Many years ago, a young boy visited his grandparents’ home where a memory was etched. While there one summer, he noticed the grape arbor that was grown over his grandparents’ carport.
It was something he had not seen in Houston before. The sight so intrigued him, he filed it way, recalling it often over time.
During the next couple of decades, this young man, native Texan Alphonse Dotson, became an All-America football player in college, was drafted into pro football and he played for the Packers, Chiefs and Dolphins, and ended his career with the Raiders. Also add teacher to his career, because football players were paid only an average wage back then and had to make ends meet during off-season.
After his retirement from football, and coupled with a divorce, Dotson moved to Acapulco after a South American trip to Sierra Leone. He fell in love with the area and impulsively bought a house there. He eventually met and married Martha Cervantes, who worked for the real estate company that arranged the purchase of his villa.
Alphonse stayed in retirement there for 15 years as a stay-at-home, chess-playing dad while Martha worked at a high-profile resort company. However, the city was changing and he was starting to feel the urge to make a move soon.
While on a trip with the Raiders’ “family,” he befriended the owner’s daughter, who invited him to Napa. When he and Martha visited the Napa Valley vineyard a few months later, that old memory came alive.
He had been bitten by “the bug.” After all, if his grandfather could grow grapes in Houston, surely he could grow grapes, too. He told them that he wanted to learn to grow grapes while there. They introduced him to someone from the University of California-Davis, and one “old-timer” who did it the old fashioned way. He took every note down he could.
He then came back to Houston tell his mother of his plans. During the trip home, the family decided to go to Bandera. A voice kept nagging him to go to the Alamo. It wouldn’t leave him, so he suggested they go to San Antonio for lunch.
As the story goes, that same voice told him to go to where the gondolas turn at the shops. He made his way down to Blum Street and found Blum Street Cellars. Dotson introduced himself to the store’s owner, Timothy Morgan, struck up a conversation and commenced to telling him about his plans. Morgan gave Dotson a list of people to talk to.
The first was Morgan’s own father, who taught viticulture at Grayson County Junior College, then a University of Texas professor, and a number of vineyard owners.
Dotson knew he needed to take time on this endeavor. Patience is indeed a needed virtue.
Dotson also knew he wanted to be within a five-hour drive from his mother in Houston. He did research from soil to topography to geography. He soon had his A, B and C spots on the state mapped out, with McCulloch County being tops.
Brady, Texas, is a homecoming of sorts for him with his mother’s side of the family and uncles having roots there, even having a city park named after one in the 1950s (the Willie Washington City Park).
During this time, his son, Santana Dotson, played at Baylor and became an All-America in 1991. His father became his agent, and as Santana was being traded from Tampa Bay to Green Bay, he used his commission money to buy the Voca, Texas, property. The property was five hours from his mother, was in the “A” location, and the stars aligned with it being on U.S. Highway 71 -- his NFL jersey number.
Being spiritual, and a bit mystical, the Bacchus god was speaking to him, and he listened closely. Finding property for sale back then was no easy task, certainly not one that fell into his requirements.
Martha came up from Mexico with their child and a family friend. With the community joining in, they planted 6,800 vines on 11 acres of the property where, aptly named after his grandfather, Certenberg Vineyard was born.
I remember this point in time well. My husband and I had not been married long when he and John Keith opened a new store in Brady, Texas. Alphonse had been in, and my husband had met him. He came home telling me about him planting a vineyard there.
In my head, I was thinking, “Brady, Texas?” Brady is known for really good hunting, but it’s not close to anything. I said a little prayer for him. Literally.
As with all grape growers, Mother Nature has been his constant game of chess — from being a blessing, to a downright cruel joke. Through it all he has plowed through it. With his strong discipline and work ethic, along with his tenacity for perfection, Dotson and Cervantes has created a vineyard that produces some of the best award-winning wines for Fall Creek.
They contract for all of their grapes before they’re even grown each season. Alphonse and Martha started reserving some of the grapes for themselves, creating the Dotson and Cervantes wine label, with Gotas De Oro (drops of gold) winning awards from the first year out.
The Dotsons have proven that you can grow award-winning Chardonnay and Cabernet in Texas.
In time, I have been able to meet both Alphonse and Martha. A tall man with his cowboy hat making him even taller, as well as an instant Texas-sized genuine grin, you instantly connect with him. Martha is shorter, probably of average height, but standing next to Alphonse can dwarf anyone.
She is just so passionate about their wines. She has a quieter sense of humor and is a bit more serious, but her knowledge is intense. They are affectionate and feed so perfectly off of each other.
They have their Dotson-Cervantes Winery and tasting room in Pontotoc, Texas, in one of the few historic buildings left. Coincidentally, the word “Pontotoc” is Chickasaw for “Land of Hanging Grapes.” They also have added a tasting room at their Certenberg Vineyard in Voca.
Be prepared to stay a long while here, in a small Texas town where nothing is in a hurry. Sit back and relax, and listen to some great stories while sipping on some Texas Gold.
Gotas De Oro
Dotson and Cervantes’ first entry into wine was their perfect dessert wine.
Comprised of 50/50 Chardonnay and Muscat Canelli, it is soft and well-rounded with notes and flavors of citrus, pears swirled with ginger. Try it with sparkling water for a refreshing sparkling drink.
The Bordeaux-style red came about by the simple repeated requests at the tasting room “for something red.” A blend of Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot gives way to nice fruit flavors of blackberries, black plums followed by baking spices and vanilla.
The wines can be found, or ordered from Spec’s.
Wines of Dotson-Cervantes Tasting Room
Where: 13044 N. Willis St., Pontotoc, Texas. Located on U.S. Highway 71, 20 minutes north of Llano.
Hours: Fri-Sun, noon to 6 p.m.