Traveling the Wine Roads of Northeast Texas Wine Country and the Grape Man of Texas
On Monday, I had a full day at the Texas Wine Quality Boot Camp (https://vintagetexas.com/?p=1958) followed by an evening with Gabe and Barbara Parker and son. We shared wine, cheese, dinner and good stories before I retired to their 100 year old Parker House that is fully restored as their Homestead Winery tasting room and bed and breakfast (http://www.homesteadwinery.com) in Ivanhoe, Texas. Great getaway on the back roads and wine roads of Texas. If you blink you will drive right through town and miss it.
After leaving early the following morning for my long trek through east Texas, I called Gabe to thank him for his hospitality. He asked me if I saw or heard the ghost at the Parker House. I mentioned to him that I didn’t think the ghost made an appearance. However, I was so tired that the ghost could have crawled in bed with me, and I wouldn’t have known it. Perhaps the ghost was disappointed in lack of attention and simply gave up to return another day.
My first visit in the morning was a stop at the T.V. Munson home (Vinita). Munson holds the illustrious position as the grand Grape Man of Texas. He was an internationally recognized horticulturist from Denison, Texas that developed over 300 varieties of new grape varieties.
Munon is perhaps best known for his work in fighting the Phylloxera epidemic of the late nineteenth century, which nearly wiped out the vineyards of France and around Europe. His solution was to graft European vines (vitis vinifera) onto certain resistant native grapevine rootstocks from Texas. This work earned him the Chevalier du Mérite Agricole in the French Legion of Honor.
Dr. Roy Renfro from Grayson College, who heads the T.V. Munson Center (www.tvmunson.org) has been instrumental in the development of the vineyard and restoration of the Munson home. He gave me a personal tour of Vinita. It was like the Grape Man was still there, at work on his vines and getting his next grape horticulture circular ready for publication. The Munson estate in Denison, Texas, once totaled over 200 acres that is now crisscrossed with residential streets and dotted with homes. All that is left beyond the house and immediate grounds is a street that leads up to the home lined with grand Magnolia trees planted by Munson.
When we finished at Vinita, Roy returned me to the Munson Center, the site of the T.V. Munson vineyard. On our way, we rounded the corner from Vinita and stopped near the old railroad tracks where we found wild vines and grapes hanging from the trees.
The Munson Memorial Vineyard was established in 1974 on the West Campus of Grayson College through the generosity of the W.B. Munson Foundation in memory of bother T.V. Munson. Of the three hundred Munson varieties of grapes, Dr. Renfro has successfully located and returned a long list of these grape varieties to Texas many of which are on living display in the vineyard. See list at: http://intertwining.org/twining/VITICULT/variety2.htm.
As I strolled the vineyard, the smell of freshly mowed grass nearby permeated the air as the morning heat started to build. The sun was still low in the sky and backlit the grapes and highlighted their many shades of red, purple, pink, yellow and green. I just couldn’t help but taste them; a taste of time, history and the Munson legacy. The grapes provided a multiplicity of flavors, some with characteristic foxy and grapy notes, while others had a full set of enjoyable fruit qualities. Some were passive and mellow while others were tart to startlingly acidic; each with its distinctive character gained by Munson’s hand. Before I left, my tongue was a tad numb from its encounter with the Munson grapes.
It approached eleven o’clock and I struck out from Denison near the shores of Lake Texoma heading southeast to re-enter the tall piney woods of east Texas and in the general direction of home. Gabe Parker noted my trajectory and suggested that I stop in at the new Landon Winery in downtown Greenville, Texas. I negotiated the maze of one-way Greenville streets in a broad S-shaped path to the front door of the new winery.
I walked inside of what I found to be a surprisingly large and cavernous building across from the courthouse. It was space previously occupied by an old department store that had been closed and boarded up for what appeared to be a long, long time.
In the front, the Landon tasting room bar and long line of bottled shelves along the sidewall announced the intent of the new facility, but there was still more than adequate space for other activities, as well. There was a large ballroom in the back where special wine events, receptions and dinners could be held. Space was already allocated for planned expansion to hold a kitchen and restaurant. Still farther back was another large room where I met winery owner, Bob Landon. I still remembered the taste of his bold red Tempranillo from a surprising encounter on a bus on a cold February evening earlier this year (See: https://vintagetexas.com/?p=1444). The warehouse contained case goods and stacks of oak barrels, some filled with wines from past vintages while others awaited this year’s offerings. The Landon Winery was breathing new life into the old building, and should also apply CPR on the local Greenville economy.
I continued to move southward back toward Houston following roads that snaked between rolling hills, tall green pines, rambling farms and languishing lakes. I stopped briefly for lunch and to check the map to find the coordinates of my next stop near Hawkins, Texas. I have been corresponding with R.L. Winters at Fairhaven Vineyards (http://www.fairhavenvineyards.com) for about a year. He is man who is a wealth of information on the lineage of Black Spanish grapes. While still somewhat of a mystery, I wanted to learn more about the grape, plans to get scientific information, and also about the man and his operation that continues the legacy of Munson.
“R.L.” as he likes to be called discussed his east Texas viticultural operation that includes over 11 acres of established vines. He works exclusively with French American and American Hybrids and makes wines that have characteristics that few others can match. R.L. is a Master Horticulturist and has begun the pioneering effort to develop the “Heritage Series” of super hybrid wine grapes. The genetic base for this project is sourced from Fairhaven’s exceptionally rare American hybrid collection. Last year, Lomanto (one of the T.V. Munson hybrid grape varieties) became the first wine produced in the Heritage Series. R.L.’s genetic work at Fairhaven Vineyards focuses on the development of heat and drought tolerant, disease resistant varieties for wine production in the most demanding environmental conditions (beyond the normal capabilities of the European grape varietals). One of his projects involves determining the American and French lineage of the Black Spanish grape. This is something that I have a personal interest in as does many of the grape growers in Texas.
Fairhaven Vineyards was my fourth stop of the day and I wasn’t yet half way home. I was approaching Tyler, Texas, and I wanted to slip into Kiepersol Estates (http://www.kiepersol.com) for an overnight stay and a visit with winemaker, Marnelle Durrett and her father Pierre De Wit who have made a brave foray into cultivation of Eruopean vinifera grapes in east Texas. However, I will save this for Part II of “Traveling the Wine Roads of Northeast Texas Wine Country”.
Quite a few years ago we went through a couple of cases of 1997 Domaine Denison Cabernet, a product of “Red River Valley Vineyards”. The wine was in honor of the 25th anniversary of the dedication of the T. V. Munson vineyards at Grayson College. The story is that the wine was made by Kim McPherson working with Roy Renfro at Grayson College (the label does credit Cap Rock Winery as the producer and bottler). I do know it is probably the best Texas wine I’ve ever had (and it’s hard for a New Mexican to acknowledge that any Texas wine could be good). As a result of that wine, we still buy McPherson Winery wines whenever we go through Lubbock and enjoy them very much. I do have one bottle of the 1997 Domaine Denison left, and, although it’s probably over the hill a bit, I’m looking forward to drinking it on some special occasion, probably when we’re with my brother-in-law, who brought us the first bottle back in the 90s.
Too bad the rest of the wine world (e.g., WS) doesn’t pay more tribute to Munson and the more recent Texas viticulturists and winemakers.
Thanks for sharing this experience. It wouldn’t surprise me if there were a little New Mexico fruit in that wine. Kim’s got friends with vineyards on that side of the border.