Once you decide you want to start a winery, you’re faced with endless decisions that are critical to the success of your business. By far one of the most important decisions is where you should be located. When we decided to start a winery, we had not decided where we wanted our tasting room. Would it be an urban winery in a city like our beloved Dallas? We could create something awesome and have friends and family visit all the time! Would we end up in the bustling North Texas wine scene? People could still make the trek out, and we’d be a part of growing an up and coming area. Could we move down to the Texas Hill Country? That’s the heart of the industry and where there’s a lot of rapid changes shaping the future of Texas wine. All these were on the table and all had their benefits, and their drawbacks.
To help shed light on where we wanted to end up, we needed to lean on our mission statement and make sure that whatever we chose would help enable it to be a reality. Our mission is to “create world-class quality estate-grown wines in Texas, while providing customers unique and memorable tasting experiences.” So how did that impact our decision making?
We love visiting urban wineries. Many have the feel of breweries (which we also love). We love the vibrancy and liveliness of them. In terms of realizing our mission, we felt that an urban winery would require us to serve more customers and subsequently water down the unique experiences we wanted to provide our customers. We worried we’d have to be extremely diligent to not turn into a bar, and to stay a winery.
There are some fantastic wineries popping up just north of Dallas. Starting a winery in North Texas would have allowed us to stay close to friends and family. The commute out to the vineyard in Brownfield would have been easy. We would have been able to offer customers some unique, high-touch experiences. There would have been plenty of benefits both personally and professionally, so starting in North Texas was in the realm of possibilities for us.
Texas Hill Country
While there are fantastic wineries throughout the state of Texas, there’s a concentration of talent and knowledge in the Texas Hill Country that can’t be ignored and can’t be found to the same degree outside of the area. Many of the excellent wineries we sell fruit to from our vineyard, Narra Vineyards, are in the Texas Hill Country so we knew we’d have numerous people to turn to if we needed any help. We knew we may need help across the board – from finding land to construction to winemaking to running a tasting room. Between the talent in the Hill Country and the numerous contacts we had, we knew this would set us up for success in creating world-class quality wines in Texas. Given the Texas Hill Country is a tourist destination, we also knew we’d be afforded opportunities to craft more unique tasting experiences that people seek out when getting away from their day-to-day lives. Because of these reasons, the Texas Hill Country topped our list of where to end up.
Now to Find Land…
Since we narrowed down where we wanted to be to a region, we now had the arduous task of finding a property to launch our business. We took countless trips to the Hill Country to find land. Friday morning trips were common where Greg would work on his laptop in the passenger seat (trying to hide what he was up to to all his coworkers and clients) and Nikhila would helm the wheel. Sometimes we’d stay in Austin and check out Johnson City, Stonewall, Hye, etc. on our way to Fredericksburg (so not dissimilar from what many daytrippers experience). Other times we’d stay in the heart of Fredericksburg and see what tourists staying in town experienced. Who knows how many properties we flipped through online and visited in person. We went up and down wine road 290, Highway 16, secluded properties you’d have to hope your GPS could find, and everything in between. Through all this searching, a few properties stood out.
Riverfront…with 290 Frontage
One was a beautiful property on 290 with fantastic views of the Pedernales river. Creating an incredibly relaxing environment would have been a piece of cake. However, the property was too small for us to have much more than a tasting room and parking. Additionally, the location would have resulted in us being relatively high volume (as in number of customers seen per day) and made it more difficult to provide the level of service and experience we wanted for our customers.
Another property was on highway 16. It was about 50 acres, so plenty of land to craft a slice of paradise and to allow us to grow into whatever we wanted. However, the price point and existing structures would have limited what we could do with the property, and made it hard for us to sufficiently invest in winemaking to make the quality we wanted.
Our Paradise Next to Town
Lastly, our realtor drove us past our current property. Our first impression was not good. From the road all we could see was a small piece of land with no views and a lot of overgrown plants. However, our realtor took us back by the property another day when he had access to drive us around. We were shocked. We were 5 minutes from downtown Fredericksburg, but the peaceful Hill Country views made us feel like we were in the middle of nowhere. As city slickers, that was a dream come true. With over 16 acres we would have enough land to grow. That’s plenty of space for a vineyard, a tasting room, a production facility, outdoor events, etc. Since the land wasn’t on 290, we knew the location would support a more boutique winery and allow us to have more personal connections with our customers.
It seemed like from the moment we passed the property the first time onward, we fell more and more in love with it. We learned it was a farm named Itz Gardens with a little vegetable stand on property. Tomatoes, okra, peppers, etc. were grown on the 16 acres. When we were under contract on the property, we grabbed breakfast at a Tacodeli in Austin before making our way to Fredericksburg. While there we saw a picture of the previous owner holding a bushel of habaneros. It turns out the previous owner, Melvin Itz, sold habaneros to Tacodeli for their salsa (which Greg loves, btw). Eventually we met Melvin and his wife, Mathilda. He was an incredibly kind and friendly Fredericksburg lifer. His family had been in town for many generations. Even after we bought the property he still came out daily and took care of goats until we started construction on our tasting room. His wife, Mathilda, is equally fantastic. At the end of our first phone call with Mathilda, she didn’t just say bye…she told us she loved us. She made us feel like she was our grandmother. We were so caught off guard, but happy. It was clear we made the right decision.
So What’s Next?
Obviously we built a tasting room on a very scenic portion of the land. It’s sandwiched between some mature pecan trees that provide excellent shade during the hot summer months. You may not know it, but we spent a lot of time cleaning up the land. We spent our COVID quarantine out in the fields cleaning them up and helping unleash the beauty of the land. We recently broke ground on a 10,800 square foot production facility that is essential for us to create the world-class, 100% estate grown Texas wine that we aim to make.
There are many things we want to do to further beautify the land. The prettiest part of our property is actually a piece that no customers see. We have a few acres that lead down to Barons Creek. It would make an amazing amphitheater. Right by the creek we have two oak trees that are over 200 years old. They are amazing to see and eventually we want to have a walking trail down to them.
In the acreage where our sheep and llama live, we have a pond that’s dry during the winter, but stays full all summer. We would love to expand the pond, help it stay full year round, add some more trees, have some seating, and build a walking trail to the pond so customers can enjoy some peace and quiet away from the tasting room.
When we bought the property, we also became owners of a 1956 Spartan Imperial Mansion. It’s a 40 foot long aluminum RV similar to an Airstream. We have numerous ideas of how to renovate and use the trailer. Could it be an awesome bed and breakfast? What about another tasting room over by the pond? What if it were a wine bar under the trees? So many options to consider, but one day…one day it will be something awesome.
So there you have it. That’s our story of how we ended up where we are today, and also a sneak peek at what could be next for our property. We hope you find the same beauty in our land that we do!