by Kelly Gates
For those who have never been to Texas Hill Country, it is a place for those who love the outdoors. For people who enjoy horseback riding. And camping. And very good wine.
The beauty and recreational appeal of the area was enticing enough to coax the Holmberg family to move there from Houston back in 1993. Once they settled in, the desire to do something useful with the 125-acre parcel of Comfort, TX land they purchased led the former urbanites to start a vineyard.
“My wife Julie and I always had a passion for wine, having visited wine regions in Europe, South Africa, Washington and California,” Dick Holmberg, founder of the winery, Singing Water Vineyards, told Wine & Grape Grower. “We talked to a local consultant about the possibility of having a vineyard here, knowing that Texas Hill Country is an American Viticutural Area, and we discovered that it is not only suitable, one area on the property is quite good for growing grapes.”
The couple, along with daughter Ann and son Dick Jr., had previously used their land for camping, as there was no dwelling on site. So when they decided to start growing grapes, they also chose to construct a home, making it a permanent move.
According to Holmberg, Julie busied herself with the contractors who built their new home while he oversaw the planting of their first vineyard.
“The first vines went in during the spring of 1998 and initially we were just growing grapes for other wineries around here,” said Holmberg. “We chose to plant Merlot based on advice from our consultant and our personal preference for Merlot wine.”
Several years later, they began discussing making a small amount of wine for personal consumption. With some guidance from their consultant, the duo purchased several small scale pieces of equipment — enough to make around one barrel of wine annually — and they were soon enjoying the fruits of their labor with the company of neighbors and the volunteers who help pick grapes each year for fun.
“Once we would finish off the barrel each year, people wouldn’t stop asking for more, so we decided it was time to go commercial,” noted Holmberg. “We put an addition onto the barn that we had here already, bought a couple of 1,000 gallon fermentation tanks, a basket press and a little crusher-destemmer and began making wine with the next harvest.”
When the business was officially formed, it was named Singing Water Vineyards to showcase the wonderful sound that fills the air as the waters of Bruins creek cascade over the waterfall on the property.
The family later planted a second vineyard with Pinot Grigio and Syrah grapes. Then, they added the Cabernet Sauvignon, Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Grigio, Syrah, Merlot and grapes from other growers to steadily expand their line of Singing Water Vineyard wines.
Among the company’s current list of wines are a Pinot Grigio with undertones of almond, peach and pear, Sauvignon Blanc with hints of citrus, melon and peach, and Merlot flavored with the essence of blackberry, raspberry, currant, vanilla, and clove spice.
As they added more varieties, they also spent time working on their tasting rooms. The main room is inside a rustic old barn that was relocated from nearly 25 miles away.
“We opened our first tasting room officially in 2006 in a barn that is over 100 years old. We tore it down, brought it here and rebuilt it, attaching it to our existing barn so there is plenty of room for guests to sample our wines,” explained Holmberg. “We have a second room attached to the first one that acts as an overflow during busy days and we have yet another tasting room that is dedicated to those who have served or are still serving in the military.”
The third tasting room is aptly named The Freedom Room. With San Antonio area military bases within a comfortable driving distance and an influx of the military personnel and their families that travel to Texas Hill Country for much needed rest and relaxation, The Freedom Room is the perfect tribute. It is filled with photos of actively serving men and women. There are also short paragraphs next to each picture, telling their stories of helping protect our country’s freedom.
Also in honor of the troops, Singing Water Vineyards sells a 40/32/28 blend of syrah, cab and merlot entitled Freedom wine. The winery even hosts an annual ceremony on the Saturday closest to Veterans Day each November. The event entails an 18-piece orchestra that plays patriotic songs, plus speeches by active military men and women and special guest speakers from Texas military organizations.
“A portion of the proceeds from this yearly event go to the USO and the Fisher House Foundation which provides free or low cost lodging to veterans and military families receiving treatment at military medical centers,” said Holmberg. “We also participate in a Texas Hill Country Wine Trail and we have a wine club so people in Dallas, Houston, Austin and other places further away can enjoy our wines even if they can’t get here to buy it on a regular basis.”
The wine club has increased in numbers over the years, thanks to a great marketing program the winery employs. The Texas Hill Country Wine Trail Singing Water Vineyards belongs to also does extensive advertising that draws tens of thousands of people to the region and all of its wineries year round.
Another fun and fresh marketing concept created by the Holmbergs and their consultant is somewhat personal. It is centered on their yellow lab, Lupe.
“A lot of our customers were asking for a sweeter wine since all of our other wines are dry, so we started thinking about how to incorporate a semi-sweet or off-dry wine into our offerings,” said Holmberg. “We took our merlot and retained 3 percent sugar, then we started searching for the right name for the new variety. Our consultant suggested that we name it Sweet Lupe since she is such sweet dog that likes to greet people when they arrive.”
Lupe became a bit of a celebrity a few years ago when she and Sweet Lupe were featured in a Wall Street Journal article. The story highlighted a Valentine’s Day promotion that Singing Water Vineyards had created.
For the love-focused holiday, the winery offered a bottle of Sweet Lupe, two wine stems and four chocolate truffles in a gift bag. The promotion was a big hit and now, the family has its hands full with its famous four-legged friend.
“Lupe has become quite the rock star,” Holmberg said. “She gets so much attention that we just had to give her the formal title of Director of Hospitality here at the vineyards and winery.”
Sweet Lupe is a big hit at the 32 regional restaurants the winery supplies. So are the other varieties that the Holmbergs have personally produced at their Texas hill country company, Singing Water Vineyards.
by Kelly Gates