We had a chance to talk to Grape Creek Vineyard‘s Brian Heath about the wine industry and the growth and acceptance of Texas wines.
Please excuse any typos in this hasty transcript.
Jay Curry: Welcome back. Hello Texas. This is Texas Business Radio. And we’ve got a great program going today. We have a studio full of wine specialists. It’s amazing, in fact my partner Matt is out in the hall trying to line them up. We’re going to have a great show. And at this point, we’ve got a special guest Brian Heath. But before we get started, let me remind you that you can go to Texas business radio and every single interview, sponsor, guest, everything you want to know, it’s all right there in beautiful color. So, go to a Texas business radio. For the meantime just sit back and relax. Later you can give us a call. We have, we monitor 24 hours a day 844-814-8144. Just relax you can go to and get that number from the from the Web site as well. Also, if you want to let us do a little twittering we watch #TBR, as in Texas Business Radio, #TBR. So, we’ve got that down. We’re into this program on wine. I’m having fun, this is like the second time we’ve done a program on wine. These folks are amazing and they are big business in Texas. Wine is definitely a big part of Texas economy. So, Brian Heath is the owner of Grape Creek Vineyard. Did I get that right?
Brian Heath: You did Jay.
Jay Curry: Thank you sir. Welcome. We’re glad to have you on board. Tell us what Grape Creek is all about.
Brian Heath: Grape Creek is a winery and vineyard located in Fredericksburg, Texas. We’re right on Highway 290. Which is the way most people come into town from any of the larger cities. We were lucky enough to get started in this business 11 years ago. When we purchased Grape Creek, it was an existing, operating winery, had been founded by a Houston oil man back in the early 1980s. Planted some of the first grapes in the area because he thought the soil was similar to Tuscany and in many ways that proved to be true. And I’m not much of a surfer but one of the things I did learn is when you see a big wave, paddle hard. And that’s what we’ve been doing for 11 years.
Jay Curry: So, you didn’t have to start from scratch. You had some good mature grapes and vineyards going.
Brian Heath: Well actually, the, interestingly the vineyards had had some problems there. So we pretty much had to replant almost everything. But fortunately a lot of the growers up in West Texas and the high plains were a lot of the grapes are grown in Texas. Did have a lot of fruit already developing and we were able to tap into that.
Jay Curry: OK. So, Grape Creeks a little unique though. Different than the others. Won’t you tell us how?
Brian Heath: Well, one of the things I think that makes us unique is that we actually do have a fairly large estate vineyard. We have almost 20 acres planted on property and we focus on creating an experience that I call transportative. So, initially I always say our first marketing plan was to build a bell tower on 290 so that people would turn their steering wheel and come in. But once they…
Jay Curry: Got to get noticed, right?
Brian Heath: Absolutely but once they got in, what we wanted them to do is to feel like they had pulled into Tuscany or the Rhone Valley in France or even Napa. And so that they developed this affinity, a familiarity with Grape Creek. I’m a huge Disney fan and I think Disney has built an entire business off of creating that kind of an affinity. And so what we did was create an experience that we believe differentiated us from a lot of the other wineries. Not only in Texas but in some other places as well.
Jay Curry: So, for Grape Creek it’s all about the experience. It’s, it’s a big deal, right? And that’s what visual, tasting, doing the tour. You cover all of that.
Brian Heath: We do and we use a phrase there called “taste, tour, belong”. And it represents this increasing immersion in the experience. So, when someone first comes, what we want to do is be able to do a tasting with them. Or they could even do a tour and tasting, where they get to experience our winery and production facilities. They get to taste straight out of wine barrels and compare the contrasting flavor of new French verse new American. And then also be able to taste the wines and then belong, relates to the fact that we are very focused on our wine club. We really are a wine club winery and as a result we identify and target a lot of our perks and benefits to our club members. Not only at our 290 location but also at our main street Fredericksburg and Georgetown, Texas locations.
Jay Curry: OK. Now when you took over those production was like a couple of thousand cases and now you’re up, you’ve grown substantially right
Brian Heath: Right. We have. And one of things about the wine business is you always have to produce ahead of yourselves. Because the wine you’re making today is not going to be wine that’s drunk or drank until two, three years down the road. But yeah, we’ve grown by almost 20 fold over that period of time and…
Jay Curry: That’s amazing. That’s only 11 years, right?
Brian Heath: It is. And we’ve been fortunate. And you know our club members have been a huge part of that. Because they’ve been really ambassadors or almost apostles for Grape Creek.
