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04.21.2011  
 

Texas Plans Wine Center

Fredericksburg Center for Wine and Culinary Arts takes a practical approach

 
by Paul Franson
 
 
Alternative text
 
Vineyards flourish near Fredericksburg, Texas. Source: Mary Ann McClain
Fredericksburg, Texas—The city of Fredericksburg in the heart of Texas wine country plans to build a Center for Wine and Culinary Arts, but learning from failures elsewhere, it has practical goals, not just the celebration of wine and food.

According to its mission statement, the new center is “dedicated to the awareness, understanding, and celebration of Texas food, wine, and agriculture through educational programming and hand-on experiences.” That translates into classes for enthusiasts including wine tastings and food pairings, plus training for wine, food and hospitality workers.

Ernie Loeffler, director of the Fredericksburg Convention and Visitor Bureau, said that the center was originally envisioned as a tourist destination, but current plans suggest the center would serve more as a training location for visitors involved in the wine, culinary and hospitality industries.

texas wine
 
An implied goal of the center will be to promote Texas wine, particularly that from the surrounding Hill Country, but it will also offer corporate team-building, casual dining and shopping and space for special events and meetings. Being in Texas’ most agriculturally diverse county, it will also feature exhibits about Texas agriculture.

Plans suggest a 25,000-square-foot facility with a wine-tasting room, restaurant and patio grill, demonstration kitchen with tiered seating, hands-on kitchen, retail sales area, and permanent classroom and event space. 

A steering committee of 27 local business leaders has incorporated The Texas Center for Wine and Culinary Arts, Inc. as a 501(c)(3) tax-exempt, nonprofit corporation and selected an organizing board of directors. It has also created a development timeline, and a sub-committee has begun work on defining space requirements, which will be used to develop a capital budget. A site selection committee has begun identifying potential locations for the center in Fredericksburg. One possible site is near the new Hill Country University Center, an innovative facility shared by operations from Angelo State University, Austin Community College, Concordia University and Texas Tech University.

A feasibility study completed in 2009 by Fairweather Consulting indicated the center could attract some 34,000 deliberate culinary travelers to Fredericksburg during its first year of operation. The annual economic impact of these 34,000 new visitors could reach $11.2 million for Gillespie County, with a total annual estimated $16.1 million impact for Texas as a whole. 

Local businessman Dave Davenport is serving as chairman of the board. Ken Maxwell, owner of Fredericksburg’s 5,200-case Torre Di Pietra Winery, is vice-chair. Ernie Loeffler, director of the Fredericksburg Convention and Visitor Bureau, will serve as secretary, and Ross Burtwell, owner of Cabernet Grill, will hold the treasurer slot.

Also named to the board of directors are Nichole Bendele, public relations director for 65,000-case Becker Vineyards, Stonewall; Shelley Britton, secretary, City of Fredericksburg; Ken Carr, of Austin-based Carr Development; Joe Cloud, owner of All Seasons Retreat; Debbie Farquhar-Garner, owner of Creative Marketing; and Tim Lehmberg, executive director of the Gillespie County Economic Development Commission. 

Additional board members include Kevin MacWithey, Fredericksburg City Councilman; Mike Raymer, owner of Navajo Grill; Bill Renfro, retired banker; Cord Switzer, owner of 7,000-case Fredericksburg Winery; and Terry Thompson-Anderson, chef and cookbook author.

Avoiding Copia’s pitfalls
Ken Maxwell, the board’s new vice chair, told Wines & Vines that the steering committee had looked closely at other wine centers, some of which have struggled. Most notable was Copia, the American Center for Wine, Food and the Arts in Napa Valley, which spent more than $75 million to build a “temple to wine, food and the arts,” but had no clear mission when opening and never attracted a fraction of the crowds it had projected.

Specifically, Copia did not promote local wines, so received little support from local vintners other than founding donor Robert Mondavi; it had limited facilities for wine and food classes for consumers or professionals. It remains closed as the mortgage holder tries to figure out how to recover more of the $70 million mortgage for a property now supposedly worth $25 million.

Maxwell envisions the Texas center will probably cost only $6 to $8 million, and he anticipates that the center will have a heavy emphasis on training high school and college students and other people needed for wineries, lodgings and restaurants in the area. He also says it will have an audio-visual studio to produce educational and other material.

Fredericksburg is already home to a Texas A&M extension center and research facility, and sits amid more than 30 wineries.

The first event planned to raise seed money for the TCWCA is the Hill Country Wine and Music Festival scheduled for May 7 at Wildseed Farms. The event is being organized by Ken and Jenise Maxwell of Torre di Pietra Winery and HCWM Festivals Inc.

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