Monday, September 1, 2014

Raising Cabernet and Merlot in Texas

So, There I was…..* Retired from the Air Force and returned to the State of Texas, making my way as a civilian for the first time in my life.  The wife and my vision for the future was to buy some land and grow grapes as Texas at the time was a nascent wine growing region.  It has since exploded in growth, but that’s another story.  We had been working at the process, taking classes, working with our good friends who are grape growers and wine makers and bought 31 acres of very nice property in the Texas Hill Country.
The Flying Gazebo Ranch (story to follow) Jan 14. Lower right stockpond makes a nice pistol range and not much else. House, Carport, Man Cave and Tractor left lower center. Barn Far Lower Left

I learned a lot in those years.  One, the technical term for growing grapes is farming.  Two, growing grapes does not involve beautiful nubile women in gossamer negligees running through the vineyard fanning the grapes.  Three, God gets a big vote in the success or failure of a farmer.  Finally, four, a fighter pilot imbued with a need to be in control was not suited to be a farmer.  We opted out of the grape growing industry.  Whenever I begin to doubt the wisdom of that, I volunteer at our friend’s vineyard during harvest, which is typically August here in Texas.  That tends to dampen the enthusiasm.

But, we really love our property, it’s quiet and secluded.  It also happens to be very near a military low level route, one that I had flown while at Del Rio.  So, I still get serenaded by the sound of jets on a regular basis. Additionally, the local Airport hosts formation school roughly quarterly.  Formation school is where air show pilots come and comply with FAA requirements for academics and practice in formation flying which allows them to participate in airshows.   Evidently, my fields and those of my neighbors look good enough from the air to act as emergency landing strips.  They probably are, although I have my doubts about a quick fix with the wrench and flying out.

So, we are staying on our property.  What to do with it though?  We've decided to grow hay.  Basically, we fertilize the field, God provides the water (some years more than others).  Then cut and bail the hay when long enough.  Doesn't make us a fortune, but it does qualify us for an Agricultural Exemption on our property taxes. 

We’re having dinner one evening and the wife looks at me, batting her baby blues (they’re actually hazel, but that doesn't work here) and asks “Honey, are we ever going to plant grapes.”  I respond “No, I don’t think so.”  She responds “Well, I want Cabernet and Merlot on this property!” and hands me a brochure.  On the cover are two beautiful Paint Horses in full gallop.  I give her a quizzical look and she says “Read it.”  Well, the brochure is from an animal rescue agency in East Texas and they had rescued these two horses along with ~30 others from a breeding farm that had gone belly up.  The clincher was these two horses were named Cabernet and Merlot.  My fate was sealed.

They have arrived!


My sole experiences with horses being watching TV has led to expectations of them talking to me (in English) when we’re alone, being able to jump on them and yell “Hi, Ho, Silver!” and gallop off into the sunset and finally, whistle and have them come running.  Of the three, the last is the most unrealistic.  Although, I have made inroads on it, by promising them repeatedly that my intention is to NEVER attempt the second.  I notice they look somewhat relieved when I mention that.

They were about 18 months old when we first got them, coming up on 3 years ago.  We put them up at a trainer for the first few months.  One to get them some basic horse training, and two to get us some time to get a barn and corral put up.

One night, while all this is going on, I happen to be reading the want ads in the paper.  I very rarely do this, but an ad happens to catch my eye.  "Free to a good home, Golden Palomino Mare".  Hmmm.  One of the things we've noticed about Cab and Merlot are they don’t seem to have a lot of “Horse Sense”.  Not having much myself, I wonder if having an older, more experienced horse might help the situation.  I talk it over with my horse whisperer, a teacher at the school where I work. She agrees that this could be a good idea.  So we give the folks a call.

