Wiley Boenhke: Winemaker
Wiley Boehnke’s winemaking skills aren’t a generational legacy passed from Boehnke to Boehnke. In fact, neither Wiley nor his wife Angeline, who make their home in Flatonia, drink wine. Wiley knows how to make wine because he likes to “know how to do stuff” and an odd job gave him the opportunity to learn.
Wiley: No, I didn’t learn to make wine from my grandfather; I learned to make it from Charlie Gespar back when I was working at sale barns: Monday was here [in Flatonia]; Tuesday was Industry; Wednesday was Halletsville; Thursday was Columbus; and Friday was La Grange.
Charlie just hung around the sale barns, especially La Grange. I never knew exactly what he did for a job, but one Friday he said, “Wiley, can you come help me do something after the sale?”
Turns out, he had been making wine in big two- and three-gallon jugs. He needed help lifting the crocks, straining the wine and pouring it into smaller containers.
He made it the old way. Wild mashed grapes, sugar, crocks and a lot of time. It didn’t seem too hard.
I just started collecting containers, you know apple juice jugs and whatever else I could find, and gave it a try. It worked good enough.
Then somebody told me that you could use a rubber glove to kind of gauge when the wine is ready. It worked better.
I don’t really know whether it tasted good or not. I don’t drink it, but other people seem to like it. When Tracey was little, she’d watch me pour the wine from the big jugs to the small ones. I used a funnel that I laid in a saucer to keep from making a mess. A little bit of wine would puddle in the saucer. The wine puddle always disappeared.
I snuck a peek one time to figure out what was going on. Every time, I turned my back, Tracey would sip from the saucer. It explained why she always took a nap in my recliner when I was working with the wine.
I made wine to give it away. In the beginning, I put it in bottles where you could tell it was wine. Then, one time I was taking my wine in an ice chest to a public event where I was working. The local law asked, “Wiley, what you got in your cooler?”
I told them, ‘Wine for my friends.’ They confiscated it and dumped it right out on the ground in front of me. It made me mad. So I started pouring it into old Dr Pepper and water bottles.
The next time and the law asked me about my cooler, I said, “It’s soda water. You want some?” They weren’t the least bit interested. But the young guys who worked with me were. It’s amazing what they’d do for a little wine. You can call it fair trade or blackmail, but it saved me a lot of steps.
I quit making wine a while back, but I dug around under the sink and found this for you. I’m not sure how long it has been there.
[At this point, he handed me an eight-ounce Hill Country Fare Texas Spring Water bottle filled with a deep amber liquid. A thin layer of dark sediment had settled along the bottom. It appeared to be more volatile than water.]
Don’t shake it. And don’t open it in here. You’re not very big. If you decide to drink some, mix it with Sprite—a helluva’ lot of Sprite—and go find some place to lie down.
Making Wine recipe by Wiley Boehnke
2 cups mustang grapes, mashed 4 cups sugar distilled water
Place grapes into jug. Dissolve sugar in a small amount of the water. Pour this into the jug, then fill with water to the neck of the jug.
Place a rubber glove over the opening and place jug onto a plate or pan because some of the juice will overflow from the jug. Glove will expand with gas. When fermentation is finished, the glove will go flat. Wine is ready to drink.
article by Lorie A. Woodward
photos by Mendoza