GONZALES — Constructed entirely of cypress and dating back more than a century, a little house that had been worn down by time has been reclaimed for present days, hopefully as Gonzales’ first winery.
Ricardo “Rick” Dubois saw it for sale four years ago, and although there were holes in the roof and barely-there walls, could see the house’s former glory. He decided to bring it back, mostly through his own labor and that of his fiancée, Kay Legleu.
“We nicknamed it ‘The Vision,’” Dubois said of the house he purchased in 2011. “A lot of people said they couldn’t see the vision.”
Along with restoring a bit of history — the house is known as the “Gonzales House,” and was built in 1907 on property once owned by the founding family of the city — Dubois and Legleu hope it will also be the site of a winery.
The establishment, Dubois Winery, will, if things go according to plan, make and sell blueberry, strawberry, blackberry, honey, white muscadine and red muscadine wines.
Dubois, who recently retired from Shell Chemical and has made wine as a hobby for years, loves to travel and said he’s always wanted to open his own tourist destination.
As an inveterate traveler, he wants to give similarly inclined people something off the beaten path to visit.
“If there’s a sign on the road (alerting travelers to something of interest), I’m there,” said Dubois, who often worked overseas before his retirement.
Over the last four years, the couple worked in its spare time on the house at 407 E. Ascension St., set off Burnside Avenue, in the oldest part of Gonzales.
The 1,400-square-foot house got a new foundation and new roof and interior walls. Insulation and air-conditioning were put in, and the front porch was restored.
Along the way, “We cleaned and cleaned and cleaned,” said Legleu, a Baton Rouge resident who grew up in the Lutcher area in St. James Parish.
About the only work on the house they contracted out was the sanding and clear-coating of the beautiful cypress floors found throughout the house, once the particle board flooring that covered them was pulled up, Dubois said.
“A lot of people thought this was beyond saving,” said Dubois, a native of Houma who also now lives in Baton Rouge.
Work continues on the exterior of the back of the home, where a porch there will also be restored.
As work has progressed, people have stopped by and asked if they could see the house.
“One woman said, ‘I’m so glad this house is coming back to life,’ ” Dubois said.
If a train station ever comes to Gonzales along the passenger rail line envisioned by many between Baton Rouge and New Orleans, the Gonzales House would be in a prime spot — it’s right across the street from property the city bought this year for the desired train station.
Outside of the home, Dubois and Legleu planted more than 20 muscadine grape vines, some red and some white. They also planted more than 20 each of blueberry and blackberry bushes.
Dubois said he was introduced to wine making, as a hobby, some 20 years ago, by a friend and former co-worker.
“When I retired, I wanted to stay busy. What better way to do that than to do what I enjoy?” Dubois said.
“The thing is, being involved in working in a (chemical) plant, keeping things running, you can never stand back and say I accomplished” this or that, he said.
“With this, you can step back and see, ‘Wow, that’s an improvement,” Dubois said.
He and Legleu said the winery will supplement with juice from other wineries, as well as fruit from area farmer’s markets, until its orchard begins to bring in sufficient harvests. Because of the small size, they say they may always need to supplement with fruit purchases.
The label for the wine bottles has been approved by the federal Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau, Legleu said.
The business will next be seeking state, parish and city licensing to manufacture and sell the wine, she said. The couple is hopeful the winery will be open some time next year.
Louise French, who, with her husband Harry, owns an antique shop next door to the Gonzales House is delighted the old home has been restored.
A “sister house” that was identical to the Gonzales House and located a few streets over was condemned and torn down more than a decade ago, said Louise, who has run the French Garden antique shop on East Ascension Street for some 30 years.
She was afraid the same thing would happen to the century-old house next to her shop.
“I can’t stand for an old house to be torn down. When Rick bought that house, it was like a dream come true,” Louise said.
It was something of a dream come true for Dubois, too, to be located next door to an antiques shop — he’s found several period pieces there for the restoration of the Gonzales House.
He’s hoping to turn the Gonzales House into more of a multi-purpose tourist destination, planning a Christmas lights show from Thanksgiving night through New Year’s.
Visitors can park in an area across from the house, tune into a radio station — the numbers of which will be provided by a sign outside the Gonzales House — and, from the comfort of their cars, watch lights on the house and grounds sparkle and dance in time to Christmas music.
“It’s just now coming to the point where the vision is what I saw,” Dubois said of the graceful old home that’s coming into its own again.