Excerpt From the Introduction to Pleasant Hill Winery, Brenham, Texas

It was a warm Saturday afternoon when I first met the Cottles. Jeanne and her son Jason were taking care of customers while Aunt B. worked behind the counter. Bob was downstairs, leading a nursing home tour-group through the cellar. In between customers, Jeanne started telling me a little about the winery and how they had gotten there.

Jeanne has Italian parents and both of her grandfathers made wine. I asked where. "Sicily," she said. "Palermo," piped in Aunt B. She and Bob started making cherry wine in the 1970s in Wisconsin. They came to Texas in the late 1970s and settled in Spring, near Houston. Bob worked as a mechanical engineer and Jeanne taught high school Spanish. Wine was already on their mind. They were making homebrew and giving it away to friends. Everyone loved it and finally, as Jeanne said, "Then it got out of hand and so we decided we had to try to do it commercially."

A customer came up and started talking to her. I waited and looked around. I noticed a diploma on the wall from Grayson County College and, when Jeanne came back, I asked her about it. "That's Bob's," she explained. "He was their second graduate. We figured that if we were going to risk our retirement, we should know what we were doing." She said it with such understatement that I had to look up from my laptop to see if she was kidding. She wasn't.

Just then, Bob led the tour group into the tasting room. About 20 elderly men and women ambled in while Jeanne set up tasting glasses for all of them. The first pour was a Cabernet Sauvignon. I love having the opportunity to melt into a crowd of wine tasters and listen to their comments. One old gentleman took a sip, scrunched up his face and turned to the woman next to him. "Why it's bitter," he said, shaking his head. Some of the people were having trouble getting up to the bar, so Bob came out and poured. When Bob appeared in front of him, the man asked him why the wine was bitter.

The truth was, the wine wasn't bitter. It was excellent Cabernet. But the man was obviously used to sweet wines. Bob, very patiently and with great respect, explained the role of expectation and experience in tasting wine. By the time Bob was through, the man understood that the Cab was well-made wine. It just didn't happen to appeal to him. I was very impressed with the professional yet simple way that Bob conducted his group.

At the end of the talk, people bought wines and slowly sauntered back to their tour bus. Except the old man who complained about the Cabernet. He hung around 'til the end, and then slowly walked up to the counter and bought a bottle of Cabernet. "I think my daughter will like it," he said. Bob gave the man a kindly smile. I wanted to give Bob a high-five.

These are really nice people. Though they're focused on wine, if you watch the family interaction, you'll notice that it's even more important to them to be facing the world together. Understand, they love wine and want to share that love with others. Yet, if you ask them what they are most proud of, you won't hear about this vintage or that grape. You'll hear about family, cohesiveness, and accomplishment.

A winning combination. I hope they go far.

From The Wine Roads of Texas (© 2002, Maverick Publishing Company) by Wes Marshall

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