Thirsty Farmer Winery in Calhoun offers NELA wine, food and live music

A new winery has become an off-the-beaten-track destination in northeast Louisiana.

Thirsty Farmer Winery and Vineyard in Calhoun offers locally crafted wines, dining and live entertainment on Saturdays. Owned by Michael and Savannah Ray, the family business opened on June 4, attracting over 1,000 people.

Michael Ray said the couple decided to get into the wine business after a trip to California wine country in 2015. Initially in San Francisco to take a continuing education course for Savannah, Ray said the two made a trek through Napa Valley and Sonoma County where another education awaited them.

“Sonoma really changed my mind about what viticulture was,” Ray said. “It wasn’t about making wine then, it was about seeing these guys growing grapes. They were farmers and we happen to have row crops here. Cotton, corn and everything, but these guys were growing grapes. It’s just changed their minds about what they meant and what it could be.”

After:Downtown Monroe’s gastro pub offers a culinary take on pub grub, spectacular river views

Ray said he tried his hand at growing grapes shortly after returning to Calhoun, planting over 150 vines. However, Ray said he still has a lot to learn, accumulating little knowledge from the internet and other local winemakers.

“I found out very quickly that I had put the wrong grapes in the ground and eventually they would get sick,” Ray said. “I thought, ‘Well, there’s no way they’re getting this disease that everyone tells me about.’ It’s called Pierce’s disease and three years later they got it I looked after them for three years, trained them and they grew the way they needed to grow and they bore fruit in the third year.

Although they are not yet able to harvest, Ray said he and his wife are still learning the trade. The two eventually enrolled in the distilling and viticulture program at Grayson College in Denison, Texas.

The winery currently produces six artisanal wines, most of which contain fruits other than grapes, such as their peach wine.

Thirsty Farmer Winery and Vineyards offers six handcrafted wines.

One of their most popular wines, “Crush”, incorporates raspberry and strawberry. “Bubbles”, the winery’s rosé, is produced from Zinfandel grapes and a red blend, called “5:04”, is made from 70% Cabernet. Their Lomanto varietal is produced from grapes that Ray says can grow well in the Louisiana climate.

The winery hosts “Wineaux Ramble”, a weekly live concert featuring local talent, on Saturdays. It also offers pairings between artisanal wine and foods such as charcuterie boards. Currently held in the new tasting room, Ray said when cooler weather permits, the concerts will move to the outdoor space of the winery.

Ray called the responses to the winery and its products “overwhelming.” Ray said the Saturday concerts draw large crowds each week.

Thirsty Farmer Winery and Vineyard’s Tasting Room is open every Saturday from noon to 8 p.m., with live music from 3 p.m. to 6 p.m.

Follow Ian Robinson on Twitter @_irobinsonand on Facebook at

Support local journalism by subscribing to

Elisha A. Tilghman