Howard and Amy Davies will never be accused of following the crowd. They started growing grapes in 1999 and opened Arché Winery in Montague County in 2007. They didn’t choose either of the two major grape growing areas in Texas–the High Plains around Lubbock and the Hill Country–to plant their vineyard. They didn’t choose the native or hybrid grapes that withstand Texas temperatures and pestilence. However, their commitment to quality was unwavering. The result is that Arché is turning out wines that rank with the best in Texas and inspiring others to grow grapes in their part of the world. Howard and Amy have even persuaded one of their sons, Grayson, to join the team as winemaker (their other son, Patrick, also makes wine in Paso Robles, California). Recently, I visited the winery and took a walk around the vineyard as well as tasting the wines.
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To visit Arché Winery, you head north of Dallas-Fort Worth on I-35 to Gainesville and take a left on US-82 to the small town of St. Jo. Turn right at the only stop sign and head north on FM 677 until you see the winery’s sign. It is only on the section from St. Jo to the winery gate that you realize how much altitude you have picked up on the trip. Almost without notice you come over the top of a bluff and see a view of the valley below that is as impressive as any in the Hill Country. This altitude is important to the grape growing conditions. It provides wind and drainage that make this part of Montague County a place where Italian immigrants grew grapes over a century ago.
The trip from Dallas takes you past several interesting BBQ stops, some uncharted. On this trip we stopped at the well known Clark’s Outpost in Tioga for a lunch. The brisket burnt ends were good but the ribs and sausage were average at best. Clark’s is dog-friendly and, thanks to a sun-shaded patio on the north wall, comfortable to sit outside. Perhaps the most significant culinary stop is the authentic German town of Muenster, where half a dozen restaurants serve Teutonic-inspired food.
Arché is entered via a long driveway that was cut through the trees by Howard on his tractor. The unsurfaced quarter mile track to the winery has a quaint 150 mph speed limit sign at one point. But plan on not exceeding 15mph, and still having to wash the car afterwards. On account of the dust, all paint jobs are brown when the weather is dry.
Arché has eleven acres of vines (13 if you use the European counting method of including paths and service areas) planted on each side of the bluff with a small winery building and tasting room in the center. The vineyards have been a perpetual experiment. At one point they even grew Venus grapes. However, the pattern that has emerged from experience is vinifera grape varieties (the grape family from which most of the best wine is made) with Syrah, Mourvèdre, Merlot, Tempranillo, Cabernet Sauvignon, Dolcetto, Carignane, Grenache, Matero, Roussanne, Marsanne, and Viognier the preferred types.
I previously reported on the Arché Roussanne. New to me this time were several vintages of Syrah. The most impressive was the result of the greatest climatic adversity. The 2011 Syrah, Montague County, TX comes entirely from the winery’s own vineyard. The grapes were the sole varietal survivor of the 2011 heat wave. Harvest, normally something that takes place in September, was moved forward to July, and even then the grapes were shriveled from multiple over-100 degree days (and one that hit 119 degrees). The result, from all of the water evaporation, is wine with an intensity of flavor that is unusual in Texas. I expect this example to win medals when it is released this summer (I had a barrel sample). One other Arché wine from 2011 (but not from Arché’s own vineyard) was a Tempranillo that went so high in sugar due to the heat that Howard made a late harvest wine that, like Port, with an alcoholic content too high to be sold in Plano. I did not get to taste it on this visit.
Two wines planned for the future totally go against the pattern and accumulated experience of grape growing in Texas. First, Howard is planting Chardonnay, one of the least successful grapes in Texas. Second, he is increasing his planting of Merlot, which is normally considered a cool climate grape and not notable in his part of the state. Despite the track record state wide, he may have the savvy to make a success of both.
He also has plans to make the state’s most successful white wine, Viognier, but his version will be a lush, oaky style that has not, hitherto, been released here. It is an approach that I think should be welcomed.
Howard provides a tour for consumers that is more ‘in depth’ than I have encountered elsewhere. Over one and a half hours: visitors tour the vineyards, have an instructional sit down class in the winery, and a tutored tasting of the wines. See here for times and prices.
The effect of Arché’s success is rubbing off. The relatively new Blue Ostrich Winery and Vineyard is nearby. It’s located on the site of an old ostrich farm (remember that craze?). Also the brother of Brushy Creek Vineyard and Winery owner, Les Constable, has planted a vineyard in the area. Maybe the Red River area will become the next major grape growing and winery center in Texas.
Arché wines are available from the tasting room and via the winery web site.