An interview with vineyard manager: Sherah Mills
Sherah Mills shared her perspective on the family’s journey in wine. Today, the Mills family owns and operates Vintner’s Hideaway, a multi-label tasting room located in downtown Fredericksburg, as well as Rustic Spur Vineyards, an independent artisan wine brand. The family’s mission is simple yet lofty, to showcase the highest quality wine possible, produced with the best grapes in Texas.
Jim and Ranae first planted vines in 2013, during a time they affectionately describe as a midlife crisis, as the prospect of becoming empty-nesters loomed. They embarked on this journey into growing grapevines before they had even named the business that would eventually become Rustic Spur. They purchased some land in Stonewall that was formerly a peach orchard, and planted Tannat, Souzão and Sémillon varietals, initially with the intent to grow some of Texas’ finest fruit to supply to other winemakers.
It wasn’t long before Sherah, who had pursued plant and soil science education at Texas Tech, realized that she couldn’t get enough of the wine industry. And so grew the family’s ambition to produce wine from their vineyard. By the time Mills left Texas Tech, she had earned both a Bachelor’s and Master’s Degree from the University, with specialties in Viticulture and Enology. Mills’ education plays a big role in managing the family vineyard.
The original name of the Mills family wine business was J.R. Vineyards, named after Jim and Ranae, but it started causing confusion when they began collaborating with John Rivenburgh (also JR) via the Kerrville Hills Vineyards accelerator program. Needing a new name, the Mills tossed around a handful of new ideas. The perfect name and image became obvious when Sherah’s grandmother came upon a box of old spurs and a retired saddle in the attic.
The 85-year-old saddle, which had been passed down to Sherah, was owned by her great grandpa, “Pawpa Moyer” when he was an Eastern New Mexico ranch cowboy. And the sets of spurs belonged to Pawpa Moyer, ”Gramps“ and “Uncle Aubrey”. “I have been riding horses since I was five years old. There were three pairs of spurs in the box and three varieties of grapes we were growing at the estate. And we felt it was more than just a coincidence,” said Mills. These rustic relics serve as a reminder of the hard work, sweat and toil of a humble family trying to eke out a living from farming and ranching. They honor the memory of the rustic cowboys of yesterday that formed the genealogy of Rustic Spur, and honor the contributions of Jim and Ranae’s dads, grandpas, and uncles who have made farming a way of life in the High Plains of Texas.
As an outcome to this spurious event, the owners decided to name each of their estate wines after a family member, with a picture of their spurs on the label’s background.
“And the way that it fell into place, just reaffirmed that we made the right decision to grow and produce under our own family label. We did what we were supposed to do,” said Mills.
Today, Mills wears many hats as vineyard manager, marketer, and label designer. Perhaps most rewarding of all, she loves to incorporate her family’s history and tell the Rustic Spur brand’s story. According to Mills, her favorite story to share with guests is the development of the logo, labels, and brand for Rustic Spur estate wines.
Mills finds pleasure in being in the vineyard and designing the art behind each label, and plans to get more and more involved in the winemaking process each season.
With a goal to help guests experience the family wines produced by Rustic Spur, as well as other Texas winemakers, the Mills family opened Vintners Hideaway, a tasting room downtown Fredericksburg. Vintners Hideaway provides tourists and locals alike the opportunity to explore fine Texas wines in a ‘non-hurried atmosphere’. By selling wines produced by other wineries, they’re able to support the growing Texas wine industry and display the best of what Texas has to offer.“I think of it like a visual gallery that represents multiple artists. We all have something different to bring to the table. We all have a different story, and the whole gallery doesn’t necessarily need to be filled by a single artist. Expressing ourselves through wine,” Mills said, “like art, we all may have different preferences in wine, and consumers often appreciate variety.”
When asked about visitors who aren’t aware of Texas wine, Mills responded, “I always tell visitors, ‘if you don’t like it, that’s fine. But at least you had the open mindedness to try it. And that’s all I can ask for. Because at the end of the day, I’m not really there to change your opinion, I’m there to represent the winemakers as best I can.” Like visual art, everyone has different takeaways from their wine tasting and discovery experiences. Rustic Spur and Vintner’s Hideaway showcase the Texas wine experience, and help educate people about what Texas is capable of.
Rustic Spur’s Airbnb is another venue for guests to experience something authentic and unique. Located just outside of town, with a view of the river valley, they’ve created more than just a place to stay, but an individual and immersive experience to enjoy wine and solace near the vineyard.“We walk guests through the vineyard, the process, the chickens, and they also get to taste wine while they’re there. It’s a very one-on-one experience just for our Airbnb guests, and another thing that makes our family business special,” said Mills.
Whether you’re trying Rustic Spur wine from their tasting room, Airbnb, or ordering for delivery to your doorstep via Rustic Spur Vineyards’ page on Sommly, the Mills family always delivers a wonderful story and, of course, great Texas wine.
“I think all of that goes back to how you’re managing the vineyard: great wine starts on the vine. And that’s just kind of always been my mindset,” said Mills.