By Jack Fink

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BROWNFIELD (CBSDFW.COM) – Amid the oil rigs and cotton farms that dot the barren prairie of the Texas High Plains, John Oswald says, “You barely think of anything growing out here.”

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But in Brownfield, Texas, population 9,657, there is something else growing out of the ground. Oswald says, “No one comprehends what we’re really doing here.”

There are acres and acres of vineyards out there that may otherwise fool you into thinking you were someplace else – far away from Texas.

Oswald laughs, “West Texas, you don’t think of wineries.”

Grape growers like John Oswald have figured out the right grapes to grow in the Texas heat. And the low humidity fights the grapes number one enemy: mold and fungi. “This is supposed to be one of the best places to grow grapes.”

In fact, 80 percent of all grapes from Texas are grown in the High Plains. This year, Governor Greg Abbott declared Brownfield and surrounding Terry County the Grape Capital of Texas.

Wine Grapes (Photo Credit: Thinkstock)
Texas is now the fifth largest wine producer, but with continued growth, the Texas Wine and Grape Growers Association says the Lone Star State could become third largest by 2020.

Oswald says, “It is just booming now. Last year and this year, there’s been a couple thousand acres put in in just two farms, so it’s phenomenal.”

He says grapes take about the same amount of water as other crops, but are more profitable. Besides the climate, he and others in the industry credit Texas legislators, who in 2005 uncorked the sales potential when they allowed tasting rooms to sell their wine off-premises in dry counties.

Oswald says, “That was the spark that got the whole thing going.”

The Eden Hill Winery in Celina, owned by the Hornbaker family, buys grapes from the Oswald Vineyard. Their white wine made with Oswald’s French Roussane grapes is good enough to make the experts blush. It has racked up various awards, including gold at the San Francisco International Wine competition, the largest in the U.S.
Chris Hornbaker says, “We actually had a lot of wine critics calling us and saying who are you people? And where is this place called Brownfield, and where is this place called Celina, where you make the wine at?”

John Oswald says, “I’m honored they take the grapes we give them and they make a beautiful wine.”

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Wine lovers come by the busload to the Eden Hill Winery every weekend to quench their thirst for a Texas vintage.

Hornbaker tells visitors, “Our passion is making wine from grapes growing in Texas.”

Christy MacDonald and her husband Brent traveled there from Dallas and say they’re impressed. She says, “California is known for their wine country and it’s awesome that in the state of Texas, we can make a really good wine too.”

Hornbaker says the winery’s business is growing so quickly, they’ve run out of room. “Now, we’ve gone from 500 cases upwards to about 2,000 cases in about three years. So that’s really caused us to look at building a larger winery on the property.”

The Oswalds are also planning to grow. They planted vines for their children’s future. The Oswald Vineyard is all in the family. John, his wife Dina-Marie, and seven of their ten children, ranging from ages 7 to 22, do everything at their vineyard. There are no outside employees.

Their 20 year old daughter Louisa says, “It’s nice working with family, it’s a nice lifestyle.”

It’s a lifestyle daughter Louisa and son Silas chose over going to college. Instead, their parents gave them a share of the vineyard.

Dina-Marie Oswald says, “It’s very rewarding and fulfilling to know they’re staying around because they want to.”

The Oswalds say they never expected this when they planted their first vines eight years ago.

John says, “I saw a little glimmer of what I thought I wanted but what has opened up for us, is so much more.”

Follow Jack on Twitter: @cbs11jack

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