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.

Sunday, August 24, 2014

An Affair to Remember: Main Street Affairs in Llano, TX

When I am out visiting wineries, especially those a little further from home, I look for certain businesses to enhance my trips. I look for good restaurants, places to stay, fun places to visit and be outdoors, and comfortable spots to relax. Yesterday, I found one of the places: a place to relax.

I realize that when visiting a winery, the best ones create an atmosphere where guests can sit back, sip their wine, and enjoy the scenery. But sometimes, you need something else. Sometimes the wineries are so busy you just want to get away from the crowds. Sometimes the weather makes outdoor seating painful. And at other times, the wineries are closed but the evening is still young. Finding one of these oasis is crucial, especially if you are staying in one of the many welcoming and quaint small towns in the Texas Hill Country. I found such a place in a town with no wineries but nestled between two wine trails -- Wine Road 290 and the Top of the Hill Country. On Main Street in Llano, I found Man Street Affairs.

This picture comes from Main Street Affairs' Facebook page.
I have to admit that I stumbled on this place. It was late in the afternoon and we were headed back to San Antonio from Fall Creek. I know I could drive good old reliable 281, but I prefer Highway 16 to Fredericksburg because it is often less busy and a lot more scenic. Just before we left the winery, I checked my Twitter account and found a promising last stop: Alamosa Cellars was about to start a tasting at a wine bar in downtown  Llano. We did not have the time to visit the winery that day, so I thought it would be a great opportunity to see Jim and Karen Johnson as well as try their new Rosata di Sangiovese. It turned out to be a lot more.

We couldn't find directions for the wine bar, so we had to search along Main Street. This was completely unnecessary as the wine bar is on the northeast corner of Main Street and Highway 16. The location was a bit plain in the front, especially at a distance; it seemed like many of those little shops squeezed into a small location. As we approached, I noticed that the outside was a lot nicer than I thought, and so was not entirely surprised by the rustic and classy interior. The space is a historic one, and the interior pay homage to that with a dusting of the modern. Despite the late afternoon sun shining into their western window, the place was a bit dim, a relaxing sort of dimness that could lead to someone becoming way too comfortable. The stone walls and dark wood made me think more of a wine cellar, which is a good thing for a wine bar. This little gem provided a wonderful retreat.

We first had a leisurely tasting with Jim and Karen, along with a few older couples from the area. The wine bar provided small stemless glasses for the tasting; I later found out they use them when someone wants to taste a wine or do a tasting. I really liked that they did more than serve wine by the bottle and glass; it is a treat to find a place that will actually do tastings. After the tasting, each couple went their own ways; one couple was joined by friends and sat in an open and full space so they could socialize, while the other one slipped off to one of the quieter spots in the back to enjoy a glass of wine with one another. We surveyed the rather spacious room as we made our way to a large and inviting bar.
This picture comes from Main Street Affairs' Facebook page.

The first surprise at the bar was that they only served Texas wines! Most of area wineries were there: Wedding Oak, Fiesta, Fall Creek, Alamosa (of course), Pontotoc, Dotson-Cervantes, and Sandstone. There were also a few more familiar wineries like Becker and William-Chris. Among the wines, they had offerings for white lovers, red fanatics, and even those with a sweet tooth. We settled in and found ourselves with far too many choices, a position I so rarely find myself in except at wineries.

I don't go to wine bars much. Many in San Antonio are expensive and have little choice in wines by the glass. And of course, few have any Texas wines (except Steinheimers at La Cantera). I had choice here, but price was my next concern. Well, price was not an issue. The average glass seemed to run $9, with some as little as $6 or $7. Few surpassed $10; the most notable was the most expensive, Perissos' 2012 Syrah for $15. Bottle prices were just as reasonable. In some cases, they were more than at the winery, but it was maybe one and half times the cost at the winery (if that). A good example in Pontotoc. Their wines run $25-$30 dollars; here a bottle only costs $39. While many were a bit more expensive -- which is to be expected -- a few were cheaper. Some of the Alamosa wines were actually cheaper than at the winery, so Jim encouraged people to buy a bottle here.

So we had an entire Texas menu at good prices. Oftentimes, these wines are by the bottle only; that was not the case here. So we searched the menu and pondered our choices. And then we spotted the perfect last glass of wine for our day: the 2008 Dotson-Cervantes Something Red. Rumors of this wine have circulated for quite awhile; I can't even remember when I first heard about the expansion of the label. But there it was, and very newly arrived. We were the first to try it at the wine bar, which we happily did.

Dotson-Cervantes Someting Red

As we sipped on the red blend from Mason County -- the terroir is clear and alluring in this wine -- we chatted with the staff. They were very friendly and relatively knowledgeable -- there were still things the were learning and were eager to learn more (they have only been open about 2 months). So we swapped stories and information. We felt welcomed, which is just what we look for out visiting wineries.

I can't say enough good things about Main Street Affairs. The spacious and cozy interior are the perfect refuge from the sweltering summer sun. The wine choices rank as one of the best in the area, and the prices didn't hurt my budget (only Sandstone in Mason has comparable selection and prices). The staff was as good as any of the best wineries in the area. From here on out, this may need to be one of my favorite stops. For more info, check them out on Facebook.