DeZavala Vineyards, between Franklin and New Baden, grows the sweetest blueberries in Texas
DeZavala Vineyards, between Franklin and New Baden, grows the sweetest blueberries in Texas. They don't make that claim; I do. After devouring a handful of the just-picked little blue orbs, I might be a bit biased. There just isn't anything better than berries fresh off the bush, no matter what farm or garden you're visiting, and the middle of June is the peak season for blueberries.
In Texas, blueberries are primarily a Piney Woods crop. "They grow well anywhere azaleas will grow," says Rachel DeZavala. She and her husband, Lawrence, purchased the Robertson County farm as a weekend retreat and have turned it into a lush garden.
A little more than 20 years ago when he retired from a Dow Chemical plant on the coast, they moved to the farm full time. "We retired and both went to work," Rachel says. "The place keeps us out of trouble." Ostensibly, they moved inland to get away from coastal storms and to be near their children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren who live around Franklin and Austin.
Wild grapes were growing on the farm when they bought the place in 1975. An amateur winemaker, Lawrence began experimenting with French-American hybrid grapes. A metallurgist by training, he was a charter member of the Texas Wine and Grape Growers Association.
The DeZavalas currently have about 4 acres of wine grapes planted. What they don't use they sell to other winemakers. Even Messina Hof Winery & Resort in Bryan uses some of their grapes. "We haven't found a seedless grape that will grow out here. What we have are good for wine and jellies," Rachel says.
It was at a conference on grapes that the DeZavalas were introduced to growing blueberries. "They said we didn't have to prune or spray the blueberries," Rachel says. "Lawrence and I looked at each other and said, 'What are we doing messing with grapes?'"
The DeZavalas planted six plants of five varieties, and they all did well. Over the years they have added several rows of blackberries and raspberries that grow as big as marshmallows and as juicy as tomatoes. "People particularly like our blackberries because we have the thornless variety," Rachel says.
By late May, Lawrence is picking a few fresh blueberries for his morning cereal. This year has been cooler and wetter than most, and the berries are a little slow in turning from the dark red to dark blue. "You want to pick them when the berries are a silver blue," she says.
A good number of the Climax blueberries were ripe by Memorial Day, followed by the Woodward blueberries. The farm should have fresh berries through much of July. "Then in the heat of summer the grapes get ripe," Rachel says. By Labor Day most of the fruit will have been picked. Then Rachel and her daughter make jellies and syrups that they sell.
In addition to the berries, the DeZavalas also sell some vegetables from their garden to visitors. "We've cut back on the vegetables," Rachel says. "Mainly we just grow for ourselves." When they're in season, they will have squash, peas, beans, potatoes, and corn. "For some reason we're having a bumper crop of potatoes this year," she says. "Maybe Lawrence planted them at the right time of the moon this year."
The DeZavala farm is about two hours east of Austin off of TX 79. There is a sign and rows of grapevines at the road leading to the farmhouse surrounded by tall trees on a slight hill overlooking a small pond. It is a beautiful place, and it's easy to see why they decided to retire early.
Rachel tells folks to come out whenever they want, but it's cooler in the morning or evening. "Most folks still come out in the hottest part of the day," she says. There is always an extra hat on the porch and lots of cold drinks. There is also a free taste of Lawrence's homemade wine. "You've got to have a sample of wine," Rachel says. "That's part of picking berries." To find out what is available, call the farm at 979/828-4767. For a listing of pick-your-own farms, go to www.picktexas.com.
832nd 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.