• Chateau Wright

  • Sharp Family Vineyards

  • Alta MarfA

Chateau Wright Winery and Vineyard is putting the Big Bend on the map as a wine tasting destination in Texas. The vineyard, planted about eight years ago on the outskirts of Fort Davis, just opened an accompanying winery this year, making big waves.

It’s a small batch operation, producing about 50 standard oak barrels a year, and it’s the only vineyard with a winery open for tastings in the Tri-County area of Big Bend, encompassing Presidio, Brewster, and Jeff Davis Counties.

Chateau Wright sits on 40 acres with over 17,000 vines, creating a beautiful scene at the foothills of the Davis Mountains. It’s a joint venture between San Antonio business partners Jack Wright and Adam White. On-site varietals include Tempranillo, Viognier, Grenache, Mourvédre, and others. All vines were planted with native rootstock rather than grafted, giving the plants a hardier disposition for cold winters.

It takes about four years for newly planted vines to mature and produce a crop. Chateau Wright sold their first crops to other wineries, but soon realized their business plan would have to include making their own wine if they wanted to be profitable.

Not long after that decision, they produced Jack Rabbit Red 2017, a 70% Grenache, 30% Mourvédre blend, that took a gold medal in the 2020 Texas International Wine Competition. It’s a reproducible wine they intend to continue with future vintages.

“Our wines are more Old World Style,” explained viticulturist, vintner, and co-owner Adam. The reds are lighter bodied, with desert herb, mineral, and floral components. “And we do everything the hard way,” he added.

No additives are used to cheat the natural process— it’s just the basics, including an old-fashioned grape stomp at harvest time, along with hard work, the test of time, and a sensitive palette for when the wine is just right. To satisfy the sweeter cravings of many Texans, they added a sweet wine, although not overbearingly sweet, to the lineup of red blends and a white.

For Adam, the fun is in making sure the vines produce the best possible fruit. That’s where he believes the true challenge and art lies. He keeps a close watch, spending much of the year in the field, paying attention to the specifics of each variety’s response to weather and other growth factors. He believes even the plants growing adjacent to the vines have an impact on the terroir, a wine term for the total environmental context within which grapes are grown and which impacts the final flavor.

And so, the surroundings of Chateau Wright are part of the total effect. There’s something decidedly Old World about that, too. There’s a large, ambling organic garden, filled with squash, melons, strawberries, greens, and more during the temperate seasons, tended by Adam’s father, a recent transplant from Italy, who now lives full time on the premises.

There’s the earnest buildout, still in progress, of an ever-expanding cellar, a living space for workers, volunteers and friends, plus a two-story lodging facility that’s nearly finished. All of that is being built by hand with quality craftmanship by Adam and his crew.

There are the nightly family meals, prepared from scratch by Adam, shared by old friends and new ones, who are quickly enveloped into the fold.

Stars twinkle above in unpolluted night skies. The mountain air is fresh and crisp. And the wine is very, very good.

The newly opened winery offers outdoor patio seating, with grand uninterrupted views of the rolling foothills and craggy silhouettes of the Davis Mountains. Outdoor heaters keep things cozy on cooler days and evenings. Friendly, professional service makes the short drive from town doubly worth it. And a food truck, dubbed Too Hot For TABC, offers simple dishes using made-from-scratch bread (made by Adam). The menu features an apple, brie and fig jam grilled cheese sandwich, plus charcuterie boards and other specialties, making this a must stop on any visitors list. It’s become such a hit with locals that the winery will stay open through this winter, an unanticipated testament to their nascent success.

The vineyard still has a lot of growing to do, and to fill in any gaps, Adam sources grapes from another grower in the Davis Mountains, as well as from a vineyard he owns in Medina. Any grapes not sourced from the bounds of Chateau Wright still come from Texas, making this a true made in Texas product. The grapes used in each vintage, and their origins, are listed on each bottle. Integrity is present at every step of the process.

Wine is big business in Texas, with eight recognized American Viticultural Areas. According to the 2020 Texas Wine Compendium, Texas is the fifth largest wine-producing state in the nation, with the industry bringing $13.1 billion to the state economy annually. Most of Texas’s 400-plus vineyards and wineries are in the Texas Hill Country, the third largest viticultural area in the U.S., and a mecca for wine tourism. However, most Texas grapes are actually grown in the Texas High Plains AVA, which includes Lubbock and surrounding areas.

Chateau Wright makes its humble entrance onto this scene, with a small staff of just a couple full time employees, including Adam’s right-hand man, salesperson and Vigneron, James Smith. What makes it work for them is their collective dedication to the cause, as well as an ever-changing roster of visiting workers during harvest time— mostly young, adventurous types seeking to explore the world via temporary farm gigs. Adam’s extensive network of international friends in the industry have also lent a hand or expertise at some point.

