Cheers to 7 years: Silver Dollar Winery has come a long way since its founding in Bedford

By dani2011dhs@gmail.comSeptember 6, 2023No Comments

Cheers to 7 years: Silver Dollar Winery has come a long way since its founding in Bedford

By Teresa McUsic
Photography by Mike Lewis

Turns out that producing award-winning, popular wines doesn’t take generational knowledge, fancy degrees in viticulture and enology or even a ton of money. Silver Dollar Winery in Bedford did it with a nurse practitioner, a truck driver and cash from a 401(k).

Melanie Bowen (the nurse practitioner) is following her life’s dream of owning a winery. Husband Richard Bowen (the truck driver) is along for the ride.

“One of my goals has been to make wine,” she said. “As a nurse practitioner, I have a master’s in science, so I’ve always been into chemistry. But making wine started as just a hobby.”

The Bowens met later in life during what Melanie described as an immersive four-day, first date at a NASCAR event at Texas Motor Speedway in 2008. They hit it off so well that they started taking long motorcycle rides together. The couple got engaged during a ride to Mount Rushmore. But it was while trekking to all the different wineries in Texas that Melanie got inspired.

“Some of the wine out there was not good-quality wine, and I said, ‘I can do better than this,’” she recalled. Melanie started with a home wine kit, talked to people in the industry, and took classes in enology at Grayson College in Denison.

It turns out she was right. The Bowens’ winery has won the People’s Choice gold at Grapevine’s GrapeFest all of the seven years they’ve been in business. Last year delivered wins for their 2019 white blend with peach infusions, IM’Peached (story on that name later), and their 2019 blush/rosé with pear flavors, IM’Paired. They’ll be pouring again this month at the 37th annual GrapeFest, Sept. 14-17, and looking for another People’s Choice gold award.

Silver Dollar Winery also has won judged competitions. Its 2018 Malbec took bronze in the San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition, and Ike’s Red blend and their Dead Man’s Hand Malbec won golds in the 2021 Texas International Wine Competition.

While the couple welcomes the awards, they say it’s the winery’s customers who keep up demand. The Bowens started small in 2014, with just four barrels of merlot.

Back then, they borrowed equipment, scraped labels off bottles to reuse them and bought grapes from West Texas around Brownfield and Plains, where almost all of the state’s grapes are grown. Today, Silver Dollar Winery has its own equipment and bottles and it grows grapes, although they still buy most of the latter, as recent crops were wiped out by the 2021 ice storm and 2022 drought. Along with the Bedford location, the Bowens own a winery on 25 acres in the Hill Country in Johnson City, where the wine is processed.

The winery’s production has steadily increased. In 2022, Silver Dollar made 2,000 cases, and Melanie said the winery has produced that same amount in just the first half of this year, with 24 labels on offer. Their wine club has 300 members.

They have also seen an uptick in online sales to all but the five states where state laws prohibit them from shipping. They’re looking into starting distribution at a major grocer and a major beverage chain this year, and expect a big jump in sales if that happens.

Silver Dollar Winery’s wines have won People’s Choice gold medals at GrapeFest all seven years the company has been in business as well as awards from other judged competitions.

According to an economic impact study by WineAmerica, the Bowens are in the right place at the right time. The study, which included sales, tourist expenditures and taxes, estimated the economic impact of the Texas wine industry was $20.35 billion in 2022, a 55 percent increase over the past five years. The 443 wineries in the state sold $6.4 billion in wine last year.

The Bowens came up with one rule when they first started, Richard said: “Never put anything in a bottle we wouldn’t personally drink.”

One niche they discovered, along with their cabernets and chardonnays, was an unexpected demand for wines on the slightly sweet side. Richard said the big producers around here don’t generally make much in this category, but he said their customers are lapping it up.

Another bonus is that sweet whites only take a few months to ferment, unlike the reds, which can take three years to turn into wine.

Their chocolate wines — Blood Orange Moon, fortified with grape wine and brandy, and Chocolate Boot Scootin’ Boogie, a red blend with dark and milk chocolate and a hint of cherry and vanilla — do well, along with their most popular white blend, IM’Peached.

Here’s the promised story on that name: Created in 2015, the full description for IM’Peached is “a bold wine so sensuous it will make you want to have relations with that woman” — a sly dig at President Clinton’s sex scandal.

A multiple winner at GrapeFest and the Texas International Wine Competition, the peach-infused IM’Peached is made from Texas Blanc Du Bois and chenin blanc grapes with less than 15 percent residual sugar.

“Peach is a popular fruit in Texas, and we sold it at peach festivals throughout the state,” Melanie said. She recommends it with smoked gouda.

Of course, it wouldn’t be Texas without some interest in jalapenos. Richard said one of their best customers asked them to start making jalapeno wine, so he could buy it from them instead of the jalapeno mead he was getting from a distillery.

They tried it, letting 200 peppers ferment with white wine in a 200-gallon drum. Now they can’t keep up with the demand for Bob’s Jalapeno.

“First, we made 22 cases, and it sold out,” Richard said. “Then, we made 44 cases, and it sold out. Now we’ve made 90 cases, and we hope it hangs on for a while.” It pairs well with Mexican food, or you can make a margarita with it, he said.

The Bowens caught another break when they decided to open their first location. Richard’s father, Willliam Bowen, owned the building at 1937 Bedford Road.

An established structural engineer in town, William bought the building in the late 1980s. At 78, William still “dabbles” in engineering in the suite next door. As a side business, William opened Silver Dollar Slots in the 1980s, the first slot machine store in the state, which is how the winery got its name.

The history of that Bedford location goes back to the 1870s. Near the old Bedford well, where people stopped to water their horses between Dallas and Fort Worth, the building was originally a general store and gristmill to serve area farmers, Melanie said. Fire took the building down twice.

Now the location honors its heritage with a tin roof, glass and cork tabletops over barrels, thick stucco walls, stars branded on the bar’s drop lights and soft country music.

Customers can buy a flight of five wines of their choosing for $20 ($25 with a glass). The winery also offers a surprisingly varied food menu, from bruschetta and meat and cheese plates to meatballs, specialty pizzas and street tacos.

The Johnson City location has been a bit of a wild run, Melanie said, with busloads of tourists arriving at one time filling the place to capacity. But in Bedford, the pace is a little slower. “We just want to be the neighborhood ‘Cheers’ here,” she said.


The 37th annual GrapeFest is Sept. 14-17 in Grapevine. Tickets are $10 for adults, $5 for children and seniors. Weekend passes are $20. Info: grapevinetexasusa.com/ grapefest. And we know the theme of our September issue is Let’s Drive!, but you don’t have to drive to get to GrapeFest. You can park and ride Trinity Metro’s TEXRail train into downtown’s Grapevine Main Station and forget about the hassles of parking. Info: ridetrinitymetro.org.