Football mom and vineyard manager. That’s Camille McBee, just your typical Lake Highlands resident. “I have such good memories,” McBee says. “Both my sons were #69, and we had their jerseys framed… .
“Our house was always ‘The House to Hang’. The team was always there. I had Cokes, always had chips.”
And, of course, “those hamburger patties from Sam’s with the grill ready to go.”
McBee says one of the reasons she liked her rather unique job was the flexibility.
“The thing is I could be home when I needed to be home. Back then, I would work mainly from my house, and Thursdays would always find me slinging hash for the football team.
“The kids loved Big David and myself, so they would always come…and they still do. We loved it.”
“Big David” is David McBee Sr., a neighborhood CPA. Camille, general manager of sales and marketing for La Buena Vida, has more time to spend on-site at her job lately, performing tasks a little more unusual in Dallas County than the Sonoma Valley. Both her boys are off the football field and into their grown-up lives these days, although she says “you never give up your Wildcat season tickets.” David Jr., a financial consultant for First Union, and daughter-in-law, Meredith, live in nearby Highland Park, while CPA Clayton and bride-to-be Betsy will be M-Street homeowners.
“They’ve dated since they were 15,” McBee says. “A Lake Highlands girl. The boys started out at Highlander and went all the way through Lake Highlands High School, and then both went to Texas Tech.”
“I really attribute the teachers in Lake Highlands for some of the success that my kids have had through college and in their careers. They got so much positive reinforcement.”
With her educational focus shifting more exclusively to the wine industry now, McBee’s 14-year stint with La Buena Vida – Spanish for “the good life” – has evolved into her presidency of the Texas Wine and Grape Growers’ Association and a column with the new locally based wine magazine, “Vine Dallas.” Recognized with many honors and titles within her industry over the years, McBee says that it’s all a result of her job being “a passion” as opposed to, well, just a job.
“You either love it or you hate it. We do it all here, and I never ask my employees to do anything I haven’t done myself.”
“Everything” runs the gambit from mopping floors to greeting customers by name…to traveling around the state to promote LBV wines to hosting special events.
“I teach a lot of classes like Wine 101 and Wine & Food Pairing,” McBee says.
Considered a relatively new industry in Texas, you may be surprised to learn that vineyards were operating in the region as far back as the 1600s; Prohibition effectively shut down the wine growers here, and our state was slower to revive the industry than California, McBee says.
“There was a strong community of Italian immigrants there – the Mondavis, the Sebastianis – and this was their whole way of life. We had cotton and cattle and oil. We didn’t need the wine industry. But in the ’70s, it kind of became a rich man’s toy, and now we have 48 wineries in Texas.”
Owned by Dr. Bobby Smith, La Buena Vida’s vines are actually farmed in Springtown, while the city of Grapevine lured their tasting room to a limestone structure in the Historic District that was originally a small church. The antique tasting bar came from a place called The Red Room in the old Dallas Sheraton.
“We produce all kinds of wine – from champagne to port – and we’ll be celebrating our 30th birthday next July 4th,” says McBee, strolling past the demonstration garden behind the tasting room. She’s just come from some opening festivities for Grapefest and is in high spirits.
“We just had a champagne cork shoot-off,” she laughs, recalling the uniquely Texan approach to celebrating wine. Fortunately, it seems that the contest is limited to seeing who can shoot the cork the longest distance – as opposed to any more deadly face-offs. McBee seems more than at home with both her craft and her roots.
“I’m a native Dallasite.” she says. “My mother was a native Dallasite. My grandmother was a native Dallasite. I grew up in the Bluffview area and moved to Lake Highlands in ’75. We thought we’d probably live there about two years…but it turned out to be such a great place to raise kids.
“We have a creek in Highland West, my neighborhood, and old Lake Highlands has some awfully pretty areas. We’re like a small town, maybe because,” she chuckles, “we’re kind of a stepchild. Dallas doesn’t really consider us ‘theirs’ because we’re Richardson schools, and Richardson doesn’t consider us ‘theirs’ because we’re inside the Dallas city limits. So we had to fend for ourselves and become our own little entity – a close tight-knit community.”
“I like it. I would never want to move out to…Frisco, Prosper. I would never want to do that. I was born and raised in Dallas, and that’s where I’m gonna stay. I have a neon Pegasus in my den – that’s how much of a Dallasite I am.”
McBee opines that “The Dallas Woman” is different from any other woman in Texas, and attributes that in part to Stanley Marcus. In fact, she’s such a loyal Neiman’s customer that during one hectic festival weekend, the store sent out evening dresses to McBee and made the courier wait while she tried them on.
“I know the number by heart,” she says solemnly.
Just recently, the McBees “totally gutted the house and are getting ready to remodel and add on – big slate patio, new gazebo – we’re not going anywhere.”
So this winter, you can find her still firmly ensconced in the neighborhood, curled up fireside with a little Stilton cheese and a bottle of Walnut Creek Cellars Port.
“Can’t beat it,” she says.