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The Battalion

The Student News Site of Texas A&M University - College Station

The Battalion

The Student News Site of Texas A&M University - College Station

The Battalion

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A&M-themed winery looks to make renovations

Photo courtesy of 12 Fires Winery and Vineyard

Three former students create a winery honoring bonfire victims.

The 12 Fires Winery and Vineyard was founded by three former Texas A&M students, with the campus culture being a huge influence on the business. The winery is full of references to A&M, from the names of drinks on the menu to pictures on their buildings walls.

The name of the business refers to the 12 victims of the 1999 Aggie Bonfire Collapse. 12 Fires offers both amenities to customers and a rich history that began when the founders met in College Station. 

Duke Meadows, Class of 1996, is the co-owner of the winery who deals with operations in the corporate side of the business. Meadows said the three founders were in the Corps of Cadets together at A&M and met during the setup of Aggie Bonfire. In the aftermath of the tragedy and realizing they personally knew some victims, Meadows said they wanted to create something that would honor those that passed. 

“We got selected to be bonfire redpots, also called bonfire coordinators, so we went through a lot of bonding together helping to support, build and manage one of the biggest traditions in Aggie history,” Meadows said.

Meadows said the name for the winery comes from coincidences in their life and the process of opening the store. The 12th Man at their former school, the 12 acres of land they bought for the winery, the 12 bottles in a case of wine and Meadows’ unit Squadron 12. However, Meadows said the biggest source of inspiration for the name of the winery is to honor their fallen classmates. 

“The main reason we went with 12 Fires — and this is what we tell Aggies when they come into the [tasting] room — in 1999 when the bonfire fell, 12 souls passed away,” Meadows said. “We knew a lot of them, one was my roommate in the Corps of Cadets, his name was Chris Breen.”

Meadows said Breen had the burning desire to do something bigger than himself, which was another factor that inspired the group of three Aggies to build the winery. Michael “Mike” Nance, Class of 1996, works as the co-owner, winemaker and vineyard manager of the 12 Fires Winery & Vineyard.  

“We really just sat down and started brainstorming, a lot of spreadsheets, powerpoints, a lot of just pie-in-the-sky-type ideas,” Meadows said. “I met up with Mike who was working at Bernhardt Winery and I go up there, hang out with them, do some harvests and watch them go through the wine-making process.” 

Nance said he discovered his love for making wine when he caught himself visiting a winery and helping out during his time off. 

“I lived in Montgomery, Texas, not far down the road from my house there was a little winery I used to visit as a customer and I guess I had too much fun there,” Nance said. “I eventually started helping out harvesting grapes, working in the vineyard or helping those consorts doing wine tasting.”

Nance said when making wine for the business, the main element they focus on is the quality of the grapes they buy for production.

“You can’t make good wine with crappy grapes,” Nance said. “I was visiting vineyards in the Lubbock area, putting my eyeballs on how they are growing the grapes, how well they are tending to the vineyard, how heavy the crop loads are, how developed their canopies are so I can get an idea for the quality they are capable of and compare that to the price they want for their grapes. 

Meadows said he and Nance called upon their close friend from the Corps to help out with the tech-related and marketing side of the business. Zach Hyuge, Class of 1997, is responsible for marketing and the digital infrastructure of products, events and merchandise online. 

“Everything is run off my servers so I built the website from scratch,” Hyuge said. “I did everything custom-made, website, graphics everything is all me. I’ve done everything from the backend of everything you see online, the Instagram and the projection of the brand.”

Hyuge said they have plans to get the company more involved and increase their presence in the College Station area. 

“We want to get more involved in A&M events, like tailgates, and get more of a presence on campus, so we’re trying to figure that out,” Hyuge said. “We’re in a couple restaurants out there that are really good for us. Gate 12 is awesome, The Republic is amazing and Aggieland Outfitters has been a huge supporter of us, so increasing our presence on campus is a big thing.”

Meadows said they have plans to create more benefits for wine club members and build more infrastructure for customers to enjoy. There are three levels of membership club members can currently pick from, ranging from selections such as two free wine tastings per visit or 10-15% off purchases. 

“We want to grow our wine club memberships,” Meadows said. “We ship out and do pick up parties of new releases, so about four times a year, we release new items to our members. Infrastructure-wise, we just finished our casing room and [are] working on the glamping tents.. But we want to have a wedding venue, we want to have a 10,000 case capacity winery building built onsite and we want to build a larger wine club members tasting room and lounge.”

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