The spring season is commonly referred to a season of rebirth and growth. Workers at a local east Texas winery, with literal roots planted around the Tyler and Bullard communities, are hoping for the vines to awaken and produce their luscious fruits as spring begins.
Kiepersol Winery, located at 3933 FM 344 E. in Tyler, about two miles outside of the Bullard city limits, welcomed hundreds of East Texans to mark the occasion of a new year of grape-growing and wine and spirit-making at the annual Waking of the Vines at Kiepersol event, held Saturday, March 10.
“Waking of the Vines is one of our most popular events we have at Kiepersol,” said Sandra Dougherty, Kiepersol’s promotions and brand ambassador. “It has a lot of meaning for us here at the company because it’s a day we’re able to show gratitude, and that’s really what it’s all about.”
Originally from South Africa, founder Pierre de Wet moved to the East Texas area in 1998, settling just outside of Bullard, where he established Kiepersol Estates.
According to Kiepersol’s website, the facility is built on 63 acres of vineyards that produce estate-grown red and white wines that have captured the Old World style alongside Texas pride. Hand planted in 1998 and 1999, the vineyards have been the passion of the de Wet family.
In 2000, de Wet and Kiepersol began selling under the Kiepersol label. Today, the winery produces about 15,000 cases of wine annually. Kiepersol is also now known for more than just their wine, as the company branched out several years ago to form a distillery that produces vodka, bourbon and rum.
Attendees to Waking of the Vines were able to partake of the fruits of the Kiepersol vine, with sangria, wine-ritas, and a variety of cocktails made from grapes grown in the vineyards available for purchase, as well as wine tastings.
De Wet’s beloved Kiepersol remains a family business, with his daughters, Marnelle Durrett and Velmay Power, now running the business as co-owners. Durrett serves as the business’s proprietor and winemaker, while Power uses her knowledge and background in the banking industry as she serves as the business’s Chief Financial Officer.
“I believe today has just been a wonderful day,” said Power. “I’m really glad that the weather held up today. We’ve also had a great crowd out today, which I believe is one of our largest crowds for Waking of the Vines. It’s great to have people actually go through the vineyard this year with their picnic blankets and experience all that Kiepersol has to offer.”
During the Waking of the Vines event this year, attendees, as well as the vineyards, were treated to a musical performance by a six-piece mariachi band, a tradition tied to de Wet’s belief that the vines actually spoke and understood the Spanish language.
“Our workers in the vineyards are mainly Hispanic,” said Power. “During their work in the vineyard, their little pickup truck will have Spanish music playing. We believe our vines speak Spanish because that’s the language they’ve heard the most. It’s honoring to the workers for their hard work in the vineyards; if it wasn’t for them, we couldn’t have the product we have going into our bottles. When we transitioned more from a harvest festival to more of a social vine day event, we introduced the mariachi band to wake up the vines for another growing season.”
This year’s Waking of the Vines event also allowed attendees to hear acoustical music by Grant Cook and enjoy sandwiches for purchase by Which Wich Superior Sandwiches.
Sadly, De Wet, one of the most well-known and influential business owners in the Tyler and Bullard areas, died in January 2016 at the age of 61 years old.
Power said that with the excitement, large crowds, and spring-sunshine weather, she knows her late father is pleased with the work being carried on by his daughters and Kiepersol family at the business.
“I know he’s looking down and he’s pleased,” said Power. “Everywhere you go at Kiepersol, you can still feel his presence here. We know he’s so happy and honored that we are carrying on with the things he had started. We’re very privileged to be doing what we love here in this great country.”
In 2017, Kiepersol Winery gained notoriety on a statewide level, as the winery received an award saddle after being named Top Texas Winery in the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo’s International Wine Competition, one of the largest wine contests in the world with over 2,800 entries from 20 different countries.
Kiepersol also entered a total of six different wines into the HLSR International Wine Competition, with each wine entry receiving a medal.
Wine entries for Kiepersol at the HLSR wine contest included the 2010 Barrel No. 33, receiving Double Gold - Class Champion and Texas Class Champion; 2011 Mengsel, receiving Gold and Texas Class Champion; 2013 Syrah, receiving Gold and Texas Class Champion; 2011 Cabernet Sauvignon, receiving Silver and Texas Class Champion; 2012 Artize, receiving silver and Texas Class Champion; and 2012 Merlot, receiving Silver and Texas Class Champion.
At the event Saturday, the HLSR saddle also made an appearance, as Professional Bull Riding star and three-time PBR World Finals Champion Robson Palermo rode in front of the assembled crowd of attendees with the saddle under him, as well as the American Flag in his hand, as attendees joined their voices for The National Anthem.
The crowd was then led in a time of prayer, recited by written by de Wet and his companion, Kelly Doherty, asking for God’s protection for the fruit, the vines, and the many workers in the wine-making process at Kiepersol.
“As we stand here in your vineyard, Lord, there is an empty season in front of us. We ask you day by day to fill it up with good things, Lord. We ask your blessing for every vine and everyone who takes care of them. We ask your blessing for everyone that loves this place as Jesus’ face. Bless the food and drink it brings to everyone that shares this dream. Bless our freedoms and bless this land. Dear Lord, we know the seasons are in Your hands. Help us, Lord, to be just what you need and in Jesus’ name, we tell Satan to stay away. Lord, awaken these vines; it’s time to grow. Amen.”
In terms of this year’s bounty, Power is expecting the vines to produce as God directs them, saying that He alone knows what will be in store this season.
“We’re expecting out of this year’s harvest exactly what God is going to give us,” said Power. “We try not to plan too far in the future; we take it a day at a time and whatever the skies bring us, we deal with on a daily basis. We just hope and pray for a healthy vineyard, good fruit, and a great vintage.”
Power said the Waking of the Vines event is part of a biannual set of events based on the season of grape-growing at Kiepersol, with the current event taking place in the springtime, while the Putting the Vines to Sleep event occurs in the autumn.
“The Putting the Vines to Sleep event is a social event like Waking of the Vines and is similar in many ways,” said Power. “We will still have a mariachi band performing, but instead of live and peppy music, they will actually play lullaby music. It’s a little quieter, but it allows us to show our appreciation and thanks for hopefully a great harvest.”
According to Dougherty, the two social events centered around the wine-making seasons at Kiepersol allow the local community to experience a day in the life of the company, as well as celebrate by drinking the fruits of the labor.
“Although we have a Tyler address, we have a huge connection with the Bullard community because it truly is our local community,” said Dougherty. “It’s great to give the public an event such as this where they can come out and see what Kiepersol is about. I’m always surprised to see and hear how many local people aren’t aware of the treasure we have here in our own backyard. We are the local wine farm for the Bullard community and we are farmers first.”
In addition to the well-known winery and distillery, Kiepersol Estates also features a bed and breakfast, recording studio, and RV park.
For more information about the Kiepersol Estates or Kiepersol Winery and Distillery, visit www.kiepersol.com.