Michael Oubre doesn't see any conflict between his upbringing as the son of a Baptist minister and his role as owner and winemaker at Rising Star Vineyards.
"Jesus was the first recorded winemaker in the Bible," he says. "They say he made really good wine. The only difference is I have to use grape juice." Oubre pauses for a second and then adds, "That's what I tell all my Baptist friends."
In a more serious tone he explains that wine is part of a culinary experience, meant to be enjoyed. "Wine is just good food and anybody who abuses it is doing too much of a good thing."
The Texas native first discovered wine while in college. Stumbling across a winemaking textbook in the University of Texas – Pan American library was the clincher. Like most Texas winemakers, he started making wine at home before turning professional.
"I was always enamored of the wine process," he says. "Why wines were different. Why different years produced different wines. But what really did it for me was having the chance live in California for about three years and visit wineries."
Oubre learned there that his favorite part of a winery was the tasting room. He enjoys visiting with his guests and exploring their palates.
"That's the part I really wanted to get to. I love talking about wine. When we had the opportunity to open a winery, I jumped at the chance. I get to hang out with customers in the tasting room all day. I love that." What Oubre wasn't expecting to love was the farming aspect of owning a vineyard and winery. After 25 years in the computer business he didn't think he was the "outdoorsy" sort.
"My wife, Vicki, is still astonished that I'll spend all day outside and drag myself in at night, dead tired, with the biggest smile in the world. I miss it when I don't get to do it."
Even though the Rising Star winery is new, its grapes aren't. Oubre is tending vines planted 20 years ago by the property's former owner, a NASA scientist. "He never lived here," Oubre explains. "He always had caretakers tending the property and he never made any wine. He just grew the grapes and sold them. That resulted in a very low profile."
"All our wine is estate made," he explains. "We don't buy any grapes."
Rising Star Vineyards Wines
Rising Star winery actually has two vineyards. There are 25 acres of the 160-acre Rising Star property under cultivation with another five acres of vines in nearby Richland Springs.
The Rising Star vineyard grows Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Chardonnay and an acre of Muscat Blanc. The Richland Springs vineyard adds Barbera, Muscat Canelli and Chenin Blanc to the Rising Star list.
"We had a freeze on April 7 that reduced our harvest to almost heartbreak level," Oubre says. The winery, which produced 1,500 gallons in 2005, was only able to squeeze out 900 in 2006. "We'll probably be back to 1,500 next year," the owner adds.
Of those 1,500 gallons, the winery's biggest seller is its sweet red wine called "Sunset." Oubre has already started selling the '06 vintage of Sunset after selling out of the '05.
"We made three different cabernet sauvignons in '05," he explains. "We made a very light, food wine, which is kind of unusual for a cab. We made it with very little skin contact and no new barrels so the tannins are very light. It goes great with hot, spicy foods.
"Then we made a reserve cab from our Rising Star fruit. We put that in 100 percent brand new American barrels. That gives it lots of tannin structure.
"And then we made the sweet red. We didn't make as much of that as we probably should have. I didn't realize it was going to be so popular.
"Our '05 syrah was our best red," he adds. "We managed to have enough grapes from our small vineyard to make one barrel and it turned out to be just dynamite."
Oubre also touts his '05 merlot saying it was deliberately hot fermented creating a deep color and a peppery finish.
While selling grapes to other wineries has been easy for Oubre, reaching out to local consumers has been tougher. "We get people from Dallas/Ft. Worth, Houston, San Antonio and from the surrounding towns like Brownwood. We've had an amazing amount of traffic from the big cities in the state, even south Texas. We've been a little slow in educating the locals about our existence though.
"The local newspapers are owned by a man who decided 51 years ago that he wasn't going to run any advertising for alcohol or tobacco-related businesses. We found out, to our surprise, that he wouldn't run any of our advertising unless we didn't mention the word, 'wine.' So it's taking a little while to get the word out."
Oubre has never had any formal winemaking training. Instead he's gone through trial and error and learned a lot from his neighbors.
Rising Star Vineyards
1001 County Road 290
Rising Star, Texas 76471
"I sort of learned the hard way. I had some interesting challenges along the way but the folks in the wine industry in Texas are just wonderful. They're competitors but friends too. Everybody's been helpful and had wonderful insights. I've read everything I could get my hands on and experimented freely. I'm still doing that."
Oubre isn't sure his operations will grow but would like to expand if the right opportunity comes along. He'd like to someday add a bed and breakfast and a restaurant at the Rising Star location. And the Richland Springs property contains a 50-year-old farmhouse that he says would make a perfect tasting room.
"I'd like to have a second tasting room in Richland Springs and somewhere along the line we're going to have to either build or acquire a larger facility to make wine in. We're really out of space now. I'd like to see if we can grow our little business."
NOTES: In 2009, the winery added a second tasting room farther south in Richland Springs, TX on US Highway 190. The exact address is 301 East Highway 190, Richland Springs, TX. Call (325) 452-3033 for information.
- 2 pounds beef stew meat, cut into 1 inch cubes
- 3 tablespoons vegetable oil, divided
- 1 cup water
- 3 large potatoes, peeled and cubed
- 4 carrots, sliced
- 1 large green bell pepper, chopped
- 4 cloves garlic, minced
- 1 onion, chopped
- 2 teaspoons salt
- 1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
- 1 (14.5 ounce) can whole peeled tomatoes, chopped
- 2 tablespoons beef bouillon granules
- 1 sugar pumpkin
- Heat 2 tablespoons oil in a large saucepan over medium-high heat.
- Place beef in the saucepan and cook until evenly brown.
- Mix in the water, potatoes, carrots, green bell pepper, garlic, onion, salt and pepper.
- Bring to a boil; Reduce heat and simmer approximately 2 hours.
- Dissolve the bouillon into the beef mixture.
- Stir in the tomatoes.
- Preheat oven to 325°F (165°C)
- Cut top off the pumpkin and remove seeds and pulp.
- Place the pumpkin in a heavy baking pan.
- Fill the pumpkin with the beef mixture.
- Brush outside of the pumpkin with remaining oil.
- Bake in the preheated oven 2 hours, or until tender.
- Serve the stew from the pumpkin, scraping out some of the pumpkin meat with each serving.