Larry and Jeanine Kuhlken, Kuhlken Vineyards
Louis F. Qualia Award Recipients
Honoring the founder of Val Verde Winery in Del Rio, this award recognizes a pioneering spirit in a Texas wine maker OR a grape grower.
Larry and Jeanine Kuhlken have always been pioneers. They first met working for NASA to help put a man on the moon during the late 60s, and both of them were computer programmers, a profession that was itself brand new at the time. Larry Kuhlken is originally from San Diego, where his family owns a meat packing plant, Central Meat, that has at this point been in the family for over 100 years. He attended Stanford University to study metallurgy (today usually known as material science engineering). While working in the nuclear energy sector after graduation, he became trained in computer programming, a skill that landed him a job at IBM, who transferred him to Houston to work as a contractor for NASA. Jeanine Kuhlken is a fifth-generation Texan who grew up in Dallas. She went to the University of Texas at Austin where she received dual degrees in mathematics and English. She was also hired by IBM and trained as a computer programmer.
Larry and Jeanine took advantage of IBMs generous policies for promotion, retraining, and relocation. This allowed them and their kids to live on both coasts and see much of the U.S. during summer road trips. This sense of adventure reached its zenith in the early 1990s when, after early retirement, Larry and Jeanine decided to bid adieu from urban America in favor of the Texas Hill Country in order to plant a vineyard. Their daughter, Julie, recounts that when her father visited her in the Bay Area after a trip to UC Davis and gleefully spread out geological maps and soil analyses on a table at Marie Calendar’s, she thought it an entirely crazy venture. But undertake it they did with the help of grape growing friends from Washington’s Red Mountain as well as Bob Oberhelman of Bell Mountain Vineyards. Don’t be fooled—this is not a tale of wine and roses. The original plantings in 1995 of Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Merlot did not all thrive; in particular, the whites were some of the saddest looking vines ever. Nevertheless, they learned to work the vines, and the Cabernet Sauvignon was still growing strong 19 years later. Kuhlken Vineyards was expanded in 2007 after the founding of Pedernales Cellars by their children, Julie and David, and now boasts Tempranillo, Mourvédre, Grenache, Touriga Nacional, Sangiovese, Petite Sirah, and soon Graciano.