Tag Archives: Wine

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!

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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.

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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.

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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!!

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Thanksgiving Wine Trip 2013 – Day 1

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.
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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.

Part of the welcoming committee.
Daisy, part of the welcoming committee.

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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.

Texas Vineyard and Smokehaus
Texas Vineyard and Smokehaus

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.

Caney Creek Winery
Caney Creek Winery
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Rebecca Gayle, Caney Creek Winery