Downtown wine tasting rooms pour money into tourism industry

Fiesta Winery in Marble Falls

Patrice Streit of Fiesta Winery in Marble Falls says having a tasting room downtown helps both the winery and the city, drawing visitors to the historic district for shopping and dining. Staff photo by Daniel Clifton

Driving U.S. 290 from Johnson City to Fredericksburg, you can’t help but notice the growing number of wineries and vineyards.

And they’re overflowing into cities such as Marble Falls and Burnet, which are taking advantage of the burgeoning wine industry and its related tourism. Wineries with tasting rooms are moving into town, benefiting city economies.

“The wine industry is booming in Texas,” said Patrice Streit, manager of the Fiesta Winery tasting room in Marble Falls. “Through tasting rooms, we’re creating a whole new body of people who get to try and experience our wines.”

In Burnet, Wedding Oak Winery opened a tasting room in the historic Badger Building, bringing a new attraction to the courthouse square. As Wedding Oak Winery owner Mike McHenry toured the location, he pointed out that a tasting room can draw visitors to downtown areas.

“You’ll get people who maybe haven’t been to the square in awhile come in or those just coming here for the winery,” he said. “When it’s on the square like this, the other businesses benefit because it means more traffic down here.”

Wine is a multibillion-dollar industry for the Lone Star State, and it’s still considered a young one. By number of wineries, Texas ranks fifth behind California, Washington, Oregon, and New York. But Texas is in third place — behind California and New York — on how much the industry contributes financially.

Locally, wineries and tasting rooms are a unique addition to business offerings for residents and visitors.

Ben Davidowitz, manager of Wedding Oak Winery and its Burnet tasting room, noted the large number of people visiting the business throughout the week. He expects it to grow.

While people can purchase wines at grocery and liquor stores, Davidowitz said a tasting room goes beyond that.

“We’re more of an experience,” he said. “When someone comes in here, we tell them the story behind the winery, explain our different wines, and let them taste the wines. We’re creating a complete experience for them.”

It’s the same at Fiesta Winery in Marble Falls. Streit emphasized that a tasting room can educate customers.

“We want them to build a connection with Fiesta and our wines,” she said. “One of the incredible things about the wine industry, and wine, is it’s always changing. There’s a new wine we may offer, and, even year to year, each vintage is different. It changes all the time, and we get excited about sharing that with people.

“We get the honor of telling the story of how our winery started with people,” Streit added.

Wineries also tap another thing to encourage return visits: the wine club.

Specific to each winery, a member pledges to purchase a certain number of bottles of wine for privileges. The amount and benefits differ from winery to winery.

The city in which the winery operates benefits as well.

Wedding Oak Winery in Burnet
Wedding Oak Winery, which has its vineyard and main winery in San Saba County, opened two satellite locations: one in Fredericksburg and the other in Burnet. Staff photo by Daniel Clifton

A wine club can have several thousand members spread across the state and beyond. When a winery releases a wine, it will often hold a special event for club members and guests at the tasting room, bringing more visitors to a city.

Another part of club membership is picking up a wine. Like releases, wine pickup parties are now moving to the tasting rooms. And these events can pack in patrons.

Davidowitz said about 300 people showed up to Wedding Oak’s last wine pickup at the Burnet location, many traveling from outside the area to get their wine.

“When they’re in town, they’ll stop and get gas or go to a restaurant or go shopping,” said McHenry, Wedding Oak’s owner.

It’s the same for Fiesta Winery in Marble Falls.

“That’s a win for all of Main Street and the downtown area,” Streit said.

When people come to the tasting room in Old Oak Square, the staff encourages them to check out other downtown shops and businesses.

Tasting rooms and downtown wineries are also a great meeting place for people. Streit said they have quite a few customers who stop after work for a glass of wine and to mingle. She’s seen many strike up friendships and make plans to return on the weekends.

“We’re very much a family,” Streit said of the Fiesta tasting room staff and many of the regulars.

Wedding Oak in Burnet also serves as a social hub with people gathering after work or a meeting.

And downtown tasting rooms are lucrative for the winery.

“This is an opportunity to introduce our wines and winery to people who may never go to the vineyard in Lometa,” Streit said.

McHenry said Wedding Oak thrives on direct-to-consumer sales, whether at the San Saba winery or the tasting rooms in Fredericksburg and Burnet.

The more locations a winery has, the more customers and sales. And those customers visit other businesses in the immediate area.

“I think having us here, it does help other businesses on the (Burnet) square,” McHenry said.

He doesn’t see other wineries or tasting rooms as competitors but more like a support system. McHenry even came up with what one might describe as a winery triangle in the Burnet area. People who stop at Wedding Oak in Burnet can pick up a postcard with an outline of a triangle connecting Wedding Oak with Torr Na Lochs Vineyard and Winery on Texas 29 just west of Burnet and Perissos Vineyard and Winery on Park Road 4 in Hoover’s Valley.

That connection with other vineyards and wineries provides wine lovers with a better experience. They’re no longer coming for just one but several. McHenry described it as getting a “critical mass” of wineries and/or tasting rooms in an area to draw in more people.

“You’re likely to stop if there’s one, you’re more likely to stop if there’s two, and you’re going to stop if there’s three,” he said.

Streit agreed that having more wineries and tasting rooms is beneficial to all. It brings more wine tourism to the area. She hopes another tasting room or two opens in downtown Marble Falls.

“I don’t think of it as competition, but it’s a way to make downtown Marble Falls into more of a wine destination,” she said.

As the Texas Hill Country’s reputation as a world-class wine-producing area grows, cities such as Burnet and Marble Falls are poised to reap the harvest of visitors and wine aficionados.

“Who wouldn’t want to come here?” McHenry said as he looked over the Burnet square from Wedding Oak’s rooftop terrace. “Come up here, enjoy a glass of wine, and take in the view.”

daniel@thepicayune.com

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