Vino Mio Social Club and Wine Bar: Corpus Christi’s first and only winery
By: Stephanie Kusy
Photos by: Paul Marshall
1. A wine merchant
2. A winemaker
Dr. Charles Breeling might consider himself a winemaker and a merchant. At Vino Mio Social Club and Wine Bar, he crafts his own wine and serves a growing trend of wine drinkers. These days, more and more people label themselves as wine connoisseurs, enthusiasts, winos or sometimes as self-proclaimed wine snobs. In fact, wine consumption has increased in the United States every year since 2000. Breeling realized this trend and decided to turn his hobby into the first winery in Corpus Christi, serving most of his varietals not only by the bottle, but by the glass.
Dr. Breeling’s premium wines start with high-quality crushed grape juice imported from different regions around the world. He and his other son, Larry, hand-craft their own recipes into excellent, smooth, quality wines. Several vats consist of the favorite traditional red and white varietals (e.g., Riesling, Merlot, Shiraz, etc.), but many contain a unique blend of fruit-infused flavor. These sweet tastes, such as the Watermelon White Merlot, are loved by both non-wine drinkers and wine connoisseurs alike.
“We do not have any televisions, because we wanted people to engage in conversation,” says General Manager Jimmy Breeling, who developed the venue’s concept. Tucked in the middle of the Carmel Village shopping center, Jimmy brought his vision to life for his father nearly two years ago when the venue opened. What was once CiCi’s Pizza has now transformed into an eclectic setting that brings wine, food and music together. Swanky couches and lounge chairs line the 2-500-square-foot social room. Most noticeable, however, is a massive glass terrarium filled with driftwood, which is home to seven tree frogs and four lizards. Yes, living reptiles and amphibians.
“A lot of people start drinking flavored wines first because they are good,” Dr. Breeling says. “Most people do not have a palette for wine when they start. Then they graduate up to the strongest wines like the Shiraz and Malbecs.”
The Breeling family has crafted more than 35 different vegan recipes for purchase. Patrons can sample a glass for around $7.5 or take home a bottle for $26. A patron favorite known as “Lovely Maiden” is a German Riesling-based wine blended with a special mix of herbs and dried then roasted spring flowers fermented with the wine.
These intricate concoctions clearly did not ferment overnight. Breeling discovered his hobby back in 1972 during his first winemaking experience at home. Before he went to medical school, he worked as a research biochemist. His mother-in-law decided to purchase a winemaking set as a gift. “She thought it would be right up my alley, so she bought me all the equipment to make wine,” he says. “I like sweets. I had the bottles and the measuring devices, everything I needed to make a batch of wine except grapes. So I just went ahead and tried, and I found out I liked doing it. It was fun.”
Still a practicing family physician, Breeling heads to Vino Mio almost every day to make wine and unwind from a long day at work. “I really don’t like dry wine very much,” he says. “That’s why I went to the flavored wines. I can drink it, but I really like flavored wines like peach chardonnay or tropical Rieslings and Liebfraumilch. I like things that have more than just a varietal grape like Malbec, Chardonnay, etc.”
The doctor has tweaked his vintning process to help reduce headaches that sometimes occur after drinking wine even in small quantities. He says many of the wines made in the United States includes malolactic bacteria instead of yeast, so the taste remains consistent over batches of wine. This bacteria, however, releases bioamines, small amounts of which can trigger headaches. Breeling opts to use only yeast in the wine, which reduces the chances of a dreadful headache. So does this mean no hangovers? Not quite. “If people drink enough, they are going to get a hangover,” he says, chuckling.
Wine isn’t the only item made from scratch at Vino Mio. The social club serves a full menu of tasty meals to pair perfectly with the wine. Head Chef Faye Mikulec prepares each dish – from pastas to pizzas to baked brie – by gathering organic ingredients picked up from the local farmer’s market. Staff can easily accommodate outside catering, food to go or company parties held at the venue.
On most nights, patrons will discover unique tunes typically not found on the radio, as well as carefully selected live music. “We try to do our best to bring new music in and new names people have not heard before,” Jimmy says. “We are a completely different thing than Corpus Christi has ever had. Every time I hear someone come in for the first time, they are like, ‘I can’t believe this is here. It’s like a hidden gem.’”
It’s true. No other venue in the area can say they serve homemade wine paired with local cheeses while patrons gather with friends to listen to independent bands.
Vino Mio Social Club and Wine Bar is located at 4102 S. Staples St. More information can be found on their Facebook page.