When I sat down to talk to Kert Platner of Times Ten Cellars
to get his perspective on ten years of wine making in Lakewood, I expected a story of grapes, fermentation, blending, and chemistry. Instead, I learned about a series of happy accidents.
Times Ten was laidback and inviting on an early Tuesday evening, with Platner stopping by regulars to chit-chat as we wound our way to a more secluded corner for a deeper conversation. In the tasting room/lounge, the high ceilings, finished concrete floors, and tasteful abstract paintings all contributed to a comfortable, inviting space. I spotted a romantic couple enjoying some red wine (maybe the Sangiovese, my current favorite) and a mom sharing a sip of Chardonnay with her daughter. Platner pointed out that the cellar consciously strives to be a gentler, quieter neighborhood bar—just the way I like it.
Back in 1997, Platner and business partner Rob Wilson toasted the launch of their specialty pharmaceutical business with a bottle of wine. Then, when they sold the operation for a healthy profit in 2004, they toasted it again, but this time with a vintage that cost ten times as much as the original bottle. And thus, “Times Ten” was born, and together with Chris Lawler, Platner and Wilson made a bold move into the urban wine-making business.
Being entrepreneurs and practical adventurers, Platner said the partners understood what they were getting into.
“We knew all about the old adage, ‘How do you make a small fortune in the wine business? You start with a large one,’” said Platner. “We wanted to create a place to hang out with friends and family and an opportunity to work where we lived. So, we started the vineyard down in Alpine, and began production here, first with grapes imported from California, and then later, with grapes from our own vineyard.”
“Here” refers to the aforementioned space on Prospect Avenue just off Abrams, which began as a roughshod production facility in a former 1945 Lakewood post office building but now serves primarily as a stylish neighborhood watering hole and special event venue. Most of the actual winemaking takes place in the Fort Worth facility.
Platner and Wilson brought the business sense to the Times Ten equation, but it was neighbor Lawler who brought the alchemy. Lawler had been making wine in his garage for years, and the three founding friends set out to make approachable, affordable wine that was free of snobbery and intimidation. Lawler has since moved on, with Dustin Walker taking over as head winemaker over in Fort Worth.
They sowed their vines in 2004 with the help of 100 volunteers who made their way to Alpine, Texas to rough it in the town’s motor lodges by night and plant grapes by day, mostly at their own expense except for some catered lunches. People talk about the experience to this day, and when it came time to pick the grapes three years later, 40 of those 100 volunteers turned back up. It became a yearly ritual, with people forgoing cash compensation for the experience of being a part of something Platner refers to as “magical.”
When they opened the doors to the tasting room on August 2, 2005, the winery offered three wines: Cabernet Sauvignon, Sauvignon Blanc, and a Rosé. One of their first customers was Lakewood resident George Wilson, who had been watching their progress. He was there when the doors opened at 10:55 AM and purchased the first bottle of wine, which he still has in his cellar today.
Times Ten bottled about 4,000 cases that first year, and now they produce and bottle more than 12,000 cases in a year. When they first started up, the only urban winery of note in Dallas was Inwood Estates
, which continues to thrive in North Dallas. Since then, Dallas has seen a surge of other city winemakers including Fuqua
, Two Corks and a Bottle
, and others. We gossiped a bit about what’s taking place with various Dallas wineries—I made a mental note to follow up and find out more about what’s going on with them.
Another thing that has changed in the Lakewood landscape is the cost of real estate. When Times Ten opened its doors in 2005, the Prospect Avenue location was comparatively cheap. Now that the area is booming, Platner says small family businesses are being driven out by escalating rents. Fortunately, Times Ten owns its building and has no plans to relocate.
“It’s not just about making wine,” said Platner, “It’s about finding people and creating experiences.”
Indeed, for me, the experience of sitting down to wine, cheese, and conversation at Times Ten with Platner made the long battle with rush hour traffic well worth the effort. To borrow a word, it was “magical.”