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2018-07-11 / Featured

The ‘wine guy’ of Floresville

David Wahl uncorks about his South Texas wine
By Jeff Valcher
Wilson County News


Floresville winemaker David Wahl displays the results of his annual wild mustang grape picking for his homemade wine. 
DAVID WAHL/Courtesy Floresville winemaker David Wahl displays the results of his annual wild mustang grape picking for his homemade wine. DAVID WAHL/Courtesy David Wahl made his first batch of wine in 1997.

He still remembers his dad, Werner Wahl, making his own wine.

“He did that when I was a kid, and I should have been paying attention,” David laughed.

As he didn’t have his dad’s recipe, he used a friend’s, instead. Another friend of David’s joined the fun soon after, and the two have been experimenting ever since.

The work begins before the first grapes are picked, David said. Every piece of equipment — buckets, vats, tubes, and kegs — must be spotless before they are used.

Winemaking is a delicate process, where any sort of contagion could spell the end of the year’s supply. If it rains while picking grapes, you may as well go home because your grapes have spores on them, he said. The same goes for making wine with rainwater.


David Wahl’s homemade grape masher stands at the ready for another year of winemaking. 
DAVID WAHL/Courtesy David Wahl’s homemade grape masher stands at the ready for another year of winemaking. DAVID WAHL/Courtesy “If you have any bacteria, you’re not making wine. You’re making vinegar,” David said.

Next comes the grape-picking.

David does his searching in Floresville and La Vernia, mostly. He drives along the road searching for mustang grapes that grow wild in the area. The location of his hunts has changed over the years as new spots are found and some vines stop producing.

After they’re collected, he has to mash them up. All the fruits are put through a homemade masher he built for the purpose.

This lifelong resident of Floresville began welding professionally before he graduated from high school in 1972. Seven years later he opened his own business, Wahl’s Welding, which he still runs today. It turns out those skills come into great use for winemaking.


Lifelong Floresville resident David Wahl carefully bottles his homemade wine. 
DAVID WAHL/Courtesy Lifelong Floresville resident David Wahl carefully bottles his homemade wine. DAVID WAHL/Courtesy There have been a lot of handmade additions to his bottling station over the years, including the bottling station itself. Another contraption he’s built from scratch is a frame that lets him rack a 170-pound keg by himself.

“Every so often, I’ll make a piece of equipment that makes this easier,” David said.

After the grapes are mashed, he puts them into water and lets them sit for seven days under a towel.

Originally he would add the sugar to the mashed grapes at the start of this step, before putting the mixture into kegs. Now he lets the mash sit on its own, adding the sugar right before the mash gets put into a keg. This way, the natural yeast on the grapes multiplies on its own.

“It might come out a little different every year, but I can seem to hit the taste I’m looking for,” David said.

The mixture sits for almost a year. He waits until June or July until racking it — a term for separating the liquid from the solids.

“The old timers said it’s ready at the first frost, but that’s bull,” David said.

The mash goes to a friend’s chickens, which “have a ball with it,” he laughed. The wine gets bottled.

His homemade wine is much stronger than the vintages you buy in the store — sometimes reaching as high as 18- percent alcohol.

David and his winemaking compatriot don’t have a license to sell, so the bottles are mostly given away as Christmas gifts.

“It seems like a cheap gift, but actually it’s not because this is what my daddy used to say, ‘You can buy wine cheaper than you can make it,’” David said.

The welder and winemaker isn’t sure how his latest batch of more than 100 gallons will turn out. He mixed some of the juice from a previous batch in with some of the newer mash as an experiment.

Recently, he has begun experimenting with prickly pear cactus wine, which he swears tastes just like apple wine. He’s even mixed it with grapes for a unique flavor. Picking cacti is much different than picking grapes, he said.

David uses gloves and tongs to pick the red fruit. He also wears rattlesnake chaps, as it’s the perfect place for these reptiles to be hiding.

“Your trip to the emergency room is going to cost a whole lot more than those rattlesnake chaps will,” he said.

For years now, he’s donated bottles of his beverage to the Floresville Volunteer Fire Department for its Wild Game Dinner auction each fall.

He sometimes goes table to table to offer samples at these events, so people know what they’re bidding on. Because of this, some have taken to calling him “the wine guy.” He once offered samples to a group of ladies, who were reluctant to try it.

“I said, ‘Look. We shook all the bugs off before we mashed the grapes,’” he laughed.

The “brand” recognition he’s accumulated through the years has driven up bids for 12 bottles of his wine to more than $2,000.

As a professional welder for most of his life, David said he could make them a nice barbecue pit that wouldn’t have the value that his wine has.

Though he could certainly buy wine for less than it costs him to make it, his time and effort are well spent, in his estimation.

And the wine?

It’s priceless.

Mustang grapes

The mustang grape — or vitis mustangensis — is native to the southern United States, growing in Mississippi, Alabama, Louisiana, Oklahoma, and Texas.

The mustang variety is a very tart fruit that is often found around the edge of woods. The leaves of the plant are fuzzy and have a white underside.

The grapes are very acidic and handling and eating large amounts can cause burns to the hands and mouth.

- foragingtexas.com

jvalcher@wcn-online.com

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