http://wine.appellationamerica.com/wine-review/523/Certenberg-Vineyards.html Alphonse Dotson and I are sitting in the backseat of a car traveling out of New York City. We’re both big guys, though I haven’t used my size for much other than looking over people’s heads at concerts. Alphonse, on the other hand, used his to play tackle for the Oakland Raiders. And while I’ve gotten soft around the middle, Alphonse is still strong as an ox even though it’s thirty-five years since he left football. We are joking, laughing, hitting each other, leaning in and whispering dirty jokes. We’re talking mostly about the arts and football, but it is wine that’s brought us together. We’re going to talk to a bunch of New York journalists as guests of the Texas Department of Agriculture, hoping to give them a true view of the quality of the Texas Wine industry. They asked me because I’m the “expert” on the subject; Alphonse because he is the President of the Texas Wine and Grape Growers Association. So how’d a tackle for the Oakland Raiders get to be a grape grower? Alphonse’s Certenberg Vineyards sits on the north end of the Texas Hill Country appellation. It has the look of a well tended, prosperous vineyard. The babied vines produce some of the finest Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Chardonnay in the appellation. And while great grapes are always a worthwhile story, here, there’s a lot more going on. It all goes back to the African-American part of Houston where a proud grandfather, Alphonse Certenberg, taught his namesake grandson the joys of having a few grapevines to care for. Alphonse Dotson remembered the lessons after he left Houston behind. He went to Grambling where he played football and became an All American tackle. He also majored in Fine Arts (graduating Cum Laude), not quite the normal football player major. I ask him if he didn’t get a little ribbing in the locker room. He gives me that big, genial smile, pokes me softly with his elbow, and tells me “After I got them on the field, they only joked at me once.” Then he gives a big laugh. That kind of tells the Alphonse Dotson story. Gentle, happy, sweet spirited and intelligent, and someone you’d better not screw around with. His tough-guy-with-a-big-heart genes seem to have worked their way down the generations. His son, Santana was a pro football star for the Green Bay Packers, and his grandson, Alonzo, is set to go pro after a career at the University of Oklahoma. But back to grapes. After his pro football career, Alphonse decided to move to the gentle climes of Acapulco, Mexico. There he met and married Martha Cervantes. The two of them make quite a picture. She’s a Mexican national and a full foot shorter than he is. Don’t let the size discrepancy fool you. She keeps this big guy in line. In fact, while we were sitting in Brasserie Les Halles in Manhattan, he was gently teasing her about something, and she grabbed him by the ear and pulled till he begged for mercy. All of us were guffawing. Something about seeing this little woman manhandling this big guy was just too much. Anyway, even though the Pacific breezes were nice, Alphonse wanted to go home and try his hand at making his grandfather proud by raising some grapes. He picked land in Voca, Texas, population 50. As you might guess, Alphonse is the only ex-NFL player in town. The closest big city is Brady, population 5523. This is a seriously rural area. Alphonse planted his vineyards in 1997, naming them after his grandfather. He aimed his considerable ingenuity at figuring out how to plant and manage a vineyard. His sports discipline came in handy, too, especially when he had to pull himself out of bed every morning at 5 am. The first few years were tough as Alphonse pampered, coddled and fussed over his vineyard, coaxing it into producing some of the best grapes in the Hill Country. Some of the bigger wineries couldn’t help noticing what Alphonse was pulling off and soon folks started showing up at his front door asking for advice or looking for grapes to buy. Alphonse became such a popular fixture among the farmers and winemakers that they voted him to be the President of TWGGA. That’s when Governor Rick Perry heard about Alphonse’s commitment to educating kids about the arts and asked him to serve on the Executive Committee of the Texas Commission on the Arts. When you consider that eleven years ago, he was living in Mexico, he’s made quite a bit of progress. Today, if you want to taste Alphonse’s grapes, you’ll have to buy a bottle of Fall Creek’s wine (Read APPELLATION AMERICA’s reviews of Fall Creek wines). Ed Auler, owner of Fall Creek, recognized that the grapes from Certenberg’s Vineyard were something special and signed Alphonse to an exclusive contract. Not only does Auler buy all of Alphonse’s grapes, he uses them for the backbone of his tête du cuvee, Meritus ($40). At an age when most of his NFL brethren are putting their feet up and remembering the old days, Alphonse Dotson is working 70 hour weeks in the vineyard, helping promote the burgeoning Texas wine industry, and making the state a better place for kids to grow up. He has the respect and admiration of his peers, and he’s following his dreams. I suspect Grandfather Certenberg would be very proud.