Sunday, July 14, 2024

Uncorking the success of D’Vine Wine

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At 107 E. Bridge St., in the heart of Granbury, stands D’Vine Wine, a winery that epitomizes community spirit, entrepreneurial creativity and destiny. It is co-owned by Dr. Tony Hedges, his wife, Diane Hedges, and Joshua Winters (Josh). This is a tale of D’Vine intervention — strangers brought together at the perfect moment to discover their shared dream of owning a wine business.

In December 2003, at the annual Christmas gala hosted by the Littlefield Chamber of Commerce, the Hedges’ decision to bid on a ‘unit’ would eventually lead them to Granbury. The gala, a cherished event in Littlefield, Texas featured an auction to raise funds for community initiatives. Among the auction items was a getaway package generously donated by the late Dutch Wilkinson, owner of Granbury’s charming Plantation Inn.

The getaway package for four included lodging at the Plantation Inn, tickets to the Opera House and Granbury Live, a riverboat cruise and several rounds of golf. Dr. Hedges seized the opportunity and purchased the package. However, life kept the couple busy, and it wasn’t until almost a year later, in November 2004, that the Hedges and friends finally made their way to Granbury to redeem the weekend package.

THE FIRST VISIT

The trip started with torrential rain, dashing any hopes of golfing. Nevertheless, Diane Hedges, a former nurse, and her husband, Tony, a Littlefield physician, became enchanted with Granbury as the group enjoyed the other activities included in the package — the performances at Granbury Live and the Opera House, as well as the riverboat ride. During this lucky weekend, a casual suggestion from one of the four changed everything: “Let’s go see what a lake house would cost.”

Curious and with time on their hands, the group walked into a Century 21 office on the square and met Walter Hardin, the agent on duty. Despite having no appointment, Hardin graciously agreed to show them around. Their interest was piqued when they toured a beautiful lake house with a boat dock owned by a man going through a divorce and eager to sell. The wife of the Hedges’ friends, an interior decorator, was particularly impressed with the home.

Initially, the Hedges considered buying the house as an investment to flip. However, as soon as they walked out the door, Diane Hedges felt a solid connection to the property and spontaneously said to the agent, “We’ll take it.” Her husband was surprised but went along with the decision. With inheritance money Diana had received from her mother, the Hedges purchased the property.

Their first night in the lake house, sleeping on an air mattress in the living room, marked the beginning of a new chapter. “Tony was a different person here, more relaxed and happier. I knew then we wouldn’t sell this house,” Diane recalled.

Whenever Diane Hedges encountered Wilkinson, she fondly recalled the events that led them to Granbury. “This is all your fault, Dutch,” she would jokingly tell him. “If you hadn’t donated that auction weekend, we wouldn’t be in the middle of this wonderful adventure.”

A BOTTLING WEEKEND

Their journey into the wine business began serendipitously on one of the Hedges’ weekend forays to their lake house in Granbury. During one of these visits, they stumbled upon D’Vine Wine on the square, which had been operating for about a year-and-a-half. Originally from Haltom City, young Joshua Winters was the wine store’s vintner. The owners had recently told Winters of their plans to sell the shop. They had given him a grace period to come up with the capital to buy D’Vine wine, but time was quickly running out.

Tony Hedges had ordered a batch of wine, and Winters assisted the couple in their bottling party at the shop. “So, Diane and Tony are bottling their wine, and Tony just kind of off-hand says, ‘This is the coolest thing I’ve ever seen, and I’ve always wanted to own a business like this,’” 27-year-old Winters recalled and said, “Well, let’s do it! It’s for sale. Let’s buy it, and Tony says, ‘Yes! I’m in!’”

“Josh mentioned the place was for sale and wanted a partner,” Diane Hedges said. “From across the room, I hear Tony yell, ‘Sold!’”

“’You can’t just yell ‘sold,’ Tony, you’ve had a bit too much to drink!’” Winters remembers Diane Hedges saying, “‘We’re having a good time, but let’s not get this young man’s hopes up.’ That was the Saturday of Labor Day weekend 2006.”

BLENDING THEIR EFFORTS

The Hedges’ spur-of-the-moment decision that Saturday led to a whirlwind of events. By Monday, with D’Vine wines books on the seat next to him, Winters made the five-and-a-half-hour drive from Granbury to Littlefield to discuss the business. After consulting with a CPA, weighing and praying about their options, Tony and Diane Hedges and Winters decided to take the plunge. In September 2006, they purchased D’Vine Wine from the original owners, former County Commissioner Butch Barton and his wife Karen, and Ross and Charlene Merriweather.

Winters, a former manager at Outback Steakhouse, had been working at D’Vine Wine since 2005. Married to Amy Winters, the father of five had a keen interest in the wine industry but no prior experience in winemaking; Winters learned the craft from the shop’s previous owners. “I knew a lot about wine but had never made it,” Winters said. “Most of my learning has been trial and error.” His passion for wine and people is a driving force behind the winery’s success. “I love wine, but it’s really my avenue to talk to some cool people,” he said. “I enjoy making the wine, but I love to share it and talk about it.”

Owning a winery was a leap into the unknown for the Hedges. Although they had run a clinic in Littlefield and understood the intricacies of running a small business, they needed to gain a background in winemaking. They relied heavily on the previous owners’ guidance and Winters’ growing expertise. “We learned much from the former owners, Josh, and trial and error. We had to educate ourselves about the industry,” Diane Hedges said. She and Winters took specialized courses or workshops related to winemaking and running a tasting room. The classes were put on by the Texas Agriculture Department.

TIME TO CRUSH IT

Despite the challenges, their dedication paid off. The Hedges eventually moved to Granbury full-time in January 2011. Winters, now a seasoned vintner, handles the day-to-day operations and winemaking, ensuring each bottle meets their high standards.

