Birgit Anderson wanted a cow so husband Bruce bought her one for her birthday. They had fresh milk but looking after livestock became restricting so the cow had to go. Then they were free to travel and they headed to California. It was while tasting wine in Napa Valley that Birgit suggested they planted vines in the now vacant field behind their house in Burleson, just south of Fort Worth, in Texas.
Bruce planted an acre of Cabernet Sauvignon and enrolled at nearby Grayson College to study viticulture and winemaking. During a class on pests and diseases he learned the bad news that Pierce’s Disease had been found in a vineyard in Fort Worth. “Your vines will soon be dead,” the lecturer told him. Eight years later he had to replant. His Sunset Winery Cabernet had been promising, it had won a gold medal and was distributed to local restaurants and shops.
Now their field is growing Black Spanish, a rather mysterious red Texan variety immune to Pierces. It is also known as Lenoir and Jacquez and, as the latter, plays a part in my Pinotage book. There is also a little white Blanc de Bois that came mixed in with the original cuttings.
The Andersons installed all the equipment a winery needs in the building and opened to the public in 2005. They are located right on Interstate Highway 35W, in Burleson, about 13 miles south of Fort Worth.
When I called in they had just harvested their field, and were washing the de-stalking machine. Open tanks of crushed Black Spanish grapes were about to start fermenting. They’ll make a totally dry wine which will be used as the basis for several wines.
I tasted three wines made from the variety and found them good. The driest was "Santa's Special" which is 100% Black Spanish with approximately 6% residual sugar; only around 30 cases was made. The second wine was "Redhead" in their "The Best Little Wine House in Texas" label series. It is about 60% Black Spanish, blended with vinifera grown in West Texas. "Burleson Harbor I" was the only one of the three that had seen oak. It is a blend of approximately 60% Tempranillo and 40% Black Spanish, fortified and sweetened to resemble a port. “We can’t call it port,” Bruce told me, “but a port is also a harbour.”
Sunset Winery make mostly vinifera wines from vineyards they lease in western Texas, including “Twilight Tango” Malbec from a two acre vineyard planted for them by Neal Newson in the Texas High Plains region.
All the Anderson’s wines are 100% Texan except for their most unusual bottling - a ‘wine’ made from Acai berries sourced from the Amazon.
Sunset Winery calls itself ‘The Best Little Wine House in Texas’. The tasting room was their garage and tanks, crushers and other winemaking equipment fill what was a family home. There’s a deck out back where, shaded by a tree, you can sit and sip a glass of wine while looking out over the vineyard.
The property is right on I 35W in the town of Burleson so you don’t need to make a detour from your journey to visit this welcoming owner-operated small winery and vineyard. See www.sunsetwinery.com
Have you visted Sunset Winery or tasted Black Spanish? Tell us on our forum.
Peter F May is the author of Marilyn Merlot and the Naked Grape: Odd Wines from Around the World which features more than 100 wine labels and the stories behind them, and PINOTAGE: Behind the Legends of South Africa’s Own Wine which tells the story behind the Pinotage wine and grape, also available for the Kindle.
Note: Tours of the winery are free to those bringing a Sunset Winery publicity leaflet stocked in hotels locally and along I35. The author's offer to pay for his tasting was graciously declined.