Experts urge BIDCorp to pursue Winery Estates plan

Article Courtesy of Brownfield News

2014-10-02 story imageTwo vineyard experts and a prospective tenant addressed the Brownfield Industrial Development Corp. recently and encouraged the group to continue its efforts to develop the long-vacant industrial park into the High Plains Winery Estates, an innovative plan to locate up to eight wineries and tasting rooms, a wedding chapel and convention center on the 100-acre tract on the city’s southwest corner.

First to the podium was, Mike Sipowicz, co-owner and manager of Texas Custom Wine Works, adjacent to the planned Winery Estates, who told the board he is passionate about the project.
“From the minute I first heard about this idea, I was in love with it,” he told the board. “I see wine production as a natural fit for this region. It is a important, but under utilized facet of the grape industry in this area and this is a way that the city of Brownfield could capitalize on that.”

Terry County currently produces more than 80 percent of the wine grapes grown in Texas and Sipowicz said that number will continue to grow rapidly.

Producing the wine from those grapes here, rather than shipping them elsewhere retains value added parts of the production that is otherwise lost.

“It’s phenomenal the economic impact this industry can have here,” he said. “We initially discussed creating 12 new jobs and a year into the project we’re well over 30 at this point and we’re about to double the size of our facility and quadruple our capacity.”

The expert wine maker who relocated to Terry County from the California wine country said he came here because he saw the possibilities to support a project like this one.

“California is saturated with wineries and the Hill Country of Texas is getting that way,” he said. “I feel strongly that Brownfield would be successful to capitalize on the thousands of tons of grapes being produced right here by encouraging the development of wineries. We are creating wineries every day in our building that are locating in other areas, but we want them here.”

Questioned about Brownfield’s potential as a tourist destination, Sipowicz didn’t hesitate to give the nod.

“We get calls and visitors all the time and it keeps going up and up since our tasting room opened last month,” he said. “As long as we have a population that drinks wine, we have a market for wineries. The interest is only going to increase.”

Key to the success of the proposal, he said, is the cluster effect of grouping numerous wineries together.

Rather than creating competition for each other, wineries actually help draw customers together. Where one winery might struggle, a dozen will succeed.

“It has been proven all over the country,” he said. “When you get more wineries, a longer journey to visit them becomes more justifiable to tourists. It’s that simple. More wineries means more people from further away and we have the ability to grow a very robust wine making population right here in Brownfield.”

He also said that the grape industry already has established itself as a significant revenue generator for the local economy, but added that when you turn the grapes into wine, the money produced magnifies ten-fold.

“I understand that this project is hard to envision here because it’s never been in place, but with the amount of revenue that is possible, it could change the entire community and spurn growth for years,” he said. “I have seen it happen in other small towns. You get a few wineries, then you get an art gallery and before you know it you have a day spa and a bakery. It’s just a really good idea on a business level and it could benefit everyone in this town. Take a look at what is happening in your own backyard and create a future that capitalizes on it.”

Sipowicz concluded that another trend taking shape in Texas is some of the largest established wineries in the Hill Country opening satellite locations in other areas and he sees Brownfield and the High Plains Winery Estates as a logical target for their plans.

Also speaking to the board was Brad James, a Lubbock business owner who said he wants to buy one of the vineyard plots and plans to establish not only a winery, but a bed and breakfast as well, with a walking path connecting the two through his vines.

“A year ago my wife and I took a trip to Fredericksburg and we had such a great time, we decided a winery is something we would like to pursue and then we heard about this idea and we think it’s great,” he said. “I love the look of this design and I hope it comes to fruition. When it does, I’m in.”

Gene Richards, a consultant with concentrations in economic development and wine tourism told the board he was “blown away” when he saw a brochure for the estates at a wine show earlier this year.
In fact he brought with him that same brochure, which he said generated considerable buzz among attendees.

Richards previously worked for the Texas Department of Agriculture marketing the grape industry, while another arm of his department researched the fruit.

“You cannot overestimate the economic impact this could have on Brownfield,” he said. “Talking about wine tourists, they travel, they buy gas, they spend the night, they shop at shops, they eat at restaurants, it’s incredible. You’re not crazy to pursue this. I think you’d be crazy not to.”

Following the presentations BIDCorp. director David Partlow said he plans to work with Richards and Sipowicz to develop a marketing plan for the property and solidify the layout of the park.

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