A Grape Escape in East Texas
Who needs Napa Valley? Just two short hours from Dallas lies Kiepersol Estates, a vineyard, winery, bed-and-breakfast, and restaurant, where true Texas wine and Southern hospitality converge for the ultimate weekend getaway.
The late-afternoon August sun dips behind a row of tall pine trees that edge the vineyard at Kiepersol Estates in East Texas, just a two-hour drive from Dallas. The harvesters and winery workers have gone home to get some sleep before they rise well before dawn to continue picking grapes. A gentle breeze kicks up as Kiepersol Estates owner, Pierre de Wet, strolls through the vineyard. He plucks a bunch of Sangiovese grapes from a vine, sits down, and stretches out on a patch of dry orange dirt. The only sounds are the squawks from hundreds of guinea fowl roaming through the vines. De Wet uses the birds to keep the insect population under control. A hen scurries past de Wets’ well-worn brown boots. He smiles—the look of a man who is deeply content.
Pierre de Wet has many reasons to be content. In 1984, he left his family’s tropical fruit farm, also called Kiepersol, in South Africa and, along with his two small daughters, Marnelle and Velmay, immigrated to the United States. No stranger to the agricultural way of life, he started working in the rose business in Tyler. Eventually he purchased land south of Tyler and began to plan for his family’s future.
Today, he is lord and master to a vast East Texas empire that includes a thriving cattle-ranching business with state-of-the-art embryo clinic; a sprawling, high-end residential community; a successful bed-and-breakfast and upscale restaurant; and KE Bushman’s Celebration center for special events equipped with Studio 333, a digital recording studio. Besides the high-end winery and tasting room at Kiepersol Estates, he and his daughters operate KE Estates, a retail shop and winery in Tyler, and another wine-making facility and shop inside KE Bushman’s.
Worldly goods aside, what makes de Wet happiest is the success of his two daughters, who have inherited his ardor for agriculture. “When it came time for college, I told them they could go to school or stay here and run their own business,” he says. They both chose the latter. Marnelle de Wet Durrett, now 30 and pregnant with twins, is the estate manager and head winemaker. Velmay de Wet, 27, co-owns the winery with Marnelle and handles the marketing, administration, and wine production.
Kiepersol Estates is one of the few wineries in Texas that produces all of its wine with 100 percent estate-grown grapes. The original vineyard was planted in 1998 with five grape varietals. Today, the family grows 14 varietals, mostly red, including Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Sangiovese, Syrah, Tempranillo, and Mourverde. They have had great success with a couple of whites, including Semillon, a grape familiar to the Bordeaux region of France but rare in Texas.
Marnelle oversees the production of the company’s four labels: Kiepersol Estates, KE Cellars, KE Bushman’s, and 4 You. She is not your typical winemaker; other than a brief internship at Trefethen Vineyards in Napa Valley, she basically is self-taught. Marnelle has what it takes to be a winemaker—a great palate, passion, commitment, and patience. Her efforts are beginning to garner praise from local and national wine professionals. The 2006 Kiepersol Estates Texas Merlot won a gold medal in the recent Lone Star International Wine Competition, while the 2006 Barrel 33 Texas Wish picked up another gold at the 2009 International Women Winemakers’ Challenge.
Kiepersol Estates is one of the few wineries in Texas that produces all of its wine with 100 percent estate-grown grapes.
The best way to get the full Kiepersol experience is to book one of the five luxuriously appointed rooms at Kiepersol Estates Bed & Breakfast. Three of the rooms have private screened porches with huge hot tubs. All are decorated with beautiful antiques and claw-foot bathtubs. Old black-and-white photographs from the original family farm in South Africa hang on the walls. But don’t let the homey Victorian style alarm you; each room has satellite TV and wi-fi.
The estate’s romantic restaurant, located inside the B&B, is a popular spot for locals looking for a fine-dining experience deep in the heart of the East Texas oil country. The restaurant hosts exclusive wine dinners on the second and third Wednesday of each month. At the heart of the menu is steak, and the New York strip cooked medium rare pairs naturally with Kiepersol Estate’s Cabernet Sauvignon.
The inn’s cocktail lounge is, according to Marnelle, “the best stocked bar between Dallas and Houston.” Bottles of rare and unique brands of single-malt Scotches, Irish whiskies, and bourbons line the antique wooden bar back. A long ceiling fan with vertically rotating palm blades adds a tropical touch. The well-worn chairs indicate that many a weary traveler has shared a tall tale or 10 over a nightcap or two.
There is always something going on at Kiepersol Estates. The annual Wine Stomp—this year is the 10th—takes place in October. Each season features a Shakespeare in the Vines series, where guests can spread out blankets on the grassy amphitheater, sip wine, and enjoy an outdoor performance. Guided tours of the winery processing facility occur each Saturday starting at 2 and 4 pm.
The center of the action at Kiepersol Estates is the tasting room and wine shop. There you can sample any—or all—of the wines. Once you find your favorite, buy a bottle (or case) and sit on the back patio overlooking the rolling hills of the original vineyard. The best time to go is near the end of the day. Once you’ve settled in, you can watch the sun set behind the tall pine trees. Chances are good that a cool breeze will kick up as the guinea fowl begin their nightly serenade. And, when you leave, you will have a smile on your face.
How To Get There
From Dallas, take I-20 east to Tyler. Go south on Hwy. 69 (about 11 miles) and turn left on FM 344. Follow the signs to Kiepersol Winery.
Kiepersol Estates Vineyards & Winery
Open Sat, 11 am–6 pm, or by appointment. All tastings are $1 for a 1-ounce pour. Winery tours take place Saturday at 2 and 4 pm.
Kiepersol Estates Restaurant and B&B
11 am–1:30 pm
Dinner: Mon–Thu, 5:30–9 pm; Fri–Sat, 5:30–10 pm
Rates: $140–$210 per night. Price includes a full breakfast.
Wine Dinners: Kiepersol hosts special wine dinners on the second and third Wednesday of each month (October 14 and 21). Price: $55 per person.