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By Peggy Helmick-Richardson
Does savoring a quality Texas wine at the winery where it was produced appeal to you? Looking for someplace close to enjoy a relaxing evening of wine and music?
Interested in supporting local agriculture? There is no need for a genie in a magic wine bottle. Just head to Parker, Texas, and in ten minutes your three wishes will be granted.
On a warm May afternoon, Khatter Vineyards’ Peacock Room is buzzing with business. Some customers are regulars and others have spotted the facility’s sign with its distinctive peacock logo and another sign announcing "Texas Wine Tasting" on Parker Road and pulled in to investigate.
Those new to Khatter Vineyards are a little taken aback at first. The vineyards, winery and tasting room are on Brookwood, a residential street off Parker Road, and share the two-acre property with the Khatter family home. Visitors park in front of the house and enter the vineyards by following a stone path to the left, going through a rustic entrance in the fence, and continuing on the path until they reach the Peacock Room beyond the grapevines.
Fluffy, a black Pomeranian well aware of how adorable she is, serves as self-appointed hostess and greets each visitor who enters the tasting room.
Intending to buy a few bottles of a favorite wine, one couple tastes several of Khatter’s offerings and leave with a variety. A young woman explains that she had seen the vineyard sign while bike riding and decided to investigate; she samples several and heads out shortly carrying two bottles of wine. A neighbor drops by to pick up a bottle of wine to have with dinner.
Another young man and woman sample several wines before making their selection. While they enjoy their Cabernet, the two chat with Carolyn Khatter, the owner, and nibble on cheese and crackers set out for patrons.
Carolyn’s husband Jay produces most Khatter Vineyards’ wines from the Cabernet and Ruby Cabernet grapes grown on the Parker property. Some different varietals of grapes are acquired from other Texas vineyards. In addition, the Peacock Room also offers a few choice wines from Homestead Winery in Grayson County.
This quaint facility, nestled in pecan trees adjacent to a creek, offers tastings and wine purchases from noon to 6 p.m. on most Saturdays and an occasional Sunday. On the last Saturday of most months, singer and musician Chris Baggett performs his unique style of folk-rock from 6 to 8 p.m.
This boutique winery has also hosted an occasional special event or served as a unique setting for a few private affairs, but still maintains its strict hours of operation. Carolyn is emphatic about closing no later than 8 p.m. in an effort to be good neighbors to the other families on their street.
Carolyn views the success of Khatter Vineyards not only as a personal victory for her and Jay, but one for her community as well. "I like to think of us as pioneers in Parker," she notes. "We were the first ones to do this here. We brought wine grapes to Parker and now others are growing grapes."
A brief history of Texas wine
Often viewed as a relative newcomer in U.S. wine, in reality, Texas has a long and fascinating history with the complex process of fermenting the juice of grapes, starting with the arrival of the Europeans to this state in the mid-1600s. And it was a North Texas viticulturist who saved the world’s vineyards over 200 years later.
Texas’ first wine grapes were cul-tivated by Spanish missionaries. Father Garcia de San Francisco y Zuniga brought the Spanish black grape to El Paso and by 1650, his vineyards produced the sacramental wine he used in services.
Soon other missions in South Texas had flourishing vineyards as well. Wine grapes during this period were not deemed of highest quality though. Then in the mid-1800s, other European settlers brought grapevine cuttings from their home countries to their new South and Central Texas settle-ments, giving grape horticulture and winemaking in this region a much-needed boost.
The oldest winery still in operation today is the Val Verde Winery in Del Rio, established in 1883. By 1900 there were 25 wineries in the state. Most of the state’s early wineries closed due to floods or drought, and the remaining were wiped out by Prohibition. Val Verde skirted Prohibition by growing table grapes during that period.
Following the repeal of Prohibition and the end of the Great Depression, there was another surge in grape and wine production in the state, but by the 1950s, only Val Verde still continued to survive. It wasn’t until the mid-1970s that Texas once again became a contender in the wine industry.
Today, our state ranks fifth in the nation for wine production and seventh for winegrape growth. Now a $1.35 billion industry, there are over 160 wineries and over 3,100 acres being cultivated by 280 commercial winegrape growers in Texas. Almost 2.5 million gallons of wine are produced annually in the state.
In the latter part of the nineteenth century, while Texas vineyards were still flourishing, a phylloxera epidemic threatened to decimate vineyards across Europe. These tiny, sap-sucking insects, indigenous to North America, attacked both the roots and leaves of grapevines, eventually resulting in the death of the plant. It is assumed that the phylloxera was introduced to Europe by vinestocks or grape plants imported from the United States. By the time the epidemic was quelled, over 6 million acres of European vineyards were destroyed, with France being the hardest hit.
