They started growing grapes in Voca back in 1997, and the fruits of their labor are starting to shine through.
For viticulturists Alphonse and Martha Dotson, the owners of Certenberg Vineyards and the Wines of Dotson-Cervantes, their first-ever private label wine is making a name for itself in the Texas wine community. Their inaugural wine, Gotas de Oro or "Drops of Gold," won a silver medal in the dessert and late harvest classification at the Lone Star Wine Competition held last month in Grapevine.
The wine is a flavorful refreshing blend of muscat canelli and chardonnay grapes and according to Dotson, is "a fun wine for all times." It was formally released to the public on Sept. 28, 2009 right here in Brady.
They started in the business shortly after moving to Voca in 1997 and have since sold their grapes to various wineries in and around Central Texas. But it wasn’t until the recent past that they decided to venture into the world of producing their own private-label wine.
At the Lone Star Wine Competition, a panel of 24 judges, including two master sommeliers, judged nearly 600 wines in more than 30 categories. The Dotsons entered their wine at the very last minute at the behest of several business acquaintances and narrowly met the required deadline. The result—a silver medal award—one of only a handful given in their particular classification.
"We found out the other day when I just happened to look at the results online," said Alphonse. "We couldn’t believe it."
The Lone Star Wine Competition is touted as one of the top two wine competitions in the state and regularly draws entrants from around the world.
"I’m not in to competitions and such, but enough knowledgeable folks suggested it, so we decided to give it a try," said Alphonse.
Entering wine competitions can give up-and-coming wineries their chance to make a name for themselves which helps tremendously in marketing and sales. But for Alphonse and Martha, meeting possible retailers face-to-face is their biggest selling tool.
The friendly and laid-back couple are unpretentious and approachable as is their wine. While working with the winemaker, their goal was to make a wine that could be paired with numerous foods and still hold its own by itself.
"Our goal in designing this wine was to go after the "don’ts—those who don’t drink wine or who don’t like this style of wine," he said.
But their inaugural vintage almost never materialized. The section of land where they planted the muscat grapes had exceptionally thick and shallow clay in the soil and frustrated the Dotsons with lack of fruit production.
Industry standard is a first harvest of usable fruit in the third year after the initial planting. The Dotsons planted their muscat roots in 2003 and were forced to replant them in 2004 due to bad root stock.
With hopes of a great harvest of the muscat grapes leading into 2007, their anticipation was met with vines void of any usable fruit and again in 2008, early signs were not promising.
"I personally worked those vines for those two years and after the spring of 2008, I told Alphonse—I give up, pull up the vines!" recalled Martha.
The couple turned their attention to the rest of the vineyard and all but forgot about the frustrating muscat grapevines.
But, several months later when it came time to spray the vineyard, Alphonse decided to include the muscat for good measure and was met with the surprise of his life.
"The vines had grown and were setting up to be some of the biggest and best we have ever had," recalls Alphonse.
Those grapes from that harvest are the ones used to make Gotas de Oro.
The harvest was blended and bottled at the Fall Creek Winery in Tow near Lake Buchanan. The entire project was done as a alternating proprietorship with the help of Fall Creek founder and winemaker Ed Auler.
"This entire dream would not have been possible without the help from Ed and the folks at Fall Creek," said Dotson.
Their first harvest for this particular wine produced 862 cases. The challenge for the Voca couple has been to get retail and on-premise placement and follow-up sales on their distribution. True to form, they take a hands-on approach and personally market and deliver their product themselves.
From the release date to the end of 2009, they managed to distribute 190 cases and have spent considerable time promoting their product.
"I just want to sell the wine," said Alphonse. "I love to get out and meet the people and you really learn more about those people once your product is in their hands."
Following their industry contacts, the Dotsons have succeeded in getting into the metroplex market and have been working with numerous retailers and restaurants to have their wine added to their shelves or menu.
They have been averaging selling around 30 cases per month with a goal of selling about 50 per month until the supply runs out or until the next vintage can be bottled. They are cautiously planning their future and are trying to be careful to not become too large too soon. They don’t want to overextend or overcommit their resources and sacrifice quality. But with the growing success of Gotas de Oro, they are already looking into expanding their private label as well as their vineyard.
"If and when we do expand our product, it will be something that will most likely have limited production and limited availability," they said.
Their future plans are also to build a barrel room that will also serve as a tasting room for persons who are interested in their wine. The main purpose of the room would be to store and cellar barrels but it would also be useful as a marketing tool via tastings and tours.
With the grapes beginning to ripen, the next two months are the busiest time of the year for the vineyard owners. The work isn’t glorified and it is hot and laborious, but they wouldn’t have it any other way.
To purchase some of their wine, it is available locally at JP Liquors on S. Bridge Street and retails for around $27.