Drink Up

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It's even more jarring in the space near the back door, where a tiny crusher-destemmer and wine press rests. Eubanks says for a few days after harvest, some 9-12 tons of grapes from the Texas High Plains arrive here via refrigerated truck in half-ton picking bins. At that point Nashwood is in a frenzy, as grapes are hurriedly dropped into the crusher-destemmer before they're put into the wine press. Eubanks says they crush about one ton per hour. "It's very messy," she adds.

After crushing and pressing, the juice is pumped into those glossy tanks where wood chips (Eubanks says bacteria control problems forced them to abandoned oak-barrel fermenting and aging) and yeast is added. Seven months later, they hand-bottle, cork and label their Nashwood crop. Eubanks says they honed their winemaking skills through a video winemaking course produced by the University of California, Davis. But some of their techniques are homespun. To blend wines, they experiment at the kitchen table with a wine glass and teaspoons, carefully tracking the proportions of each wine used in the blends they prefer.

Not bad for a pair of tax professionals. Eubanks says at capacity, their tiny strip-mall winery can produce 1,200 cases of Texas Merlot, Cabernet, Zinfandel, Chardonnay, Pinot Grigio and Meritage (proprietary red wine made with Bordeaux grapes such as Cabernet, Merlot and Cabernet Franc)--hardly enough to turn much of a profit, but that isn't necessarily the motive. "It's fun having people like your wine," Eubanks says. "People aren't really going to like your taxes much unless you're getting them a big refund."

Sunk in a dry area, Nashwood Winery is the spawn of Proposition 11. But so far, the blessings are mixed. Because the dry designation is so indelibly etched into the mindset of the neighborhood, people don't take her winery signage seriously. "There's a five-mile radius around me where you can't buy alcohol," she says. "Getting people in here has been a big challenge." But novelty may eventually prove an irresistible draw. In the yard surrounding their Preston Hollow home, the Eubankses cultivate 15 vines: five Zinfandel and 10 Pinot Grigio plants. Last fall, they harvested the grapes, netting them some 24 half-bottles of wine, the first known commercial wines grown in the tony neighborhood of Preston Hollow.

But the city isn't the only area feeling the impact of the Texas Legislature. In May 2004, Emilio and Maria Ramos opened San Martiño Winery & Vineyards in Rockwall on the shores of Lake Ray Hubbard. "The liberation of some of the laws made a big impact, when we opened, on the size of our winery," says Emilio Ramos, a dean of technology for Dallas Community College District. "It's helped us increase the business." Ramos says their initial business plan called for a 500-case winery. "Now we're pushing 3,500 cases this year," he says.

Most of the Sangiovese, Viognier, Syrah, Chenin Blanc, Chardonnay, Merlot and Cabernet bottled at San Martiño comes from the Texas High Plains. But Ramos says he also uses small amounts of Chardonnay and Zinfandel from a four-acre vineyard he owns in the Southern California wine region of Temecula. Plus, he has a two-acre vineyard at the winery in Rockwall where he grows Blanc du Bois, a disease-resistant hybrid white wine grape developed by a University of Florida grape breeder, and Albariño from vines Ramos obtained from his grandfather's vineyards in Northwest Spain, an area that produces some of Spain's best and most expensive white wines. Ramos plans to expand his Rockwall vineyard to five acres.

But perhaps the oddest winery in Dallas is locked in a downtown high-rise: Swirll in the Davis building on Main Street. There Louis and Peggy Davion have established a street-level winery below the home they occupy in the lofts above. Swirll bleeds faux Tuscan touches with textured columns and arches, concrete floors and exposed ceilings, wooden wine racks and a wine-tasting bar. Like the Eubankses, the Davions' experience with fine wine and winemaking is not particularly deep, but that probably doesn't matter.

"Here at Swirll, we're not farmers," says Peggy Davion, a bubbly 58-year-old former residential real estate agent with spiky blond hair. "We're a pipeline business...We were wine lovers, of course, but not to this extent." The Davions don't make wine, either, at least not much more than what goes into the Swirll samples offered for tasting and sale. Inspired by a winemaking store in San Antonio called Water 2 Wine, the Davions say they founded Swirll to transition from their longtime careers (Louis Davion was a technician specializing in mainframe computer installation). Swirll is a role-playing fantasy where you are the winemaker. Customers taste the wines, choose their favorite, and then--for anywhere from $179-$359--set about to make a 28- to 30-bottle run of the stuff, hoping it approximates what was sipped at the tasting bar. "We pour the grape juice into the pail, you pitch the yeast, you become the winemaker," Peggy Davion says. You also toss in wood chips for some simulated barrel aging.

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Mark Stuertz
Contact: Mark Stuertz