Story, photos and recipes by Cynthia Nobles
For a bit of Napa Valley right here in Louisiana, jump in your car and visit the tasting room, winery, and vineyards at Landry Vineyards in West Monroe.
Jeff and Libby Landry have been growing wine grapes for 22 years. Throughout that time, Jeff has not only learned how to coax vines to produce in Louisiana’s challenging climate, but he’s also mastered the winemaking ropes. The result of his labor is an impressive portfolio of 24 dry and semi-sweet whites and reds, and a few ports. Some red wines, such as an elegant Cabernet Franc and a fruity Petite Sirah, are French oak-finished and full-bodied, and stand up to comparables costing twice the price.
The Landrys started their business slowly. In 1999, they bought 2 acres of farmland in the southeast Louisiana community of Folsom. “We wanted our 4 sons to gain an exposure to agriculture,” Jeff said.
“I had a vision for growing a small-acreage commodity. And I wanted to refine a product from it to sell directly to customers.” So, he and Libby began by growing a disease-resistant, French-American hybrid white wine grape, Blanc Du Bois, that they planned to sell to nearby Pontchartrain Vineyards.
The couple quickly learned that growing grapes is expensive. “It costs $20,000 in labor and materials to get 1 acre in production,” Jeff says. Each growing season is called a “leaf,” and it’s not until the “third leaf” that vines produce a successful harvest. “When we finally had grapes,” Jeff said of the first 10 marketable tons they had proudly raised, “Pontchartrain didn’t buy them. With all those grapes on our hands, we decided to make our own wines.”
Libby scrambled to find winemaking equipment, and she came up with a crusher destemmer, a press, and an old dairy tank they used for fermentation. From their barn they made their first batch in 2001, and they were licensed as a Louisiana Native Winery in 2002. In those early days, they paid Amato’s Winery in Independence one dollar per bottle for processing. They sold their first 6,000-bottle batch of Blanc Du Blanc at Farmers Markets.
Then came Hurricane Katrina, which may have been a blessing in disguise. In the storm’s chaotic aftermath, Jeff and Libby moved their family to where his brother was living, just south of West Monroe, and where rolling hills and decreased precipitation are more favorable for a successful vineyard. “The weather up here is great for growing grapes,” said Jeff. “And it hardly ever gets too cold. Sometimes when big fronts come through, they seem to go all around us.”
He points out that West Monroe’s soil, too, is ideal. “It’s all sandy loam. Between the soil and the hills, we don’t have a problem with drainage.”
Although Landry Vineyards’ grapes are fungus resistant, Jeff does have a spray program. Naturally, grapes are irresistible to predators, especially raccoons, birds, and squirrels. Netting is a good pest deterrent on slow-growing red grapes. But white grape canes eventually grow through netting. “For white grapes,” says Jeff, “we use recorded sounds. That does a good job of scaring away birds.”
Depending on grape variety, harvest begins in late July and ends at the end of September. Until five years ago, grapes were cut by hand. Now the Landrys harvest using a machine that uses fans to automatically take out bad fruit. “Since we started harvesting mechanically,” Jeff says, “we’re seeing a big improvement in quality.”
Nowadays, the Landrys grow grapes on 16 acres of their manicured 50-acre site. They produce 50-70 tons of grapes per year, including Blanc Du Bois, the black-skinned Lenoir/Black Spanish, and Crimson Cabernet, which produces full-bodied wines. Since so many premium wine grapes don’t grow well in Louisiana, they purchase grape juice from California for most of their hand-crafted, barrel aged red wines.
Landry Vineyards produces 200,000 bottles of wine a year, and they are aged and bottled on site. In addition to their premium oak-aged line of reds, a few labels include a light, semi-dry Rosé, a semi-sweet Blackberry Merlot, a caramel-woodsy dessert wine called Louisiana Heat, and their popular smooth and fruity white called Blanc Du Bois Dry.
You can find the Landrys’ wines at over 640 Louisiana locations. If you visit Landry Vineyards, expect to find a modern winery with a first-rate tasting room that’s open Monday-Saturday. You can schedule Saturday tours of the vineyard, cellar, winery, crush pad, and bottling facility. Several cottages and camper sites are available for rent. The Landrys also host a wildly popular spring and fall series of outdoor music concerts.
Address: 5699 New Natchitoches, Road, West Monroe, Louisiana, 71292. You can contact them through their website at landryvineyards.com, or call at 318-557-9050.
Blanc Du Bois BBQ Shrimp and Cauliflower
Makes 4 servings (Adapted from a recipe by Libby Landry of Landry Vineyards)
This recipe calls for a cup of Landry Vineyards’ Blanc Du Bois dry white wine. The term blanc du bois in French means ‘white of the wood,’ which nicely describes this wine’s light and smooth profile — fruit and honeysuckle forward, with a hint of wood. It’s perfect with seafood dishes, so be sure to serve the rest of the bottle with your meal.
