Guest Blog: Wine Making, Texas Style at Bluff Dale Winery
By Nathan Smith, Freelance Agricultural Journalist
From Italian hillsides to French farms to California vineyards, the world has come to know and love the taste of the wine originating in these traditional locations. However, there are some new players in the game and they hail from the Lone Star State.
Wineries around the globe are being given a run for their money by small vineyards like Bluff Dale Winery in rural Bluff Dale, Texas. Here, David and Theresa Hayes have started their own vineyard and brand of wine, and are among several winemakers who are proving it can be done in Texas, too.
“I was in sales and we were transferred to Texas,” Hayes said. “We were living in Flower Mound at the time and we’d looked for land for two years. We stopped in Hico one Sunday and saw an ad for land in Bluff Dale. We drove over and, immediately, we both knew this was the location where we wanted to build. We bought it the next day; that was 12 years ago.”
Hayes is no novice to the art of winemaking. As a child, he helped his grandfather on a winery in his native Tennessee.
“Our wine’s come a long way since those days,” Hayes laughed. “Granddad made some awful stuff with wild grapes.”
Along with the mechanics of winemaking, the Hayes’ have learned patience. After first planting and irrigating the grapes, a period of six years went by before the first bottle of wine was produced. Depending on the type of wine and finish desired, the process from plant to harvest can take three to four years. From that point, the grapes are crushed and yeast added. This grape must is then stored in large tanks for an extended period and allowed to ferment.
After the process of filtering, the wine is placed in oak barrels where it remains from six to eighteen months, depending on the wine variety and style. After more filtering, the wine is bottled.
“It’s long work and a waiting game the first few years; it’s farming,” Hayes said. “We started with 1500 plants and still have close to that now.”
The diverse climate and constantly changing weather has made viticulture in Central Texas somewhat challenging. One simple resource not as regular in Texas as in other areas known for wineries is water. To supplement the rain, Hayes uses a drip irrigation system that allows each plant to be watered individually. By using this system, he is able to control precisely the amount of water each plant receives. To combat runoff, he uses a French drain system that enables him to utilize what rainwater he collects.
“Each irrigator emits one gallon per hour,” Hayes said. “Depending on how much rain we have, I’ll water three gallons every third or fourth day. Some years I don’t have to use any irrigation; we’ve had some real monsoon seasons. Other years, I might have to water six gallons a week times 1500 plants.”
Because of Hayes’ irrigation practices, some of the Tarleton State University’s students benefit from class visits to the winery. The water conservation and utilization class is one such beneficiary. Other courses, such as food processing, use this destination as a means to show students how agricultural products are processed in a real world setting.
Hayes recently traveled to Austin to listen in on some State Senate committee hearings concerning legislation affecting wineries in the state. Wineries are now able to market their products that bring in tourism and revenue to the state.
“Legislation is now more favorable toward wineries,” Hayes said. “The state government is now giving grants to people who want to start vineyards. The biggest problem we face in Texas is not having enough grapes. We really only have 25 percent of the grapes we need in the state.”
Bluff Dale Winery imports grapes from other vineyards in Texas to supplement their own harvest. Normal harvests bring in three to four tons per acre. One ton of grapes are roughly equal to 150 gallons of finished wine.
Like a few other winemakers in the state, the Hayes’ open their doors to visitors and wine enthusiasts from across the country. With covered patio areas and occasional live music, the winery in Bluff Dale is a peaceful getaway dedicated to those who enjoy a nice Texas wine in a pleasant rural setting.
“We enjoy getting to know the folks that visit,” Hayes said. “I’ve always enjoyed working with people and I guess I really never got out of sales; now the people just come to me.”
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Bluff Dale Vineyards
Physical Address: 5222 County Road 148, Bluff Dale, TX 76433
Mailing Address: P.O. Box 110, Bluff Dale, TX 76433
Phone: (254) 728-3540
Fax: (254) 728-3541
Web site: www.bluffdalevineyards.com
Theresa Hayes, Owner
Bluff Dale is a bistro-style tasting room with seating at the bar or tables. Cheese, salami and tapas are always available, and we can accommodate up to 100 people for social events. Go to the Web site and leave your e-mail address to receive a free newsletter. See the spectacular vista of the Northern Hill Country from the grand porch or pavilion.
Visitors Welcome: Mon, Wed-Sat 11am-6pm; Sun noon-6pm; closed Tue., Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Years Day.
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About the Author
Nathan Smith, a recent graduate of Tarleton State University, is a freelance agricultural journalist who writes about issues in agriculture and water conservation. Although relatively new to the Texas winery scene, he knows a good thing when he tastes it. Raised on a West Texas cotton farm and cattle ranch, he appreciates the hard work of Texas wine makers and agriculturalists.
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Calling All Guest Bloggers
If you have a Texas wine rant or rave, or if you’ve had an interesting experience in Texas wine country and want to tell the world in the context of a good story, let me know by email – russ at VintageTexas dot com. VintageTexas has published several guest blogs in the past and would like to do more in the future. Just keep the theme interesting, the tone friendly, and the topic meaningful and relevant to VintageTexas’ search for Texas Terroir.
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