Aspiring med student-turned-winemaker helps launch wine facility in East Texas

An internship at a winery in Tyler changed the career choice for Biology major Michael...
An internship at a winery in Tyler changed the career choice for Biology major Michael McClendon, and that choice has aged well over the years.(Michael McClendon)
Updated: Sep. 1, 2020 at 3:07 PM CDT
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NACOGDOCHES, Texas (KLTV) - An East Texas winemaker, whose dream once included pursuing medical school, has turned his passion for science into a career in wine production.

Michael McClendon attended the University of Texas at Tyler pursuing a degree in Biology, with the idea of applying for medical school after graduation in 2008. However, his life and career path took a new direction after he accepted an invitation from the department chair to intern at Kiepersol Vineyard & Winery in Tyler.

According to McClendon, “when I originally started the internship, I honestly thought that I would just be stopping by. It’d be cool, it’d look good on paper, and that would be it,” but that wasn’t the case. He traveled abroad to learn more about winemaking and realized this industry is where he belonged. He continued to learn at Kiepersol and later earned the title of Head Winemaker.

One of McClendon’s mentors, Tony Johnson, explains how “in some of the wines that he helped produce, they were award-winning wines and it really helped put Kierpersol on the map, as well. So it showed you that he knew what he was doing he just needed to know how to get out there and do it on his own.”

In time he crossed that off his checklist, too. He and his partner in business, Wes Jensen, went on to found Sages Vintage Custom Crush Winery in Nacogdoches, Texas. One of McClendon’s friends and colleagues, Dr. Jordan Beaver explains that there’s an increasing demand for locally produced wine, but not everyone wants to own a winery. That’s where crush facilities come in. Dr. Beaver says they, “can help you with understanding your soil composition and the differences in grape varieties and what might fit best to your specific location.”

The success McClendon has accomplished so far in producing quality wine is something he wants to help others achieve. He says, “We really wanted to make sure that we could encapsulate something like that and be able to create a space where seasoned veterans, rookies, where anyone that was interested in getting or learning more about wine can come and get something.”

McClendon’s facility is going on year three of business and they’re already working to expand their property to keep up with the demand of work that’s been coming from outside of the state.

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