A KE Legends Wine

Bridge unites winemaking styles and regions like only a Texas wine can. The Bridge label is inspired by a family story of love and loss in World War I, bringing us full circle from Texas to Europe and South Africa, and back to Texas again. We hope you will enjoy this epic short story.

EPISODE 1 / A Rebel and a Runner

Wiping the clinging raindrops from his eyelashes so he could focus on the long-awaited destination, Julius could see the shapes of boats and cranes and buildings. It was quiet with the dead of night, except two dock workers ready at the helm to guide their ship in. He and his family were on the British steamer Saint Oswald filled with other “Dutchies” coming from Cardiff to Port Arthur, Texas in 1905.

It was his first trip to America and it was love at first sight. Even at the tender age of five he could feel his optimism rise as a result of this place. After a few nights hovelled with other ship dwellers in a local port warehouse, his father negotiated the small bit of land for farming on the outskirts of town they would call ‘Vrijheid’, the Dutch word for freedom. His father, Meinart, had been a farmer with seemingly endless knowledge of plants. But his penchant for drink and inability to negotiate in the marketplace made him an utter disappointment to his own father, a medical doctor who had married well and came back to Holland only to boast of his world travels. Living in that shadow was unbearable to Meinart who set his sights on raising his burgeoning family in the New World.

Childhood for Julius was filled with love and hope and disappointment. Working on the farm taught him the intimate cycle of life that would ring so true for all of us. Birth radiant with hope, awkward transitional growth, glorious and gluttonous harvest and finally wintery isolation all played out on this small farm year after year.

But in his eighteenth year Julius’ father announced he was leaving the family. An abrupt goodbye and snatch up of his suitcase was all Julius could remember. He never knew why, but suspected that the drink had come so detrimentally between his mother and father that it was no longer tolerable. His mother was a strong woman with a pioneering spirit, not allowing the tears to well up as the figure dimmed from view down the long dusty farm road. She quickly remarried a widower of more austere nature who was kind to Julius and his siblings.

This kindness lent Julius' heart to be open to the idea of love at a young age. That same year of his father's departure, a breath of fresh air moved to Port Arthur from Waco. Julius met Velma the day her family moved to town. He, along with other neighbors, offered help moving furniture into their farm home just three miles away from his own. He was smitten with her soft brown curls and ivory skin right away. Velma was too shy to talk to him that day, but did notice his attentive glances and polite manner with her father. Girls had always been charmed by Julius' natural ease and humor, but he had never been on a date alone with a girl and had never really wanted to until now.

They slowly began to know each other, using their bond as ‘newcomers’ to Port Arthur as a base to a blossoming romance. Their dates of walking the boardwalk and eating ice cream every Saturday quickly turned to a summer of starry evenings spent together. Julius had a peace that he had never experienced before and knew this was where his heart should be.

He was in love, but was also always dreaming of his future and travels beyond what any of his classmates could fathom. As America became involved in the Great War, Julius’ mind was searching between volunteering for travel and intrigue or dutiful service. Either way, it would be the Army. His mother and step-father urged him to defend their adopted country, a thanks for all the blessings they had received in this land. So in 1917, he was off on the train to San Antonio to register.

Velma knew Port Arthur could not keep his spirit, but dreaded the day they would part. She joined him in San Antonio. They traveled the sites of the beautiful city together and were in awe of its history, lavish gardens and kind people. Their perfect solace together dwindled as time caught up with them. She could not bear the stereotype of him leaving her at the bus station and instead decided to say goodbye at the majestic iron truss bridge they had visited every day overlooking the meandering waters of the city. He kissed her goodbye, but promised that he would return for her. Her tears became one with the stream below.

EPISODE 2 / A Young Boy Bearing Arms

On a fresh Monday morning in April, they were bussed from the city to nearby Camp Davis, a camp set up just for the Great War, later becoming part of Fort Sam Houston. Camp Davis was a miraculous little city itself with its own power plant, post office, fire station, hospital and any other service a small city might need.  The six weeks was a blink of running, orders, sit ups, rainy nights and the worst food smells imaginable. The food would become more the norm as time went by, but after having fresh pies and field corn on his plate all his life, this was a shock.

And then suddenly they were on a ship to France. Why France? This hadn't really been explained to them, but essentially the U.S. had a large financial stake in both Britain and France winning the war. Many American troops were sent as replacements on the French front lines, but luckily Julius had excelled in his brief training and was in a platoon that would be in charge of moving small groups of prisoners of war from the front line to more secure camps. The 'Bridge of Ships' is what the Navy called their effort to put together vessels to transport more than 2 million men over the Atlantic to the warfront, landing in various ports in England and France. They sailed in convoys to avert German submarines and rarely topped 12 knots, landing in Brest, France through the Bay of Biscay. The next day they disembarked and promptly marched to Pontanezen Camp to await further orders.

