After four years of hard work, a seventeen-year-old released her first wine on May 15, 2021. Reese Bolen, a senior at Smyer ISD released her long-awaited wine, Teenage Wasteland, a beautiful Malbec Rose; one week before high school graduation.
In September of 2017 Reese’s ag teacher, Donald Gillit, proposed an idea to her dad, Rowdy, about the potential planting of a vineyard for Reese for a project called Record Book through the local chapter of Future Farmers of America. Donald suggested setting aside 1/2 an acre of land for Reese with the plan of documenting her experience of planting a new vineyard, maintaining it, harvesting the fruit, and making a wine for her to sell through the family tasting room, Bolen Vineyards Winery. As part of the project, she would have to show time, expense, profit/loss and what it took to take the project from beginning to end – as they say, “from grape to glass”.
To make a wine in 3 to 4 years required much thought and consideration. Rowdy explained to Reese that a red wine would take approximately 5 years to produce…three years for the plants to produce fruit and two years for the wine to age in barrels and in bottle. Reese quickly realized that would take too long. So, they chose to make a rose wine, one that would take three years to grow the grapes and only 6 months to ferment in stainless steel tanks and be ready for release before she graduated high school. Reese and Rowdy carefully choose Mourvèdre and Cinsault to make a field blend Rose.
“When my dad and Mr. Gillit told me about the plan to grow grapes and make wine for an FFA project, I was really nervous! We’d never grown this type of grape before and I knew it would be a challenge,” said Reese. “We spent long hours in the vineyard working the vines and training them to grow.” nervous! We’d never grown this type of grape before and I knew it would be a challenge,” said Reese. “We spent long hours in the vineyard working the vines and training them to grow.”
Growing grapes in the Texas High Plains AVA was not easy for Reese. “We battled many conditions that we just couldn’t out-farm. We had an early fall freeze that killed the trunks and cordon arms that we’d started in year two,” said Reese. “The vines also got hailed on 6-7 times in the Summer of 2019. But the worst was when we got hit with Dicamba drift from a neighboring farm. The vines completely stopped growing when we needed them to grow the most! We filed a complaint with TDA and met with the inspector. She looked at the vines and took photos and eventually fined the applicator who didn’t follow the rules for spraying a volatile chemical properly. We also met with the viticulture extension agent from Texas Agrilife and determined what steps we could take to get the vines to shake off the dicamba they had just absorbed. We watered heavily, applied fertilizer and sprayed micronutrients for the plant to absorb the good things. The grapes still show the effects of dicamba, today, and probably will for years.”
As much as Reese would have liked to use the grapes from her own vineyard to produce the wine, a variety of factors prevented her from using the Mourvèdre and Cinsault to make it. As mentioned, her vineyard battled hail and dicamba but in October of 2019, Texas experienced an early freeze nicknamed the Halloween Massacre. A high of 90 degrees one day fell to a low of 17 degrees within a 24-hour period before the vines had gone into dormancy. This freeze killed 95 percent of the fruiting buds on vines across the Texas High Plains AVA.
Reese and her dad took a drastic action that allowed her to continue the project, but it meant that the family winery would have to take a backseat. Rowdy gifted Reese all the Malbec fruit from the Bolen Vineyards lot that was hanging on the vines to help her finish what she had started. “We lost 100% of the Merlot fruit and 95% of the Malbec but we were able to harvest that 5% of Malbec and we had it made into a rose for Reese,” Rowdy said. “It wasn’t much, but gosh, we’d told so many people about her project that we felt we had to finish it.”
” We took it over to Texas Wine Company in Meadow, Tx and explained to them what the deal was,” said Tameisha, Reese’s stepmom. “Tim and Frank pressed out as much juice as they could and really created an amazing rose. Reese & Rowdy made numerous trips over to TWC to meet with Frank and Tim throughout the process. I loved that she was able to engage with every part of the process and see what it was genuinely like to go from grape to glass. She and I helped them bottle her wine and we both learned so much from helping that day. You could see how much it meant to her to bottle that wine.”
Reese’s rose, Teenage Wasteland, only produced 18 cases (216 bottles). It was released to the Bolen Vineyards wine club on Saturday May 15th and to the general public on May 22nd in the tasting room. It is also available on https://bolenvineyards.com/
Below is the timeline of Reese’s project from grape to glass.
