Thursday, March 02, 2006

Stop One: Val Verde Winery


Miles Traveled: 480 in eight hours
Wines Tasted: 9
Soundtrack: Calexico-Convict Pool and Feast of Wire, Boards of Canada-The Campfire Headphase, Brian Jonestown Massacre-Tepid Peppermint Wonderland, Volume Two

Val Verde Winery, Del Rio, Texas
Thomas Qualia, third generation winemaker

First off, can I just say that there's wireless internet coverage now in the most obscure places, and that I LOVE that? And not just a small border town like Del Rio, but in random RV parks in the middle of the rolling desert hills. Fantastic. God Bless technology.

For a little while there, I was afraid I wasn't going to get to talk to Mr. Qualia because he had a day trip to San Antonio planned that day. We were able to hook up on the phone once I'd settled down here in Alpine, however, and I scribbled wildly while he talked.

I visited the winery yesterday. It's tucked deep into the quiet, polite town of Del Rio, amongst a small division of impressive houses, just a stone's throw from the Mexican border. It's been there since Thomas' grandfather, along with a group of Italian immigrants moved there in 1883, having been thrilled by the cultivated figs, grapevines, abundant fresh water and scenery. It is the oldest bonded, continuously producing winery in Texas, clocking in at 123 years.

"Continuously producing?" you say. "What about prohibition?"

Ironic but clever: Mr. Qualia's grandfather sold his product to the churches for use as sacremental wine. The winery also holds the title of Only Winery in Texas from 1949-1976, a time period where the idea of a winery in Texas was laughable to some.

Most of the fruit for their selection of wines is sourced, but all from Texas, mostly the High Plains through Llano Estacado, another member of the original gang of Texas winemakers who broke out in the 1970's. The vines at Val Verde are mostly Lenoir, aka Black Spanish. This feisty, hardy little vine can be traced back to the Madiera Islands, and for many eons was a popular grape until it fell out of favor and the French banned it. It came over to Mexico and while it's usually used for color enhancement today, the Qualias have made it into a charming, award winning Tawny Port.

Mr. Qualia is a quality-vs.-quantity kinda guy who says he has winemaking in his blood. His father had been a rancher by trade and a winemaker by passion until 1973, when he handed the winery over to Thomas.
"Some people have told me that if I want my wine noticed, I need to go win a bunch of awards to let 'em know it's good. But my father told me that if I made a good bottle of wine, people would beat a path to me."

And people have. Val Verde produces about 2,500-3,000 cases a year, and sells them out. The selection includes two unoaked whites, a Chard and a Sauv Blanc, both clean and fresh with bright fruit and good acid balance that I thought were perfectly lovely. Reds include a big picnic sweet wine, a Merlot, a Cab, and a Sangiovese. I liked the Merlot best, believe it or not. It had the best balance. The Sangio was also nice.

Tawny Port Barrels

Thomas has only been a full-time winemaker for about five years, before which he was the superintendent ('Watermaster') of the irrigation system for the agricultural area. Before that, he helped his father with the ranching before spending the early evening at the winery. He is deeply connected with the agriculture of the area, and with other Texas winemakers. He was proud to tell me that his daughter, Maureen, is in her second semester at Fresno State, working on a degree in oenology. Looks like there'll be a fourth generation Val Verde producer soon.

Ever wonder what Southwest Texas looks like? Why, it looks like this:

Pecos River

God I love it.

Next stop: Blue Mountain winery with Pat Johnson. It's up in the gorgeous Davis Mountains. Stay tuned.

ALSO, you oughta check out my post about the Marfa Lights on Cocktails with The Noonday Demon. Such fun.



Blogger Japan-O-Matic! said...

Nice pics so far - but why is it every time *I* see the Rio Grande it's always a dirty dish-water brown?

4:14 PM  

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