Fruit of the vine: Couple opens winery near Los Fresnos

·5 min read

Jun. 18—Not all dreams come true, and even the ones that do can take their sweet time, as Art and Melissa Delgado learned while working to launch their dream, Bonita Flats Farm & Vineyard.

Better late than never. The couple welcomed their first customers on March 12 — just 11 days after moving the family onto the 16 acres they bought more than six years ago a few miles outside Los Fresnos with the intention of launching just such a venture. By April 1 this year, the Delgados had planted 1,500 vines in addition to the original 600 vines planted on the property exactly five years before.

"For the past five years we've been just working it and practicing and figuring it all out," Melissa said in between chatting with customers on a recent busy Friday evening.

"We went to Lone Star National Bank and presented our business plan and everything and they were on board. They were just so excited about the whole idea of having a winery and farm down here like this."

Wineries are hard, though, and the Delgado's spent years learning what it takes to ensure a good product.

"We started researching it real seriously 10 or 11 years ago," Art said. "I went to some classes, did some viticulture and enology certifications in Fredericksburg, went to lots of different wineries and vineyards, tasted lots of wines, learned from a lot of different vintners in the Fredericksburg area."

Then it was time to try their hand at making the stuff. The couple produced their first two gallons seven or eight years ago. The next year they made five gallons, and 25 gallons the next. Since then they've quadrupled their production each year, Art said. The Delgados also used wine consultants to help them do soil samples, figure out which grapes to plant and when, and how to orient vine rows and water, he said.

The vines require surprisingly little watering because their roots go very deep, Art said.

"We really were stressed out about the irrigation," he said. "We spent a bunch of time and effort doing our drip irrigation. We actually dug a pond that would hold a million gallons of water, then we trenched 1,600 feet, ran pipes from the pond back to the vineyard, ran drip irrigation on 20 rows, 220 feet worth of irrigation on each row. The first year we watered maybe five times, and then every year after that we've watered maybe two times a year."

The original 600 vines are Blanc du Bois grapes, a disease-tolerant hybrid cultivar first bred at the University of Florida in 1968 and widely planted along the Texas Gulf coast. The Delgados have been making Blanc du Bois for five years now and just bottled and labeled some of the estate wine — wine made from a winery's own grapes — for release in a few weeks, Melissa said.

Bonita Flats also sources Blanc du Bois grapes from Real Farms, a USDA research farm in Monte Alto that's been growing grapes for 25 years, she said. It's the same variety of grape, but wine made from Monte Alto's Blanc du Bois is totally distinct from Bonita Flats' Blanc du Bois wine, Melissa said.

"It's kind of crazy," she said. "They're completely different. Their vines are older and the wine is tangier. They have a lot of citrus on their property. Ours is a lot lighter and even looks lighter, clearer. That Blanc du Bois really absorbs the terroir."

"Terroir" is a French word that refers to how regional soil and climate affect how grapes and wine taste. The Delgados' new vines are Camminare Noir, Caminante Blanc and Ambulo Blanc, all hybrids developed at the University of California-Davis to withstand the harshest conditions and still produce excellent wine. They're grown on rootstock from Vitis arizonica, also known as Canyon grape, which grows wild in the U.S. Southwest and northern Mexico.

"Those just went in the ground and they're already producing fruit, but you've got to cut it and baby the roots and the stock and everything," Melissa said.

Thee vines will be ready for winemaking in two or three years, Art said, noting that Bonita Flats has released five different wine varieties so far and two more are coming out next month.

"We're working on another two to release the month after that, and then July, August and September we'll be harvesting and working on the 2022 vintages," he said. "I'll be busy making more wine for next year."

Last year the winery processed about 12 tons of grapes, each ton yielding roughly 60 cases, which equals 720 bottles, Art said. This year they're hoping to process close to 20 tons of grapes.

Art admitted that the road to opening day was longer than anticipated, thanks largely to a two-year freeze courtesy of the pandemic. Nonetheless, business is good — enough that the Delgados are looking to hire extra help. A major expansion is underway, meanwhile, with a new 1,200-square-foot production area under construction. Half of it will be for barrel aging and cold storage, and the other half for a commercial kitchen, Art said.

There will also be an indoor tasting room with windows overlooking the production area and vineyard, plus covered patios with ceiling fans, lights and patio furniture, and a separate adults-only area, he said. Currently Bonita Flats features shaded outdoor seating, while an air-conditioned cargo container serves as the nerve center, all of it striking a relaxed, rustic note.

There's pizza, and on Fridays and Saturdays, live music. Bonita Flats is open Sundays too. Once the big building is finished, they'll probably start opening Thursdays as well, Art said.

Despite the expansion and pending upgrades and improvements, some customers have expressed a wish that the cargo container will remain part of the experience, he noted.

"People are requesting that we keep the South-Texas-farm-chic vibe going, so we're thinking about it," Art said.