Bush, LA Vineyard Lets New Orleans Daytrippers Taste Country Joys

BUSH, LA (AP) — When Ernie Langlinais first brought his wife, Jan, to the 24 acres they call LA Serendipity, she said she felt like Eva Gabor's character on the late 1960s sitcom "Green Acres."

         "I was being dragged out to the country, but now I love everything about it," she said.

         Jan, a retired second-grade teacher; and Ernie, who still works by day as a CPA in Mandeville, moved to LA Serendipity seven years ago as a place to retire. But what the couple does on the gorgeous property in Bush, with its stocked pond, fruit orchard and most notably, working vineyard, can hardly be called retirement.

         LA Serendipity's full-process working vineyard boasts 1,600 grapevines, with 500 of them currently producing Blanc Du Bois grapes. It also has all the equipment needed to take them from harvest to bottle. LA Serendipity is one of only five Louisiana vineyards to both grow grapes and produce wine on site, and one of only three farms to grow the Blanc Du Bois variety.

         Though Jan grew up in the small town of Franklinton, Louisiana, she said she always considered herself a "city girl." Her family owned retail stores "so I always lived in town, never in the country," she said. By contrast, Ernie grew up near New Iberia on a small farm, helping family grow rice and other crops. "I always knew I wanted to get back to the country," he said.

         The Mandeville couple had considered opening a bed and breakfast in North Carolina when Jan retired. But wanting to stay close to Jan's elderly mother, they decided to look for property closer to home.

         Ernie drove by LA Serendipity one day and saw the "for sale" sign. They considered it a stroke of luck to find the property and they named it accordingly, Jan said.

         At first, the couple didn't imagine that they would become sole proprietors of a vineyard and winemaking business. But a friend joked to Ernie, a wine connoisseur, that he should grow grapes on the property. "When I began to research and learned that this soil could grow something other than Muscadine, I decided to give it a try," he said.

         He researched for more than a year before he planted the grapes, and waited more than a year before turning the harvest into wine.

         "If you want to learn humility, become a farmer," he said. "You will learn about how much in the world you really can't control. Then, if you mess up, you have to wait another year to get it right."

         Some of his lessons came from birds, which devoured his first crop and persuaded him to protect his plants with netting. Other lessons came from the weather, which killed 30 percent of his harvest last year thanks to a March frost. "It's been a huge learning experience," he said.

         But the pride in producing the crisp, slightly sweet and citrusy LA Serendipity Blanc makes it worth it, he said.

         Jan said one of her favorite parts of operating a vineyard is involving her friends in the process. "They help with every part, from the harvest to the bottling," she said.

         After friends gather in early summer to help with the harvest, the couple holds a "grape-stomping party 'I Love Lucy' style," where Jan and her friends don bandanas and skirts and pay homage to Lucy and Ethel's classic TV winemaking episode. They hold a smaller party when it's time for bottling.

         So far, each harvest has yielded about 80 cases of wine, which Jan sells to friends and at farmer's markets.

         The previous owners used the property as a flower farm, and brought their bunches each week to the Covington Farmer's market where Jan now sells the LA Serendipity Blanc. Each season, they still enjoy the gladiolas and sunflowers that remain in spots that didn't get converted to grapes.

         The farm also includes an orchard of apples, cherries, pomegranates, Asian pears, figs and citrus; a vegetable garden full of cucumber, tomato, eggplant, and all types of squash; blueberry bushes; a pine orchard, pasture, duck pond and herb garden.

         The couple built a shed to house wine barrels and other winemaking equipment. They use the property's original shed, which they believe dates to the 1920s, to keep goats and chickens. The year they bred the goats, they also made their own goat cheese.

         Nestled to the goat and chicken shed is a small pottery where Jan works when winemaking season slows. She also fires her creations in a small kiln next to the pottery studio.

         The newest addition to the property is an approximately 800-square-foot tasting room. It offers views of the vineyard, the pond, and the orchards and gardens.

         Ernie hopes that with Pontchartrain Vineyards less than a mile from LA Serendipity and breweries in both Covington and Abita Springs, the area can become a tasting trail for weekend escapes.

         "It is a beautiful drive and we hope visitors will make an afternoon of it," he said.

         Just up a small hill from the tasting room is the property's main house. A wide porch off the open kitchen allows for sweeping views of the pond, pine trees and tasting room. In the dining room, Ernie keeps a nearly floor-to-ceiling wine rack of some of his favorites.

         Since he prefers red wines to whites, he's in the process of growing an experimental red grape at LA Serendipity. "If it makes it for five years it will survive," he said. "We have one year to go."

         With the hopeful harvest of the LA Serendipity red and the opening of the tasting room, there's plenty more for the Langlinaises than retirement. In fact, Ernie is hoping others will follow in his winemaking footsteps: "In years to come you could even have others in the area growing wine and we could become a mini Napa in Louisiana."

         For more information visit the LA Serendipity Vineyards website. Watch for official opening dates for the tasting room.

         – by AP/ Reporter Kadee Krieger with The Times-Picayune

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