How this North Texas wine school is supporting a new boom of black winemakers

Somewhere between the hasty meticulousness of a sterile surgery room and a sprawling 100-acre pig farm sits an unlikely winemaker – Dr. Fred Cummings. Born and raised in the fishing state of Georgia, he now leads Lakeside Vineyard in the small Texas town of Valley View.

Dr Cummings remembers helping his grandmother Ruby in her garden, where she grew her own produce for the family. Years later, he would be guided by a keen sense of intuition and a healthy dose of confidence. But the long dusty road to a thriving winery and vineyard began in the most unlikely way.

In 1995, Dr. Cummings, an obstetrician-gynecologist, and his wife drove out one lazy Saturday to look for out-of-town property to buy. During this quick trip, they took a dirt road that eventually spilled over to a farm with a for sale sign. This weekend they bought the land, just north of Lake Ray Roberts.

Ms Cummings eventually designed a lavish two-storey home in 2005, and the couple settled in with their blended families.

In 2010 the children started to leave the house and Fred, now an empty nest, started planting grapes on the south end of the property. His intention, he says, was always to start a vineyard, but no one took him seriously.

“Oh, they all thought I had finally gone mad!” he laughed as he told the origin story of the winery. Indeed, his friends and family thought he had gone crazy with this bizarre new interest which they assumed was just a fun little hobby the surgeon had picked up.

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Dr. Fred Cummings of Edge of the Lake Vineyard discovered wine grapes that thrive in the North Texas climate.(Jill Brossard)
Dr. Fred Cummings runs Edge of the Lake Vineyard in Valley View, Texas.
Dr. Fred Cummings runs Edge of the Lake Vineyard in Valley View, Texas.(Jill Brossard)
Edge of the Lake Vineyard in Valley View, Texas produces Tempranillo, Albarino and Grenache...
Edge of the Lake Vineyard in Valley View, Texas produces Tempranillo, Albarino and Grenache wines.(Jill Brossard)

After several months of unsuccessful attempts with common regional grapes, Fred began exploring his options using a map. He leans forward, delighted to reveal his discovery.

“I took a map, then looked up the latitude points to find out where we were, then ran my finger until I reached Europe, especially Spain, so we grow Spanish grapes here. And they grow with great vigour! he exclaims.

Now the property is full of Tempranillo, Albarino and Grenache vines, and management is a family effort. His son, Chris McIntosh, is a winemaker and Chris’ wife, Cynthia, runs the tasting room. Chris, Fred and Vineyard Master Greg Davis also completed the Viticulture and Enology program at Denison’s Grayson College in 2019.

Andrew Snyder, head of the Grayson School of Viticulture, says that although there has been recent interest in the field, it is still a niche market that requires disposable income to enter and succeed.

“Our typical student is not 18 years old. Our average student is over 35 and looking to transition into the craft beverage industry,” he says. Grayson’s program currently offers weekend classes and recently opened a $1.5 million distillery that offers programs that appeal to working adults. Grayson is currently registering for upcoming workshops. For more information, visit grayson.edu/Pathways/viticulture-and-enology.

About 10% of current students in the Grayson program are black, and less than 1% of winemakers in the United States are black, according to Association of African American Vintners. It’s a “statistic that corresponds to the number of American farmers who are black,” says Phil Long, owner of California-based Longevity Wines and president of AAAV. Long also says that AAAV knows about 70 black-owned wine brands in the United States — which include both wineries and brands that outsource and oversee the actual winemaking — and about a third of them belong to women.

“I think the low percentage is because there has been a serious lack of awareness: both that a career path exists and that there are actually black winemakers and owners in the industry. “, said Long recently. Wines and Spirits Magazine.

But awareness of the career path is growing, and so is the number of black winemakers and wine brand owners in North Texas. The Jackson brothers of Berkshire Farms Vineyard in Ferris grow their own grapes, and we’ve seen a boom in wine brands and wine clubs like Sociology Wines and the female drives wine club.

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Chaz and Whitney Gates run Dallas' Wondry Cocktail Wines.
Chaz and Whitney Gates run Dallas’ Wondry Cocktail Wines.(Marvellous)

Whitney Gates, another Grayson graduate and Snyder mentee, is a marketing professional who spent 13 years managing brands and sales for companies like General Mills, Kimberly Clark, Nestle, Coca Cola and Keurig/Dr. Pepper.

In 2021, Gates and her husband Chaz founded Marvellous Cocktail Wines, which can be found at Total Wine and Target stores. Gates was inspired by her late Uncle LC, a paraplegic known for making flavorful wines in his community of Nashville.

“He combined such delicious fruits as peaches, pears, but sometimes he even added corn on the cob,” says Whitney. “His wine was unique and very popular. Even as a child, I realized he used his wine as a catalyst to bring people together. These moments were beautiful and inspiring to me as a young girl.

Whitney started making wine as a novice 10 years ago in her home kitchen, infusing wines with organic fruit as a nod to her uncle. Chaz eventually encouraged her to monetize this “hobby”.

Graves and Dr. Cummings are acutely aware of the pretentiousness that surrounds the wine industry. While Edge of the Lake Vineyards educates its customers about wines, making wine much more accessible, Wondry takes a different approach by crafting cocktail wines that appeal to a variety of palates.

“There’s a culture of snobbery in this industry that we’re acknowledging by making wine more accessible to casual tastes,” Gates says. “Wine has been around for hundreds of years, but it hasn’t evolved to meet the tastes of certain demographics.”

Wondery cocktail wines are made in Dallas.
Wondery cocktail wines are made in Dallas.(Marvellous)

Learn more about the North Texas wine scene:

25 Texas wines to try this summer

Triple N Ranch near Dallas Offers a Fun Wine Weekend

Dallas ISD grads lead Distinctive Vines in The Cedars

The Holly natural wine bar is a must visit in Fort Worth

About Michael Brafford

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