- November 2017 – ditched lines for irrigation to be tied into the existing Bolen Vineyards irrigation system.
- December 2017 – installed riser pipe for all 17 rows.
- January 2018 – tilled the rows to clear out wheat and winter weeds.
- February 2018 – laid out the irrigation line on the first eight rows and began to water occasionally to soften the ground.
- March 2018 – installed end posts on the East and West sides of the new vineyard.
- April 2018 – purchased Mourvèdre grape cuttings from Inland Dessert. Marked spots at 4 feet intervals on 7-foot spacings with paint, dug holes with tractor auger and planted the cuttings.
- May 2018 – installed grow stakes, grow tubes, trellis and irrigation wires on the first eight rows.
- June 2018 – training of new vines: pruned the lateral shoots off the growing vines to train them to grow upwards instead of outwards.
- July 2018 – continued vine training.
- August 2018 – continued vine training.
- September 2018 – continued vined training.
- November 2018 – rest, just kidding. We never rest!!
- December 2018 – stick break the new pigs.
- January 2019 – pulled the grow tubes off.
- February 2019 – laid out the irrigation line on the last nine rows and began to water occasionally to soften the ground.
- March 2019 – installed end posts on the East and West sides of the next phase of the vineyard.
- April 2019 – Budbreak the 3rd week of April! marked spots at 4 feet intervals on 8-foot spacings with paint, then we dug holes with tractor and planted additional Mourvedre and Cinsault vines as they came in from Inland Desert.
- May 2019 – installed grow stakes, grow tubes, trellis and irrigation wires on the last nine rows, began laying down cordon arms on the first eight rows.
- June 2019 – hailstorms pounded the vines. We sprayed fungicide and micronutrients to get them going again. Continuing to prune the lateral shoots off the growing vines. Began to notice Dicamba Damage late June on both 1st and 2nd leaf vines.
- July 2019 – met with TDA Inspector to review damage. Met with Texas Agrilife Viticulture Extension Agent to develop a plan to get the vines back on track.
- August 2019 – vines showing significantly stunted growth patterns and are producing curled leaves at the tips.
- September 2019 – additional water and fertilizer applied to improve vine health
- October 2019 – water heavily for upcoming dormancy. Oh no, hard freeze at Halloween! Went from 90 degrees one day to 17 degrees the next day.
- November 2019 – water
- December 2019 – water
- January 2020 – water
- February 2020 – water
- March 2020 – dormant pruning began.
- April 2020 – budbreak in 2nd week of April. Noticed some winter kill and cut those vines back to the ground to retrain them.
- May 2020 – not seeing much fruit in the vineyard. The October freeze killed most of the fruiting buds.
- June 2020 – pruned lateral shoots on the trunk and layed down cordon arms.
- July 2020 – pruned lateral shoots on the trunk and layed down cordon arms.
- August 2020 – in order for me to finish my project, Dad is gave me all the Malbec we have. We ended up harvesting 700 lbs of Malbec. Normally we’d have 2-3 tons of Malbec. Not a good growing year! We took the grapes to Texas Wine Company so they could make a rose wine!
- September 2020 – had a brainstorming session with Dad and Meisha to select a name for my upcoming wine! Worked with dad on label art.
- October 2020 – sent off wine labels to TTB for approval.
- November 2020 – wine label approved by TTB, then sent to TABC for approval.
- December 2020 – both front and back labels received approval. Sent the labels off to the printer.
- January 2021 – met with Frank and Tim to determine what kind of bottle to use and screwcap color.
- February 2021 – Meisha and I went to TWC and helped BOTTLE my wine!! It’s so good!
- March 2021 – dormant pruned the vineyard.
- April 2021 – picked up the 18 cases of wine and brought them back to the tasting room
- May 2021 – labeled all the wine bottles and set a release date of May 15th!
Reese is the daughter of Rowdy and Tameisha Bolen of Smyer, Texas and Ryan and Melanie Klemmer of Lubbock, Texas. She’s attended Smyer ISD since 3rd grade and has worked on their family’s wine grape farm since 2010. Smyer is a small town just west of Lubbock in the Texas Panhandle. She plans on attending college at South Plains College and West Texas A&M.