Back in the mid-1990s, the early days of my Texas wine exploration, one my first go-to winery supporters for the Wine Society of Texas 501(c)3 Organization that my wife and I brought to the greater Houston area were Pleasant Hill Winery and it’s owners, Bob and Jeanne Cottle.
When I first met Bob, he was still working his construction management job in the Houston area, making wine and getting a grape education at Grayson College in north Texas on the weekends. Like Bob admitted, “I’ve had a lot of ’windshield time’ in the car. Nearby Gulf Coast wine grower Jerry Watson and I would drive up to Grayson College, spend the weekend taking classes, return to Houston, and I’d be back at my regular job bright and early Monday morning.
Bob and Jeanne Cottle, proprietors of Pleasant Hill Winery, actually began well before this as home winemakers in the early 1970’s, making several different fruit wines in their respective states of Rhode Island and Wisconsin. After they moved to Texas in 1979, their hobby ‘got out-of-control’. They purchased a scenic piece of land with rolling hills and springtime wildflowers in Brenham in 1992. Planting and building began, and in 1997, Bob quit his ”day job” and Bob and Jeanne opened Pleasant Hill Winery.
Through the years, Bob and Jeanne were a team in the tasting room, appearing at wine and grape growing meetings, pouring wine at festivals, and submitting wines to competition. In April 2022, Pleasant Hill Winery celebrated its 25th Anniversary as the oldest modern-day winery in Washington County. They have produced over a dozen award-winning wines using only Texas grapes, many grown in their estate vineyard in Brenham, other nearby vineyards, and far away areas of Texas like Fort Davis in West Texas and Lubbock in the Texas panhandle.
Bob said, ”We tried to make wine to please every palate from dry reds and whites to sweet wines and ports. We also held events like ‘Crush for Fun’ where visitors to the winery were invited to pick and stomp.”
I even tried my hand at helping Bob process grapes that he grew in west Texas. It was a first for me, and the first time I was covered from head to toe with squeezed grapes when they exploded out of the press. Fortunately, there is no picture of me available from my wine encounter.
After the winery’s 25th Anniversary, Bob and Jeanne seriously started thinking about selling the winery and settling into retirement. Last year, they had a potential buyer but the sale did not go through. Since then, Bob decided to work at growing grapes for sale to other wineries and selling the wineries components piece-by-piece.
Well, what is the next challenge for a very-much-still-active and young-at-heart Bob now that he doesn’t have winemaking to keep him busy? When I asked him, he surprised me by saying, ”I’m going to become a ’Looper’.”
I didn’t know that term so I asked him to tell me more.
He said, ”I’ve sailed and still have my old boat in the barn. But, it’s too old, in disrepair and too small for the journey I’ve got planned. I’m going to sail what they call the ’Great Loop Route’. It’s sailing the Gulf of Mexico eastward, around the tip of Florida and up the east coast. Then, my path is going to take me up the Hudson River, over to the Great Lakes and on to Chicago. Finally, from there I’m going to sail down the Mississippi River back home. Since it’s called the ’Loop’, and once I finish the trip, I can be called a ’Looper’. During this trip, my family is going to join me at various spots along the way.”
Well, I’m sorry to have to wish Bob and Jeanne farewell from the Texas wine business. But, it sounds like they’ve, like the song says, ”got a lot of living to do”. I wish them heartfelt cheers, to Bob a hearty ’bon voyage’ and the best of success in the future.