Cenizo Journal Winter 2021 - Page 27

by Melissa Henderson

The Viticulture of Blue Mountain

Blue Mountain is eight miles southwest of Fort Davis , Texas in south central Jeff Davis County . At over a mile-high elevation , it is composed primarily of thirty five million-year-old volcanic rocks . Its shallow stony soils support diverse flora and fauna unique to the Chihuahuan Desert . The high altitude , desert microclimate with intense sun , dry air and cool days and nights make for an environment unique for growing grapes . Two additional vineyards are being developed and can be found tucked into the scenic mountain side .
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 in 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 desire to conserve and protect
Ricky and Katie
as much natural habitat on the thousand-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 , which they feel encourages 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 to 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 Vineyard ' s journey on the website , sharpfamilyvineyards . com , or follow via Facebook : Sharp Family Vineyards or Instagram : @ sharpfamvines .
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 : @ AltaMarfa .
Sharp Vines