Drive over to the stables the next day and are looking forward to meeting Grace.  Grace is a retired 27 year old show horse and looks and acts every bit of it. She has a beautiful long mane and tail and when she looks at you, her eyes look like they're got gold flecks in them. She’s very graceful, moving almost like a stage model, which I guess she was in the Equine world.  I walk up to her holding my hand out and she gives it a few sniffs then puts her head on my shoulder and sighs. I have been deemed "acceptable".
Grace


He owners are a pair of Doctors on a mission trip in Africa, who decided it didn't make much sense to be doing that and scraping by while paying x dollars a month paying room and board for a horse.  Works out for the benefit of both sides.  

Grace has shown the Paints (en masse we refer to them as “the Girls”), that it’s OK to go in the barn during a rain storm and when it’s cold.  She’s also demonstrated that when Juvat whistles, it usually means chow time.  The Paints have shown Grace that it’s OK to run full blast on the property and that Juvat and Mrs Juvat really enjoy watching that.

They've needed quite a bit of work, and quite a bit of hay and feed to overcome the problems caused from their breeding farm days. They have gained their weight back and now are, like most of us, watching their diet. 



"What do I gotta do, bite the lid off a can of dog food?

A Little Grain and no one get's hurt

I'll gladly pay you Tuesday for some Grain today
AND...They come when called.

 Mrs Juvat has been up on all three.  She reports that Cab is a bit of a rough ride, but Merlot and Grace are smooth as glass.  I have fulfilled my word in that I haven’t been up on any, also having been advised by my physician that a fall from a horse could exacerbate my neck injury in a “catastrophic” way.  I’m OK with following that advice. The Girls have also taught me that when a 2000 LB animal does not want her hooves cleaned, it’s ok to leave it for another day. I expect the bruises to fade in another week or so.


*What's the difference between a fairy tale and a war story? A fairy tale starts out "Once upon a time" and a war story starts out "So, There I was".

23 comments:

  1. My men folk have talked of growing grapes, but fortunately have not done so yet. So we live in the middle of a hay pasture that could use more rain.August in OK and TX is the pits. Our two old horses have not been ridden in years and the mini-horse that we are boarding is useless other than entertaining the grandkids. I enjoyed your story of your life in the Hill Country of TX - very like my life in the OKie hills.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks.Yeah, August in Flyover Country can be challenging, and growing grapes is not for the faint of heart.

      Delete
  2. I almost planted some grapes here, once.
    I don't know what I was thinking.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Possibly about the scene from "A Walk in the Clouds" where the ladies in the gossamer negligees walked through the fields fanning the grapes? The movies have attributed a lot of Romance to growing grapes. Fortunately, the faculty at UC Davis and my friends with the winery knocked most of that nonsense out of me before I made a big mistake.

      Delete
  3. The girls are going to keep you busy, but I suspect they are sweeter than wine.

    ReplyDelete
  4. You're definitely right about that, but there is a bit of peacefulness sitting out on the back porch watching them run, or graze, while sipping a glass of Cabernet or Merlot.

    ReplyDelete
  5. Once upon a time The Missus Herself planted a grape vine out in the back yard. It did not thrive. It kind of sat there saying, "Run me over with the lawn mower, release me from my misery." I didn't.

    Eventually, when The Missus Herself realized that she would never see grape one based on the plant's location, she moved it to be right next to our deck.

    Well, the sumbitch took over at that point. We had grapevines all over and through the deck railings. As to grapes, quite a few. But these guys had a giant seed in the middle and not much meat to 'em. Still and all, it looked pretty cool.

    Eventually The Missus Herself tired of hacking back the vines every year and the grapevines were removed. She told me that she gave the plant to a farmer, where it could roam free with all the other grapevines.

    I do believe that I was duped.

    Oh yeah, excellent tale Juvat. Love the horses, love your ranch. The little video is what most New Englanders think of when you say "Texas."

    Wide open sky, a few picturesque trees, green pasture and horses galloping about.

    Loved it.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I'll have to take pictures, but there are actually several grapevines on the property and very old, I can't get my hands around the main stem of them. Mustang grapes, so acidy that you have to pick them with gloves. Making wine requires LOTS of sugar, but the old German descendants around her can be seen along the highway picking the grapes as fast as they can.
      Regarding Green Pasture. We had half an inch night before last, if we hadn't, distinguishing Grace from the pasture would have been difficult.

