Bell Mountain Wine, 463 Bell Mountain Rd, Fredericksburg, TX 78624 USA, , Telephone: (830) 685-3297

While numerous articles and notes have been written in the past 38 years since the beginning of Bell Mountain Vineyards and Winery a we have included a couple below for our customers to enjoy reading about the history of this long established first vineyard and winery in Fredericksburg Tx.  Enjoy!

Notes from Bob Oberhelman - Fredericksburg, Texas
Development and Progress Report, September 1976

1. General Information
The vineyard is located in the heart of the Hill Country fourteen miles north of Fredericksburg. The elevation is 1900-feet, with the summit of Bell Mountain rising gently one-half mile to the north.

II. Initial Preparation
A 40-GPM well was secured at 154 in March 1975.
Clearing & grading of two old fields, that had been out of production for from thirty-five to forty years, commenced in April 1975.  After root-plowing and removing mesquite and other small shrubs, two water diversion terraces were created.  Also, two waterways which traversed the property were shaped.

Coastal Bermuda was sprigged in all waterways.

Vetch was planted and fertilized with 0-24-24 in September 1975.

A deer-proof fence of seven feet was erected around the fifty-one acre plot in December 1975.

Three acres for the initial vineyard planting was laid out in January, 1976 and the trellis was commenced in February.  The trellis is a five-foot, two wire structure.  There is a third wire, at the height of 18-inches, which was planned to hold the drip irrigation line and help secure the bottom part of the "train stake"  The posts were penta pine and interspersed with 7-foot "T" steel posts.  The post are at 18-foot distances as it was planned to plant either three plants, or two more vigorous plants between posts.  Thus the plants are at six-foot or nine-foot distances.  Reliable electric company's wire vises were used to secure and tension wire.  Holes for inserting the wire and wire vises were pre-drilled in the shop to speed erection in the field.  Wire vises terminate wire at the end posts and intermediate penta posts.  The intermediate penta posts were placed every ninety-feet to simplify erection and elimate the risk, in the event of a wire failure or accidental severance of the entire row going down.  All holes for posts and plants were bored in one line as the tractor moved down the row.  Penta posts were inserted and ground around was firmed.  The wire and steel posts were installed in one movement.  That is, the lower wire was strung between the penta posts.  The steel posts could then be positioned to the wire and then driven.  The two top wires were then strung.  Later wire was "clipped" to the steel posts, as in fence building.

Spring 1976 - Vineyard Development : Blocks 1 & II
1. Vineyard layout
A. Row Measurement

    1.  Made by plastic tape.  Row measurement of 10' was satisfactory.  90' length and check was difficult.  Consider using Surveyor's transit.
    2. Vetch growth obstructed late season measurements
    3.  Chain with 6' measurements was satisfactory
B. Trellis & Planting Holes
    1. Dug with 12' post hole digger on tractor
    2. Traveled down one row and dug both holes; post holes dug at 36' and plant holes at 12" or more.  The dig    400' row or 50 holes (plant and posts) approximately 1/2/ hours

II. Trellis
A. Penta posts at 90' spacing; consider 180' or 216' spacing.  Tamping takes time.
B.  Stringing Wire; Setting Steel Posts
     1. Progressing down one aisle with pickup or wheel-barrow, two rows are strung in sequence.  Two men; one to hold wire, one to walk wire out
     2. String lower wire first on either side; then set steel post; last string upper wires
     3.  Tension wire with hammer after entire block was has been strung
     4. Time; 300' per hour
     5. Plant stakes and Milk cartons; stakes wire at lower level and top wires; milk cartons set in earth.  Time; 400' row - one hour.

