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20110729_Vineyard_LEG_5139Grape Harvest Brings Happy Days

Soon, Mission, Texas could be known not only for its citrus, but also for its grapes. Tucked away in the northern part of Mission are two thriving vineyards. Santa Anita Vineyard is operated by Ruth Casas and Jaber Estate Winery is operated by Jorge Jaber.

The vines at the charming, rustic Santa Anita Vineyard will soon be budding with black Spanish grapes. The vineyard, which is located on Bentsen Palm Drive at 6 1/2 Mile, is open to the public. Casas said the best time to visit is in April when the fruit is ripe. Pruning begins in February and harvest takes place in July.

“We started with 500 plants in 2009,” said Casas. “Growing a vineyard was something that I always wanted to do. It was one of those things to mark off our bucket list.”

20110729_Vineyard_LEG_5106Casas described how she and her late husband, David, shared a passion for good wine and grew the vineyard together.

“He left us just a few days after the first harvest,” Casas said.

Her experience with winemaking and deep appreciation for the fruit stems back to time spent with her grandmother as a child growing up in Colorado.

“My grandmother would make wine from anything and everything,” Casas recalls. “She would make grape wine, apple wine, peach wine, and even cherry wine—all too sweet for my taste. I prefer a Spanish rioja.”

This past March, Casas planted 300 more grapevines and says she just might add another 300 to 500 plants next year. She said she is not interested in large-scale production, however. Her goal is simply to make the best grapes in the Rio Grande Valley to sell to wineries.

“This year we had one buyer, which is the way I prefer it,” Casas said. “I want to keep our business small and simple, and just focus on growing a great grape.”

Her buyers, David and Regina Staggs, are the owners of Texas South Wind Vineyard and Winery located between Refugio and Goliad. Another dream fulfilled, the Staggs opened their winery in December 2009 and began their vineyard in the spring of 2010 on a little over an acre of land. David started off as a home winemaker and turned his hobby into a fruitful business.

20110729_Vineyard_LEG_5117The winery is open Monday through Friday from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. and welcomes all types of Texas travelers. People travel from Houston, Austin and plenty of locals stop by the Texas South Wind Vineyard on a daily basis for wine tastings and tours.

Sometimes, the Staggs’ vineyard doesn’t grow enough grapes to produce the quantity of wine they want to make, which is why they purchase grapes from other growers such as Casas.

Knowing that hundreds of people are enjoying wines created from the grapes that she helped nourish, pleases Casas.

“The grape plant is a noble plant,” described Casas. “It can grow just about anywhere, which I believe is why God gave it so beautifully. You just have to maintain the soil, feed the plant, and make it happy. A happy grape is what gives you a good wine.”

My favorite part is harvesting the grapes,” Casas added. “It’s truly a happy time. We get together with music and laughter while making the grapes happy.”

Jaber Estate Winery

Jaberw-whitewinetankLocated on Western Road near 11 Mile in Mission is Jaber’s dream in the making. Thirty years ago he wanted to grow grapes on this land, but was told he was crazy to do so. So, instead, he started a dairy farm. It was three years ago when he heard through the “grapevine” that others had began growing grapes in the Valley. At that point, he decided it was his time to start a vineyard.

Sprawled along his vineyard are three acres of white grapes and five acres of black Spanish grapes and he plans to grow even more in the coming years. The grapes were recently harvested for the first time, and now Jaber’s fruit is in the fermentation stage of the winemaking process. Inside what looks to be a green barn from the outside is actually a cool warehouse housing three large fermentation tanks. Jaber said he plans on adding more tanks as his vineyard grows.

“This is my first time doing this,” Jaber said so proudly as he is living his lifelong dream. “This is the way I envisioned it though. I wanted to start from growing the plant, to harvesting it, to fermenting and bottling it, and then eventually open the place up for wine tasting and tours.”

Jaber expects to have his first tasting for the white wine sometime in October. He says right now it is still a bit “cloudy.” The red wine, which will take longer to finish, is currently in the malolactic fermentation. The malolactic fermentation is the process in winemaking where tart-tasting malic acid, naturally present in grape, is converted to softer-tasting lactic acid.

“I’m not sure how the wine will come out, but I know that I will be learning from this whole experience,” he said. “I’m learning from others that have more experience and I’m just taking things step-by-step to really enjoy the process.”

Jaber’s dream is just in the beginning stages.

“My dream is to create a place where people can escape from the city and enjoy the scenery, wine and music. I want this to be a place for special events, like concerts, barbeques or weddings,” Jaber explained. “I plan to build a beautiful gazebo where a couple can marry under. I envision families coming here to have a good time and make memories here.”

As he anticipates the tasting of his first wine, Jaber’s view of the vineyard he put his heart into already is a dream come true.

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