Gene Estes suspects that growing up in the "dry" precinct of Abilene, Texas, may have inspired his alcohol-based ingenuity; he crafted his first batch of wine from Concord grape juice when he was just 23. Years later, after holding various pharmaceutical jobs and putting to use his Masters in Microbiology, Estes's interest in wine re-emerged with a full and passionate force. Today, as the president and vintner of Lost Oak Winery, Gene works alongside resident winemaker Jim Evans to craft a host of award-winning wines. Among them is the 2012 Viognier, which scored a double gold in the renowned San Francisco Chronicle International Wine competition?meaning all five judges awarded the varietal with top scores before gilding the bottle twice in molten gold.
The winery itself offers both guided and self-guided tours, offering visitors a glimpse into the wine-making process complete with samples straight from oak barrels. Additionally, special events draw guests to the lush grounds for live music, wine club events, and the pre-Christmas holiday open house, where they can place preemptive wine orders with Santa.
When Birgit and Bruce Anderson first purchased their 2-acre property in Burleson, Texas, the new surroundings where they grew vegetables and raised farm animals reminded them of the then-popular television show Little House on the Prairie. The couple—who originally trained as a tax agent and sociology professor—and their daughters farmed the land for several years before a 1995 trip to Napa Valley seduced them into the vineyard lifestyle. After 10 years of studying grape-growing and winemaking, the Andersons opened Sunset Winery, which they've nicknamed and trademarked "The Best Little Wine House in Texas."
Since opening, the late-blooming winemakers have established themselves by winning multiple prizes for their wines and drawing a steady stream of visitors each year. Sunset's lauded bottles include Moon Glow merlot and Twilight Tango malbec, the latter of which won top accolades at the 2009 GrapeFest People's Choice Wine Tasting Classic, edging out other malbecs and a chagrined Susan Lucci.
Located on Main Street of Grapevine, Texas, D'Vine Wine treats visitors to countless varieties of wine paired with savory cheese and charcuterie plates. In the tasting and dining area, honeycombed wine racks and wooden barrels line the earth-toned walls, allowing visitors to imagine they've been swept away to the rustic cottage of a Tuscan vintner or the panic room of a billionaire. Guests sip house-made sauvignon blanc, malbec, and fruit-infused wine, while customers consult with wine representatives on creating a personalized label for any occasion.
Under the tutelage of French winemaker Benjamin Calais, the experts at Calais Winery craft varietals using traditional French techniques. That's why the winery proudly proclaims itself "The French Winery of Texas," making La Cuvee d'Elme aged in French oak barrels and a Zinfandel-Sangiovese blend with a thick accent. Visitors can drop in for a wine tasting, during which they're invited to sample five wines from the current list. Those with a deeper curiosity about winemaking can enroll in classes that illuminate the process from grape to bottle.
It was April 2005 when planters began the painstaking task of rooting 7,000 vines in the rich, rocky soil of Cathedral Mountain Vineyard. Situated just 19 miles south of Alpine, Texas, the location was ideal––plentiful sun and chilly nights would sustain the Tempranillo, Syrah, Grenache, and Mourvedre vines until the grapes were ready for harvesting. That day finally arrived in 2006, when cultivators descended upon the vineyard to reap the first fruits destined to become Times Ten Cellars' Spanish- and Rhone-style wines. These may seem like extraordinary lengths to go to for a decent pour, but one look at Time Ten’s wine list is all it takes to realize its founders’ fondness for Texan-born wines knows no bounds. At the tasting bar, guests can sample limited-release wines such as Cathedral Mountain Vinyard's Dessert Red or Vino de Piedra, alongside other domestic vinos from the Lone Star State, as well as those from California and––on occasion––even Italy. On select nights, jazz music drowns out the chorus of sipping rising up from the comfy cocoa arm chairs in the lounge, and Times Ten Cellar's also offers occasional classes for anyone looking for an excuse to expand their knowledge of wine or stick their nose in other people's glasses.
Dan Gatlin is a bona fide pioneer in the field of Texas winemaking. His father owned a chain of convenience and wine and spirits stores, which meant Dan was closely attuned to the rise of winemaking in California in the 1970s. In 1981, Dan took a shot at spurring the same type of enterprise in Texas, opening a small vineyard that would one day grow into the successful Inwood Estates Vineyards. Today the winery produces red and white wines that take advantage of Texas's distinctive terroir, or soil, to produce complex flavors.