What? Wine Tasting & Painting in Huntsville
by Pam Markham
[Permission to reprint granted by author and artist Pam Markham. We encourage you to visit her website to enjoy more of her original artwork depicting life in Texas. Visit Pam Markham Fine Arts.]
Positive change is happening all over the Huntsville area, but at the top of the list would have to be the opening of the beautiful wine tasting and dining venue at West Sandy Creek Winery located at 1773 FM 1791, just a few minutes South West of Huntsville, TX. My husband, Jeff, helped the McGinley family purchase the 350+ acre ranch in 2007 and the family’s dream of owning a winery has evolved into an impressive, well planned destination for tourists and locals to enjoy. After attending the opening monthly dinner, with perfect local wine pairings, I had the opportunity to spend the afternoon touring the winery, interviewing one of the family members, SANDY MCGINLEY and painting, en plein air, in the fabulous vineyards.
So, Sandy, what motivated your family to develop a vineyard in Walker County, Texas?
My sisters, Dianna McGinley Aylesworth, Elissa McGinley Sarkiss and I grew up in Saudi Arabia. My father, Stan McGinley, was an attorney for Saudi Aramco and he and my mother, Peggy, spent 39 years there. Dad fell in love with wine when he was in the military stationed in Northern Italy. He learned to make wine and spirits during these years. Over time my parents began preparing for retirement and bought a property in The Woodlands in the late 1980’s. My Dad mentioned that he would like to buy a few acres to grow some grapes on. My first vision of this was him growing a few trellises of grapes out by the swimming pool!
How did your family vision develop into the beautiful vineyards and facilities that we are enjoying here today?
The next step found us reaching out for free resources and education on grape growing in Texas. One of the earliest contacts we made was with a Huntsville landowner, Oscar Gutierrez, who had been growing grapes on his property for some time. Oscar introduced us to the viticulture resources available through the Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Program. With that support and support from numerous friends and family members, we planted our first vines in 2009.
In the Vineyards, 9 x 12, oil on canvas; $300, by Pam Markham. To learn more about Pam Markham and her painting visit Pam Markham Fine Arts.
What types of grapes do you grow here?
We were fortunate to meet Fritz Westover, a Viticulture Extension Program Specialist for Texas A&M. Fritz is now in private practice, but still advises us on all aspects of viticulture and vineyard maintenance. The most important lesson we learned was to choose grape varieties that are resistant to Pierce’s Disease (PD), which is prolific in southeast Texas vineyards. We grow three types of grapes at West Sandy Creek Winery: Blanc du Bois, Lenoir ( or Black Spanish ) and Spanish Tempranillo ( a non-resistant PD grape ).
This property is so much more than a vineyard. Can you tell us how the other improvements on the property have evolved and the possibilities they offer for the public?
Initially my father thought this would be a wonderful place for corporate retreats, but over time, he realized that, although there is space and opportunity for that, there are vacation opportunities for individual getaways. We engaged Southland Log Homes a few years ago and built a number of log cabins on the property. These cabins are strategically set on the property for guest rentals and family events. We have a total of 13 bedrooms in all of the log cabins. We also have plans to start a wine club so members can enjoy all we have to offer.
We love the Agra/Tourism aspect of having visitors come for a few days, visit the vineyards and learn about wine making.
We continue to develop the property. Of course, my Dad wanted a camel…we have one, as well as some other exotics, and we began to change the cattle to the Angus breed with the help of neighbors, Robert and Toni Bruner.
Your winery officially opened in March of 2019 and my husband and I were honored to attend your first A TASTE OF WSCW that delighted everyone with a four-course dinner and perfect wine pairings from your original selections. What are the wine tasting experience opportunities you are offering in the future?
Our beautiful tasting room will be open from 12 Noon-6 PM Thursday through Sunday. Reservations are not required and we offer a variety of wines at various prices.
We will offer a four-course dinner, with wine pairings, on the first Friday of every month. Reservations are required for the dinner and pricing is $55.00 per person.
Your wines are already garnering a first class reputation. Tell us about some of the successes you have had.
I’m happy to report that we entered 8 of our wines in the Texas International Wine Competition in January and our Blanc du Bois Sweet white wine won Best in Class/Best Texas White, our Lenoir red wine won a gold medal and all of the other 6 wines entered won silver medals.
It was very exciting to be recognized at this event!
Just think about it. You can come here, drink wine and look across the vineyards and see the actual grape vines. That, in itself, is a special experience.
Thank you, Sandy, for sharing your vineyard with me and offering an opportunity for tourism to grow in Walker County. I am headed out to do en plein air sketching in your beautiful landscape and hope that this story will help open your gate to many new visitors to Walker County, Texas.
Wishing you the very best at West Sandy Creek Winery!
To learn more about the author and her painting, visit Pam Markham Fine Art.