guests come aboard for regional wine tours | Explore the Upper East Side of Texas
A tour bus winds its way up an idyllic sunny hillside at Enoch’s Stomp Vineyard & Winery north of Marshall. Visitors revel in the picturesque rows of vines and look forward to tasting the wines. They listen intently as their guide describes the brief history of the winery.
When the bus parks at the top of the hill, passengers disembark and enter a spacious wine tasting room and restaurant. They casually sit at a wooden table and stare at menu cards listing wines while soaking up the sights and sounds.
A wine ambassador explains that each varietal is made at the vineyard for a specific purpose and flavor. Dry, sweet or in between. Red, rosé, blush or white. The menu describes the specific blend of each and guests are invited to select three categories of wines.
The wine ambassador returns with bottles of wine and glasses and pours a small ounce of each variety. Before pouring, she names each wine and describes its flavor. Guests comment on the flavors. Some pour wines they don’t like into a bucket while others carefully sip them. Everyone finds something they like.
The wine rating helps customers plan which wines they wish to purchase before departure. The variety was definitely a highlight in Enoch’s tasting room. Everyone in the tour group enjoyed a sweet, light wine called Susan’s Secret, but all were palatable.
Meanwhile, tour guides Melanie and Tony Juays sit quietly at a side table on the other side of the tasting room. Tony drives the tour bus to two other locations and Melanie has lots of information to share about vineyards and viticulture. The two hand out snacks and small bottles of water as the tourists return to the van.
The Juays share their love for the richness and flavor of wine through their new touring company, Lekker Wine Tours. They want guests to be able to admire the beautiful countryside while discovering the 30 wineries in the Upper East Side region of Texas.
The name Lekker Wine Tours is a deliberate choice.
Lekker (pronounced le-kah) is a slang term in Afrikaans – the native language of South Africa – and a nod to the family’s homeland. The family emigrated from the cosmopolitan country at the southern tip of Africa in 2005.
The term “lekker” has a variety of meanings, explains his son and business partner Garrett Juays.
“Its direct translation is ‘pleasing,’ but we’ll use it for everything — delicious, wholesome, amazing — but not pompous or glamorous,” says Garrett. “[It means] we’re going to have a great time; we’re going to have a good time; it’s going to be very engaging but it’s not overwhelming.
The tours combine the know-how of the Juays in the hotel industry with their passion for wine and entrepreneurship.
“This company is the story of three best friends who happen to be mother, father and son,” says Garrett. “And the three of us are very enterprising. Many ideas have emerged and we are certainly not afraid to launch new ideas.
Some of the family businesses are payroll, human relations and accounting, which they did for Walker’s Mill Vineyard in Hallsville. As Mélanie became more familiar with the region’s wine business, she began to think about the possibility of arranging tours.
“It just seemed like we were missing in East Texas someone who would take people to the vineyards and meet the owners, see their passion for what they were doing, [and] listen to their stories of the birth of their vineyards,” she says.
The current tour travels along the so-called Lantana region of the Lekker Wine Tour – Marshall, Jefferson, Gilmer, Naples, Pittsburg, Longview and Kilgore. The Juays chose hardy plant names native to Texas for each of their four wine regions.
Tours of three other regions are also available. The Azalea region includes wineries in Athens, Trinidad and Palestine and the Petunia region in Canton, Lindale and Mineola. The Rose area includes Tyler and outlying communities.
Walker’s Mill Vineyard in Hallsville is the second stop on the three-part Lantana day trip. The Art and Adriana Strahan-owned winery is immaculately appointed and features rows of Muscat grapes – the only varietal native to East Texas.
Wines made with muscadines have a deep red flavor that lends itself well to sweet and dessert wines. A wine ambassador leads the tasting, explaining the name, blend and flavor of each bottle. A favorite at this stop is blueberry wine – the only wine not made with muscat grapes.
After visiting Walker’s Mill and tasting the wines, it’s easy to see why the Strahans dreamed of making Walker’s Mill the gem of a winery it is today.
The bus heads for Kilgore where Britt’s Wine and Dine is the third stop. The restaurant occupies the cafeteria of a former primary school and offers a spacious and open dining room with a bar at the bottom.
Wine tastings are paired with a three-course dinner on this tour – which can be arranged on request. The food and wines are handmade by owner Britt Davis. He’s a self-proclaimed foodie who makes his own wines from grapes grown in West Texas.
Davis introduces each wine as it is served and explains his choice. The highlight of the dinner is a butter chicken thigh and thigh roasted in a bourbon vanilla peach glaze and served with her Jess & Judy dry rosé wine.
Davis encourages customers to trust their own palates when tasting wines.
“The flavor should really roll off your tongue with this wine,” he says.
Dessert is a rich pecan pie which he serves with a wine called Britt’s Paramour made with Napa Valley grapes. It also features a wine called Pinot Tage – a South African wine and a blend of Pinot Noir.
The Juays are not the only lovers of the region’s wines from South Africa.
Former South African farmer Altus Koegelenberg moved his family to Texas in 2001 and opened Enoch’s Stomp with Texas chemist Jon Kral. They installed a winery in a renovated barn and opened in 2009. The winery has grown by 20% per year.
Kiepersol south of Tyler is another winery founded by former South African farmer Pierre de Wet in 1998 and now operated by his daughters Marnelle and Velmay. Kiepersol is located along the Lekker’s Rose region which includes M6 Winery in Bullard and Briar Creek Vineyards in Whitehouse.
Melanie explains that wine making and tasting are popular hobbies among South African nationals.
“It’s a South African thing, I tell you,” she said. “It’s something we easily gravitate toward.”
The Juays’ international experience has helped them identify the quality of Texas’ Upper East Side wineries and they are eager to publicize their tours.
Lekker is offering a contest for a free visit for a party of up to eight worth $1,000 through the end of 2022 and a drawing for a free visit worth $95 each month. Entrants can register an email address on the Lekker website at www.lekkerwine.tours.
Tours can run with as few as six travelers or as many as 20. Tours typically take place on Saturdays, as most wineries open their tasting rooms to the public on weekends.
Most half-day tours include tastings at three wineries and cost $95 per person. Full-day tours offer tastings at five wineries and cost $150 per person.
Lekker now offers beer and wine tours that include a stop at a brewery and two wineries for $95.
All tours can be customized based on what the parties wish to experience. A bespoke curated tour can allow guests to get a behind-the-scenes look at a local winery or experience a meal paired with wine – and just about any other request.
“We tailor the tour based on what the guests want,” says Melanie.
Meet the Juays at the Pineywoods Wine Festival in Lindale on October 14-15, sign up for a tour or learn more about www.lekkerwine.tours.