Chris Grider MFA’12, co-owner of Kissing Tree Vineyards
High school freshman Chris Grider MFA'12 climbed an old hackberry tree with his classmate Crystal, on her family’s land. That is where the two shared their first kiss — a moment that inspired a dream.
Now several years, children and college degrees later, the couple founded Kissing Tree Vineyards, just steps away from the same old tree.
“My wife and I always had a dream to retire and start a winery out in Central Texas, and we decided, ‘Why wait? Let’s do it now,’” Grider said.
At the time, in 2014, the ATEC alumnus was teaching middle school art. But the idea of having a vineyard and starting a winery kept coming back.
“It was definitely intimidating,” he said on branching out and quitting his day job.
“Just like anything, it’s a risk. It’s a big leap.”
For months, the Griders did their homework on vineyard preparation, irrigation, planting, growth and production. Armed with their newfound knowledge, they selected a site for their vineyard and began the work of reducing the risk of harmful plant diseases. They also put up fences to keep out animals, especially deer, who can eat up to six pounds of grapes in a night.
Grider noted he also was sure to select a heat-tolerant root stock that could brave the Texas summers.
And when all was done, they planted.
Before long, the couple was harvesting their own wine and selling it at local farmers markets. From there, they repurposed an old bank in nearby Eddy, Texas, to be used as a tasting room.
Grider said the venue, built in 1901, gives patrons that “old western feel” — particularly with the vault with its working door.
The Griders use the vault as a wine cellar.
Growth and Expansion
Grider said his education helped him integrate wine and art together into a cohesive project.
In addition to featuring local bands every Saturday night at the old bank, the couple also use the walls of the venue as an art gallery, showcasing the work of Texas artists. On Sundays, Grider puts on his chef hat and whips up for patrons a gourmet brunch served with sparkling wines. Menu items include chicken florentine waffles, with parmesan baked into the dough, balanced by sweeter options like the s’mores waffles that include marshmallow and graham crackers baked into the dough and topped off with chocolate sauce.
“I really used the ATEC program’s interdisciplinary approach to things,” Grider said. “I’m doing art and wine – putting these two things together.”
In fall of 2016, the Griders collaborated with Haley at III Forks to put together a special UT Dallas homecoming wine tasting event, featuring selections from the steakhouse and Kissing Tree Vineyards. As a result of this collaboration, Haley asked Grider if he’d be interested in the restaurant market. And he was.
“The event spurred me to get into restaurants,” Grider said, noting that Kissing Tree wine is now available in the III Forks lineup.
“It gave me a push. It was a fateful night. And we’re now in restaurants all over Central Texas.”
Grider said he was grateful for that UT Dallas connection, adding that growing the business had been an interesting venture.
“There’s no manual with chapters like ‘how to talk to distributing representatives,’” he said.
“You just have to jump in there and feel it out. It’s part of your identity, as much as it is your livelihood.”
Kissing Tree Vineyard's tasting room is located in an early 20th-century building that has an Old West ambience.
Things seem to be working out, though. Grider said they’re in the process of expanding to a larger 4,000 square-foot production facility, with a new tasting room overlooking the vineyards.
“She wants it to have windows,” he said, noting his wife’s wishes. “The land is wild, there’s a 60-70 acre wild forest with coyotes, wildcats and deer, and a creek that runs through it feeding into the Brazos River.”
Patrons will be able to see “half a mile straight back into the country,” Grider said. “There’s a farmed field on the back of our land, and a farmed field in the front. Our new building is going to be on the six-acre slope in between, where our vineyards are. It’s going to be beautiful.”