John Matthews is consumed by his work focused on school-shooting prevention, as well as the writing of screenplays and books based on a serial killer and "How to Survive a Mass Shooting."
To remain sane and balanced, Matthews needs to go no farther than his Ovilla front yard.
With 34 years of experience in law enforcement, he transitioned his skills to be the executive director of the Community Safety Institute, which is a national law enforcement, public safety, and school safety-consulting company.
When Matthews is not traveling the nation, he executes the screenplay and production of a movie based on a book he wrote.
“It’s true crime — based on the serial killer I caught in Dallas,” Matthews elaborated. “It’s Dallas’ only serial killer. So I wrote a book on it called ‘The Eyeball Killer.’ And so the movie is based on my book and life story.”
After the recent school shooting in Parkland, Florida, he was overtaken by phone calls from school districts across North America requesting the services of the Community Safety Institute. The company has over 25 years in school safety. He mentioned after the Columbine shooting in 1999, the company was asked to write the first national curriculum on school response, policy and procedures.
“Our programs go out to all 17,000 law enforcement agencies. They go out to all 110,000 school districts. We don’t traditionally do a lot of local work because everything we do is developing macro programs,” Matthews explained.
He added, “Everything is focused on one goal — saving lives.”
One observation of active-shooter situations that he has drawn is related to how many people and politicians believe there is a quick fix. He referenced schools eliminating backpacks or using identification cards are not the solution.
He does believe, though, that a proper plan combined with an established, well-trained safety team can be a deterrent.
“The biggest thing we are telling schools is that you can’t put a band-aid on school safety. […] What we are telling them is that they need a comprehensive school safety plan and you need to focus on that plan that includes the planning, preparation, the practice, the response — all aspects of it.”
The work never stops for Matthews, and that carries over his front yard, which doubles as Cassaro Vineyards.
“That’s my relaxation,” Matthews expressed. “You know when you deal with the school shootings and mass shootings, the books I write, the work we do with the Department of Justice, you’ve gotta have a release.”
Even though Matthews has Italian roots, it was a trip to Napa Valley that influenced him to master the artistry of winemaking. Without an ounce of knowledge in farming, agriculture, construction or chemistry, Matthews had to learn the hard way.
The experimental process began three years ago and proved to be a continuous cycle of trial and error —well, mostly errors.
However, what started as 10 grapevines has now prospered into more than 2,000.
“I’ve had vines die and do well, and vines re-planted trying to figure out what grows here and what grows best,” he admitted.
Three European varietals, wine primarily made from a single grape, survived the Texas sun and southern winds — a Tempranillo from Spain, a Sangiovese from Italy and an Albarino from Portugal. That is two red wines and a white, for those scoring at home.
The vineyard consumes a little more than three of the 12-acre lot. But he cannot take all of the credit for all of the 18 rows of vines.
For the past two years, Matthews has hosted planting parties where neighbors and folks in the community planted the rootstocks. He blasted an invitation on Facebook, and about 70 guests came the day before Easter. The guests were put to work, planting 900 rootstocks.
The year before, he had 35 people planting. And, from those two groups, Matthews has an established Cassaro Vineyards.
The community did most of the dirty work, but Matthews nurtures and trains the vines to ensure quality on a daily basis — or at least when he is not traveling. He admitted the job is not simple and requires patience. The experiences and stories from the west coast and Sicily inspired his technique.
“There’s a saying in Italy, ‘the vines make the wine,’" Matthews recalled. "So, if you have good grapes, then you’re going to have good wine. If you focus on the grapes and keep the grapes good, healthy then you’re going to have good wine."
He explained the Texas climate alone is difficult to work in. He then admitted to planting a hoard of merlot grapes only to find them all dead. After reflecting on the beginning stage of his hobby, his primary advice is to educate on the subject before investing a single dime.
After many failed attempts, Matthews attended the Grape Grower Conference as well as a grape camp course through a college. He is also a member of the Texas Association of Grape Growers and Texas Wine Grape Association.
Matthews disclosed he was surprised to hear there was a demand for Texas grapes and wine. Based on that information, he decided to expand his vineyard.
Cassaro Vineyards has grown exponentially over the past three years, but more time is necessary before any mass bottling occurs.
“We are still a little way from production — we will have grapes this year. I can tell you that,” Matthews assured. “But it will be a very small run because we don’t have many matured yet. About three years from now, if I don’t add to it, we can produce about 12 and a half tons of grapes, which will be about 12,500 bottles.”
To learn more about Cassaro Vineyards, visit https://cassarovineyards.com/, or find them on Facebook.
Ashley Ford | @aford_news | 469-517-1450