Frencesco Quaglia: The Man at Val Verde Winery that Gave Texas Wine
Heading east from Marathon, I looked out from the road and the isolation in this part of Texas provided me little to announce the era. It could well be the present day, or just as likely, the countryside of the nineteenth century. What better way to enter Del Rio, Texas to see Val Verde Winery than this? Started in 1883, it is the winery that defied Prohibition to become the oldest continuously operating winery in Texas and, if my numbers are correct, the third oldest in the entire United States.
As I slipped into Del Rio from the open highway, the landscape turned to stark urban concrete, but as I went through the city center, I exited into a verde world of tall trees, wild green undergrowth and the lush emerald rows of grapevines that surround the Val Verde Winery. It was easy to presume that Frenchesco “Frank” Quaglia found a similar if not even starker contrast in the area when he arrived by wagon in San Felipe Del Rio from Italy via Mexico and San Antonio in 1882. The stark white caliche soil gave way to the green oasis surrounding the San Filipe springs. Frank knew that this was good land for growing grapes, and it still is over a hundred years later.
I sat in the cool dim light of the original adobe building listened intently to Tommy and Michael Qualia, grandson and great-grandson of Francesco, tell the story of how Frank and his Italian compatriots that left Italy and eventually made their way to Texas. It was easy to feel his family’s passion for wine that kept this operation going when no other winery in the state could; through Prohibition and the near fifty year post-prohibition no-mans-land for Texas wineries.
I tasted through the Val Verde wine offerings in their tasting room. What did I come back with? Well, two bottles, that’s what…two really good bottles of wine.
The first bottle was the Val Verde Muscat Canelli an off-dry white wine with aromatic florals and citrus and lychee fruit flavors. The grapes came to Val Verde care of growers on the Texas high plains. My wife and I shared this bottle on the deck at our Hill Country cottage served with a chili-infused corn and lemongrass soup, and spicy garlic-grilled shrimp. Texas, its food and quality wine, just doesn’t get better than when served on the deck with the cool evening Hill Country breezes while taking in a pink-hued sunset.
The second bottle was the Val Verde Lenoir that sports a picture of Francesco (or “Texas Frank” as I like to call this picture) looking more the part of an early Texan than an Italian emigrant; how quick things can change. This bottle made its way back successfully to Houston and lasted maybe a week until, it was opened and presented at dinner with braised short ribs au jus with steamed cauliflower Parmesan. The Lenoir was made from the red juice of the Black Spanish grape grown at Val Verde and it is a different type of red wine driven by dark red berries. It’s definitely not Cabernet, not Merlot or even like Syrah. Today, it is something uniquely Texas after the grape’s long trek from Europe to the Atlantic Coast (where it had an unholy union with a Native American grape) and likely back to Europe and possibly the Madiera Islands before getting here in the 1800s along the Old Spanish Trail. The nose telegraphs black cherry to mulberry. It’s big, thick and weighty on the palate, but is loaded with refreshing fruit and a decently crisp finish.
Val Verde Winery
100 Qualia Drive, Del Rio, TX 78840
(830) 775-9714 Fax: (830) 775-5394
E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org; Web site: www.valverdewinery.com
Thomas M. Qualia, Owner
Tours, Tastings, Gift Shop
Val Verde Winery was established in 1883 by Italian immigrant Frank Qualia who began making wine for family and friends from the Lenoir grape. In 1933, his son Louis Qualia introduced the Herbemont grape, originally from France, to Texas. Today, the winery is the full-time occupation of third generation vintner Thomas Qualia. Its Don Luis Tawny Port has won medals from Houston to New York. It is the oldest bonded winery in Texas and was honored by the Family Land Heritage Program at the Texas Department of Agriculture for single-family ownership of the vineyards for more than 110 years. Family pride, longevity and innovation in the wine industry make Val Verde Winery a Texas landmark.