With several weeks left in the harvest season, the staff stays busy at Brushy Creek Vineyards in Alvord.
This month Brushy Creek celebrates its 10-year anniversary. Along the vineyard’s river-like journey, the winery has pioneered the way for Texas winemakers across the state, both in terms of research, legislation and flavor.
And in a time of both unprecedented drought and economic hardship, the winery continues to flourish.
“Who would of thought Wise County is a place where you can make world-class wine,” Owner Les Constable said. “But it really is. Everything we do here is Texas product.”
The vineyard will celebrate the anniversary with a party this Saturday in the Owl’s Nest. The nest is a like a large tree house that overlooks bright green rows of grapes running alongside the creek below. The event is from 4 to 10 p.m.
Live music will be provided by hippiesideways. There will be snacks and wine.
Author Janet Shawgo, who writes historical fiction, will also be on hand to sign autographs. Her first book “Look for Me,” about a traveling nurse in the U.S. Civil War, has won multiple awards.
Wine and food pairing will be from 4 to 7 p.m. by reservation only. Contact Candy Roos at (940) 627-4747 or e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Growing wine grapes in Wise County is a learning process.
“I was stunned to find out you could grow quality wine grapes here in Texas,” said Les Constable, owner and operator of Brushy Creek Vineyards in Alvord.
Most grape growers, Constable included when he started, just try to grow the most popular varieties of grapes. But he was quick to learn the grapes that grow good in Napa Valley or Bordeuax aren’t going to grow very well in the Texas heat.
“You have to find grapes that match the soil and climate,” Constable said. “You can make the best wine in the world right here in Texas. You just need to find out what grapes grow well here.”
Spanish varieties, such as tempranillo, grow the best here. The dark purple clusters ripen to perfection beneath the burning nuclear reactor that is the sun. The black grapes make a stout, full-bodied red wine.
“If you don’t experiment, you don’t know what you can do,” Constable said. “It’s been kind of a research facility.”
And while ranchers, hay producers and most other forms of agriculture are struggling in the historic drought conditions plaguing Texas and the Midwest, Brushy Creek is thriving in the desiccation.
When Brushy Creek became a commercial winery in 2002, there were only about 25 wineries in the entire state. By the end of 2011, the number had flourished to 244. Wise County now has three.
Constable predicts the number will grow. He said Texas can become a major winemaker, and maybe one day rival California.
“I think that Texas will eventually be up to 1,000 wineries,” he said. “The high plains and cross timbers areas of Texas are the best places in the state. Our soil is really good for growing grapes.”
He sees it as a possible future for agriculture in the state.
“Texas is running out of water, and grapes use very little water.”
Constable, and a fellow wine maker in Parker County, Dr. Bobby Smith, helped draft a constitutional amendment that passed in 2003 opening the door for wineries across the state to manufacture and sell wine, even in dry areas, if at least 75 percent of the wine’s volume is from Texas-grown grapes or other fruits.
“We made it wet for the rest of the state to have wineries,” Constable said.
And sales continue to climb for the rural winery. The winery has set sales records every month for the past 20 months.
PASSION FOR WINE MAKING
At 28 years old, Rachel Cook, is the second-youngest winemaker in the state. She’s been perfecting her art for the past seven years at Brushy Creek.
“I started making wine at 21,” she said. “As soon as I was old enough to drink I started working here.”
She says the location is great, as they get travelers from Colorado and New Mexico who stop by. She also said the wide variety of wine they make is sure to fit everyone’s palate.
“We get some visitors who say they don’t like wine,” she said. “But we have 30 kinds. People leave surprised to find they actually do like a certain type of wine.”
Her favorite part of the job is blending and making new flavors. Simple things like the type of yeast used and the white oak barrels make all the difference in the world when it comes to taste.
“It takes a lot of work,” Cook said. “It’s definitely something you have to have a passion for.”
“I never would have thought back when I was working in a submarine I’d be here running a winery someday,” Constable said. “But making wine requires engineering, science and chemistry.”
Those are things he learned plenty about during his 30 years as a nuclear engineer in the Navy.
“If you want to succeed you have to study and take school seriously,” he said. “You never know where it’s going to take you.”
Back in 1991, the first time Constable made a batch of wine with Wise County grapes, a pair of barred owls flew over his head when he picked up the fruit in Sunset.
The barred owl became the symbol of Brushy Creek Vineyards. The owl, a symbol of wisdom, fit in well with Wise County, even if the idea of starting a commercial vineyard in rural North Texas didn’t seem like the best idea at the time.
“It’s been astonishing to me what has happened,” Constable said. “We thought we might make a few hundred gallons of wine and retire.”
In 1995 he planted his first twigs into the earth just south of the winding river of trees that flow along Brushy Creek. He and his wife Ann lived in an RV for years as they built the wild land up from scratch. They got their commercial license on Aug. 2, 2002, and they haven’t slowed down a bit.
The vineyards keep growing, and between chasing off critters and crafting new blends of wine, the land along Brushy Creek grows more lush with every upturned grape leaf.