In the fall of 2010, Simon Webster, owner of Sabor a Pasion Country House & Bistro in Palestine, began piecing together an unimaginable dream that would take three long years to become reality.
He ordered 750 vines from Fairhaven Vineyard in Hawkins – half Blanc du Bois and half Lomanto – plotted his acre field, put in 168 posts and dug 750 holes for planting.
As he placed each vine in the ground he wondered if it would survive, imagined the beautiful views and fruit it would bear, and prayed this crazy dream really would someday come true.
“I look out into the vineyard now and can’t believe it’s all real,” Webster said. “To think I planted every one of those vines and worked for hours and days tending to each one. From the time they were little sticks until now. It’s unbelievable and so cool to see them covered with grapes and ready for harvest.”
Over the past three years, the problems that arose with the vines were as unimaginable as the dream. There were the 750 plastic tubes he made to keep the deer from eating the plants, the endless yards of gardening tape used to guide the growth of the vines, the countless number of leaves, stems and grape bunches that were trimmed to nurture proper growth, and miles of wire used to support the heavy branches.
The biggest loss came after the summer of 2011 when approximately 100 vines were lost to drought. Webster feared more had died and he had to wait all until the spring of 2012 to discover just how many survived.
It also was in the summer of 2011 that the entire property was threatened by wildfires that burned thousands of acres in Anderson County.
For several days the area around Anderson County Road 404 had fires spreading down the road. Where Sabor a Pasion is located on the corner of county roads 404 and 406 the fire came as close as the driveway. The Montalba and Elmwood volunteer fire departments were able to keep the fires at bay.
“There were fires up and down 404 and they were jumping from one side of the road to the other,” Webster said. “It was really scary knowing that, depending on which way the wind was blowing, I could lose everything. Without those guys we wouldn’t be here today.”
In the months following the fire, Webster held a benefit dinner and dance to express his gratitude. In the back of his mind he had already decided that if he ever celebrated a grape harvest he would use that event as another way to express his gratitude to the two volunteer fire departments.
That day has finally come. Sabor a Pasion will be celebrating Harvest Week with a variety of scheduled activities July 20-27.
“This will be a week-long celebration that finishes with the Grape Stomp on Saturday, July 27,” Webster said. “Great food, lots of good music, and a chance to stomp some grapes and experience the atmosphere of the vineyard.”
The week begins with a Harvest Dinner on Saturday, July 20. This celebratory dinner will include a blessing of the harvest and vineyard, unveiling of the wine label artwork designed by Janet Staples and a five-course menu of Italian dishes that Webster has made popular from his well-known Tuscan dinners.
On Tuesday and Wednesday, July 23-24, there will be a couple of casual evenings enjoying live music in the vineyard and cheese platters on the deck overlooking the vines. Acoustic guitarist Alex Graser will perform a combination of classical and international music.
For those who love to cook and want to learn some of the chef’s secrets in the kitchen, on Thursday, July 25, Webster will host an Under The Tuscan Sun Cooking Demonstration in the Sabor a Pasion ballroom.
Tyler Morning Telegraph Food Editor Christine Gardner will be joining Webster to demonstrate several authentic Italian recipes. The chosen recipes represent various regions of Italy, classic Mediterranean flavors and dishes served by Webster at some of his Tuscan dinners.
Gardner also spent time in Sorrento, Italy and brings a variety of Southern Italian dishes to the table.
The biggest event of the week comes on Saturday, July 27 when the inaugural Grape Stomp will be held in the Sabor a Pasion vineyard. The gates open at 3 p.m. Events will include live music, food, wine, grape stomping and contests.
The music includes bluegrass from the Fence Post Pickers, classical guitar from Alex Graser, and two of the members of Blacktop Mojo, Matt James and Kenneth Irwin.
There will also be a Lucille Ball look-a-like contest where Webster is hoping some of the ladies attending will emulate the classic “I Love Lucy” grape stomp episode.
“We’ve already received a lot of interest in the Lucy contest,” Webster said. “I can’t wait to see some of the costumes.”
So that Webster can oversee all of the vineyard activities and visit with guests, he has arranged for the nationally acclaimed Stanley’s Famous Bar-B-Q from Tyler, to provide the food for the day.
And because the Sabor a Pasion wine won’t be ready for a couple of years, Granny Muffin Wines will be on hand to provide the wine.
There will also be Sabor a Pasion t-shirts available with room for footprints after stomping the grapes.
So that proceeds from the event can go to the Montalba and Elmwood VFD the t-shirts, food and drinks will be sold separately.
Grape Stomp tickets can be purchased for $20 by calling Sabor a Pasion at 903-729-9500 or by visiting the Texas Art Depot at 301 W. Oak St. in downtown Palestine or Sweet Gourmet in the French Quarter shopping center in Tyler. On the day of the event tickets will be $25 at the gate.
For more information about Sabor a Pasion or the Harvest Week events go to www.saborapasion.com or call 903-729-9500.
“I used to look out over the back field and watch the sunset over the trees and imagine a vineyard,” Webster said. “Now I can sit there and the dream is real. The hard work and the trials aren’t over, but we’ve gotten this far and that’s worth celebrating.”
For more details, visit Sabor a Pasion Country House & Bistro, located at 110 ACR 406 in Palestine, on Facebook, online at www.saborapasion.com or call 903-729-9500.
About Simon Webster
Simon Webster was born in England and raised in New Zealand. He received his culinary training at the City & Guilds of London Institute and received a degree in Cookery for Hotel, Catering & Institutional Management. He went on to work as Sous Chef for Antoine’s in Auckland, New Zealand and has opened wine bars, restaurants and bistros in London and other parts of England. After working as an in-flight Executive Chef for first class passengers on British Midland airlines, he moved to the U.S. and opened Sabor a Pasion Country House & Bistro in 2004.
About the Vineyard
Planted in 2010, the Sabor a Pasion vineyard was planted with Blanc du Bois and Lomanto grapes. Both varieties are bred to be disease and drought-tolerant to common problems for vines in East Texas.
Lomanto is a rare French-American hybrid grape that has bold, fruit-forward flavors with a brilliant violet color. The unique nature of this red grape is that is crushes red because of it’s red interior. Most red wines get their color from the red skins. Typically, the extended exposure to the skins is what gives red wine its color because most red grapes have a green interior. Lomanto has a red interior, which adds to its vibrant color and offers additional fruit-forward flavors.
Blanc du Bois is a non-vinifera hybrid, which was created at the University in Florida in the 1960s to produce high quality wines in the difficult growing conditions of the southern United States and to resist Pierce’s disease. It has characteristics similar to a Sauvignon Blanc and was named after Emile Dubois, a 19th century Florida winegrower.