Sunday, October 5, 2014

Texas Wine Month has Started!

The greatest celebration of Texas wine is upon us. October is Texas Wine Month, and wineries throughout the state are celebrating with special events and festivals. For me, that means a trip to the Texas Hill Country Wineries and 31 days on the annual Texas Wine Month trail.

For those that do not know, the wine trail allows those who purchase passes to sample wines from all 42 participating wineries -- without any additional charge. For $35 for an individual pass and $60 for a couple, this is an incredible deal.

When on the trail, guests an enjoy up to 4 full tastings a day. There was some complaint about it at first, as those that can't regularly be in the area would not be able to visit many wineries. This is true, but by moving to 4 a day, they can no offer full tastings (rather than the typical 3), which makes for a more thorough experience. I have already enjoyed my first trail day, and I can say that 4 full tastings is an ample amount. To complete that Herculean task, we devoted almost 6 hours to make those four visits to wineries that were very close to one another (someone within sight distance).  I can honestly say that I enjoyed the fuller tasting; it forced me to slow down and enjoy the wine and the company. Best of all, it allowed me to real get a full measure of what each winery had to offer.

The other new change is the use of a tasting booklet. In years past, trail goers took their paper ticket to each of the wineries. At each winery the ticket was stamped to track each guests' visits. After awhile, the ticket could get full, and so many of the stamps were hard to read. The new book provides four spaces for each of the 31 days of the trail; there is no problem with keeping track. In addition to tracking visits, the book becomes a souvenir.

In addition to the trail, the wineries host a kick-off party during the first weekend. This year it was moved to Saturday, which made it easier to actually come. So from 6-8 on the 3rd, guests enjoyed the beauty of Hye Meadow and drank wines from the host, as well as Alamosa, Bending Branch, Lewis Wines, McReynold's, and Messina Hof. Live music from the Flying Pig provided the evening's soundtrack, and KHill Barbeque served up great food. This night ended up being perfect, with the moon raising on side and the sun setting on the other.

Luckily, this adventure is just getting started. There are still many days to visit the wineries and a second party on Saturday the 25 at Driftwood.To join the fun, head to the Texas Hill Country website and grab a ticket; they may just sell out. And then, let the Texas wine drinking commence.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Revitalization in the Hill Country: Wedding Oak Winery Expands into Burnet

Texas regularly benefits from the growth and innovation of the Texas Wine industry. In the past decade, wineries and tasting rooms have energized local economies and their communities. The expansion and success of Fredericksburg and Hye are primary examples of how the industry can invest in the community, create and sustain satisfying and well-paying jobs, and create new revenue streams. Each year, yet another town, especially those in the Hill Country, grow brighter thanks to the efforts of the wine industry. In recent years, Wedding Oak Winery has helped the City of San Saba. Now, they plan to continue their effort by doing the same for Burnet.

Wedding Oak and San Saba

For those who have visited San Saba, the positive influence of Wedding Oak is clearly apparent. The small town provided incredible potential – a strong history, a devoted community, and ample possible attractions. Mike and Lynn McHenry, along with other local investors, decided to bring San Saba back to life. The group started with the winery. Then, when Wedding Oak opened, they did more than just join the San Saba community, they provided the aid needed to grow San Saba and make it a unique destination.
Wedding Oak Winery's Namesake
San Saba had a struggling town center – like many small towns in Texas. But, it also had a great history and beauty that could easily aid the town’s certain success. So, Wedding Oak and its investors purchased a number of old and unoccupied buildings, many dating from the early twentieth century. Today, these buildings look new and retain their classic charm, and businesses are starting to fill them up. In addition to the revitalizing the downtown, the winery promotes the area, encouraging winery visitors to visit important landmarks like the actual Wedding Oak tree and Regency Bridge, shop at the long standing local businesses like Harry’s, and attend festivals like Pecan Jam and the new Sip and Stroll at Christmas. This involvement has created a need for additional new businesses, like a recently opened bistro. San Saba has grown and now shines thanks to the efforts of Wedding Oak Winery.

Wedding Oak and Burnet

Now, the winery hopes to do the same for a neighboring small town, Burnet. Burnet is well situated near a number of Texas wineries – Perissos (already in Burnet), Flat Creek, Pilot Knob, Pillar Bluff, Texas Legato, Fiesta, Alamosa, Fall Creek, and, of course, Wedding Oak itself – so it is no surprise that it will benefit from the wine industry. Like San Saba, the city has historic relevance and an abundance of wonderful attractions, especially outdoor recreation. These similarities suggest that Wedding Oak can use their experience to make this new endeavor a success. In fact, Mike McHenry believes this new plan for Burnet will make the community “a regional hub for the growing wine industry in the Hill Country.” This hub will help draw more tourists to the wineries at the “Top of the Hill Country.”

To make this all possible, Wedding Oak has paired with the Burnet Economic Development Corporation (BEDC) – a city board that uses locally generated sales tax to grow the community. This team will work to renovate and invigorate a historic area of the city. The BEDC has purchased a number of buildings – the Chamber of Commerce and adjacent buildings – in the city square along East Jackson Street. Specifically, Wedding Oak and the BEDC have acquired the Badger Building at the corner of South Pierce and East Jackson, which will house the new winery. Wedding Oak will also be involved with the other adjacent buildings. Together, they will renovate the buildings and provide new opportunities.

The acquired buildings are an important part of Burnet’s past. The Badger Building, in particular, first housed a wholesale and retail drugstore, as well as offices, as early as 1886. Since then, a variety of businesses and local government offices have used this space. And like many of these historic buildings, the Badger Building is in need of repair. Some of the adjacent buildings are like the Badger Building: they merely needed to be renovated. Others, however, are so damaged that they will need to be demolished and rebuilt. Soon, the officially designated Historical Site and its neighbors will return to their former glory, and have a winery also.

All of these plans include Wedding Oak establishing a new winery in Burnet. This location will include a tasting room with wine sales and a wine production facility. And just like the main location in San Saba, this new building will also have additional retail sales and event space. This project does not differ much from the work started in San Saba. Wedding Oak and its investors purchased a block of commercial buildings and, still today, continues renovation. The long term goal is to have businesses establish themselves in these revitalized buildings, like the recently opened J.C. Campbell Mercantile next door to the winery. As the project continues, the adjacent buildings will soon showcase other additions to San Saba. Now, the city of Burnet will enjoy Wedding Oak’s commitment to revitalizing small, local communities.

The Future of Texas Wine in Burnet

The new project in Burnet will begin production early in 2015. The BEDC and Wedding Oak hope to have the work complete by the fall of the same year. If all goes well, next October, Texas Wine drinkers will have another stop on the Texas Hill Country’s Texas Wine Month Trail. And for Burnet, they will have gain a renovated historic building. In addition, the community, according to Burnet City Manager David Vaughn, will have “an entirely new draw with nearly immeasurably benefits” all thanks to Texas Wine.