by Terry Thompson-Anderson • Photography by Sandy Wilson
There’s a good indicator that Texas wine is standing the test of time: a handful of the early Texas wineries are now into their second generation of family who’s either running or working in the operations. Kiepersol Estates, just south of Tyler, is no different—and slightly ahead of the game—with three generations of the de Wet family working on the estate.
The original Kiepersol Estate was actually established in the Eastern Transvaal of the Union of South Africa in 1954. Founder Dirk de Wet named it in honor of an old war memory, in which a fellow soldier overheard another praying and thought he’d said “Lord, kiepersol,” when in fact he’d said, “Lord, keep us all.” Dirk envisioned generations of de Wets living and prospering on the land via a self-sufficient, mixed-farming operation. And they did, until Dirk’s son Pierre decided to immigrate to the U.S. in 1994 with his two young daughters, Marnelle and Velmay, after the untimely death of his young wife. Pierre, a seventh-generation farmer, established the stateside Kiepersol Estate in its present location.
The idea to add a winery to the estate came when Marnelle and Velmay were in high school. Farming was definitely in their genes, and both were immersed in the study of agriculture. Marnelle began experimenting with growing grapes, and it was soon decided that the family would participate as well. Pierre planted the vineyard in 1998, on top of the Bullard Salt Dome—a location known for its fertile Jurassic soils that are perfect for nurturing grapevines. Fueled by her passion to hone her growing skills, Marnelle went to Napa Valley just after graduation to work at the highly regarded Trefethen Family Vineyards—studying the process of growing grapes and making wine. The first vintage at Kiepersol was harvested in 2000, and the wines were immediately embraced by the local community. As demand grew, more acreage was added—bringing the total to 63 acres of 15 varieties—making it one of the largest estate vineyards in Texas. Over the years, Pierre has added a tasting room, a restaurant, an elegant, European-style bed-and-breakfast and a delightful RV park to the grounds.
Kiepersol’s wines are made exclusively from their own estate-grown grapes. Marnelle is the winemaker and property manager, while Velmay is the operation’s chief financial officer—handling the financial and legal aspects of the estate with the guidance and support of her father. “We learned as we went,” Marnelle says. “And definitely learned from our mistakes. It’s been an ongoing adventure!” Pierre says that he regards wine as nature’s blessing, and that it is imprinted with the hallmarks of each season—summer’s warmth, fall’s ripening—turning a perishable product into joy embodied and preserved.
The family’s goal is to produce wines that can compete in the global market, and they’re marketed toward connoisseurs. Only the highest quality grapes are used in production of the wines, and only 12 wines are made. Marnelle says their practices marry Old-World winemaking styles with Texas grapes to produce wines that are “comfortable” and balanced. Each year, just prior to harvest, the de Wets scout the vineyard and select those vines that have the perfect balance of fruit, flavor and color to produce their Barrel No. 33 blend. Each vintage of this wine has been superb, and each has great aging potential. This is a wine to be savored with red meats, and is especially well-suited for lamb. The current 2010 vintage—a blend of cabernet sauvignon and merlot—was aged for 41 months in oak and is one of the most well-balanced wines imaginable.
In 2012, Pierre added a distillery to the estate—making Kiepersol the only Texas property to hold both a federal distillery permit and a federal winery permit on the same property. Pierre refers to the distillery as his baby, and within its walls he produces small batches of Dirk’s Texas Vodka (made from the leftover grapes from each harvest and the pomace left after the wines are made), Jimmy’s Texas Bourbon and Pierre’s Texas Rum (made from Texas-produced molasses). All three of the spirits have already earned an impressive lineup of awards at various competitions around the U.S.
The de Wet family is ambitious and hard-working, never content to rest on their laurels. They recently added a state-of-the-art demonstration kitchen to the property, which they named “Salt” in honor of the salt dome on which the winery sits. Stay tuned for their next adventures.
For more information about Kiepersol Estates, call 903-894-8995 or visit them at kiepersol.com