By IAN ROBINSON, The News-Star

CALHOUN, La. (AP) — A new winemaking operation has become an off-the-beaten-path destination in Northeast Louisiana.

Thirsty Farmer Winery and Vineyard in Calhoun offers locally crafted wines, eats and live Saturday entertainment. Owned by Michael and Savannah Ray, the family-owned operation opened its doors on June 4, attracting over 1,000 people.

Michael Ray said the couple decided to go into the winemaking business following a trip to wine country in California in 2015. Initially in San Francisco for a continuing education course for Savannah, Ray said the two trekked to Napa Valley and Sonoma County where another education awaited.

“Sonoma really changed my mind about what grape growing was,” Ray said. “It wasn’t about winemaking at that point, it was about seeing these guys growing grapes. They were farmers and it just so happen that we got row crop here. Cotton, corn and everything else but these guys were farming grapes. It just changed my mind about what they meant and what it could be.”

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Ray said he tried his hand at growing grapes soon after returning to Calhoun, planting over 150 vines. However, Ray said he still had a lot to learn, accumulating little knowledge from the Internet and other local grape growers.

“I found out really quickly that I had put the wrong grapes in the ground and they were eventually going to get sick,” Ray said. “I thought, ‘Well there’s no way they’ll get this diseased that everybody’s telling me about.’ It’s call Pierce’s disease and three years later, they did. I cared for them for three years, got them trained and had them growing the way they needed to grow and they set fruit on year three.”

Despite not yet being able to harvest, Ray said he and his wife continued to learn the business. The two eventually enrolled into the Distilling and Viticulture Program at Grayson College in Denison, Texas.

The winery currently produces six crafted wines, most of which feature fruits other than grapes, such as their peach wine.

Thirsty Farmer Winery and Vineyards offers six crafted wines.

One of their more popular wines, “Crush,” incorporates raspberry and strawberry. “Bubbles,” the winery’s rosé, is produced from Zinfandel grapes and a red blend, called “5:04,” is 70% cabernet. Their Lomanto varietal is produced from grapes which, according to Ray, can grow well in the Louisiana climate.

The winery hosts “Wineaux Ramble,” a weekly live concert which features local talent, on Saturdays. It also pairs the crafted wine with foods such as charcuterie boards. Currently held in the new tasting room, Ray said when cooler weather permits, the concerts will move to the winery’s outdoor space.

Ray referred to the responses to the winery and its products as “overwhelming.” He said the Saturday concerts attract large crowds every week.

The tasting room at Thirsty Farmer Winery and Vineyard is open every Saturday from noon to 8 p.m., with live music from 3-6 p.m.

Copyright 2022 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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