The concept of winery incubators, common in the Pacific Northwest, has already begun to catch on in Texas with San Saba’s Wedding Oak Winery, which helped Old Man Scary Cellars get up and running late last year.
But there’s about to be another one in a prime location in the Hill Country — opening along U.S. 290, the road to Fredericksburg where many of Texas’ best-known wineries are located. Incubator owner Jeff Williams is now seeking four interested tenants who want to take advantage of the winery incubator concept: the business model that allows multiple small wineries to operate in one space, with equipment provided by the owner, as a way of keeping costs low until they can grow and move into their own much bigger building.
Williams and his wife, both investors in Stonewall’s Kuhlman Cellars, saw a need to offer room for smaller wineries along the 290 wine road, an expensive piece of real estate. And already, he said, he is getting interest from people aspiring to have their own winery or grow their current one.
“I’ve gotten one call from a winery that does about 1,000 cases a year but has run out of space and wants to be on 290,” he said. “I’ve gotten another call from a winemaker interested in venturing out and doing his own label. I heard from another guy who has an interest in winemaking. He doesn’t do it now, and he doesn’t want to mortgage his home to get into it. Those are exactly the kind of people we are trying to reach.”
Although Williams hasn’t settled on any of the four possible wineries that will eventually occupy the more than 4,600 sq. ft. building he’s about to start renovating, he’s figured out what it’s going to take to get them there. He’s wading through the permitting process with the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission and the federal Alcohol and Tobacco Tax & Trade Bureau. And he’s decided that each of the wineries will choose for themselves where to source their grapes — the incubator doesn’t come with a vineyard.
“That’s up to their business plan and what they want to be in the future,” he said. “If they want to be true Texas wine, they can work toward using all-Texas grapes.”
The incubator building is located in Stonewall, the same small Texas town where Kuhlman Cellars and other well-established Hill Country wineries, like Pedernales Cellars, have set up shop. The location — at 14725 U.S. 290, it’s the former headquarters of the Stonewall Volunteer Fire Department — is one of the biggest advantages of Williams’ winery incubator.
“One of the benefits of this arrangement is that they’ll learn from the experiences of people up and down the road,” he said. “The winemakers, the winery owners, they are amazingly cooperative when it comes to sharing information. They love to talk about their experiences, how they started, who they talked to, how they grew. That’s one of the keys to the winery incubator being successful, having access to these people.”
When the as-yet-unnamed space is up and running, each of the four wineries will be able to produce up to 1,500 cases per year.
“It’s a pretty simple concept — it amounts to being a co-working space,” he said. “If we provide the opportunity, the location, equipment, etc., for someone to make wine for a monthly rate, we’d win and they’d win. Wedding Oak has done one and it’s worked out very well.”
Williams intends to get the winery incubator opened by December. For more information, email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.