III. Irrigation - Chapin System
A. PVC Pipe.
     1. Underground.  Installed by Nixon at $.20 per foot digging & plumbers
     2. 1/2' polyethelene strung on lower wire; wired every 6' sung to hold, but loose to slip when contracting with cold weather.  Roll spool down aisle -
         390' rows - 400' coils or spools - One hour per row to wire.
B.  Irrigation Emitters.
     1. Punch and string "spaghetti" - 100 emitters per hour
     2. Seat emitters into punched hole so that emitter does not press out with water and air pressure.
The trickle irrigation system was installed after erection of the trellis in April, 1976.  Wayne Keese, Texas A&M Extension, assisted in planning.  The main line of 1-1/2" PVC was trenched at 30-inches below the surface.  The vineyard was laid out in three blocks, each block with its own manual control and pressure gauge.  PVC rises of 1/2" emerge at the end of each trellis row.  These risers originate from the sub-mains.  One-half inch polyethelene was coupled to the PVC and suspended down the trellis on the lower wire.  The polyethelene pipe was secured to the trellis wire with 18-guage wire at three or four foot intervals.  Immediately out of the well.  Although the system was only required twice during the summer, it operated satisfactorily.

IV. Planting
Fifteen French-American hybrids, eight Vinifera, and one rootstock was planted in the spring of 1976.  It is planned that one additional hybrid row and one more rootstock row will be planted in the spring of 1977.  Selections were made based on experience from various parts of the State and literature from without.  Not only was vegetative vigor and hardiness considered but also fruiting character was taken into consideration.  That is, time of the season that fruit ripens, adaptability to making quality wine, and looseness of the bunches.  The later could be important since we are subject to summer rains and therefore bunch maladies, One hybrid table grape was planted.

The Vinifera were planted on their own roots as well as six varieties on Harmony rootstock and several on Dodridge.  I had a number of failures with these grafted plants and will make replacements next year.  About sixty of the Harmony grafted plants were set into my Dallas vineyard for rooting in the Spring of 1975.  thrived during that season, and then were transferred to the larger vineyard, in the Spring 1976.

A grape Agriform tablet was placed with each planting

A milk carton was placed around each plant to deter rabbits.

Varieties Planted:

French- American Hybrids Vinifera
Villard Blanc Cabernet Savignon
Landel II (SV-12375) Tina Maderia
Chamoursin (JS 26205) Emerald Reislin
Chalois (S-10876) Ruby Cabernet
Seyval (SV-5276) Chardonnay
Verdelet (S- 9110) Sauvignon Blanc
Bellandaise (S-14596) Johannisberg Reisling
Chancellor (S-7075) Merlot
Burgunder (S-13666) Pinot Noir
Landal I (Landot 244) French Columbard
Vignoles (Ravat 51) American Hybrids
Gewurz (Burdin 5201) Lakemont Seedless
Foch Lenoir

V. Vineyard Care During First Summer
Due to wetness, vineyard maintenance was difficult until mid-summer.  At that time we commensed mowing the aisles and later cultivating the plant row with a Green hoe.

The first spraying was after July 4th.  Prior to that copious predator beetles kept aphids under control. We again sprayed with Sevin and Renlate in early August and finally in late August.  Some mildew was noticed in the early part of the summer, but no black rot or severe insect damage occurred.  We attribute some of this success to excellent air drainage and circulation.
The plants were trained with one shoot up in the "train stake" with Ag-Ties.  We attempted to keep each trunk as straight as possible.  The bud in the leaf axil was removed as each developed.  Very few laterals over 2-inches had to be removed since this debudding task was done every five to seven days.  The buds were not taken as the plant progressed to within six inches of the middle wire.  These laterals, on the most vigorous varieties, were allowed to trained to run the wire.

VI.  Progress to Date and Future Plans
It is premature to evaluate the varieties but most are showing great promise.  We have had an almost ideal initial growing year.  Most plants are up to the top wire and many are establishing a canopy on the wires.  At this point we see no variety that should be washed out.  Villard Blanc and Landal II are not showing as great a vigor as indicated in other literature.

We will train, depending on the variety, with two canes, or on some of the more vigorous varieties, with a four cane Kniffin.  All blooms will be removed the second year.

No other plants other than the previous ones indicated to be set out next Spring will be added until we prove these varieties.

We are search for the right grass for permanent cover as we feel sheet erosion could be a serious problem.

