By Destination Diva, Debbie Labicki | Photos by Lori Ivey Photography, Debbie Labicki
Smack dab in the middle of nowhere is an escape worthy of discovering. Los Pinos, best known as the true pioneer spirit in the Texas wine industry, offers a taste of the world of wine making, which began in California and settled in East Texas.It’s all about wine, dining and relaxing for the guest who on the first visit becomes a part of Los Pinos big Italian wine family.
Los Pinos is in the country just south of Pittsburg. When entering the sprawling estate-lined vineyard, I felt I had arrived at a distant land as I had to take a second glance at the elephant art sculptures to confirm they were not real. The Tuscan Cottage overlooking the vineyard, one of the few available lodging options, had been reserved for my stay.
My friend and I were invited to meet Chef Dana as she was orchestrating the Chef’s Special for the evening. She even showed us the latest kitchen addition, an Italian wood-fired pizza oven. There is always a new creation in development in Dana’s gallery as she creates incredible specials to compliment Los Pinos’s wines. The evening special for our night’s stay was Grilled Flat Iron Steak with green peppercorn sauce, Hasselback potato and butter sautéed asparagus spears. The chef creates food that’s wine and fun friendly, including a tapas menu, great salads and creative pizzas.
Before our tour of the winery operations, we had a wine tasting. Flights of five with an option of dry or sweet in a little glass corked carafe were presented to us as the rules of wine snobbery were scoffed at. Other guests were relaxing, enjoying a glass of wine, dining and listening to live jazz music with no cover or reservations. The dining room accommodates 80 guests, but another option is the outdoor covered tasting deck overlooking the vineyards.
The dry selections included Grand Reserve Vioqnier 2010, Chardonnay Reserve 2007, Sangiovese—Bin 10, Cabernet Sauvignon—Bin 10 and a Grand Reserve Meritage 2009, which was my choice. My friend prefers the sweet wines and that tasting flight included Moscato Reserve 2010, Rosie the Riveter, Sweet Rodeo Red, All My X’s and Pinky Tuscandero.
Jeff Sneed, founder of Los Pinos, joined us and shared his journey from California in a high stress life with a highly successful engineering career, to seeking out his longing obsession for land and farming.
Sitting at the table in gentleman attire and a classic hat, Jeff told us about the real work that went into his creation. He did the work himself 12 years ago using 40 acres of raw East Texas land to establish the vineyard and entertainment venue. Unless you have the opportunity to understand the process of starting a vineyard and producing quality wine, there is no way to describe the sweat and labor this passionate endeavor entails.
His passion is bringing wine to people in a safe haven, where the rules of modern life do not apply. Weddings and special events are also part of this experience. After our discussion he led us into the production facility
adjoining the restaurant. The gleaming stainless steel vats in process, and the oak barrels waiting to be bottled adjoining the neatly stacked cases of wine are the heart of this immaculate wine production facility.
Several weathered oak tables lined the Barrel Room, a peaceful setting for the wine to relax and age, perfect for private dinner parties. Jeff shared the complexities of the wine-making process before it reaches the glass.
He researched grape varieties that were suited to the soil and climate of these estate vineyards as well as from three vineyards in West Texas which are producing some world class dry reds.
The grapes are harvested by hand. Volunteers are encouraged to help and are treated to a chef’s spread after harvest.
We headed back to the Verano dining room to enjoy the upscale but casual dinner presentation. After dinner, walking back to the Tuscany cottage, I wondered where all the guests arrived from in this off-the-beaten-path hideaway.
Looking at the guest book locations from Dallas, Houston Shreveport/Bossier, Oklahoma, Arkansas, Missouri, Chicago and more were all signed in with accolades. There is a population of Dallas folks that have weekend getaways in the surrounding area and love coming here, Jeff says, while sharing plans of some very creative future lodging expansions.
The next morning, wrapped in a plush robe, I enjoyed “Joie de vivre” with a morning cup of specially selected Costa Rican coffee on the deck of the cottage overlooking the vineyard.
We enjoyed lunch with Gerald Jones, another member of the big Italian family, who escaped the lucrative, crazy life of filmmaking and advertising based in DFW.
He traveled worldwide for 35 years entertaining corporate advertising executives. Gerald joined the family six years ago to do marketing. Promoting Los Pinos wines at festivals and events keeps him extremely busy, as well as traveling to Italy and Spain every other year. He is excited to share the soon-to-be-released Dolchetto—a mild-medium Italian blend of red table wine and Montepulciano. A dry white Vermentino also will introduced showcasing the Texas High Plains Terrier, which is becoming known as one of the best grape growing regions. He and his wife are raising their daughter in East Texas.
Los Pinos is worthy of discovering, wrapped in a tale of escape, passion for wine, cuisine, jazz, and an unpretentious endeavor.