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Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Libby Landry: Governess of Grapes

by Blair "B-Rex" Loup
Libby Landry overlooking the vineyard in West Monroe, Louisiana
Libby Landry overlooking the vineyard in West Monroe, Louisiana

When you pull onto the gravel road that leads to Landry Vineyards you’re greeted by a landscape of rolling hills covered in grape vines. It’s a sight you can’t see in many parts of Louisiana, but to the Landrys it’s just another day at the office.

Jeff and Libby Landry were high school sweethearts at Hahnville High School in Boutte. Libby turned Jeff down a few times when he asked her if he could carry her books, but a determined man, Jeff won her over eventually.

Three years later, they married. Jeff studied engineering while Libby learned cosmetology. In the early years of their marriage, Jeff traveled across the country for months at a time for work, and after having a few children, the Landrys felt a hankering for something with a slower pace.

The dynamic duo and their four boys settled down in Folsom, Louisiana, and began searching for a blueberry farm. Neither Libby nor Jeff had any experience working on a farm, so Libby had no idea what her family was in for.

You can imagine her amusement once Jeff had discovered a vineyard, talked to the owner, and set his sights to open his own.

“I told him he was crazy…absolutely crazy,” Libby said.

The Landrys' experience wrangling four rowdy young boys was nothing compared to farming.

Six weeks later, the family started laying cloth in the ground to cultivate the land for grape vines. It takes three years from the time the fruit is planted until you can yield a successful crop.

Eight years later, still struggling through the process of growing grapes for wine in Louisiana’s temperamental climate, Hurricane Katrina made landfall. The Landrys moved North to West Monroe, Louisiana, where Jeff had every intention of starting over and Libby saw an opportunity to get out of the business.

But once they found the perfect piece of land, the couple decided to see the vineyard through. The temperature, rolling hills, and soil were ideal for growing grapes.

While owning and operating a Louisiana vineyard may have been the dream of her husband, Libby's hard work made it all possible.

“I would cook food for days," she said. "We’d pack up the boys and live in the old barn showering with a water hose until each harvest was complete. That was our life for a while.”

Six years later, Landry Vineyards bottles wines with grapes grown in California and shipped overnight to West Monroe in addition to fungus and disease resistant grapes grown on their property in Louisiana.

Libby still help harvest the grapes when it’s time, but now her duties lie mostly with the vineyard’s tasting room, concert series, and special events.

Their concert series starts in March and is held every other weekend until the end of the summer. Sometimes over 1,000 visitors attend, and Libby shops and cooks for all of them. Almost every other weekend of the year is taken up with special events or weddings.

In addition to events, Libby also in charge of gift basket orders and coordinating their new wine club.

“The jobs are endless,” she said.

She runs vineyard, keeps her man in check, has two teenage boys at home, and still finds time to pour herself a few glasses of wine; I’ll drink to that!

This post is part of a monthly series spotlighting Louisiana women in the business of booze. Previous features include:

Natalie Parbhoo: Duchess of Distribution
Lindsay Nations: Baroness of Beers
Dori Murvin: Sorceress of Service
Nora McGunnigle: Headmistress of Hops
Myrna Arroyo: Vino Valedictorian
Brandi Lauck: Warden of Whiskey
Cari Caramonta: Mother of Malts
Erin White: Priestess of Pairing
Beth Donner: Dame of Distilling
Halston McMullan: Hustler of Houston Hops