At this same time, Denison horticulturist Thomas Volney Munson (1843-1913) had developed over 300 varieties of grapes suited for the Texas environment. But he earned worldwide respect for his successful efforts in stemming the attack of phylloxera on the European vineyards. Munson grafted resistant native Texas grape rootstock to the European Vitis vinifera, yielding a quality wine grape-producing plant resistant to the ravages of phylloxera. The success of Munson’s efforts led to his receiving numerous awards including the prestigious Chevalier du Mérite Agricole in the French Legion of Honor. As a result of Munson’s work over one hundred years ago, the cities of Denison, and Cognac, France, are sister cities today.
In 1909, Munson published his Foundations of American Grape Culture, long considered the bible of grape growing in the U.S. and is still used today. In 1974, the T.V. Munson Vineyard was established at Grayson County College West Campus. Here, a number of Munson’s grape varieties are exhibited and stock for culturing wine grapes in the area is produced. Fourteen years later, the T.V. Munson Viticulture Enology Center opened. This facility offers classes, a library, and workrooms dedicated to the science and production of grapes and the study of wine and winemaking.
Providing educational oppor-tunities for both the grape and wine industry for over 30 years, Grayson County Community College now offers both certification and associate degrees in viticulture and enology.
A new generation of vintners
Carolyn admits to being surprised nine years ago when her husband Jay had decided to replace his beloved vegetable garden at their Parker home with wine grape vines.
Carolyn explains that Jay, a certified financial planner for ING, was raised in India by a father from that country who worked for the government, and a mother from England who was a schoolteacher. "Like a typical Englishman, my husband likes to garden," she explains. "We used to have a vegetable patch, but he got to talking to some other guys who were growing grapes and one day he just started tearing up the yard."
"Tending to the grapes is relaxing, therapeutic, and helps take my mind off everyday concerns," Jay notes. "No matter what the problem is, it doesn’t seem that important after a few hours in the vineyards."
Growing grapes is not always stress-free though. Debating with area wildlife about grape possession and consumption has proved to be an on-going problem. "When the grapes are green, they are sour and nasty, but as soon as they turn black, all the animals want to eat them," Carolyn sighs. "We have a constant war with mockingbirds and squirrels. We put big long nets on [the grape vines], but the squirrels figured out how to get in the nets."
"Jay did his homework," Carolyn emphasizes, explaining his choice of grapes for their vineyard. "The red grapes can be a little hardier than white grapes. And part of his decision was based on the cabernet vines producing a lot more. The red wines are rich in antioxidants and a glass of red wine is said to be good for the heart, so there is also a lot more interest in red wine."
Noting that it takes about two years for grape plants to produce a wine-quality grape, Carolyn continues, "Jay was learning to make wine the first three or four years." Instruction came from Grayson County Community College as well as the University of California at Davis. "After some time, he got to be good at making wine!" she smiles.
"Grayson College has an excellent staff and is very helpful in assisting with any concerns or tips about vineyards," Jay adds.
Carolyn notes that Jay’s first production resulted in one barrel and a small tank of wine. The Khatter Vineyards’ 2008 crop yielded approximately three tons of wine from their small facility, which Carolyn points out is the maximum capacity based on Texas Department of Agriculture statistics for the type of grapes grown on their property in the space allowed.
After a few years of honing his winemaking skills, Jay began to bottle a significant quantity of quality wine—much more than could be consumed by family and friends. Carolyn decided to open a winery and sell what Jay was producing. Previously a real estate agent selling homes in Plano, she decided this would be a good time to try her hand at owning her own business. With past restaurant and bar experience, Carolyn found the idea of opening a winery and tasting room an interesting challenge.
Khatter Vineyards received its Texas Alcohol Beverage Commission license three years ago. "The state comes out and does an inspection, and they are pretty strict," Carolyn explains, adding that they are allowed to serve and sell their wines in Parker, a dry community, because the vineyards are on their property. She also notes that there have been no complaints from neighbors about their business or related activities. "Some come over and buy wine and my next door neighbor takes photographs here. And our neigh-bors come to a lot of our functions."
For the tasting room, the Khatter’s purchased a small pre-fabricated structure, enhancing the interior with cedar plank walls and an eclectic collection of art. The original Peacock Room could serve only six, so eventually the space was enlarged to hold several small tables and chairs that seat 25 and accommodate up to 30 people.
