Jorge Jaber shares some characteristics with his northwest Hidalgo County vineyard for he seems to have absorbed the Valley’s sunshine and flourished with its soil. The grapes now being harvested at Jaber Wine Estate have overcome great odds, and so has Jaber, an idealist as resilient as any Valley pioneer.
Thirty years ago, Jaber purchased two hundred and eleven acres in northwest Hidalgo County with the intention of planting a vineyard and establishing a winery. Discouraged by information on grape problems such as Pierce’s disease and Cotton Root Rot, Jaber settled for a dairy farm. His dairy farm thrived, but milk prices dropped and forced him to close down. Vestiges of Jaber’s initial endeavor are still present in the form of silos and horse stables along with cattle and horses that roam near the vineyard.
Jaber’s passion for viniculture had blossomed as he traveled throughout Europe visiting wineries and developing an appreciation for good wines. Although having planned and built oil wells for Mexico’s petroleum industry most of his life, Jaber harbored a love for open land; hence his dream of retirement as a wine maker. The desire to fulfill that dream led him to read countless of books and attend numerous industry related seminars in the United States. Jaber acknowledged that he could not have proceeded without the Texas Department of Agriculture’s Extension Services that provided the information necessary to grow grapes in South Texas. In addition, Jaber has the support of consultant Benedict Rhyne, a French-born wine expert.
When the Extension Services Department informed Jaber about a new hybrid grape resistant to Pierce’s disease, heat and humidity, he was ready to start his vineyard. His vision took courage, for running a vineyard is risky, labor intensive and considerably expensive. He planted his first 5.5 acres three years ago, divided between Black Spanish grapes and Blanc du Bois grapes. Eighteen months later he harvested the first crop which resulted in 9,500 bottles of wine.
Eight acres of Black Spanish grapes were planted this year in addition to three acres of Blanc Dubois grape.
“These grapes have a distinct flavor; they don’t resemble merlot nor cabernet grapes,” said Jaber, who explained the wine making process during a tour of his facility.
“These wines are made just like the wines of Italy and California. We use the same equipment, technique and the same process as any good wine. The only thing I cannot control is the flavor of the grapes,” he added in his native Spanish.
Jabber pointed out that the Valley’s climate and soil are undisputable factors for a good vintage. He also emphasized the importance of the harvest date, which has to be at the exact time when the grapes are ripe and the pH levels are ideal. To date, his winery has produced two harvests. The first came in June of 2011, and the second will soon be aging in French oak barrels. Jaber, along with five staff members, manually filled, corked and labeled over nine thousand bottles last year. They expect this year’s harvest to fill about fourteen thousand bottles. None of the wines is available for sale yet, but will be soon.
For more of this story by Nydia Tapia-Gonzales, pick up a copy of the September edition of Valley Business Report, on news stands now, or visit the “Current & Past Issues” tab on this Web site.