June Naylor 2015-05-28 00:37:29
A Grape Escape A Bosque County father-son getaway proves to be perfect terroir for the little winery that could. Call them the accidental winemakers. Thanks to a shared desire to spend quality time at their country place in Bosque County, Gary and son Evan McKibben found themselves with a winning winery on their hands. Their success was not only unplanned and unlikely — it was relatively quick. Exactly a decade after the McKibbens obtained a winemaking license, Red Caboose Winery took home five medals from the 2015 TexSom International Wine Competition, an important benchmark in excellence for the industry. “I just wanted a place to escape to from Dallas,” says Gary, an architect who was living in Richardson when he began looking for a getaway in the Hill Country. “My mom always told me I’d be a farmer, but I didn’t believe it.” His exhaustive search, begun around Kerrville, led him to the rocky, rolling landscape just southwest of the Dallas/ Fort Worth area. He snapped up 200 acres, named it the G Lazy M Ranch and called son Evan to announce that they had a new place to hang out together. The younger McKibben, then in his early 20s, was a hockey coach in Frisco. He was running the Dallas Stars’ youth league, and his days often were filled with “listening to moms talk about birthday parties.” Spending time on a ranch sounded pretty darn great. “I first started coming down here once a week with my dad. It gave us a chance to just talk for the 90-minute drive, each way.” He surveys an expanse of thriving grapevines, land initially covered in cactus and lacking any roads. “I’d never seen a tractor before, never mind been on one. But it was so fun. I’d just get on the tractor and start mowing stuff down.” In 2003 they planted six rows of cabernet sauvignon grapes, although experts told them that variety was a big mistake in their area. Those six rows now are a robust twist of thick vines, abundant with leaves and festooned with berries that will morph into grapes over the summer. “The limestone in Bosque County is fantastic — the vines love the rock,” Evan says, noting that the best grapes come from vines that must struggle. “Of course, we had no idea at first how to dig into the rock. We weren’t sure how we’d ever learn.” Rather than go to school, Gary and Evan read everything they could find about growing grapes. After much trial and error, they got the hang of it. Today they grow 11 varietals on 18 acres and even cultivate grapes for other winemakers. Evan and Gary walk between rows of tempranillo vines, which produce Red Caboose’s award-winning La Reina. They are accompanied by Buddy, the ever-present border collie. Father and son marvel at what a boon the late winter and rainy spring have been. “Yeah, we’re gonna have good crops this year,” Gary says. “Nature has been good to us, and we go with what nature provides. The grapes have been so good, we almost never have to filter our wines.” In an effort to give back to the land, Gary has adopted green building practices. The rock for building was excavated from the winery site, and the structure’s north-south faces minimize heat impact from the sun. Irrigation comes from captured rainwater, and solar panels on the winery roof and a system of geothermal wells meet the winery’s cooling and heating needs. Gary is slowly converting exclusively to LED lighting and eventually will use only electric vehicles on the property. Because Red Caboose is known as one of the most sustainable wineries in Texas, others have asked him to draft plans for them. His client list includes Comanche’s Brennan Vineyards, Pedernales Cellars in Stonewall, West Sandy Creek Winery in The Woodlands and Umbra Winery’s Grapevine location. Gary — who now resides in a living space he built above the winery’s tank and barrel rooms — also has designed a new tasting room and an 85-seat restaurant taking shape now. If all goes well, the new facility will be open by the end of the year to serve visitors traveling from Fort Worth and Dallas, Burleson, Waco, Cleburne, Austin and Houston. Right now guests can stay at B&Bs in nearby Clifton, Glen Rose and Hico; next year the McKibbens will accommodate overnighters in reclaimed railway-car “casitas” designed by Gary and finished out by Evan. The first one will be a red Santa Fe Railway caboose — the company’s namesake — that Gary bought, restored and slept in during the winery’s infancy. The winery, too, continues to grow. In the early years production came from a 1,000-pound grape harvest; the McKibbens now harvest 80 tons of grapes annually. Current production is between 5,000 and 6,000 cases of wine per year, but Evan says they’d like to double that. Bottling happens in nearby Clifton, home to a 4-year-old tasting room and deli. At the Meridian winery, tastings take place at a long table in the barrel room and on the limestone patio, where there’s a fireplace and lots of Adirondack chairs and bent-twig furniture. On the last Friday evening of the month, guests enjoy “Cork & Fork,” bringing picnics to enjoy with Red Caboose wines and live music. Late summer brings volunteer grape-picking weekends — pickers get lunch in return for helping. And in late September, the big annual event is the Stomp, a ticketed music-and-food event during which guests get a chance to stomp grapes. At the end of a busy day, father and son sit on their patio to sample their first 100-percent malbec, aged for three years in French oak barrels and releasing this month. They sip, savor and nod approval almost in unison. THE DETAILS Red Caboose Winery The most popular wines are La Reina tempranillo, Range Rider tempranillo blend, Quick Draw Syrah, Some of That Red blend and Blanc du Bosque white blend. Wines are sold at the winery and tasting rooms as well as at Goody Goody, Central Market, Whole Foods Market, Spec’s and Total Wine. Ask about the popular Red Caboose wine club, which costs $45 to join and provides members with a 15-percent discount on wine purchases. 1147 County Road 1110, Meridian; 254-435-9911. The tasting room and deli is open Thursday-Sunday at 903 S. Avenue G in Clifton, also about 90 minutes from Fort Worth; 254-675-0099 or redcaboosewinery.com.
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