Interview with Proprietor/Winemaker, Jesse G. Villarreal
Whisper Path Cellars proves that there’s always a new way to get started in the wine business. Jesse G. Villarreal, a full-time electrical contractor, was introduced into winemaking 20 years ago from a simple at-home wine kit, but the passion flourished into an unexpected winemaking business operated from his own hometown in San Antonio, Texas.
When his brother re-gifted him a wine kit due to his love for drinking wine, Villarreal was inspired to make wine the way true winemakers did. After experimenting with a few wine kits, Villarreal started a tradition of taking his kids to harvest about 500 pounds of grapes from small vineyards all over the hill country for their family wines. As his winemaking skills increased, a friend suggested he contact the Central Texas Wine Guild in Austin in order to join in their annual grape purchase of California grapes. There he found a vibrant community of Texas winemakers who shared his passion for making wine.
Finally, after gathering support from the wine community, his wife, and his six children, Whisper Path Cellars was officially established in 2017. And, just like the simple start of his winemaking journey, he also stuck to a simple approach to naming his winery after the street that started it all.
“They tell you that when you have a winery with an interesting name, you need to come up with a really interesting story,” Villarreal started to explain. But after he brainstormed a few different stories, he stuck with the truth. “So, put quite simply, when I started making wine, I made it in the garage at my home on the street that I live on called Whisper Path. So that’s the start of it, got into winemaking because I just love making wine,” said Villarreal.
Villarreal is fully invested in the making of the wine, but leaves the grape growing to the winegrowers. Therefore, he doesn’t grow the grapes, but he does craftily pick his growing partners.
Villarreal discussed his unique approach by saying, “A lot of wineries start from vines. So they’ll start with planting a vineyard and then a few years later decide to get into winemaking. We had the opposite approach. I wanted to make wine, but I didn’t necessarily want to grow grapes. I wanted to leave that to the experts.
Each season, Villarreal and his team visit vineyards that he’s developed relationships with, as well as some new ones from across the state, to secure the grapes they want for their wines, most of which as Villarreal says come from the Texas High Plains because “that’s where a large portion of the state’s grapes are grown. And for good reason.”
One of the Whisper Path’s core values is making quality wine that they personally love to drink. After all, the easiest way to promote your favorite wine is enjoying being your own consumer!
When choosing which varietals to produce, Villarreal said, “It’s simple there as well. I make wine that I like to drink. And I feel like I couldn’t be a very good winemaker of a wine that I just don’t care for. If you get into it because you love it, then you’re going to use the grapes that you love to make wine that you love. And that’s my approach,” said Villarreal
Villarreal specifically loves the hands-on process during the harvest season. Similar to his other job in the electrical business, he finds pleasure in working with his hands to see successful results.
“When you end up with a bottle of wine after all the work that you put into it, and you see people enjoying it, that just gives me a great feeling. And that’s what winemaking is: It’s something that you make with your hands that brings joy to people. And it just does it for me,” said Villarreal.
Villarreal knows that the best way to get their wines into the hands of consumers is promoting their name around the Hill Country. Yet, without a tasting room, they mostly cater to small boutique tasting rooms and events. However, Amie Nemec, another friend within the Texas wine community, connected Whisper Path Cellars with Sommly as an additional avenue to drive awareness, and for a digital direct-to-consumer approach.
“Sommly seemed like an opportunity to get our wine in front of more people that would not normally be exposed to our wine and we think it’s an opportunity to market our wine in a different and successful way,” said Villarreal.
Between high quality artisan wine, and the remarkable growth in the Texas Wine Industry, Whisper Path Cellars is on path to grow far beyond its initial ambitions of a garage craft wine kit. Starting with 400 cases in 2017, to a projected 1200 cases for the end of 2022, they are focused on keeping up with the production demand, and are excited to see what comes next.
We invite you to try Whisper Path Cellars’ wines made from 100% Texas fruit by shopping from Jesse and team directly, on Sommly. Support local, artisanal, and dedicated winemakers that make the Texas wine community so special.
“We’re meeting new people every day in this business and find that so many of them have a genuine interest in our success. As the community grows, I just hope it stays such that people continue to help each other out for the sake of the Texas wine industry. We love what we’re doing, and we’re happy to be a part of it,” said Villarreal.