Crushing it with Free State Cellars, Southeast Texas Newest Winery

Blue and red bars of light fall from the antique stained glass windows, painting the butcher block serving counter. Softly, the steady thunk – thunk- thunk of chopping drifts in from the small kitchen behind the bar, keeping time with the soft jazz playing overhead. The intimate tasting room and open patio of Free State Cellars with tasteful contemporary lines blended with Old World pieces, creating a refined yet casual atmosphere.

But it hasn’t always been so. What would one day be know as Free State Cellars got its humble start as Texas’ 14th winery under the name of Piney Woods Country Winery. In 1984, Albert Flies, one of Texas’ pioneers in viticulture and oenology, planted his first muscadine grapes behind his Orange, Texas home.

Over the years his micro-vineyard grew to roughly six acres while steadily producing an award-winning variety of muscadine, fruit, and chocolate wines. But more interested in wine production than in aesthetics, his tasting room and cellar remained utilitarian opposed to appealing. Sadly, after his passing, both the vineyard and winery fell into disrepair. But luckily for the small town of Orange, the narrative doesn’t end there.

Free State Cellars Vineyard before countless hours of restoration

The Cinderella story of Free State Cellars owes its success to one family with a vision and the massive support of friends, family, and the citizens of Orange backing them. Enter Orange, Texas natives, the Swope family.

After purchasing the deteriorated estate in 2017, the family quickly began the laborious act of reviving and rebranding. Unfortunately Mother Nature dealt plenty of set backs. After hurricanes, historical flooding, fallen trees, and a rare snow storm, over 200 vines needed to be replaced, as well as the original structure.

Luckily North America’s only native grape, the muscadine, thrives along the hot, humid banks of Adam’s Bayou. In August of 2018, Free State Cellars harvested their first successful bounty of muscadine. They hope to have their Heirloom Wines bottled and ready to serve by the end of July.

But muscadine wine isn’t the only wine coming from Free State’s cellars. Oenophiles can still find old world favorites grown right here in the Lone Star State.

Like their buttery, full-bodied Viognier with aromas of honeysuckle and flavors of crisp pear and ripe peach. And their light and delicate Riesling that bursts with bright green apple. And for those who love red blends, the Rio Dulce, a ruby cabernet/ blend, sits firmly at the top of the bestseller list. With a fragrance of lush dark fruits and lingering ripe cherry notes, this easy drinker remains the crowd favorite.

This little winery has big dreams and Southeast Texas can’t wait. Keep an eye on their Facebook, Instagram, and sign up for their newsletter to be the first to know about new wine reveals, special events, and the latest happenings as the winery continues to grow! Visit them at 4702 Tejas Parkway Orange, Texas.


Portrait from Cowboys of Color: Spotlighting America’s Overlooked African American Cowboy Culture

“I’m not black. I’m not a cowboy. These photographs are of real people. They have real lives with real joys and sorrows. The formal portraits taken at the Cowboys of Color Rodeos give us a window into their lives and personalities while they are pursuing their passion of the cowboy and ranching lifestyle. As with any good portrait, some small piece of their personality and life must be revealed to be evocative and authentic.” – Don Russell

From severe glares to knowing smirks, Photographer Don Russell’s portraits, now on exhibit at the Stark Museum of Art in Orange, Texas, allow viewers a glimpse of each cowboy’s (or cowgirl’s) achievements, heritage, and mark on their culture.

Focusing on the contemporary African American rodeo cowboys, the Portraits from Cowboys of Color spotlight the rich, but grossly overlooked, cowboy traditions still alive today.