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The Winery That Could

Two novices strike vintners’ gold with grapes grown at Red Caboose Winery in rocky Bosque County.

Gary McKibben and son, Evan

When Gary McKibben suggested planting grapevines on the Meridian, Texas, land he purchased in 2001, he recalls he was told flat out: “Bosque County’s cattle country; growing grapes here will never work.”

The 200-acre ranch, located 90 miles southwest of Dallas, was intended to be a place to play on and perhaps retire to. The idea of being a vintner was not on the commercial architect’s radar at the time. Nor was the possibility that in a decade, his weekend “hideout,” would be producing wine so notable that the industry publication Wine Business Monthly would name it one of the “Top Ten Hottest Brands of 2012.” A salvaged caboose converted to living quarters on the site inspired a moniker: Red Caboose Winery (redcaboosewinery.com).

Never say “never” to a McKibben. Joined by his 18-year-old son, Evan, and despite guffaws from his neighbors, the elder McKibben cleared land and carved roads on the overgrown property so rough and dense, it was difficult to navigate in a vehicle. Gary’s background: commercial architecture; Evan’s: semipro hockey. Without any viticultural or agricultural background, the two men researched viticulture and planted some grapes.

“Evan was one of the few people who could see past the cactus everywhere,” says Gary, grinning. The McKibbens pursued varietals from like climates and looked to bygone techniques to grow grapes and make them into wine. Evan became a winemaker at age 21, bypassing the traditional years of apprenticeship vintners-in-training endure. Gary applied his architectural expertise to designing and building a facility to produce wine. It turns out that not only does Meridian’s rock-laden hilly terrain lend itself to the drainage needed to prevent fungus in grapes, its scruffy soil is a great medium to force vines to produce premium fruit—the kind needed to make tempranillo blends, port-style wine, and viogniers that garner awards and recognition, such as bringing home five medals from the 2013 Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo, including a gold for its Lenoir/Tempranillo 2010 blend.

“It’s all about the grape and what nature brings us every year. We don’t manufacture wine—we make wine with excellent quality grapes,” says Gary. “I tell people I am a farmer for 10 months out of the year and a winemaker for two,” Evan adds.

“Their tempranillo is a very versatile wine, good with pork and beef, especially steak, and a good drinking wine,” says Chris Zielke of Bolsa in Dallas, which carries Red Caboose on the restaurant wine list as well as at Bolsa Mercado. Lenoir/Tempranillo 2010 is one of several Red Caboose varieties offered at the store.

Wine Business Monthly’s kudos include applause for the winery’s green features and processes, as well as the wine. What else would an architect reared in California do but cultivate good karma by building an eco-friendly production facility and tasting room to showcase the wine? With positioning to best benefit from the direction of the sun’s rays, utilization of geothermal cooling and solar-powered energy, rainwater recycling and integration of rock quarried on the property in construction, Red Caboose Winery sets a tall eco bar. The visually pleasing structure includes a tasting room set amongst tanks and barrels, opening onto patio space where Red Caboose hosts month-end Cork and Fork Events with live music, drawing a regular crowd of fans. The grapes are harvested each year by volunteers, with hands-on service made fun by lively hosts who love what they do.

Not surprisingly, there are now other sodbusters in Bosque County giving wine grapes a go. With Red Caboose’s yearly production of 5,000 cases expected to double next year, the addition of a second tasting room in Clifton and plans to add a restaurant at the Meridian winery later this year, the McKibbens are having the last laugh.