Elisha Jones
March 8, 2024


Women in Texas Wineries
Women have been contributing to the Texas Wine Industry since it started its resurrection in 1976. This month we celebrate Women in the Wine Business. Let’s start with the resurrection of the Texas wine industry after Prohibition ended in 1933. One of the early woman wine pioneers, Merrill Bonarrigo worked side by side with hubby Paul in establishing their one-acre vineyard in 1977. After four years of vineyard experiences, Merrill and Paul established Messina Hof Winery, combining the names of the towns where their ancestors came from when they moved to the USA. She has now transferred winery management operations to her daughter-in-law, Karen Bonarrigo, working with their son, Paul VII in the vineyards and winery. The Bonarrigo Family has been named the “First Family of Texas Wines.”
Susan Auler and her husband Ed started Fall Creek Winery during the latter part of the 1970’s. They were introduced to French wines while searching in France for cattle to add to their family ranch on the south shore of Lake Buchannan. Both Susan and Ed came back with the idea to test grow grape vines in Tow, Texas, initially on a quarter of an acre and growing to over seven acres. They both were filled with passion in establishing their winery in 1979 which has evolved into one of Texas’ premiere wineries. With Ed’s passing last year, their son has now taken over the family winery.
Benedicte Rhyne came from France to help produce wine at St. Genevieve Winery in the early part of this century, working there for 16 years. She is now the winemaker for Kuhlman Cellars, making wine in the style of her native Provence, France. Another early Texas woman vineyard pioneer, Penny Adams has worked in vineyards for years, starting when she was a young lass working with her Father in the Vineyards. She has kept working in the vineyards working for Wedding Oak Winery for many years. She has been dubbed as the “First Lady of Texas Vineyards.” These four Texas wine pioneers are a few of the early Women Pioneers in the Texas Wine Industry. We have young women entering the Texas Women Industry, helping to establish Texas as a role model for women inclusion in what was previously called man’s work.
Elisha Jones grew up in the vineyards. She later married Christopher who also had a vineyard life. Later they married and eventually started Elisha Christopher Winery near Johnson City. They use 100% Texas grapes sourced from the Texas High Plains to make their wines. On their 43-acre site near Johnson City, they cleared a significant amount of cedar that was depleting the soil of key nutrients, leaving beautiful live oak trees that have seen so much history. Their vineyard soils have silty clay soil with limestone pieces that fracture easily similar to soils in Bordeaux. They plan to plant Merlot, Malbec and Trebbiano.
Born on the Texas Gulf Coast, Texas Heritage Vineyard owner and co-winemaker, Susan Johnson didn’t grow up dreaming of growing grapes and making wine. Susan’s family came to Texas in the 1830’s and laid down deep roots in the rich Texas terroir. That passion for Texas dirt is still alive and inspiring the family every day. In 2002, Susan and her husband, Billy Johnson, moved from Austin to Fredericksburg, the heart of the Texas Hill Country. They planted a three-acre field of lavender and worked that farm each weekend. After retiring from a full-time career with State Farm Insurance in 2013, Susan enrolled in the Texas Tech Viticulture program and began exploring growing grapes. The Johnsons planted their first grapevines in 2015 and have expanded their vineyard acreage each year with more vines. The Texas Heritage Vineyard currently has 12.5 acres under vine with several grape varietals growing including Alicante Bouschet, Malbec, Tempranillo, Tannat, Souzao, and Viognier. Growing grapes lead, naturally, to a desire to make wine. The Johnsons built a winery in 2017 and the Texas Heritage Tasting Room opened on Highway 290 in Fredericksburg, Texas in May 2018. The progression has been a labor of love for the entire family including children and grandchildren. Daughter, Jessica Allen, is the tasting room manager and daughter, Amber George, supplies merchandise for sale and marketing expertise. Son, Cody Johnson, worked for a time in the vineyard in the early years, planting and working with the vines. Grandson, Austin George, still in high school in McKinney will work in the winery during crush this year to begin learning the trade.

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