Veteran Texas Winemaker Owns Pheasant Ridge Winery Once Again
The Cox’s regain lost winery that they saw from their kitchen window every morning for over 20 years
by Andrew Chalk, Guest Blogger & VT Commentary by Russ Kane
Bobby Cox, the winemaker who played a major part in putting Texas wine on the national map, is back as owner (with his wife Jennifer) of Pheasant Ridge Winery. Cox and the Bingham Family, agreed to split the assets [from the recent winery acquisition]. The Binghams get the existing inventory and all of the wine making equipment at the winery, and Cox gets ownership of the brand, the winery building near Lubbock and thirty acres of vineyards (about half of which are producing). Cox said that he is optimistic about the future of Texas wine, considering the industry to be at a tipping point at which high quality is going to become commonplace. He says that he looks forward to being part of that quality revolution and will be using 100% Texas grapes.
The Bingham Family, one of the largest growers of grapes in the High Plains, plans to move forward with their Bingham Family Vineyards in Meadow Texas and has already released wines and opened a tasting room in Grapevine. Tastings and tours start at the Meadow winery facility later this summer after construction work is finished but Betty Bingham stressed that they expect the Grapevine tasting room to be the main consumer tasting facility.
For Texas wine lovers, this development means that two producers committed to making quality wine from 100% Texas grapes can operate at full pace.
Pheasant Ridge holds a unique place in Texas wine history. Founded by Cox in the early 1980s, it committed to grow vinifera grapes in Texas right from the start. At a time when many of the few dozen wineries then in the state were producing an embarrassing mish-mash of chemistry set experiments gone wrong, Cox’s winemaking and viticulture produced medals, not just in-state but at the country’s most prestigious wine competitions. The Pheasant Ridge 1982 Cabernet Sauvignon won a medal and their Sauvignon Blanc won an honorable mention at the San Francisco Wine Competition. A silver medal was awarded to the 1984 Sauvignon Blanc at the San Francisco Wine Competition in 1985. In 1986 the 1983 Cabernet Sauvignon won a gold at the San Francisco Wine Competition.
This also recently appeared in Wines & Vines.
VT Commentary…I agree wholeheartedly with Andy on this one. It was a win-win way to handle the Pheasant Ridge acquisition and one that allows the modern Texas wine industry to get back in touch with its legacy that Bobby helped create. The re-establishment of the Pheasant Ridge Winery with Bobby Cox will be like having a Texas wine “Hubble Telescope” giving us “eyes to see” back in time in the industry near its modern creation. I explored this legacy personally on a trips to the Texas high plains in 2008 & 2009. I related one occasion in my recent book (The WineSlinger Chronicles: Texas on the Vine available on Amazon.com). Excerpt below:
“Bobby Cox is a larger-than-life character both in stature and reputation among grape growers and winemakers. He’s something like a Texas version of Paul Bunyan, and Neal Newsom’s large blue grape harvester parked beside him appeared as the mechanical equivalent of Bunyan’s large blue ox, Babe. While Bunyan was a legendary lumberman in the American northland, Bobby’s a bona fide virtuoso of grape growing here in the Southwest.
Bobby’s hands showed the signs of wear and weather, and his furrowed face was etched with the look of lessons learned at the mercy of Mother Nature and hard economic times. At times it is difficult to separate the man from the legend. He’s shown an uncanny ability of identifying trends, helping growers select grape varieties that best fit the climate and soil in Texas, and at adapting vineyard techniques that optimize the quantity and quality of their harvests. That evening when Bobby arrived at a dinner gathering of High Plains growers, he produced his own personal offering of Texas wine history captured in a large, dusty liter and a half bottle of wine.
Pheasant Ridge Winery, with its estate vineyard in the Lubbock area, was once Bobby’s baby. The vineyard he planted in the 1970s is one of the oldest in Texas, with sixty acres of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, Chenin Blanc, and Semillon. He was a believer in the European vinifera grapes from the start, at a time when many people felt that they couldn’t be grown here. However, Bobby’s blood, sweat, and tears weren’t enough. A few years of lean harvests led to the need to borrow money to keep the winery going, but when that ran out, the winery was taken over by the bank and sold in the early 1990s.
Bobby still views his lost winery every day from his kitchen window when he drinks his morning coffee before going out to tend the vineyards of others. Despite this misfortune, he decided to stay in the game as a vineyard consultant to help promote the art and science of Texas viticulture that he loves so much.”
Well, Bobby’s decision to stay in the game has paid off. It also gives proof to the saying “what goes around, comes around” In this case, it came around with a second chance at fulfilling the Cox’s dreams that were left largely unfulfilled over two decades ago. This will be no small task for a much older but well seasoned Bobby Cox. But, you know, if anyone can do it, my faith is in Bobby.