VALLEY MILLS, Texas — Away from the bustle of the “Fixer Upper” craze in Downtown Waco, Valley Mills Vineyards offers a break in the form of a tiny oasis for wine aficionados, explorers and anyone looking for some new wine, peace and quiet, as well as a delightful view in rural Central Texas.
Off the beaten path, the estate winery sits on several acres of land around 20 miles outside of Waco, a short drive from Highway 6 in Valley Mills. A family affair for the Bagnascos, they focus of producing the best wine they can and letting the beverage speak for itself.
Co-owner and General Manager Joey Bagnasco said the operation run by him and his parents is in its 14th season now, having started with an acre of grape plants in 2007 just to test the farming experience before diving into the project. Following success with the first season and batch of wine, Bagnasco’s father John, got a partner on board and launched the business.
“My family is Italian and has always been into wine. My father was really the one who had the impetus to start the project and so he really started visiting other Texas growers and wineries and did a couple of years of research then decided to plant just one acre of vines and see how they did. He really got the project started, I helped him plant the first acre and the vines grew really well. Most of them are still alive 14 years later and producing well,” Bagnasco said.
The family first started with a winery and small tasting room in 2009 just off Highway 6 near the “crossroads” where the highway from Waco leading to Valley Mills intersects with FM 185.
As the wine -- made exclusively from grapes from around the state and those grown locally -- attracted people and won awards, the family decided years later to open a winery at the vineyard to give visitors from all around a full experience and view of the farming process to bottling and finally, to the drinker’s palate.
The estate, which officially opened in 2019, sits behind a string of trees lining FM 1637, obscuring the view of the winery and five-acre vineyard carved into the side of a hill in Bosque County from the road. (You know you’re there when you come across the sign bearing the winery’s name and a gate leading to a gravel road on one side and a field with cows and hay bales on the other.)
It’s been a slow growing business for the family, not because they’re struggling, but because they focus on growing the best grapes, which Bagnasco said is the most important part of the winemaking process.
“For us, making traditional European style wines, we have one ingredient: Grapes. There’s generally no water, sugar, flavors, nothing else added and so it’s imperative for us, and for any winery, that the grapes you’re starting out with are as high quality as possible and at the perfect point of ripeness,” he said. “I hope what sets us apart is that we’re very dogged in trying to farm and source the best grapes we possibly can and we’re very aggressive in always trying to improve that agricultural part of the process because everything else is kind of downstream of that. We work a lot on our customer experience, we put most of our time and energy and labor hours into farming and even more so than winemaking, which is how I think it should be.”
If you don’t know much about wine besides the different colors and that some are sweet and others are supremely bitter, Jade Huot, a tasting room associate at the winery, can help you out. She said it’s her favorite part as a self-proclaimed “wine nerd.”
Huot will walk you through a wine sampling of your choice, helping highlight the tastes and aromas of the different wines. She said the winery is a change in pace from Waco attractions and encouraged area visitors to stop by.
“I love it because we’re so close to Waco so you can get all the touristy things, get all the regular city things but then you can also just take a breather. We have a lot of people bring picnics actually and enjoy a glass of wine and enjoy the view, take a nice break,” Huot said.
Visiting the estate winery this time of year, you’ll likely catch the smell of fresh wine around the estate and find Bagnasco and a few other crew members in the middle of the harvest process.
Tempranillo and Muscat Canelli grow on the five acres where the winery is located, and Viognier grows just down the highway right outside of Valley Mills on the way to Clifton. Besides the locally grown variety, the winery imports grapes from around the state – and only from around Texas - to make a small selection of red and white wines including Tempranillo, Grenache, Mourvedre and Cabernet Sauvignon on the red side and Viognier, Vermentino and Muscat Canelli on the white side.
Bagnasco takes pride in that the wine is made exclusively from Texas-grown grapes.
“We have an insistence on making the finest wines that we can within the parameters that we only source grapes from Texas. So, I think when people come out and visit us they always know they’re getting a truly local experience. It’s really not a limiting factor for us because we feel like we’re making the best quality wine with Texas grapes, but I don’t know that we could do anything better by trying to import grapes from somewhere else,” he said.
Without much advertising, the wine is speaking for itself. Word of mouth has brought business to the winery from locals to out-of-state visitors looking for a wine experience in the area. Bagnasco says the tasting room stays busy over the weekend but encourages those looking for a more relaxing and personal experience to visit during the week, taste some wine and tour the grounds to learn more about the Central Texas hidden gem.
“We love it. We feel blessed just to be able to keep doing it,” he says. “We love sharing our passion for this with other people and if anyone hasn’t visited us before we encourage them to come out, come pay us a visit, check out the wines, walk around the vineyard and hang out with us.”