Another local vineyard expert gave the Brownfield Industrial Development Corp. board of directors a positive outlook on the future of Terry County’s grape industry Monday and also reported good news following a freeze event earlier this month.
Bobby Cox told the board that he believes the quality of grapes grown in Terry County rival those of anywhere else in the world and said the national media is beginning to take notice.
“It is going to be difficult for the national media to ignore our quality much longer,” he said. “Because of our incredible blessings from God — our soil, our altitude, even our wind — it all comes together and makes for incredible grapes. Our biggest hurdle now is we have to get a lot bigger. I really appreciate what Andy (Timmons) and Matt (Adams) are doing. They are not creating competition. They are adding credibility to our market.”
Cox repeatedly told the board that the future is bright for local vineyards and said the sheer inertia of the industry will go a long way to help Terry County grapes along. He added that Texas Custom Wine Works, opened last year in the Brownfield Industrial Park #1, could be “wildly successful” and there is room for additional production facilities.
“I can’t say it enough, as the quality of our wine strikes the national market; we’re going to make a lot of waves,” he said. “Terry County and Brownfield are getting a good reputation in the industry and that will continue to grow.”
Asked about his thoughts on BIDCorp.’s plans to transform the remainder of the industrial park into the High Plains Winery Estates, Cox said a cluster of wineries is the correct formula, but questioned if this area could draw the number of people necessary for profitability.
“The most attractive feature of the park is the synergy it provides,” he said. “Clusters of wineries have proved to be very attractive. We have learned they need to be in areas where not any single winery has to meet all of the needs of the public, but together they can.”
Cox said the most attractive retail winery in the world is the stretch of highway between Fredericksburg and Johnson City in the Texas Hill Country.
“There has been incredible development there and wonderful profitability,” he said. “That has all built up over the last 20-25 years. They can’t grow grapes, but they have learned to buy them in Terry County and their appetite for our fruit is endless. Wineries with a very strong consumer base and empty tanks make great customers. They don’t haggle on the price.”
Cox said the current model of the Texas wine industry is “they sell it, we grow it.” His hesitation to endorse BIDCorp.’s plan for the park is simply whether or not we have enough population to support it.
“There is a 250 mile circle around Lubbock with less than a million people in it,” he said. “The same circle around Fredericksburg has over 20 million people in it.”
The vineyard expert conceded that the local park wouldn’t have to have the same numbers to be deemed a success.
“We don’t have to be as big as that for it to work,” he said. “But the cluster attitude is very attractive. One winery doesn’t have much of a chance on its own in the retail oriented business. You have to have a bunch to make it go.”
Board chairman Jay Youngblood asked Cox what the average head count is at a Fredericksburg winery. Cox said he didn’t have that number, but during a recent festival, the Becker winery had 14 cash registers going with lines at each. Youngblood asked if the local project would create an environment of competition with the Hill Country, or simply add another destination for weekend trips. Cox said, in short, the more the merrier.
“I think there is a statewide synergy in place,” he said. “There is no way to have too many wineries in Texas.”
He concluded by saying the timing of the project might be premature.
“Eventually, we could get a cluster like this going no problem,” he said. “But I just don’t know if in the immediate future it would work.”
Regarding the current grape crop and the recent freeze, Cox was largely optimistic.
“Most places are in good shape,” he said. “Some weren’t hurt at all and some saw minimal damage.”
Cox said he has been in the grape business for 40 years and he recently reviewed freeze records for the last 67 years. Last year and this year accounted for the worst and the third worst freeze events in all of those 67 years.
“If we can take the third worst freeze in our history and still produce a record crop, that’s huge,” he said. “In my decades of growing grapes, I’ve lost more fruit to 2-4D chemical than to frost.
I think our luck will change and we’re back in business.” The board instructed executive director David Partlow to research popular winery areas like Grapevine and Fredericksburg to see what if any incentive projects were in place and also asked him to arrange for some winery owners to address the board.