Although the practice is far more common in other wine regions like the Pacific Northwest, Texas hasn’t had a so-called “incubator winery” until the Hill Country’s Wedding Oak Winery saw the need for one.
Now, another winery, Old Man Scary Cellars, has moved in a few doors down from Wedding Oak in downtown San Saba, providing yet another very good reason to visit the small town that residents have been trying to revitalize in the last few years. The new winery is Wedding Oak’s incubator project — a startup winery that Wedding Oak is taking under its wing, providing Old Man Scary Cellars with tasting room space and making its wine until the time when Old Man Scary has grown enough to go out on its own.
“The incubator concept when I first came across it was in Walla Walla, Washington,” Wedding Oak founder Mike McHenry said. “Six different wineries would produce wine in the back and sell at the front, all with different storefronts that customers could choose from. This isn’t quite that big, but the concept is similar.”
He had purchased a 1920s-era building near his winery a couple of years ago, he said, figuring that he might need the space someday. Then, he met Dr. Greg Hisel, a family physician who — like many in the industry — started growing grapes on his 20-acre estate as a passion project. After talking with him, McHenry realized he could put the neighboring building to good use as Hisel’s wine playground.
“We have many friends in the business, and it inspired us to plant Cabernet Sauvignon grapes in Rattle Snake Vineyard on our property,” Hisel said. “Our goal is to make the best Cabernet Sauvignon in the state of Texas” once the grapes have matured. “We chose to partner with Wedding Oak Winery in an incubator arrangement to take advantage of their expertise to get into the market faster.”
Already, Old Man Scary Cellars has a variety of wines bottled and up for sale in San Saba that Wedding Oak’s winemaker, Penny Adams, has made based on Hisel’s specifications. These include Old Man Scary Cellars 2014 Dolcetto, made from fruit in the Texas High Plains and bursting with notes of oak and raspberry, and Old Man Scary Cellars 2013 Cabernet Sauvignon, an “ample, full-bodied wine (with) a beautiful perfume of roasted caramel, smoke and hints of baking spice,” according to a press release. The latter wine, like a couple others in the Old Man Scary lineup, are made from grapes out-of-state.
That will change as Hisel finds his footing as a Texas wine producer. One day, he might not even collaborate with Wedding Oak anymore.
“He could eventually go off and develop his own facility and we’d fill (his old building) with another client,” McHenry said. “Right now, what we’ve got is a win-win for us and for the town of San Saba.”
You’ll notice that the wineries, though closely connected, don’t look the same, and their wines are similarly very different. That’s intentional, McHenry said — Old Man Scary Cellars is “much more contemporary than Wedding Oak’s tasting room. I think it’s very cool. What does it do for the consumers? It gives them a choice. Two different wineries with different wines.”
Wedding Oak Winery is at 316 E. Wallace St, while Old Man Scary Cellars is just a few doors down at 302 E. Wallace St. in San Saba, almost two hours northwest of Austin. For more information, visit weddingoakwinery.com and www.facebook.com/OldManScaryCellars.