Ever the dreamer, Julius had a predetermined France in his mind with beautiful landscapes and people offering local wines to the American Expeditionary Forces passing through their towns. It seemed that way on the beginning of his journey, naturally beautiful forests and farmland with ample places in the countryside for them to pitch camp or wash their clothes in a stream. The land reminded him of Texas and his father's small vineyard where he labored as a child. But as they marched closer to the front, things evolved into darkness. France had already been in this war for almost four years and the landscape, once meadows and vineyards, had been turned into a pock-marked desolate oblivion. Gray was the color of the day and death was the mantra. Towns were filled with widows, unnervingly quiet children and old men with hollowed ancient eyes.

Julius had gotten used to the sounds of shelling in the distance, but the sights proved more difficult to deal with. They marched along the Northwest coast of France and then into the mainland toward Reims. They picked up their first German prisoners of war just days after the Second Battle of the Marne (July 18, 1918). Julius, his bunkmate Bob, and two other Americans were to march six of these Germans to a more permanent encampment South of Dijon. The first few days of walking were uneventful and they were starting to communicate well with the Germans who didn't seem to mind being captured. On the fourth day, one of the Germans walked into a land mine. He was killed instantly and Julius, right behind him at the time, was knocked unconscious. Bob was able to quickly bandage his head laceration but admitted it was deep and they were far from help.

FINALE / Restless Young Romantic

The small troop was able to put together a makeshift cot and carry Julius the next two days to Dijon. The base hospital of St-Ignace was to be Julius' home for the next four months. His injury was so severe that the doctors were forced to implant a rather large silver plate in his head. After the surgery, four days of fever led Julius to be in and out of consciousness. But when the fever broke, he slowly got better and, to the amazement of his doctors, did not have brain damage. Armistice came on November 11, 1918, but Julius was already slated for discharge. They put him on a ship that would take him and other infirmed soldiers around the tip of Africa and home to America.

Julius was actually comforted to be back among his peers and ready to bridge the gap back to America. He longed to be back on the farm his father had known as Vrijheid and more determined than ever that these years would be full of fun and abandon, most especially with Velma. Their letters had been few and far between during the year he had been in the Army, but the mail delivery was limited and he had moved around so much.

The fever returned on the journey home and it was decided to leave Julius in port during their main supply stop in Durban, South Africa, fearing that he would not survive the journey home. Durban was set up as a hospital center as many South African soldiers were also returning from war. Distant words in both Afrikaans and English confused him as he drifted in and out of consciousness, a prisoner in his own mind. Eventually waking to the hospital sights and sounds, he realized he was not bound for home as he had thought, but bound in a hospital again, in yet another foreign land.

He was restless and angry. Calmed only by his attentive nurse, Johanna. She had become a companion over months, falling for his charm that shone through fits of depression and the anxious need to escape. They played rummy with a rumpled set of cards he kept under his pillow and she slowly taught him Afrikaans so he would know what the doctors were saying when they mumbled something over their charts. He learned that he would be released seven months after that fateful ship had dropped him in this strange land. But there were still times that he would shake uncontrollably and hold his head until the pain went away. Johanna helped him find a boarding house and a job as a railroad policeman. He was soon financially stable enough to ask her to marry him and she was more than beaming to become his wife. They bought a small farm outside Durban and made plans for their future.

From then on Texas would be just a dream to Julius as he raised his new family in a new land of paradise and wildlife. He had written to Velma from the hospital and again when he had been released, but had never heard back. He never knew if she had just written him off when they parted at the bridge in San Antonio or if he had broken her heart with his letter from Durban. Her face stayed with him always and he even named his eldest daughter Velma…the daily reminder of the girl he left in Texas.

Bridge wine is an ultimate "cheers" to life and love. We hope you enjoy the blend of Old World and New World, sweet and dry, and history and future in this wine. We know Julius would have savored every sip. Share…live….love.

© 2013 Kiepersol Enterprises, Inc.
Special thanks to The San Antonio Register and the San Antonio Historical Society for help in determining that the bridge on the label is the Navarro St. Bridge circa 1917. Additional thanks to Rush (Geddy Lee, Alex Lifeson and Neil Peart) for chapter title inspiration. Photos courtesy of Pierre de Wet.