Rolling hills lined with climbing grapevines in perfect rows surround a historic Victorian-style white two-story mansion with wraparound porches. In the shadows sits a massive wine works restaurant and event center rising from the hill. It’s a scene one might imagine in Europe, but it’s right here in the Upper East Side of Texas in the form of Tara Vineyard & Winery near Athens.
For the traveler or local citizen looking to lose themselves in opulence and be pampered in every way there is no need to travel any further. Here is the best kept secret in wine, food and lodging, under the ownership of Susan and Patrick Pierce and the management of Misty and Jeff Redden.
Tara is a destination for anyone wanting to have the full winery experience. The scenery is enough to intoxicate a person without them ever tasting the exquisite wines housed in the barrels of the winemaking room.
"We do what we love," beams award-winning Chef Redden. That love is infectious as guests watch each month as the vineyard and inn grow along with the vines.
The Inn and Cottage
The Inn @ Tara is a jewel for anyone wanting an experience in luxury. The restored historic home boasts a welcoming front foyer with cowhide chairs and an antique piano. Inside the side wall in the room is a door that opens to the grand suite. The suite houses a gold leaf queen feather bed with a fireplace and a double size leather chaise. The room leads to a marble and mahogany bath with a sunken whirlpool tub that has windows overlooking the vineyard. At night guests can soak away their cares as the moon rises over the grapes.
The house also offers three upstairs bedrooms, a full kitchen, a billiard room and a reading den. The top decks supply beautiful views across the county roads and back to the winery, which is buzzing with activity all day long.
"The beauty of the house is Susan’s designs and eye," confirmed Misty Redden, the director of hospitality. Guests will find Misty’s keen hand in the small details throughout Tara. In the morning as they rise, the sounds in the kitchen are Misty as she brings in breakfast prepared by the chef. A stay at The Inn runs $200 a night, but it is also booked for retreats, reunions and weddings.
"We are booked for the summer with over 31 weddings here," Jeff boasts as he tours the vineyards.
Any bride would be awestruck to stand on the antebellum steps of the great house in her dream dress.
There is also a cottage on the property adjacent to the winery, where the Reddens have renovated a cottage for a much more intimate stay. To stay at Tara is a relaxing retreat for a weary body and mind. The most complicated problem to solve is, how do the sheep (there is a brown one and white one) know not to eat the vines as they graze each morning?
Making the Wine
"We are cowboys," delights Tara winemaker Sandro DiSanto as he wanders through the oak barrels and stainless vats lining the winemaking rooms of this booming winery. His exclamation explores the Tara philosophy to charge into the frontier and grab the dream as it is built. He is a natural teacher and enjoys getting guests involved in his craft. Patrick Pierce and DiSanto have created a vision in wine. It is a vision that is also helping other local Northeast Texas wineries. "We are all still growing, so we share and try to help each other out."
The wine grown and aged at Tara is mainly from black Spanish and Blanc du Bois grapes. The Blanc is a grape that wine experts agree grows best in the Northeast Texas soil and produces an earthy wine that feels like a glass of sunshine as it is sipped. It is not only a full mouth experience in wine, but also a spirit to raise your spirit. The Tara winemakers blend a melody of wines to create a selection that is an artisan wine lover’s castle in the sky.
The winery currently has 15-17 selections of wine to choose from depending on the taste of the vino devotee. From the clean sweet Angel’s Kiss to the rustic woody Carriage House red, a taster will find a Tara favorite. Tara makes wines that people talk about and people are talking about one creation in particular — Deck Wine. It is a sparkling rose wine that was made to sip as the sun sets over the vines. Tara also offers a chocolate port in limited batches called Starbird.
Joining the Loyalty Club offers discounts and wine packages for the Tara fans. Jeff has spent the last year helping to get Tara wines into the local market. Adventurous visitors can help with crush and harvest each August where a competitive spirit might win some wine, but will be awarded great memories. To volunteer for the experience simply contact Misty or Jeff via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Cellar Door
Author William Dean Howells once said that there are no two words more beautiful when said together in the English language than "cellar door," and storytellers for generations have used the simple cellar doors to be portals to another life. Chef Jeff Redden has given a beautiful experience that is otherworldly at Tara’s Cellar Door, the restaurant at the winery. Reservations are suggested Thursday through Saturday night, where fine dining meets great live music. The restaurant at the tasting bar, built by Jeff and the winery family, is made of barn wood, light panels and wine bottles. A tasting introduces a diner to the heady food experiences that wait. The menu is simple, but full of Jeff’s passion and art. Fresh tomato bruschetta has shavings of fresh Parmesan cheese grated over crisp veggies and aromatic balsamic vinegar. Cheese boards and carpaccio tempt the appetite as jazz soothes the mind from the patio.
Jeff’s menu is what people crave — fresh Chilean Sea bass, New Zealand lamb, grilled veggies, the Kobe beef steak and also the best-selling Tara burger. The waiters and staff pair each meal with a Tara wine and welcome anyone to walk around the grounds as they relax and enjoy themselves. The security patrol, Wilson and Prince, two German shorthaired pointers, delight the diners as they romp and play. No one walks away hungry or stressed. Jeff is an award-wining restaurant designer, with accomplishments in Dallas, the tropics, and Oklahoma before landing in East Texas with is family. "We come to work each day excited for what is next."
Escaping to the lush vineyard and delectable food and wine of Tara for a night or a weekend is must for nearby residents and travelers alike. For reservations and more information, visit the winery website at www.tarawinery.com.