Article by Leanne Holley, Texas Wine and Trail Magazine
In the past, if you were discussing Fredericksburg with anyone in Texas the conversation was probably centered around German architecture or shopping. Not everyone in Texas has been to this charming community, but it is as much an iconic part of Texas as the Pecos River, the Austin capital building, or the Rangers. However a transformation has taken place over the last several years, and while visitors still flock to Fredericksburg for the shopping, an increasing number are coming for Texas wine and cuisine. Ranked only second behind Napa Valley by mega travel site Orbitz.com, Fredericksburg Texas is now “one of the fastest growing wine travel destinations in the U.S.” The city sees this growth as a sign of competitive advantage over many other wine – food destinations, and is planning accordingly.
The Texas Center for Wine & Culinary Arts has gone through many phases since its conception. The Center’s all-volunteer board of directors have worked for six years on feasibility studies, planning, budget preparation, committee meetings, site selection and design, as well as extensive community and state impact assessments. Terry Thompson-Anderson, Chef, Cookbook Author and Board Member explains that the TCWCA “will offer the most comprehensive view of Texas food and wine available in one place in the state.”
Downtown Fredericksburg business owners know their city is a major travel destination, and have done a tremendous job in offering visitors unique services and entertainment. But they also understand that state and national tourists view them as a collective identity and a destination for fun, shopping, and now fine cuisine, and Texas wine. Planners of The Texas Center for Wine & Culinary Arts embrace this idea as well, which is why they chose a downtown location, as opposed to building on the edge of the city. Its essential that the TCWCA not only embodies the spirit of Texas wine and food, but reflects the spirit of the community as well. Sitting on a full 3 acres in downtown Fredericksburg, the center will be in walking distance of the popular shops, restaurants, museums, and some 500 hotel rooms.
A study completed by the LCRA’s Community & Economic Development Department for the Gillespie County Economic Development Commission reflects the incredible success of the local wine region. Grape growing and wine production in Gillespie County is already an $82.7 million dollar a year industry. According to another feasibility study by Fairweather Consulting, the Texas Center for Wine & Culinary Arts will add to the previous figure by an annual economic impact of $11.2 million in Gillespie County, and $16.1 million in total annual economic impact for Texas as a whole. 40% of the first year’s estimated 85,000 visitor attendance at the Texas Center for Wine & Culinary Arts will be “deliberate culinary travelers” coming to visit, learn, or attend an event at the center.
So what will you be able to do at the Texas Center for Wine and Culinary Arts? I sat down early one morning with Ernie Loeffler, Director of Fredericksburg’s Convention and Visitor Buereau and TCWCA Board Member, only to be amazed at the scope of the project. In short, there’s something for everyone interested in Texas wine and culinary education. Mr. Loeffler expressed the concern board members had during the initial planning stage to “keep the facility as flexible as possible,” and he noted the importance of learning from similar centers’ mistakes. “We looked at several other centers to see what they did right…what they did wrong, and we used that information as markers when developing our goals for this center.”
And flexible it is! Here is a broken down list of the services the Texas Center for Wine & Culinary Arts will offer:
– Tasting room where visitors can sample rotating wines from around the state that might not be on their current travel itinerary, but wines they don’t want to miss out on experiencing.
– A tapas-style bistro where visitors can enjoy Texas wines paired with Texas food products such as artisan cheeses, olive oils, charcuterie, grass-fed meats, pastured chicken, and other all-natural Texas produce. Or try a flight of Texas wines from a specific grape varietal.
– Retail store offering Texas specialty food items, cookbooks, kitchen equipment, and wine accessories.
– The tasting room also serves to bring together Texas wine writers, chefs, wine bar owners, and sommeliers to “taste the big picture” of Texas wine in an ongoing effort to broaden their visibility on wine lists around the state.
– Classroom A: a theatre style classroom with a raised center stage offering 2-3 hour classes by the best chefs and cookbook authors from Texas and out of state. This space will also host wine & food pairing classes, and wine education classes ranging from beginning wine drinker to serious sessions in tasting and evaluating wines.
– Classes for training winery tasting room personnel, and hospitality classes for professional wait staff. Certificates will be given for these classes, allowing graduates to earn a higher wage due to top professional training.
– Classroom B: six fully-equipped kitchen stations accommodating up to six students each, offering extended classes ranging from three-day seminars to two-week concentrated classes for serious culinarians. Subjects include pastry, baking (including artisan breads), charcuterie, wild game preparation, and more.
– Kitchen “boot camps” to teach young people living on their own for the first time how to cook.
– Corporate team building activities, professional development, and continuing education referrals from restaurants and high schools.
– Classroom C: fully-equipped outdoor grilling and barbecuing kitchen. Classes taught by the state’s best pit-masters, and chefs who will teach how to grill everything from the perfect burger, to fish and shellfish. Saturday classes will be the perfect alternative for husbands and significant others who don’t wish to shop Fredericksburg.
– Entry-level training for high school students interested in a possible career in the culinary/wine industries.
– 10,500 sq.ft. ballroom space will accommodate 700-750 people at a seated dinner with a full catering kitchen. This large space can be subdivided to accommodate smaller groups, especially for conferences—providing meeting space, dining space, tradeshow space, and breakout rooms.
– A catering kitchen for small food product developers, recipe testers, and others who need a certified kitchen to work from.
– Large event lawn with step/seating offers event opportunities for festivals, concerts, or entertaining as an extension from the indoor ballroom space. Walking paths and a pedestrian bridge over Baron’s Creek lead to local lodging.
The Texas Center for Wine & Culinary Arts is proof that Fredericksburg is embracing Texas wine and food tourism, taking the repetitive media endorsements as “the next Napa” seriously. The economic and cultural impact this wine region will continue to have on the state is encouragement for growers and winery owners, as well as those looking for new business and job opportunities. Texas Wine and Trail Magazine will continue to keep our readers informed on the progress of this project. The TCWCA has already received their 501(c)(3) status as a charitable organization, along with a Challenge grant of $1.2 million from the Don L. and Julie Holden Foundation which went to purchasing the 3 acre property. Overland Partners of San Antonio has completed phase one designs for site plan, floor plan and elevation renderings, while expansion of the board of directors has begun with new participation from Dallas, Houston, and Boerne, Texas.
For more information on the Texas Center for Wine & Culinary Arts including project status and board members, or to find out how to make a contribution to the project, please visit the website www.texascenterforwineandculinaryarts.com