Pleasant Hill Winery's name aptly describes its location on a scenic high spot overlooking the fields south of Brenham. The old barn on the side of the hill has been renovated into a European-style wine shop that is friendly and comfortable. Best known for the little creamery up the road, Brenham also has the climate and soil to grow succulent grapes. The view through the window of the two-story barn -- whose appearance is akin more to a chalet -- encompasses the three acres of vines and the rolling hills beyond.
"The rule of thumb is that one person working full-time can handle about 10 acres of vines," says Bob Cottle. "We work all week so we have wine to sell on the weekend." Bob, his wife Jeanne, son Jason, and great aunt-in-law Libby Maglio keep the 5-year-old winery humming. Besides helping in the tasting room, Libby makes several of the embroidered items and children's clothes for sale in the gift shop.
Depending on the time of year, the winery produces several types of red and white wines. Popular offerings are the Johannisberg Riesling, rosé, Rosso Forte, and a fumé blanc. At the winery, Cottle raises Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Sauvignon Blanc grapes. On land that he leases near Fort Davis, Cottle is experimenting with growing seven acres of other varieties.
This weekend he will be using locally grown grapes for the winery's "Crush for Fun Weekend." Visitors will be invited to get their feet wet in the wine industry by taking a tour of the operation and then crushing some grapes the old-fashioned way. "The grape makes a lot of juice and a wonderful jelly, but it's not much good for winemaking," Cottle explains. After feeling the squish of grapes between their toes, guests can step on a special T-shirt to mark it with their footprint. The classic I Love Lucy show featuring Lucy and Ethel stomping grapes is the inspiration for the weekend's events. "We decided to let everybody come out and be Lucy for the day," Cottle laughs. The crushers also get a souvenir photograph, all for $20.
A tour of the winery is relaxing and pleasant any time. The cellar looks like a mad scientist's laboratory, with tanks and barrels filling nearly every inch. Upstairs is the tasting room, with its wonderful view of the hills and a small gift shop. A room adjacent to the gift shop is part parlor, part merchandise, and part museum. Glass cases along the wall are filled with several hundred corkscrews of all shapes and sizes. The collection is a small portion of the thousands of corkscrews owned by Don Minzenmayer. An international collector, Minzenmayer built an addition to his Houston home just to house all of his other corkscrews.
Cottle's favorite bottle opener is the two-pronged cork extractor called a "butler's friend" -- or "ahso" -- corkscrew. The prongs break the vacuum created in the bottle and let you remove the cork without damaging it. It's called the butler's friend because the servant could sample his employer's good wine and replace it with swill without ruining the stopper. "It's also 'ah so easy' to open a bottle with one," Cottle says.
In a corner of the room is Cottle's collection of antique radios. Most were rescued from garage sales and flea markets, but still exhibit the craftsmanship of fine woodworking. His favorite is a Prohibition-era bar made to look like a floor-model radio.
Wine is the main focus of this enterprise, which processes about 25 tons of fruit every year. A large percentage of the grapes comes from a dozen or so vineyards within a 150-mile radius of the winery. This year's weather has been detrimental to the harvest, Cottle says. The rain makes the grapes juicier, but the dampness causes mold in the clusters. "We'll have one-third to one-half of the harvest we expected," he admits.
Pleasant Hill Winery is open on Saturdays, 11am to 6pm, and Sundays, noon to 5pm. The Crush for Fun Weekend happens during regular business hours. For more information or directions, call 979/830-8463 or visit their Web site at www.pleasanthillwinery.com.
582nd in a series. Day Trips, Vol. 2, a book of Day Trips 101-200, is available for $8.95, plus $3.05 for shipping, handling, and tax. Mail to: Day Trips, PO Box 33284, South Austin, TX 78704.