Robert Oberhellmann
September 6, 1976

Making Fine Wine - article written by Art Kowert - Fredericksburg Standard 1983
Bob, Evelyn Oberhelman Working Toward Quality Product at Gillespie County Vineyard, Winery

Two hundred person on an opening day tour of the Texas Grape Day Conference Thursday afternoon visited the Oberhelman Vineyard and Winery, located just north of the old community of Eckert, off State Highway 16.

What they saw was a model small vineyard and winery operation still in the building phase but nearing its final stages of development. 
Located on what are old field and pasture lands formerly owned by Lottie Thomas, the operation consists of 21 acres of growing and producing vineyards, plus 30 more acres ready to be planted; an original structure that includes a small apartment, testing equipment to experiment with a wide variety of grapes and a small winery, as well as a large new winery building.

Bob Oberhelman, assisted by his wife Evelyn, spoke and directed a tour of the vineyards and winery.  Oberhelman, a Dallas food broker, told how he and his wife had purchased the property in 1973.

After exhaustive study, he said, which included the possibility of producing various types of fruit, they settled on establishing the vineyard and winery.

"Actually," he said, "we planted the first grape vines here in 1976 when we started with 28 different varieties in an effort to determine which might do best in this soil and under these climatic conditions.  Today, we have reduced the number of varieties to eight."

Speaking first in an area in front of the buildings where he gave an overall picture of his operation, Oberhelman then took the group on a tour of the winery building.

The structure contains a vat room in which there are four stainless steel fermenting tanks, each of 1,900 gallon capacity.  Four more of the same type fermenting tanks, along with several smaller ones are to be installed.  When all have been placed, the winery will have a fermenting capacity of 20,000 gallons.

The same structure also contains an area that will become a bottling room, a storage room, plus several chilling and cooling rooms.  One of these will keep the wine at a temperature of 75 degrees and another at 55 degrees, the same as that found in wine cellars in Europe. 

A reception room, that will become a wine-tasting room will also be a part of this structure. Oberhelman has installed a solar system for the heating of water to be used in the bottle-sanitizing operation of the winery.

A large page area which will later be screened and landscaped so groups can gather has been build between the original structure and the winery. 

Oberhelmann estimates that the winery installation is now seventy percent complete.  Currently the winery is in the process of be bonding, and until it is, no wine wine may be sold.  Oberhelman estimates it will probably be 1984 before wine can be sold on a commercial basis.  It will be sold under the brand name of Oberhelman.

Following the tour of the winery, the tour group moved to the vineyards, where he explained this phase of his operation. Standing among the rows of high trellis grape arbors, he told the tour group he elected to plant his grapes in this manner because of the ease of gathering the crop and to provide for an easier method of caring for his vineyard.  He also employs a catch wire system in his vineyards and uses the trickle system of irrigation.  The catch wire system allows him to move the wires up as the vines grow.  Grapes are being produced in the vineyard that will enable the winery to produce both white and red wines.  Oberhelman said that harvesting the grape crop is done by hand mostly between mid-July and mid-August at a time when other crops are nearing an end. 

"When we are in full production" he said, "we will probably use high school and college student for this purpose" 
The latest in grape pressing equipment will be used in the processing of grapes for the fermenting tanks.  The major pieces of this equipment have just arrived at his place from Germany where they were manufactured.  Oberhelman uses water from three wells on his place for irrigation purposes, saying they were wells ranging in capacity from 28, to 40 to 90 gallons per minute.  He attributes much of the success of his vineyard operation to his two employees, Vernon Gold, his winery manager, and Dwayne Beyer, his equipment manager.
Oberhelman saids he sees a bright future for vineyard and winery operations in the state and foresees the development of small wineries each bottling and selling their own brands, rather than selling their grapes to a conglomerate that bottles its own brand.

In fact, much of the background for Oberhelman's knowledge of the vineyard and winery operation was gained in Germany where he and his wife have visited extensively and where he has attended numerous seminars and training sessions related to wine-making.  He also attributed much of the success of the grape and wine industry in Texas to the study and research conducted by universities in the state.


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