And the significance of the ubiquitous peacock that lends its name to the tasting room, and whose image adorns the tasting room, wine labels and signs?
"When we bought the house, there were peacocks living in the trees, just wild," Carolyn explains. "They are gone now." They can only speculate as to the gradual disappearance of these beautiful birds, but they have declined to replace them. "We found out peacocks eat grapes," Carolyn shrugs.
Carolyn estimates that the vineyard, situated so that the Cabernet grapes are in the front and the Ruby Cabernet grapes are in the back, takes up one-half acre. The winery, tasting room and outside patio take up another approximately one-half acre.
For now, Carolyn is satisfied having the tasting room open one weekend day a week. With 10-year-old daughter Nina going to a school in Carrollton and 17-year-old son Warren attending Plano East Senior High School, she finds running the business part-time works well with the family schedule.
The wines that bear the Khatter Vineyards label are the Cabernet Sauvignon, Ruby Cabernet, Texas Prairie Red and Blanc du Bois. The latter white wine is produced at the Khatter winery from Texas grapes grown at other vineyards and the Texas Prairie Red is a blend of Khatter Cabernet Sauvignon grapes and Merlot grapes from another Texas vineyard. Both Cabernets are pro-duced solely from Khatter grapes. Carolyn ex--plains that the "little lighter, little fruitier" Ruby Cabernet is made from a grape that is a cross between a Cabernet grape and a Carignan grape, developed to grow in North Texas climates.
"Red wine grapes are easier to grow in Texas conditions," Carolyn notes. "White grapes are more fragile."
The winery, in a small shed behind the Khatter home, holds two steel fermenting tanks and six oak barrels, along with bottling and hand-corking equipment and storage shelves. To make their wines, Jay opts for primarily American oak barrels. "We want the barrel to compliment the wine instead of take over the flavor," Carolyn explains. She also points out that the type of soil the grapes are grown in will also affect the flavor of the wine, and the dark rich black gumbo soil found in Parker en--hances the rich taste of their red wines.
To satisfy the varying wine preferences of some of their patrons, Khatter Vineyards also offers several selections produced by Homestead Winery in Ivanhoe, Texas. These are Moon Shadow made from Riesling grapes, the Chenin Blanc Prairie Rose, and Desert Rose created from Muscat Caneli grapes.
In addition, they offer La Bodega de Mitchell Crema de Sol sherry made by Roy Mitchell. Carolyn points out that Dr. Mitchell is not only a well-respected wine making and viticulture expert at Grayson County Community College, he has also been one of Jay’s most influ-ential teachers.
Although Khatter Vineyards is relatively new and wines are available only on site, it is already attracting attention and earning awards. Its 2004 Cabernet Sauvignon was a silver medalist at the 2005 Texas Wine and Grape Grower Association Wine Competition and a winner of the bronze at the 2006 Lone Star International Wine Competition.
Carolyn shrugs when asked if customers have a favorite. "For a while, people were nuts over my Ruby, but right now the Texas Prairie is moving pretty fast. They are all popular." With many "regulars," the Cabernet and Ruby Cabernet are the wines of choice.
Prices for Khatter Vineyard wines start at $14 for the Blanc du Bois, $18 for the Texas Prairie Red and the Ruby Cabernet, $22 for their 2005 Cabernet Sauvignon, and $40 for the award-winning 2004 Cabernet, of which only a few cases remain. The three Homestead wines—Desert Rose, Prairie Rose and Moon Shadow—sell for $14 a bottle. La Bodega de Mitchell Crema del Sol cream sherry runs $60, which Carolyn points out has been awarded numerous champion-ship designations.
Jay concurs. "Roy Mitchell, in my opinion, is the best winemaker in Texas. His numerous medals and awards say it all."
Currently, Carolyn offers mini-tours of the vineyards and winery and aspires to one day provide private barrel tastings for her customers.
In addition to the once-a-month music programs, Khatter Vineyards occasionally opens their space for special events. Carolyn has held an arts and jazz festival on site and the winery hosted Poochypalooza, a springtime fund-raiser for Operation Kindness, in 2008 and 2009. A murder mystery tailored specifically for the vineyard setting is scheduled for October.
Khatter Vineyards is open noon to 6 p.m. most Saturdays, and until
8 p.m. the last Saturday of the month. For directions and more information on upcoming events, go to www.khattervineyards.com.
Peggy Helmick-Richardson is a freelance writer.