      Delete
    2. And I had intended the video to be a bit longer, but with Cab coming up that close, I figured I'd better be looking at her with both eyes instead of through the view finder. She got a little rambunctious as we started walking to the barn.

      Delete
  6. Horsies are one expensive hobby. The in-laws have 3 which are either too old or too Ill-tempered to ride. So basically they have 3 pets they can look at and pay a ton to house, feed, and care for.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. They are an expensive hobby, but, as they say, "keeps me off the streets at night".

      Delete
  7. Interesting! Horses and I do NOT get along; I've been thrown further than I've successfully ridden. So, given my unique capability to instantaneously grasp the obvious, I keep my distance... which might be described as "far, far away."

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Well, as I said, my sum experience with horses prior to this was watching them on TV. Realizing that had no bearing on reality, we hired a friend of my daughter who had been studying Equine Science but ran out of money and moved back home to help us. Learned a lot of very important "tells" on how the horse is thinking. That works for Grace and Merlot quite well, but Cab is so mercuric that the time from happy and frolicy to ears pinned back is way too fast to get out of the way. Fortunately, she's not a kicker, but she will try to take a nip at you. So yeah, I keep an eye on them and always try to have an escape avenue.

      Delete
  8. When I was 14 or so my uncle thought I should take some riding lessons. He had a farm in WV. I had always heard that horses were pretty dumb but from what I experienced not so.

    Juvat if you live in TX aren't horses supposed to be in your genes?

    ReplyDelete
  9. Yeah probably, but as the saying goes. "I wasn't born here, but I got here as fast as I could. " In my case 3rd or 4th grade through College and Pilot Training, then a Government Mandated Hiatus, Retired on the 15th of July, left VA the next day and crossed the TX border at about 0600 on the 17th.

    ReplyDelete
  10. Val Verde Winery in Del Rio did a good job with their grapes although they said they had to buy/import a lot for their product. Mrs Alemaster and I used to like their wines when she was prosecuting/living in Del Rio. Most squadrons at Laughlin had their special wines from there but I'm sure you knew that. I kind of figured that growing grapes in TX would be somewhat of a challenge but a "Juvat Vintner" would have been pretty cool. Mrs Alemaster was a horsewoman when I met her in KSAT during my second tour at Randolph. I'm glad she's outgrown the horse hobby but we still enjoy the grape. regards, Alemaster

    ReplyDelete
  11. Trust me a fresh out of college 2LT "knew" about Val Verde Winery! When we retired and moved here there were about 20 wineries in the state, now there are more than 200. My wife and I bought a Wine Store that sold exclusively Texas Wines when we first got here. Had it for about 9 years. Had always heard the Fairy Tale about someone walking in to a business and asking if it were for sale for $X. Actually had it happen. X was a very nice price, but, trying to keep my knees from shaking to badly, I said, "Not Really" He countered with a larger offer and two weeks later we were "Ex" Texas Wine sellers. While we had the store, we had also started a wine tour business. It was successful enough to keep me busy on weekends. We were the only one's doing them. Got an offer for it and took it. Now there have to be 20 or so tour companies in the area. Wine is a big business in Texas!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. A good idea, business plan, and hard work begats success; what a concept! Congrats on your foresight, diligence, and dedication Mr. and Mrs Juvat. Enjoy the "fruits" of your labor and, well done indeed, regards from the Bourbon capital of the world, Alemaster

      Delete
  12. Just remember that John Wayne didn't really ride horses, either. You're in good company.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Really? Did NOT know that.

      Delete
    2. Oh my word Murphy. I've told you before, don't encourage the lad.

      (Now in addition to being a fighter pilot, he's gonna think he's John Wayne!)

      Delete
    3. Nah, Gary Cooper is more my style. High Noon.

      Delete

Just be polite... that's all I ask. (For Buck)