Those who don’t know Nikhila Narra Davis by name may have already tasted the grapes she grows. In 2013, she helped her family establish Narra Vineyards in Brownfield. Located about 40 miles southwest of Lubbock, Narra Davis oversaw the planting of 20 acres of grapes the first year and 117 more acres the next. Narra Vineyards is now producing some of the premier grapes in the Texas wine industry and the family grows for between 27 and 30 respected Texas winemakers, including William Chris Vineyards, Crowson Wines, Inwood Estates Winery, and Calais Winery.
“I want to focus on high-quality, low-yield growth and produce really good fruit — just grow the best grape we can,” says Narra Davis, a first-generation American who until age 6 lived on her grandparents’ farm in Andhra Pradesh, South India, where they grew turmeric, rice, cocoa, and coconuts. Today, Narra Davis isn’t just cultivating the grapes, she’s also turning them into glorious Texas wines through her new winery Kalasi Cellars in Fredericksburg, which she runs alongside her husband Greg Davis.
The pair met in 2015. At the time, Nikhila was in the midst of her first harvest and Greg was working for PricewaterhouseCoopers. They began talking about opening a winery together, and he used that background to help with marketing, finance, and accounting — everything that’s not “vines and wines,” which is Nikhila’s domain. They searched for nine months for the perfect space for Kalasi Cellars (Kalasi means “together” in Telugu, the South Indian language her family speaks). After jumping through hoops to secure financing for the massive undertaking, the couple found 16 acres of farmland located just a half-mile off Main Street in Fredericksburg.
Established in 2020 amid the pandemic, Kalasi is a sweeping architectural expression with more than 100 windows letting sunlight into the space. Telugu music plays gently in the background and the bathroom walls are lined with vivid Indian-print wallpaper featuring mahouts riding decorated elephants. Guests can order Indian bar snacks like samosas with mint chutney, tikka masala naan pizza, and sweet-and-spicy chaat. And at the front door, a red and yellow tuk-tuk promises a rollicking ride down the road to the winery’s brand-new on-site production facility. Half a dozen Southdown babydoll sheep keep the grounds free from weeds, kept safe from predators by Kalasi’s llama, Dalai. Next spring the Davises plan to plant an acre of grapes.
Often, when she’s not checking on her family’s Brownsfield vineyards, Narra Davis is at the winery with their infant Raj wrapped around her, or she’s making the five-hour drive between the two sites. But this type of hands-on approach is what she prefers. “In the beginning, we did have a vineyard manager,” she says. “And then we realized that, if we wanted to focus on what we want to do, we would have to do it ourselves.”
Despite her dedication to cultivation and winemaking, Narra Davis wasn’t always destined for the wine business. In fact, she is a numbers person with a bachelor’s degree in international business, economics, and finance and a master’s in public relations. Her career began with a stint at Merrill Lynch during the 2008 stock market crash. Around the same time, Narra Davis’s dad was contemplating making his retirement dream come true: Returning the family to their farming roots. She decided to pitch in, laying the groundwork for what would become Narra Vineyards.
“He just wanted to get into farming in general,” she recalls. “He threw around ideas — almonds, pistachios — but the people who specialize in [those crops] are outside of Texas, and I told him if he wanted me to be involved in the family business, I wanted to be in Texas.”
Davis has always loved wine, and as she and her father and the rest of the family got serious about establishing a farm, they started to see big West Texas wine brands like Llano Estacado and Caprock Winery get more media coverage. So, they did what any savvy farmer might do: They tried planting grapes on their property in Brownfield.
After planting the vineyard, Narra Davis accepted a job teaching public relations at a college in Key West, Florida, but it didn’t last. She found herself missing the wine industry. On a whim, Narra Davis decided to cold-email Napa’s Cakebread Cellars in 2014 to see if they had any harvest positions available. As luck would have it, an unexpected heat wave had resulted in much earlier harvest times than usual, and the California winery was short-handed. Narra Davis drove from Key West to Napa in three days to become the winery’s oldest harvest intern.
“I kept hearing about the grapes they grow up there and [that quality] just wasn’t here yet,” Narra Davis says. “So I went up to California to understand how to make quality wine because I wanted to bring those ideas back to Texas.”
After Narra Davis’s internship, she returned to Texas and completed a viticulture course through Texas Tech before studying enology at the University of California, Davis, while putting what she learned on the West Coast into practice in her home state. “In Napa, winemakers always talked about focusing on low-yield and high-quality [vines] by working on canopy management and cluster-thinning and we really focus on that in the [family] vineyard from the get-go,” she says. “We’re always looking out for the health of the vine in order to make quality fruit.”
Narra Davis also credits winemakers she grows grapes for, like Benjamin Calais and Dan Gatlin, for helping her learn and evolve, both as a grower and a winemaker, by providing constructive criticism and invaluable insight from their years of experience. Narra Davis says she’s thankful for the many passes they made with her through the vineyard throughout the growing season, going through different blocks and offering advice on how to make each varietal shine.
“We’re starting to see more and more folks come into the industry wanting to focus on quality and making Texas wine, and it’s exciting,” says Narra Davis, who notes there are now more resources than ever for those wanting to break into the Texas wine industry. “And a big change I’ve seen is people really trying to help newcomers. I’m seeing more diversity in the industry — culture and race, as well as age — and that’s nice to see.”
Under Narra Davis’s care and attention, Narra has dedicated itself to low-intervention methods. It’s been four years since Narra Vineyards has sprayed any herbicide on its property, two years since it sprayed any pesticide, and the owners use very minimal fungicide — and only when needed (one or two sprays in an entire season). The family vineyard may be the only one in West Texas, and one of few in the entire state, practicing minimal-intervention grape cultivation.
“There’s a bigger change where more wineries care about quality when more consumers care about quality,” says Greg Davis. “All those things work in harmony together, right? As soon as the consumer starts caring about quality, then other vineyards are going to care and other winemakers are going to care.”
The 1,500 cases of wine Kalasi produces annually are divided into two different labels. The red-labeled Heritage Collection showcases more common blends and varietals like sangiovese, roussanne, and malbec, which are made with traditional practices. The purple-labeled Reincarnated Collection features more unique, lesser-known varieties such as malvasia bianca and muscat of Alexandria (which both pair perfectly with the Indian snacks), as well as carmenere and teroldego, both grape varieties that the Narra family was the first in Texas to plant.
“We say we’re ‘heritage reincarnated’ because Nikhila’s family farmed in India for so many generations,” says Greg, “and we’re honoring that heritage by farming again, but by growing wine grapes and making wine.”