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Elliott’s first experience in a vineyard was on his grandfather’s property in east central Hockley county at the age of 6. It was a large planting for the time, totaling 40 acres in four blocks of Cab Sauv, Cab Franc, Sauv Blanc, and Chardonnay. “They lost the Chard to freezes a few times, but the other three varieties thrived and were sold throughout the state for some years,” recalls Lane. “After Frank Beard passed in 1994, the vineyard went with him. All the kids had their own things going on, and the grape markets were not as prolific as they are now .” Lane continued, “maybe if I had been a few years older at that time it would have been different, but probably not. Either way, I was blessed with the experiences I had there and I always retained the notion I should do it again someday.”
Fast forward to 2008, Elliott and his wife, Kendra were living in Lubbock after school and craving to get outside city limits. Once he found her a house she would sign off on, with some tangible acreage, he sunk the first 200 Cabernet vines in the ground within the next six months. “I wanted something to do with the kids when they are coming up, something fun, but would teach them how to work, humble them at times but naturally encourages them to persevere.”
The hobby quickly grew out of control and in the chaos of having kids and learning to farm in the worst droughts in recorded history, they managed to put in about an acre per year on average of the eight varieties: Cabernet Sauvignon, Malbec, Tempranillo, Zinfandel, Chenin Blanc, Malavasia Bianca, Muscat canelli, Reisling .
Farming in three different places between Hockley and Terry counties has been a challenge to the Lanes’ learning curve on the needs of each soil type; but in the long run, Elliott sees tremendous potential for diversity in flavor profiles and stability of production across the very different locations. Each have required unique approaches in management that have to be constantly adjusted according to the type of weather in the year. Yet, each offers different positive outcomes in their own right.
“We have a wide range of soils spread across the three spots we are farming. More so than what is typically thought of good ol’ West Texas, Amarillo soil. We chose these unsuspecting places for their otherwise undesirable aspects in terms of row crop farming standards for the area. We wanted places that offered the ability to control vine vigor through deficit irrigation practices when needed, and help promote fruit maturation and quicker ripening, but also still had the water we needed to establish well rooted growth. Shallow soils with sand and rocks over clay bases and mineral content, rock hard pan with drainage that we can use to our advantage to stress vines into making exceptional quality grapes. We also thought it would be good to have different locations to try to decrease losses from seasonal hail storms that inevitably wreak havoc across the farming industry on the high plains, at some point.”
The Lane’s most recent planting was in 2015, and is a partnership deal with the new owners of the property, where his grandfathers original vineyard was planted in Hockley county back in the ‘80s.
Elliott explains, “It’s very strange how things seem to work out! Feels like some intervention from above most definitely. That planting in 2015 was also the highest success rate for any planting we have seen over the years. It was like the vines just wanted to be here. It feels right, and there is good room for more.”
The Lanes and their partners plan continued expansion on the property into wine grapes and other specialty crops as time, weather, and water allow it. Some will be kept for their own wine making purposes, but the vast majority will be for expanding their customer base of other Texas wineries.
Lane states, “over the past few years, as we sold grapes to other Texas wineries, we have dealt with a lot of great people that we would like to continue to sell to as our production increases, and more acreage is planted. However, my true intention in these plantings all along has been to take the project out of the den and into our own commercial wines . I have somewhat intentionally chosen, but more likely have been blessed enough to have a choice, a career path over the last 10 years that has had something to do with fermentation in one form or another. I have only tried to constantly increase my knowledge base of the practices in production of all types of beverage and fuel alcohol. The beauty of wine is that it is never the same, even off the same small piece of land from year to year. The science and physical means to produce it can be very simple if the appropriate measures are taken to observe its various stages and preserve it safely at the correct times. Its mainly just a lot of waiting around!”
The most recently harvested 2016 vintage is the 5th full round of winemaking in a commercial setting that Elliott Lane has been a part of. In fact, a few years ago, he struck up an impromptu partnership with a local custom crush facility, Texas Custom Wine Works to begin making his own wines.
“The staff there is great, and they have all the lab capability and equipment you need to do anything you want, but we still have a very simple approach. We let the fruit tell us what to do each year, and if it tells us to do nothing , that’s literally what we do besides smash it and press it. It tends to naturally make itself! Ha! Mike Sipowicz is the kind of guy you just shut up and listen to, with the amount of knowledge and experience he has on the subject. I am very thankful and blessed with all the staff for their dedication, insight and oversight on our process. It allows us to focus on farming the grapes as best as we can, and let them execute the wine making duties under our stylistic direction. Of course, we are heavily involved in crush and fermentation, but once we barrel down, it’s a lot of waiting, racking, watching and tasting, then bottling when we like it.”
The Lane’s final step in the equation is also slowly becoming a reality as they have secured a building in their home town of Levelland, Texas. After finalizing all necessary Federal and State permits to produce and sell their own wines at the new location, the renovation and construction can begin and they will be selling and shipping their current wines. The anticipated public opening may be in late 2017.
Lane says, “we are hoping by spring, you will be able to order wines from us over the internet and we can ship out of our location. We anticipate a lengthy renovation time, but hope to have a public opening in late 2017 of the tasting room and small production space there in Levelland. Give me a call anytime for more info.”