Haak Vineyards and Winery looks like an old Spanish mission on the flat plains of Galveston County outside the village of Santa Fe. Inside the two-story building is a modern winemaking enterprise that has been growing by leaps and bounds since it opened in January 2001.
The same could be said about Texas wineries in general. Since 1979, wine production in Texas has surged to more than 2 million gallons, making the state the fifth leading wine producer in the country. The state's 40 wineries offer a wide range of wines that are demanding more notice from connoisseurs.
The Haak Winery, just a few miles from the Texas coast between Galveston and Houston, was a hobby that got out of control, says Vicki Parker, marketing manager and winery tour guide. Richard Haak had no idea where two Concord grapevines would take him when his wife Gladys gave him the plants in 1975. A natural-born tinkerer, Richard was soon experimenting with other varieties of vines.
It wasn't long before Haak had more than 300 vines growing behind the home where he and Gladys have lived since 1963. The couple raised their five daughters within shouting distance of the new winery.
Haak had to do something with all of those grapes, so he tried his hand at making wine. His family and friends were soon looking forward to gift-giving season when they could count on a bottle of his latest vintage.
For 15 years, Haak was stuck making 100 gallons for personal consumption, only dreaming of someday becoming a full-time winemaker. Because he owned a convenience store that sold beer and wine, state law prohibited him from producing the nectar of the grape commercially. Finally, he divested the store and began producing award-winning wines.
A visit to the winery is like taking a one-hour class in winemaking. With Vicki Parker leading the tour, the lesson goes from the history of the winery through each step of the process from vine to crushing to aging to sticking the distinctive labels on the bottles. Much of the work is done by volunteers, many who were recipients of the Haak's precommercial generosity. Richard Haak still hand-makes each batch of wine.
At the end of the tour, the visitors gather around the marble-topped bar for a sampling of the juice factory's wares. Unlike most Texas wineries, Haak imports his sauvignon blanc, cabernet sauvignon, and zinfandel grapes from California rather than buying in-state. He feels he gets a better grape at a better price, Parker says.
Parker pours a sampling of six wines for visitors to try. It is interesting to taste the difference between the steel-tank-fermented 2002 chardonnay and the oak-barrel-fermented 2001 chardonnay. The 2001 sauvignon blanc has a mild, fruity flavor. The 2001 cabernet sauvignon is very smooth, but the smell almost overwhelms the delicious flavor. Parker says that the 2002 vintage will be made from Texas grapes.
Like those at many vineyards in Texas, Haak's grapes were destroyed a few years ago by Pierce's disease, a bacterium that is spread by insects. He has replanted his vineyard with blanc du bois grapes, a hybrid from Florida that is resistant to the disease. Becoming more popular in wineries around the country, the grape makes a very nice wine with hints of pear, green apple, and grapefruit.
To make his port wine, Haak planted lenoir grapes, which have a proven record in Texas. The state's oldest winery, Val Verde in Del Rio, has been growing these grapes successfully since 1883. The Haak's port has a smooth, fruity flavor with just a hint of chocolate.
The Haak Vineyards and Winery is off of TX 6 on Avenue T in Santa Fe. Winter hours (November-April) are Monday-Saturday, 11am-5pm; and Sunday, noon-5pm. Summer hours (May-October) are Monday-Friday, 11am-6pm; Saturday, 11am-7pm; and Sunday, noon-6pm. From Memorial Day through August the winery presents special Sunday afternoon performances by area musicians. On March 9, the Haaks are planning a Greek Festival with food and music to complement their wines. For more information, call the winery at 409/925-1401 or go to their Web site at www.haakwine.com.
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