“The small franchise we are a part of has a crush factory in Thousand Palms, California,” Winters shared. Unlike traditional wineries that bottle only once a year, D’Vine Wine is free from concerns about local weather affecting their crops; they can produce wine year-round. “We buy grapes from various sources,” he said, “but all fermentation, blending, bottling, corking and labeling happens in-house.”

D’Vine Wine’s approach sets it apart from other wineries in the region. “We make over 20 different varieties of wine ranging from sweet to dry,” Diane Hedges explained, “We do not grow grapes; instead, we source high-quality grapes from trusted vineyards in California, Oregon and other states, ensuring the best quality grapes for our wines. Because we’re getting grapes year-round, we are constantly bottling and have the equipment right here, and anybody could come in,” she said. “During the middle of the week, Tuesday through Thursday, we usually do the production. We’re open, and people can come in and watch what we’re doing.”

Grape growers send samples, which encourages new winemaking. The Hedges and Winters taste them and have their regular customers sample them as well to see if it’s something they want to produce. As a result, occasionally, D’Vine Wine had wine which was only available for a short time because it didn’t hit the mark. “Sometimes, it can be a good wine, but not what Granbury wanted,” said Winters, “Tastes have changed significantly from 2006 until now. The town has changed so much that we’ve had to rethink how we make our wine.”

D’Vine Wines are either sweet or dry. Initially, 80 to 90% of their wines were sweet because that is what people wanted. However, as the town grew, people began to prefer bolder wines. D’Vine Wines had to adapt to this change, aging more to add depth to some of their reds.

BRANCHING OUT

The Hedges decided to open a D’Vine Wine in Manitou Springs, Colorado, near Colorado Springs, around 2008. They had a minor partner, an older gentleman, and the three took turns traveling out there for a week to keep the store running.

As they set up the business, the economy took a downturn. That issue, coupled with the long-distance drive, posed significant challenges for the Hedges. These difficulties ultimately made them decide it was too much to handle, so they sold the business. Remarkably, the store is still there and continues to operate.

Reflecting on the Colorado experience, Diane Hedges shared, “It was fun because we got to build it from the ground up.” She also acknowledged the strategic location of their first store, saying, “Being on the square in Granbury is the best place that D’Vine Wine could be. I will tell you, anywhere else, and we wouldn’t have near the business that we have.”

UNCORKING CREATIVITY

The winery offers diverse wines, from sweet to dry, with names inspired by Texas culture and local landmarks. “When we do blends and fruit wines, we have to get creative with names,” Diane Hedges explained, adding, “We want to make wines people enjoy in a comfortable, relaxed atmosphere. We are not your snooty winery.” She said, “We love it when a guy says, ‘I don’t drink wine; I just like beer.’ I’ll say, ‘Just try this,’ and he says, ‘I can drink this!’”

Wines like Peach Chardonnay, named Lone Star Gold, Blackberry Merlot, dubbed Lone Star Onyx, and the popular Bridge Street Blues reflect D’Vine Wine’s Texan pride. They even have a Cabernet named Cigars and Cars in honor of the late Chad Ramsey, a friend and excellent local photographer.

This past year, the company created a new label called The General, featuring General Granbury’s picture. D’Vine Wine has improved significantly since it started. Initially, all its labels looked precisely the same and were quite unattractive, according to Diane Hedges. Despite having a great product, the labels only had the grape variety and name typed at the bottom, mirroring the franchise’s style — that is when they engaged Amy Winters.

Amy Winters owns Trevo Creative and has significantly contributed to designing many of the wine shop’s labels — Cigars and Cars, for instance. The winery also offers personalized labels for special occasions, a nod to its customer-centric approach.

HARVESTING CONNECTIONS

D’Vine Wine is an active local community member, participating in the Granbury Historic Merchants Association, the Granbury Chamber of Commerce, and the Opera Guild. Diane Hedges plays a significant role in community engagement and social media management. Officially, she is the community liaison. The wine company participates in events, supports local charities, and offers the winery as a venue for fundraising. “Once a month, a charity can use our space, and they get a percentage of the sales that day,” Diane Hedges said. “It becomes a nice event with raffles and volunteer sign-ups.”

One of its notable collaborations is with Fossil Rim Wildlife Center in Glen Rose. D’Vine Wine produces unique labels for Fossil Rim, donating 25% of sales to the center. “We have wines like Rhino Red and Giraffe White, which support Fossil Rim’s conservation efforts,” Diane Hedges explained.

“Tony was in the military when we married. I think it’s good to move around and get a feel for the nation and the world. We lived in Germany for three years, and that’s where I learned to like wine,” said Diane Hedges. Tony Hedges continues his medical practice, albeit at a slower pace, while Diane Hedges and Josh Winters manage the winery.

“We love what we do. It’s a fun job, and we get to meet people from all over,” Diane Hedges said. D’Vine Wine has become a staple in Granbury, known for its lively events, including karaoke nights, live music and community gatherings. The winery’s success results from dedication, passion and a love for bringing people together. As Winters aptly said, “My favorite part of my work is people. I get to share what I make with people and then talk about it. That is one of the best parts of this business.”

The store’s upcoming Fourth of July celebration will include releasing its famous watermelon wine. The Hedges and Winters look forward to welcoming locals and visitors to their cozy, welcoming space on the square.

As the owners continue to pour their hearts into D’Vine Wine, their story reminds us that sometimes, the best ventures begin with spontaneity and a lot of passion. Winters revealed, “Diane and I are trying to run a business, and Tony is trying to throw the best party.”

For more information, visit D’Vine Wine at 107 E. Bridge St., Granbury. Visit its website at Home - dVine Wine Granbury, or check out its social media for upcoming events and special releases.