasting bar to greet you as you step inside. Allow her to guide you through a tasting. Do they have something you’ve never tried before? Give it a taste. They have some great varietals. Let her know you have reservations for the pizza dinner and she will get you out on time and with directions. Before you leave, take a moment to step outside and enjoy the view of their vineyards. Rows and rows of grapevines!

Did you make a wine choice at Blue Ostrich to drink with your pizza dinner? Did you find something at Arche’ you’d like to take too? It’s ok to take two, you can put the corks back in them if you don’t finish.

Dinner is just down the road and around the corner. Be sure to get there early enough to get settled and your wine poured before dinner gets started. It is quite a production. I am purposefully not saying much about it because it is so good and so fun. We went during February so we sat inside the new building, but I want to go back either in the Spring or Fall so we can enjoy dinner on the patio and watch the sun go down. Spoiler…save room for dessert!!!

When you can waddle out, head back to town to the hotel. Let yourself in and enjoy your room.

Breakfast is not provided, but feel free to bring your own continental brunch provisions. Pastries, yogurts, and fruits would be good to munch on as you leisurely prepare for the day ahead. There is a community coffee pot in the billiard room that can be used.

Brushy Creek  is just outside of Alvord about an hour down the road from Saint Jo. Their tasting room opens at 10:00. Les Constable, the owner, has a very wide variety of wines to taste and choose. Most of their grapes are estate grown, but they do purchase grapes from various vineyards from the high plains in west Texas to some vineyards in east Texas.

The tasting room is rather small, but that is fine when there are other people in there with you. Before you leave you will probably have new friends! The tasting guides will help you decide which wines to try based on your tastes and preferences. They have a table on the front porch of the tasting room you can take a glass and enjoy the quiet sounds of the country or they have an event facility that you can see if you can take your wine and sit and enjoy the view of their little valley.

Feel free to personalize this trip so that it fits your preferences and desires, I really meant this to be just a guide or a basic idea. Be sure and check driving directions and travel times that work for your schedule.