1 stick butter
1 tablespoon chopped fresh garlic
1 large onion, chopped or sliced
1 large bell pepper, sliced
1 large head cauliflower, broken into bite-sized pieces
3 large banana peppers, sliced
3 bay leaves
1 cup Landry Vineyards Blanc Du Bois dry white wine
1 cup of your favorite barbecue sauce
½ cup bottled Italian salad dressing
1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
Juice of 1 lemon
½ teaspoon dried oregano, or 1 teaspoon fresh
¼ teaspoon dried thyme, or ½ teaspoon fresh
Creole seasoning, to taste
1½ pounds large shrimp, peeled and deveined
For serving: French bread or rice
1. In a Dutch oven, melt the butter over medium-high, then sauté the garlic 1 minute. Add onion and sauté 1 minute. Stir in bell pepper and sauté until garlic is caramelized, until the edges have a golden color, about 2-3 more minutes.
2. Stir in cauliflower, banana peppers, and bay leaves. Add Blanc Du Bois wine, barbecue sauce, Italian dressing, Worcestershire sauce, lemon juice, oregano, thyme and Creole seasoning. Stir well and cook until cauliflower is just tender, 3-5 minutes.
3. Add shrimp and cook until they are curled and pink, 2-3 minutes. Serve in bowls with French bread or hot cooked rice.
Mushroom and Wine Smothered Pork Chops
Makes 4 servings (Adapted from a recipe by Libby Landry of Landry Vineyards)
Libby says that this dish tastes even better the next day, after the flavors have soaked thoroughly into the meat.
4 (¾ to 1-inch-thick) bone-in pork chops (can substitute chicken breasts)
Salt and black pepper, to taste
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoon butter
2 tablespoons chopped garlic
1 large onion, chopped
1 (4-ounce) can mushrooms, drained, or ½ cup sliced fresh
1 cup Landry Vineyards Blanc du Bois white wine
1 (10.5-ounce) can cream of mushroom soup
1 cup strips of red, green, or yellow bell pepper (optional)
¼ cup chopped parsley
¼ cup chopped green onions
For serving: rice, pasta, or steamed vegetables
1. Blot the pork chops dry with paper towels and season with salt and pepper. Set aside. Place a large skillet or Dutch oven over medium-high and heat the olive oil. Brown both sides of the pork chops well. Transfer the pork chops to a platter and cover with foil. Save the drippings in the pot.
2. Lower the heat to medium and melt the butter in the pan drippings. Lightly brown the garlic, about 1 minute. Add the onion and cook until soft, about 6 minutes. Stir in the mushrooms. Add the white wine, bring the mixture to a boil, and simmer 1 minute. Add mushroom soup, optional bell pepper, and the parsley, green onions, and black pepper to taste. Stirring constantly, bring to a boil, then remove from heat.
3. Place the browned pork chops and any accumulated juices back into the skillet with the sauce. Cook over low heat, covered, until pork is completely cooked through, about 20 minutes. Serve warm with rice, pasta, or steamed vegetables.
Italian Wine Cookies
Makes 4 dozen
These crisp, rustic cookies are perfect with a glass of port or cup of coffee. If you’re not a fan of anise, leave it out.
1 cup Landry Vineyards Crimson Cabernet or Bayoutage Red Blend Wine
¾ cup canola oil
1 tablespoon or so of anise seed, ground or finely crushed in a Ziploc bag, optional
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 teaspoon grated lemon rind
4 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup sugar, plus more for sprinkling
1 tablespoon baking powder
1 teaspoon cinnamon
½ teaspoon iodized salt
1 large egg, beaten with 1 tablespoon water
1. Preheat oven to 350°F. Line a cookie sheet with parchment paper. In a small bowl, mix together the wine, oil, as much anise as you like, vanilla, and lemon rind.
2. In a large mixing bowl, stir together the flour, 1 cup sugar, baking powder, cinnamon, and salt. Pour the wine mixture into the flour mixture and stir with a spoon until well combined.
3. For each cookie, pinch off 1 tablespoon dough and roll pieces into 5-inch logs. Pinch the ends together to form a circle. Place cookies 1 inch apart on prepared cookie sheet. Brush tops with egg wash and sprinkle with sugar. Bake until brown on the bottom and slightly hard on top, 25-30 minutes. Cool a few minutes on the cookie sheet, then transfer to a rack to cool completely.
Blueberry and Wine Sorbet
Makes 1 quart
Wine not only adds flavor, but it acts like antifreeze and keeps sorbet from freezing rock solid.
½ cup sugar
½ cup water
2 pints fresh blueberries
2 tablespoons freshly squeezed and strained lemon juice
¾ cup chilled Landry Vineyards Sweet Red or Blueberry Merlot Semi-Sweet wine
1. In a saucepan, bring sugar and water to a boil and stir until sugar is dissolved. Remove from heat and cool a few minutes.
2. Place sugar mixture into a blender. Add blueberries to the blender and puree. Strain, pressing hard on the solids, and discard blueberry skins. Stir in lemon juice and chilled wine and chill until cold.
3. Process blueberry mixture in an ice cream freezer according to manufacturer’s directions. Store covered in the freezer at least 8 hours before serving.
Cynthia LeJeune Nobles
Cynthia Nobles is the cookbook editor for LSU Press and the author/co-author of several historical cookbooks, including A Confederacy of Dunces Cookbook, The Delta Queen Cookbook, and The Fonville Winans Cookbook.