October 6, 2012

Wine Making in the Rio Grande Valley


Jaber Winery

Somewhat akin to his vineyard is Jorge Jaber, for he seems to have absorbed the valley’s sunshine and flourished with its soil. The grapes now harvested have overcome great odds, and so has Jaber, an idealist as resilient as any valley pioneer.
Thirty years ago, Jaber purchased two hundred and eleven acres in northwest Hidalgo County with the intention of planting a vineyard and establishing a winery. Discouraged by information on Pierce’s Decease and the Cotton Root Rot, Jaber settled for a dairy farm. His dairy farm thrived, but everything changed when milk prices dropped forcing him to close down. Vestiges of Jaber’s previous endeavor are still present in the form of silos and horse stables along with cattle and horses that roam near the vineyard. Having planned and built oil wells for Mexico’s petroleum industry most of his life, Jaber boasts of his love for open land, hence his dream of retirement as a wine maker.
Jaber’s passion for viniculture blossomed as he traveled throughout Europe visiting local wineries and developing an appreciation for good wines. “These wines are made just like the wines of Italy and California; we use the same equipment, technique and the same process as any good wine. The only thing I cannot control is the flavor of the grapes,” he remarked in his native Spanish. The strong desire to fulfill his dream led him to read countless of books and attend numerous industry related seminars in the United States. Jaber acknowledges that he could not have done this without the Texas Department of Agriculture’s Extension Services who provided all the information necessary to grow grapes in South Texas. In addition, Jaber has the support of his consultant Benedict Rhyne, a French born wine expert. It was the Extension Services Department that informed Jaber about a new hybrid grape resistant to Pierce’s decease, heat and humidity. The threat of the Cotton Root Rot is still present, but controlled according to Jaber.
His vision took courage, for it is risky, labor intensive and considerably expensive. Eight acres of Black Spanish grapes were planted this year in addition to three acres of Blanc Dubois grape. “These grapes have a distinct flavor; they don’t resemble merlot nor cabernet grapes.” Said Jaber, and added how the valley’s climate and soil are undisputable factors for a good vintage. He also emphasized on the importance of the harvest date; it has to be exactly at the time when the grapes are ripe and the PH levels are ideal. To this day, his winery has produced two harvests; the first came in June of 2011, and the second will soon age in French oak barrels. Jaber, along with five staff members, manually filled, corked and labeled over nine thousand bottles last year. They expect this year’s harvest to produce about fourteen thousand wine bottles. None of the wines are available for sale yet, but will be soon. Jaber wonders if people will appreciate and value wines made in the Rio Grande Valley, but he knows only time will tell.
Jaber explained the wine making process during a tour of his facility. It is obvious he oversaw every single detail in the creation of the first winery of the Rio Grande Valley. One of the things he is most proud of, aside from being the first valley wine producer, is the wine bottle labels because they feature a photograph of a sunset he took from his vineyard; Jaber loves valley sunsets.
At least in the first two vintages, Jaber Estate Wines will consist entirely of grapes harvested in the Rio Grande Valley. Due to the high demand and inclement Texas weather, some state wineries are forced to contract with commercial growers from other areas of the state. Jaber has yet to find out if the valley’s unpredictable weather will be merciful with his crop. Bad vintages seem to be the main reason other Texas wineries are forced to use grapes brought from California’s Napa Valley; a fact that may stun some Texas wine lovers. It has been reported that during bad vintage years, Texas wines consist of less than 50% of grapes harvested in the state. This is all right due to a federal regulation that allows bottlers to label them as such as long as it is written these wines are to be sold only in Texas.
It is certain Jaber will tackle this situation with his characteristic can-do attitude if the time comes. For now, he is preparing for the grand opening of Jaber Estate Winery scheduled for Thursday, September 6th, 2012. He has big dreams for his winery. He plans to add more grapevines, open a wine shop, host dinner parties and large events. He also hopes other wineries will follow. There is no doubt the best is yet to come.

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About the Author

Tapia - Gonzales
La Vida Valle is where I write about "la vida" living in the Rio Grande Valley of Texas. Life, art and culture, poetry, prayers, travel, and camping! yes, that's my new thing. I blame the heat and high humidity for the madness. Contributions and comments are always welcome .

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