The Val Verde Winery, a family-owned operation in Del Rio, Texas, has been in existence for over a century. It was established in 1883 by Frank Qualia and has been in continuous operation ever since, owned and operated by the descendants of the founder. Frank Qualia arrived in North America with a number of Italians who emigrated from northern Italy-especially the regions of Lombardy, the Tyrol, and Tuscany. Many of these came from an agricultural background. After a short stay in Mexico, Qualia traveled to Texas in the 1870s, where he heard of inexpensive land that was being developed near the Rio Grande. Traveling westward on the Galveston, Harrisburg and San Antonio Railway, Qualia reached the small community of San Felipe del Rio. He was able to acquire some fertile land and, most importantly in that arid region of Texas, plenty of abundant surface water that could be used for irrigation. Qualia was able to take advantage of a land development program that had been initiated several years before his arrival. During the 1860s several individuals acquired landholdings in that region of Texas and formed the San Felipe Agriculture, Manufacturing, and Irrigation Company. This company was able to develop land adjacent to San Felipe Creek. They constructed dams and irrigation ditches that would provide water for farm owners. In this manner Qualia became part of a larger land development trend that would impact much of South and Southwest Texas.
Having acquired land in 1883, Qualia began to raise various truck crops and planted the Lenoir grapes from which his first wines would be made. Eventually his son, Louis Qualia, took over the operation of the Val Verde Winery. In 1919 the Eighteenth Amendment was ratified, making prohibition the law of the land. This brought an end to the fledgling wine operations of the Val Verde Winery and other similar operations in various parts of the state. Unlike other vintners, Qualia continued to tend his vines and was able to survive prohibition by selling table grapes. Although some of the vines were lost, most of them survived and became the nucleus for the expanded vineyard and winemaking operation that began soon after the repeal of prohibition. While some wines were produced in Texas after prohibition, eventually all of the wineries, except one, had ceased to exist by the late 1950s. The Val Verde Winery, under Louis Qualia's direction, was the only bonded winery that continued to operate in Texas until the 1970s. Because of Louis Qualia's contribution to the infant wine industry, and because he and his father bridged the gap between the old and the new in Texas viticulture, the Texas Grape Growers Association, formed in 1976, dedicated a posthumous plaque to him for his efforts. In 1982, the year after Louis Qualia died, the Texas Grape Growers Association presented this plaque to his son, Thomas Qualia, who has led the Val Verde Winery into the 1980s and 1990s. The Qualia winery remains a small operation concentrating on producing award-winning wines from locally grown grapes and from grapes purchased from other regional Texas vineyards and wineries. See also GRAPE CULTURE.