Longform

Whine capital of Texas

Page 6 of 9

By last year, the Grapevine wine movement had reached a peak. Four wineries were in business, TWGAA was set up in its new Grapevine offices, and the city's new grape logo was everywhere.

In September, McCallum reached a major milestone when Jerry Delaney presented his very own 1995 Cabernet Sauvignon Vintner's Reserve to the public. The wine, which sells for $35 a bottle, is the first made from grapes grown in Grapevine. A week later, GrapeFest brought in more than 116,000 visitors and set an attendance record.

By then, Grapevine fever had reached an all-time high, and everyone appeared to be drinking up McCallum's public-relations cocktail from the palm of his hand. Everyone, that is, except for the board members of the Grapevine Heritage Foundation.

The fermenting tension between McCallum and some members of the heritage foundation board came to a head during the board's May 12 meeting, when the board confronted McCallum with a number of problems it had with the way he was using the foundation's resources to promote the wine industry.

By then, Bryan Klein had already told City Manager Roger Nelson, Mayor Tate's right hand, that he believed McCallum had fixed the People's Choice, and the rest of the board was aware of the problem. Klein did not return the Dallas Observer's phone calls.

During the meeting, board member Mark Maness drove the discussion. A financial consultant by trade, Maness enjoyed wide respect on the board and in the community for his volunteer efforts.

In 1993, Maness founded a group called the Dirty Dozen, which had invested countless hours completing restoration projects and other do-gooder efforts. A source of pride for Maness was the work the group did to help clean and restore the railroad turntable.

Maness says he spoke up during the meeting because Nelson and the mayor were ignoring the board's concerns about McCallum.

"All that this board was trying to do was be good stewards of the foundation's money and its assets, which include properties," says Maness, "[but] the answers I got were completely unsatisfactory."

Chief among their complaints was the fact that in March the Texas Wine and Grape Growers Association had moved into the foundation-owned Founder's Building at McCallum's direction, but had still not signed a lease or paid the $500-a-month rent the board had required.

Another point of contention was that McCallum had met privately with representatives of the Lubbock-based Pheasant Ridge Winery and discussed the possibility of using the historic Nash farm as a wine-tasting room. The foundation had only recently acquired the property, and the board had not yet discussed how it would be used, but a wine-tasting room was not high on their list of possibilities.

What the board members were trying to say was that they were uncomfortable with the way McCallum was using the foundation's resources on projects they didn't know about. This is a problem that Emrich says he had been trying to solve for a year.

"I didn't have knowledge of when checks were being generated, signed, and going out. That made me feel uncomfortable," Emrich says. "Money was spent that I didn't know about."

Emrich, who had moved to Chicago in 1995 to take a job as the director of the Landmarks Preservation Council of Illinois, had returned to his old job as executive director of the Grapevine foundation in late 1996. Emrich says that when he came back, life on the board was vastly different because McCallum was making decisions on his own and telling the board later.

Emrich says that on numerous occasions he asked McCallum if he could examine various contracts and project proposals, but was denied access to the material. Although some board members are now asking that the foundation undergo a full, independent audit, Emrich says his concerns weren't so much that the money was being spent unethically or illegally. He simply wanted to know how it was spent.

"When the board said we don't have adequate control measures over the money that is coming to us, through us, and out the other end, the response was pretty much, 'We'll take care of it,'" Emrich says. "Little by little, it became clear that the board was not fully aware of what the entity it was responsible for was ever doing."

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Rose Farley
Contact: Rose Farley