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Wine a Little, Learn a Lot

McKenna Keele Profile

When thinking of wine and college, the classroom isn’t necessarily the first place that comes to mind for many, but that’s not the case for members of the viticulture and enology (V&E) program at Texas Tech University, that’s right, they’re studying wine. An alumna of the program, McKenna Keele, says she was hooked after taking her first class: the Science of Wine.

Keele, from Snyder, Texas, knew she was coming to Texas Tech to pursue a degree and career in agriculture but was not sure what major would be best for her.

“My advisor was going through the plant and soil science concentration areas, and when she mentioned the V&E program,” Keele said, “I thought that it would be a really interesting subject to check into… and the rest was history.”

The viticulture and enology program offers undergraduate degrees, graduate degrees and professional certificates in principles and practices of commercial production of grapes and wine. Keele said the courses she took gave her the opportunity to learn from the ground up about the wine industry, and gave her the tools to succeed in her career.

“Every single class that I took within plant and soil science prepared me for my first job in the wine industry,” Keele said, “as the laboratory manager and on-site chemist for a custom crush facility in Brownfield, Texas.”

Wine, Vineyard, Grapes, Agriculture
Photo courtesy of McKenna Keele

Keele said she remembers classes like “Wine Production” and “Wine Quality Control and Analysis” as some of her favorite memories of the program where she not only made wine, but also life-long friends.

“Our wine may have tasted horrible, but I wouldn’t trade those days for the world!”

McKenna Keele

Keele said she is grateful for the unique opportunity offered by the College of Agricultural Sciences and Natural Resources and the V&E program to be able to use the degree for her career in the wine industry.

“My education within CASNR and Texas Tech as a whole was incredible,” Keele said, “I had the absolute best professors who equipped me with the needed tools and scholarship opportunities to become successful.”

Filling Glasses With Texas Wine & Festivities

Llano 2019 Port
Named as Texas' largest premium winery, Llano Estacado continues to impress customers with palate-cleansing flavors and community kindness.

Lubbock, Texas, stands on high grounds with agriculture, the Red Raiders, mass dust storms, and the word ‘community.’ Some would call it southern hospitality; Lubbock residents call it family. As new visitors roam this small west Texas town, they will interact with possible glimpses of tailgates, good food, tourist hotspots, and at least one of Lubbock’s Texas wineries. Before May 2009, the city of Lubbock was considered a ‘dry’ city. This law demanded all city limits are restricted from buying or selling alcohol outside of restaurants or bars. Lubbock residents made their way to Slaton, Texas, to come upon a liquor store named ‘Pinkies’ and Texas’ largest premium winery, Llano Estacado.

Llano Estacado Winery

Llano Estacado Winery opened in 1976 with help from two Texas Tech University professors, Dr. Bob Reed and Dr. Doc McPherson. McPherson was a chemistry teacher and Reed taught horticulture. After some initial success conducting an experimental winery in the basement of the Texas Tech chemistry building, the two started a limited partnership and opened Llano Estacado.

Brave Texans didn’t die at the Battle of the Alamo to drink California wine.

Erin Baker, tasting room assistant manager at Llano Estacado, ensures the winery keeps its title as Texas’ largest premium winery.

“We compete in many international and U.S. competitions every year, and we do very well,” Baker excitedly said of Llano’s success. One wine, Viviano, is ranked as the winery’s most award-winning. “It has won many awards,” Baker said, “but recently at the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo as Texas’ Best Wine.” Llano’s obvious success is making them a higher competitor for other wineries in Texas. Baker shares a quote that is well-known at the winery, “Brave Texans didn’t die at the Battle of the Alamo to drink California wine.” 

Leslie Sukin, tasting room manager at Llano Estacado, shares another customer favorite wine, the Chairman’s Reserve Port. 

“Our Chairman’s Reserve Port is another customer favorite,” Sukin said. “It’s neat to see how fast the bottles sell once the new vintage is released, which we only release this port every two years.” Llano Estacado’s Reserve port sells quickly due to the amount of years the wine ages before being blended. “The popularity of the wine,” Sukin said, “puts customers all over the country on a waitlist eager to buy the next available bottle.”

Not only does this Texas winery produce palate-fulfilling wine; Llano Estacado is also known for their large events venue and vineyard area. “We mostly host weddings, rehearsal dinners, graduation parties, or any other larger events maxing out at a 250 capacity,” Baker said. 

The Grape Day Festival

Llano Estacado hosts many festivals throughout the year.  This festival falls right after the completion of the winery’s harvest season. More than 3,000 guests from all over the U.S. arrive at the winery in the fall for the event.

Llano Estacado always has live music, different food trucks, and more than 25 vendors at Grape day. “Grape Day is always in October,” Baker said. “As a fun way to celebrate harvest season being finished.” 

These festivities, of course, would not be possible without the help from all the tasting room staff and the events team at Llano Estacado. Sukin focuses on maintaining a well-trained staff able to answer any questions related to viticulture or the wine-making process. “Having employees who are able to give tips of advice or recommendations for our wine comes in hands at busy times like Grape Day,” Sukin said. 

Not Just A Winery

Llano Estacado Winery carries on Texas traditions by pouring glasses and cheering for the Red Raiders as they are surrounded by acres of agriculture. Customers turn into friends and staff turns into family, spreading the community love and awareness all around.  As Lubbock continues to grow in size and having a winery maintaining the title as the ‘largest premium winery in Texas’, gives travelers a better reason to visit our west Texas city. 

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