Good wine, good friends

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By Daniel Elizondo

Set back in the countryside of Sour Lake, a quaint winery with a wine tasting bar could be found complete with the ambience of Tony Bennett and Frank Sinatra playing in the background.

Port Arthur native Shawn Bruno is quite proud of his small metropolis found in Hardin County and he should be.

After a year of lobbying with the Texas Legislature, Bruno is happy to say the business he and his wife, Misha run, has become a jewel in  Texas by many wine lovers.

Bruno & George Winery in Sour Lake, has been in business for 15 years, and the popularity of its products are growing at a tremendous rate, thanks to the mind of Bruno.

“I didn't think it would bloom this fast,” Bruno said. “A lot of people just want a dry red or they want a dry white. My wines are for all the other people that don't want or need that. These berry wines have a charm of their own.”

Bruno came up with the idea to reproduce his family recipe of raisin wine from generations past.

However, he ran into red tape since the dried fruit wine could not be marketed since prohibition.

So, Bruno and his brother, Rocky, set out to lobby at the Capitol in Austin in the late 1990's in an attempt to change the laws.

After a year and a half, The Bruno Law went into effect in 2000 and in 2001, The Bruno & George Winery was officially open for business.

He took it even a step further and lobbied on the federal level in 2001 to have raisin wine marked above 14 percent alcohol by volume.

After it was set on the backburner because of 911, federal law makers asked to put it on the national register. In 2005, Bruno received a letter from the Division of the Treasurer that Bruno Law was in effect, and raisin wine was officially a dessert wine.

The winery became the 42nd winery in the State of Texas. Today, there are over 300 wineries as Bruno & George enters its 15th year in business.

Bruno perfected the raisin wine of his grandfather, Salvatore Bruno, by making it with Chooljian Brother's Raisins from California.

The “Other than Standard Raisin Wine” is his signature piece he created from the family recipe that has become his bestseller. Today, it remains an award winning wine.

Bruno found his niche in raisin wine, however, the winemaker took it further and began to create berry wines.

The sweet, goodness Bruno perfected can be found in five berry wines that include blackberry, blueberry, cranberry, raspberry, and strawberry.

But that still wasn't enough. He ventured further into fruit wines that includes peach, pear, and Italian red plum.

Bruno says his berry and fruit wines are not flavored wines, but rather wines made with real fruits and berry's fermented just like grapes.

His patience in perfecting his new creations allowed for the business to skyrocket to what it is today.

“That is one of the dynamics of Bruno Wines,” he said. “As simple as it is, it is about making sure the wine represents the fruit. You want to make sure that the fruit shines after it becomes wine. You can do a lot of things chemically that can sometimes wreck the wine.”

With the popularity of his sweet wines, customers asked for the more traditional grape wines that Bruno has just began making the last couple of years.

To his collection, he has added a blended white wine that is Chardonay, Reisling and Muscat, and a blended red wine that is Cabernet, Cabernet Franc and Merlot.

The passionate love for wine has made The Bruno & George Winery a success today. Though he and his wife solely run the winery, Bruno says he is committed seven days a week to his business, while his wife is a full-time employee for Baylor College and Medicine in Houston.

Bruno and Misha bought out George 10 years ago, and today, they work together on the weekends to make sure the winery is continually running smooth.

He says the winery is producing over 4,000 gallons of wine a year, and it is bottled, corked, capsuled, labeled and shipped from his small facility in Sour Lake.

After buying out George, Bruno changed his marketing presence, now labeled The Bruno & George Winery featuring The Bruno Collection.

As many as 10 tanks line the walls of his warehouse that has become a science lab of sorts for Bruno.

There, he is continually trying new things, including a new pear wine he says will be a hit.

He is also not scared to enter wines in competition, having won several years in a row at the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo international competition, which is the fifth largest competition in the nation.

He has also won awards in San Francisco and Dallas. His first award was in 2002 for his popular flagship raisin wine.

“I'm sending my wine from a little winery in Texas out to the big boys for competition,” he said. “I'm not the ‘Corleone Family’ that will get special favors.”

Bruno says the toughest part of his business was to convince package stores that his product would sell.

In the early stages, Bruno hustled to as many stores as he could. Today, he is widespread across Southeast Texas stores including big supermarket chains.

His wines have been featured in several publications that include Texas Monthly, Texas Highways and Texas Food Lovers. He has also been featured in most major newspapers in the State of Texas.

Though he works diligently on his wine, Bruno isn't afraid to join his retired friends Lucky Ott and Billy Tomlinson on occasion for tasting and cigars.

“The one thing about Shawn is that he is very passionate about his business,” Tomlinson said.

Bruno is proud of his family's tradition and displays his road to success with photos of all the generations that leads up to today.

“My motivation and my inspiration has been my grandfather,” he said. “Do we expect bigger and better things for Bruno & George Winery in the future? Yes we do – yes we do.”


Bruno & George Winery is located at 400 Messina in Sour Lake. For a tasting appointment, call 409-963-8235.


For more photos of the winery, click the link below:


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