Annual Association Award Winners

The Texas Wine and Grape Growers Association is proud to honor outstanding contributions to the Texas wine industry through its Annual Association Awards. Award recipients are honored each year at the TWGGA Annual Conference & Trade Show.

Meet the 2022 Annual Association Award Winners:

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Past Award Winners

Neal Newsom, Newsom Vineyards

T. V. Munson Award Recipient

Named after Thomas Volney Munson of Denison, this award recognizes exemplary contributions to Texas grape growing.

The Newsom family had been cotton farmers for more than 100 years in the Lubbock area. Worried about water shortages in West Texas, Neal Newsom decided that it was time for a change. Interested in alternative crops and after researching peanuts, alfalfa, pumpkins, and others, he decided on wine grapes. It was a huge gamble, as large-scale planting of grapes was not common in the area. So began his adventure in wine grape growing on the Texas High Plains. In 1989, 3 years after he planted, the first crop was harvested and fit in the trunk of his car. He drove the grapes to a winery in Garden City and received his first check for about $500. Today, Newsom Vineyards is one of the largest producers of wine grapes in the High Plains area. The vineyards produce tons annually and the highly sought-after grapes are sold to wineries all over the state.

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.

Vijay Reddy, Reddy Vineyards

John E. Crosby, Jr. Award Recipient

This award recognizes lifetime achievement in the Texas wine and grape industry.

Vijay Reddy has cultivated the serene lands of West Texas for 4 decades. With his vision of projecting Texas into the world of fine wine, the acclaimed viticulturist founded Reddy Vineyards in 1997. His vast expertise in both soil chemistry and farming led to a gold medal-winning Cabernet Sauvignon with his first planting. His passion for the vineyard has determined a lifetime pursuit of perfecting and cultivating wine grapes. From produce and grain in the lush terrain of South India to cotton and peanuts in the High Plains of West Texas, Dr. Reddy’s roots in farming lie deep within the agricultural community. A fifth-generation farmer, Dr. Reddy came to the U.S. in 1971 to pursue a graduate degree in soil and plant science at Kansas State University and obtained a doctorate in 1975 at Colorado State University. Along with his wife Subada, Dr. Reddy established and ran a large soil & plant consulting laboratory while continuing to farm cotton and peanuts. Aside from farming, Vijay & Subada enjoy their four children and many grandchildren. They are also avid cooks, experimenting with cuisine from all across the USA and world. In 1997, after having discovered the premium quality of grapes from the Texas High Plains, Reddy planted the family’s first grape vines. Reddy Vineyards is now comprised of a constantly expanding 400+ acres planted with 38 different varietals, making it one of the largest and most diverse vineyards in Texas.

Shelly Wilfong, This Is Texas Wine Podcast

Wine Press Award Recipient

Given to the wine, food, travel and agriculture writers for outstanding coverage of the Texas wine industry. This category includes social media, blogs, and state commissions who promote the industry.

Shelly Wilfong is a Dallas wine enthusiast and a student of the grape. She earned the Certified Specialist of Wine certificate through the Society of Wine Educators in 2016, the Wine and Spirit Education Trust (WSET) Level 2 Award with distinction in 2017, and the WSET Level 3 Award with merit in 2018. She joined the Texas Wine Lover team in 2017. From trellising techniques to labeling laws, Shelly is keenly interested in all aspects of wine production, distribution, and marketing. She appreciates small businesses and handcrafted wines. Shelly wants to make wine education more fun and believes that knowing the stories and people behind the wines makes them more compelling. This goal led to the creation of a new business, Toast Wine Talk, through which Shelly leads wine education programs. Her previous professional experience was in development and healthcare consulting. Shelly grew up in Waco, went to college in Fort Worth (Go Frogs!), and now lives in Dallas with her husband and two daughters. Her other interests include keeping backyard chickens, traveling to grape growing regions, and volunteering in Costa Rica and at a local elementary school. Her desert island wine is a dry rosé.

General Bentley Nettles, Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission

Frank Madla Award Recipient

For diligent and altruistic commitment to furthering the Texas Wine and Grape Industry through the legislature and government agencies.

Bentley Nettles has dedicated his life to public service. While attending Texas A&M University and earning a bachelor’s degree in business management in 1985, he was commissioned as a second lieutenant in the United States Army and made platoon leader. He later became a company commander in the Army, and deployed to multiple combat theaters around the world, including Bosnia, Afghanistan, and Iraq. He has received several military decorations for his service, including the Legion of Merit, the Bronze Star Medal, and the Purple Heart. General Nettles earned his law degree from the South Texas College of Law in 1987 and put it to use by serving as General Counsel for the Army Element Joint Force Headquarters in Austin, and then operating his own law firm in Bryan, Texas upon leaving active duty in 2015. His life as a private attorney was short lived as he was quickly called back to public service in 2017 to lead the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission as Executive Director.

Maureen Qualia, Texas Tech University

Bunny Becker Women in Wine Award Recipient

This award recognizes a woman in the wine industry who is dedicated to quality in all that she does, shows tenacity when facing even the most daunting of challenges, and models grace and courtesy while making her contribution to the Texas wine and grape industry. 

Maureen was raised amongst the vines and barrels of Texas’s first winery of the modern era—Val Verde Winery in Del Rio. Her great-great-grandfather founded Val Verde Winery in 1883. It is the oldest continuously operating winery in Texas and is still owned and managed by the Qualia family. Growing up in the family business instilled a love for grapes and winemaking in Maureen that ultimately became her profession. She received a bachelor’s degree in nutrition from the University of Texas at Austin and a master’s degree in enology from California State University, Fresno. Maureen spent 8 years studying and working in the California wine industry at places such as Silver Oak Cellars in Napa Valley, Owl Ridge Wine Services in Sebastopol, Trione Vineyards, and Winery in the Alexander Valley, and as the lead winemaker at J&J Cellars in Paso Robles. But the exciting rise of the Texas wine industry drew Maureen back in 2014.  She didn’t want to just be involved in the industry, she wanted to help it grow and evolve. Maureen became the Enology Instructor for Texas Tech at the Hill Country University Center in Fredericksburg. She developed the Texas Wine Making Certificate continuing education program, which has served as core training for wine industry entrepreneurs, winemakers, and cellar workers. Maureen also teaches the Enology classes for Texas Tech’s undergraduate program in Viticulture & Enology.

Today, more than 100 of Maureen’s former students from both programs can be found in the Texas wine industry, many as owners or in management positions.  Maureen cares deeply about her students, past and present, and always leaves her door open to them for guidance, consultation and good conversation. Maureen continues to advance her own education and expertise; she is currently pursuing a PhD at Texas Tech. Her dissertation research addresses one of the challenges of Texas’s hot climate—production and accumulation of phenolic compounds. Maureen is investigating the regulation of phenolic biosynthetic pathways with a goal of identifying tools to influence phenolic production.