Award-winning Texas winemaker remembers his St. Mary’s Law roots

March 21, 2022

Rolling with the Bunches

by Frank Garza (M.P.A ’21)

It would be easy to whine about the winemaking process, but when growing grapes in the Texas Hill Country, you must prepare for shifting weather.

It’s an annual process Ron Yates (J.D. ’05) knows all too well.

Ron Yates (J.D. ’05) stands next to barrels of wine made at one of his award-winning wineries.

In 2022, Yates called the weather “a tale of two vines,” as the shift between unseasonably hot weather and heavy rainfalls played havoc with vine growth. Weather in 2021 also caused Yates to make adjustments to his plans.

“There are so many variables in Texas you have to worry about,” said Yates, who owns Ron Yates Wines in Hye and Spicewood Vineyards in Spicewood. “California winemakers can set out a spreadsheet for the next 10 years, and for nine out of those 10 years, that’s how it’s going to go.”

This unpredictability is not new to Yates. After being in the winemaking business for 16 years, he’s learned to take success where it comes.

Yates fell in love with wine during a semester in Spain while he was an undergraduate student at the University of Texas at Austin. The son of his host family, a tempranillo grape grower in the Ribera del Duero wine region, introduced Yates to winemaking.

“It looked a lot like home with rolling hills, granite, limestone and clay soil. It was hot and the river ran through,” Yates said. “Being the kid of many generations of ranching Texans, I said, ‘One of these days, I’m going to plant some tempranillo.’”

But before he found his way to Spicewood Vineyards, Yates attended the St. Mary’s University School of Law. At that time, he was also courting his first love: music.

By attending law school, Yates learned the contractual side of artist marketing and management. He and a friend started a record label while in law school, and he followed that passion for about four years.

“It’s funny to look back and realize that the things I’ve learned, even though they’re not being used for the purpose intended with law school, have still become things I use in my everyday life.”

Ron Yates

Yates enjoyed studying criminal and administrative law with Professor of Law John W. Teeter Jr., J.D., and contracts with Professor of Law Mark W. Cochran, J.D., LL.M.

“Ron was a very bright, creative and friendly student with a genuine zest for life and an enviable head of hair,” Teeter said. “I always knew that Ron would make us proud. I’m pleased but not surprised by his success.”

Yates worked with a variety of musicians, including Grupo Fantasma, Glen Phillips of Toad the Wet Sprocket and many young indie rock artists.

But the memory of Spain never left him. After leaving the music business, Yates was ready to pursue winemaking. But before he came to own Spicewood Vineyards in 2007, the previous owners needed to make sure Yates was ready.

“That July and August, I spent every day with the owners out in the vineyard and in the winery,” Yates said. “I am really glad they did that because, two to three weeks in, I thought, ‘This is ridiculous, I’m so tired, and this is so tough. But I really love it.’”

The wineries’ accomplishments include awards from prestigious international wine competitions, such as the Concours International de Lyon wine competition in Lyon, France, the San Francisco International Wine Competition and the TEXSOM International Wine Awards.

Though not a practicing lawyer, Yates finds himself applying the lessons he learned at St. Mary’s Law daily.

“It’s funny to look back and realize that the things I’ve learned, even though they’re not being used for the purpose intended with law school, have still become things I use in my everyday life,” Yates said.    

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