Texas Makes Italian Wine
Founded in 1883, Val Verde Winery continues small batch wine production in Del Rio
PHOTO CREDIT: Brian McCord
Born out of Italian heritage and nourished with the love and dedication of four generations, Val Verde Winery in Del Rio, Texas continues to flourish, no less traditional or diluted since their beginning at the end of the 17th century.
Italian immigrant Frank Qualia established Val Verde Winery in 1883, only a couple years after he settled in Texas. The oldest continuously operating winery in Texas, Val Verde has become a landmark in the state's growing wine industry.
Frank began his tour of the United States in 1881 where he followed opportunity over the Atlantic Ocean. The working environment on the East Coast was less than promising, so he packed up almost immediately and traveled west, towards the Alamo in San Antonio. As beautiful as he recounted it being, he heard whisperings of sweet land and abundant waters nearby and journeyed to Del Rio where he found Lenoir grapes flourishing. He then settled in and began to unearth a rich business of small batch winemaking.
Frank’s youngest son Louis followed in his father’s footsteps as he took charge of the winery in 1936. He too later passed down the craftsmanship and business on to his son Thomas, who took over in 1973. The winery has won medals from Texas to New York for their outstanding variety and quality. Father and son continue to work side by side as Tommy’s own lineage follows after the family legacy.
"When my grandfather arrived in Del Rio, he realized that the opportunities were great to have a successful and full life here," Tommy Qualia says. "The land, the water, the people and the climate were what he was looking for. Most of the Italian rock masons that had built Ft. Clark in Bracketville had moved to Del Rio so much of the home country traditions were already here. The merchants, ranchers and farmers all supported each other and made up a thriving community."
From Grapes to Olives
It was this tradition and staple that began a business back in the late 1800s. Now in 2014 Tommy has ventured into pressing a new medium. Which tree does he plant and pick from now? The olive tree. With 40 trees of Italian varieties in his fields, Tommy is going back to his roots again as he gathers up his precious olives and takes them to have them pressed at a community mill of sorts – another shadow of Italian tradition. Only 10 to 15 years ago he began exploring and tasting olive oils. The richness of every flavor is unmatched in anything bottled and distributed, even though some virgin olive oils of great quality can be found at the store, he concedes.
A passionate believer in the unexplored and numerous health benefits of olive oils, Tommy elegantly describes the golden green color and distinct richness of these freshly pressed oils. The leaves of the olive tree can also be brewed in a tea. His affinity for the olive has drawn him into the business which will continue to expand amongst his grape vineyards.