Jay Curry: So, part of your unique story is the fact that you want people… first of all you’re going to sell direct. Okay. So that you don’t go get a Grape Creek bottle of wine by going to the local liquor store. You’re going… you’re, your uniqueness is that you have the wine club. You have a wonderful experience when you come in for the tour and people, you know, experience you and then they want to continue and you encourage them to come back. It’s all about that one on one experience, it’s not about just pushing a bunch of wine.
Brian Heath: Right and it’s about the connection and the relationship between the club member and the winery. And there are a number of Texas wineries that produce larger quantities and they do distribute through liquor stores.
Jay Curry: And there’s good quality, that’s not the question.
Brian Heath: Oh absolutely.
Jay Curry: Just the business model.
Brian Heath: It is. It’s a very definitive choice that we made. And part of the reason I made that choice is that in my prior corporate background I have already been on the treadmill of lots of people, lots of travel, lots of responsibility. And so this really is as much a personal choice as it is anything to run the business the way that we really want to run the business. And of course every business isn’t right for every customer and we know that. And so as a matter of fact, we were talking earlier, I shared we take a little social media grief. Which I’m sure a lot of the other business owner or listeners know what I’m talking about. But sometimes that grief actually works for us because other people read it and they say wow this place is really what I’m looking for.
Jay Curry: It’s different, it’s unique and it presents high quality wine. Talk to me a little about, a little bit about the wine you’re making. You’ve got some good quality coming out here.
Brian Heath: We do. As a matter of fact, we just heard in the last couple of weeks, we entered 17 wines in the San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition, which is the largest American Wine Competition in the world. There’s over 7000 entries and of those 17 wines we entered, we got 17 medals, including three double gold and three golds. During that most recent competition and so we were very excited about the results. And that’s a credit to our Winemaker Jason Englert who’s been with us the whole time and perhaps maybe the most decorated wine maker in Texas.
Jay Curry: Wow. That’s 17 out of 17. You had three double golds, which is like premium and then three golds. Which is, you know, extremely high quality. So you’re really putting out first class.
Brian Heath: We are. And what we want Grape Creek to be about for the people who visit is an experience with wine. You know one of the things that all wine regions deal with is that they’re developing is sometimes it kind of becomes more of a focus on party. Well we…
Jay Curry: Right.
Brian Heath: We have a phrase a Grape Creek which is wine is a pleasure not a party. And what we’re really about is introducing people to wine and the winery experience. If they want more of a bar feel. There’s other places that will work better for them than us.
Jay Curry: This is just fantastic. So, wine is a pleasure, not a party. I like it. Folks we’ve been talking to Brian Heath. And he’s the owner of Grape Creek Vineyards. And if you’ve been to Fredericksburg you know that’s a big wine area. You’ve got to put this one on your list for sure. Because the quality of the wines that he’s putting out is fantastic. So, Brian tell us how, how can our listeners look you up, find you, know where to go. What do they do first?
Brian Heath: Well, the best way to look us up is to go to our Web site which is grapecreek.com. Of course, we’re on Facebook and Twitter and Instagram as well. But you know where the most information is on grapecreek.com and the other thing I would say is come visit us. And if you’re looking for a little quieter, more personal experience. Do it during the week. If you’d like a little bit more of a popular experience than you know you can check it out on the weekend.
Jay Curry: That’s back to wine is a pleasure. And if you’re there with a hundred other people and everybody’s pushing and shoving and you can’t relax and really enjoy the experience. And the experience is what Grape Creek is all about.
Brian Heath: It is and even on the weekends we manage that. So everyone can have a great time.
Jay Curry: Well Brian, thank you very much. Very informative. Folks, it’s Grape Creek. You got to go there. Speaking of which, we’ve got to pay a couple of bills. We’re going to step out for a moment. But you’ve got just enough time to stand up stretch. And after that you got to get back. We got more wine is big business in Texas coming right up.
Sponsored in part by:
Jay W. Curry
Along with hosting “Texas Business Radio”, Jay is a Professional Certified Coach and Master Chair facilitating four Houston-based Vistage peer groups. In addition to being a best selling non-fiction author, the 2015 release of his award winning novel, Nixon and Dovey: the Legend Returns, adds novelist to his title. Jay holds a BS in Mathematics from Oklahoma State and an MS in Computer Science from Kansas State. You can learn more about Jay HERE.