Robert Clay vineyards was planted in 1996 by Paul and Nancy Buist in the tiny community of Streeter, Texas in Mason County. The first in Texas to grow Touriga Nacional commercially. Cultivating a wine grape variety that has no history in a new environment requires a bit of innocent naiveté, a calm understanding of self, and a complete disregard for punditry. Then, the magic can happen.
The Buists originally planted 8 varietals on just over 12 acres in 1996. They ran the vineyard for 16 years before Dan McLaughlin arrived in early March of 2012. The Buists were getting older and had health issues which made it difficult to care for the vineyard. As luck would have it, Dan McLaughlin, an IT developer living in Austin, was becoming increasingly enamored with the idea of spending his time sitting behind the wheel of a tractor rather than trapped behind a keyboard. Dan visited Paul and Nancy at the beginning of the 2012 growing season with enormous ambition, tenacity, willingness to care for the vineyard as his own and the agreement that whatever fruit was produced was his to sell. Within weeks of that first visit he moved on site leaving Jeanie and the kids behind to finish the school year. They traveled back and forth as much as possible to see Dan and help where they could. Dan continued to work his IT job by day and the vineyard by night throughout the season. At the end of the 2012 growing season Dan managed to produce 3 tons of fruit from 12 acres; roughly one-tenth of the crop expected. Dan was unfazed by the low yield in 2012 and he was determined to restore Robert Clay Vineyards to its former glory. For the McLaughlin family, that meant moving from the Austin area, putting down roots in Mason at the end of 2012.
a fresh start
Normally in the late winter and early spring the vineyard is dominated by the serene sounds of birds and crickets as well as the crisp snap of pruners, as workers meticulously clear away last year’s growth to make room for the new canopy. In the spring of 2013, the vineyard was dominated by the sound of chainsaws. After consulting with several growers, Dan decided that the most efficient and effective way to restore Robert Clay Vineyards was to cut everything down to the ground and to start fresh.
The plan of action was to take the entire vineyard down to the graft union and start anew. With a well established root system the vines could be re-grown quickly and hopefully produce a crop the following year. This meant all of 2013 would be spent cutting back the vineyard and retraining all the vines to have new trunks and cordons. With hopes the 2014 crop would be a little more typical in volume.
Cutting back the vines was a big decision that paid off handsomely. In 2012 the vineyard only Produced 3 tons of fruit, in 2014 the vineyard yielded xx tons.
In 2016 Dan planted 5 more acres adding a few more varietals and bringing Robert Clay Vineyards to 20 acres with 11 types of grapes. We are now cultivating Ruby Cabernet, Syrah, Viognier, Grenache, Mourvedre, Cabernet Sauvignon, Tempranillo, Chardonnay, Barbera, Merlot, and Touriga Nacional.
Year by year we’re learning and growing with the vineyard.
it takes a village
By the end of the 2013 season it was very apparent that caring for a vineyard of this size could not be done by 2 people alone; especially with one working full time.
(going to write about helpers here)
in to the cellar
It took Dan two growing seasons before he felt comfortable trying his hand at winemaking. In 2014 Dan converted his wife’s storage closet into a wine making space and made 10 cases of Merlot from Robert Clay fruit. In 2015 Dan decided to get more serious about making wine, he and another local grower, Robert Parr, purchased the old Mason Feed Store and converted it into a wine making space shared by RCV and Parr Vineyards. Dan has been making wine since 2015, but holding them back until now.