Chateau Wright wines are offered at an ever-growing list of stores in the region and can be ordered through the Chateau Wright website at chateauwright.com.

To get to the vineyard, head southwest on TX-17 for about two miles outside of Fort Davis, then pop up TX-166, also known as the outer loop of Fort Davis, for just over six miles until you see their flag and sign. Follow Chateau Wright and their food truck, Too Hot For TABC, on Instagram for the latest updates.

– by Shawna Graves

Sharp Family Vineyards

Dan and Maura feel like the Davis Mountains chose them. Their love story began beneath the West Texas sky. While dating, they took their first road trip to the Big Bend region. Over the years, they visited the area often and dreamed of settling in Fort Davis. After a neighbor at their home in Austin told them about crushing grapes in the Davis Mountains, they envisioned themselves growing grapes in Fort Davis. In preparation, they embarked on an educational adventure to learn about the Texas wine industry and the history of grape-growing in Far West Texas. Dan is enrolled at the Viticulture Certificate Program at Texas Tech, and Maura is pursuing formal wine industry education through Wine & Spirits Educational Trust.

The vineyard is the highest elevation vineyard in Texas and dates back to the 1970s, when Gretchen Glasscock planted the first vines. The original vineyard was planted with Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Sauvignon Blanc. A couple of decades later, Phillip and Maymie “Nell” Weisbach acquired and ran the Blue Mountain Winery, producing reputable wines. Prior to Dan and Maura’s investment, the winery sat vacant and the vineyard unattended for more than a decade.

In 2018, Dan and Maura Sharp made an offer and became the newest caretakers of the Vineyard at Blue Mountain. Conservation and sustainability are the essential parts of their grape growing mission. They may be owners, but they pride themselves as stewards of the special land, with the desire to conserve and protect as much natural habitat on the 1000-acre ranch as possible. One of their core beliefs as farmers is that the health of the vineyard is inextricably linked to the health of the flora and fauna around it. They enjoy experiencing up-close encounters with wildlife, encouraging them that they are on the right path.

The couple has independently put in the sweat and hard work to achieve their goals, admittedly learning about agriculture through humility. Planting has started with just one acre of 1,500 Cabernet Sauvignon vines. Committed to the community, they invite regional locals to contribute when possible. Long-term goals are to add 4,500 more vines in the Spring of 2021, then plant ten acres of Cabernet Sauvignon grapes by 2023. They plan to begin producing and selling wine in approximately five years.

You can follow the Sharp Family Vineyards journey on their website,  Sharp Family Vineyards

– by Melissa Henderson

Alta Marfa

Ricky Taylor and Katie Jablonski established Alta Marfa in 2016 with a desire to start their own business, and because of their love for wine drinking. After a Google search for “the coolest weather in Texas,” they discovered the Davis Mountains and set about their plan to establish a vineyard and winery.

They are building everything from the ground up as novice entrepreneurs, from purchasing the property to clearing the land, building an irrigation system, planting vines, writing a blog and designing a winery.

The 2.5-acre vineyard was first planted in 2018 – but Ricky and Katie ran into problems with the vines. Turns out, the vines would not thrive and only 500 survived. The couple persevered and made plans to plant 6,000 replacement vines the following year. They are learning the industry through hard work, being patient and not rushing, and are limited by a shoestring budget.

In early 2020, Alta Marfa faced unexpected challenges due to the global Coronavirus pandemic. Their big planting party, dubbed “Altafest,” was cancelled. Instead of an organized party of 60 people traveling to the vineyard to plant the vines, Ricky and Katie dug into the earth with the help of parents and three of their close friends ,successfully planting 1000 vines.

In the spirit of experimentation, there are 27 varieties of grapes growing at Alta Marfa, with the majority being the following four varieties –Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet franc, Tannat and Carignane. They hope to get their first grapes in 2022 to produce the first wine from their own crop.

Ricky and Katie are scouring the region near their vineyard, looking to invest in a location for their future winery. Until then, they are learning the ups and downs of producing wine through trial and error. In 2019, with grapes from Robert Clay Vineyards of Mason, Texas, they made their first wine, ten cases of a Tempranillo Rose called “Lazer Cat” that sold out within two hours. Then in 2020, they harvested more grapes from Robert Clay Vineyards and Forbidden Desert Vineyard of New Mexico to repeat the wine making process and create another batch of Tempranillo. It is currently in barrels waiting to be bottled.

Their adventures can be followed on their blog, altamarfa.com or by following their Instagram.

– by Melissa Henderson