With eight distinct grape-growing regions in Texas, collectively known as American Viticultural Areas, there is no shortage of vineyards and wineries to host tastings, pairings and group events. With an estimated $1.88 billion economic impact in Texas, wine is big and getting bigger. In January 2015, the Texas Wine and Grape Growers Association estimated there were about 300 wineries across the state and the industry had grown 88 percent since 2005. In fact, Texas is now the fifth largest wine producer in the country, which means there’s a whole lot of wine to taste in almost every corner of the state.
Know the Scene
Before you plan a wine tasting event, it’s important to get a few basic facts down about the industry. Things like, is there a difference between a winery and a vineyard?
Although the terms are sometimes thought of as interchangeable by those not in the know, the Texas Department of Agriculture defines a winery as a facility that produces wine—no matter where the grapes came from. A Texas vineyard, on the other hand, produces wine made 100 percent from grapes grown on its own fields.
So, if drinking Texas-grown wine is important to you, find out if the winery uses Texas grapes or if they import from other states. Believe it or not, it does happen. Wineries don’t grow their own grapes, so they may use grapes from other places in their wines. But even if the grapes came from elsewhere, they were turned into wine right here in Texas.
The state is awash with places to taste local wine, and most wineries and vineyards alike offer event spaces and wine tastings specifically designed for corporate meetings and events.
Wineries and vineyards have long been popular wedding venues, so staff members are accustomed to working with planners to create wine and food pairings, event menus, holiday parties and executive meetings. The Texas Wine and Grape Growers Association maintains an online directory of hundreds of wine tasting venues throughout the state.
No matter where you find yourself across the vast wineproducing swaths of Texas, there are a range of venue types to choose from. There are unusual spaces like McPherson Cellars, an innovative repurposed Coca-Cola bottling plant in historic Lubbock. And there are bucolic country barn venues like Cross Timbers Winery in Grapevine.
Then there is Stone House Vineyard, located about 45 minutes from downtown Austin in Texas Hill Country. It provides wine tastings for groups up to 40 and regular event space for seated groups up to 60.
Event Coordinator Gina Ross helps organize the vineyard’s wine tastings, food pairings and other events. And Stone House Vineyard is exactly that—a stone house built of 2,000-pound limestone blocks situated on a vineyard bordering Lake Travis.
“Mainly our focus is wine and cheese pairings and food pairings. We have company meetings where they just rent the space,” says Ross, who notes there are two indoor spaces—one that holds 40 and another that accommodates up to 60.
Co-founder Angela Moench brought wine-making techniques from her home country of Australia and combined them with Norton varietal grapes to build the Stone House Vineyard from scratch. The vineyard released its first vintage in 2002, after years of cultivation on the grounds. The stone building, designed and built by Angela’s husband and co-founder Howard Moench, includes an open indoor space and a terrace that overlooks the vineyard.
With two event rooms, an expansive terrace and an in-house caterer, Ross says they encourage planners to be creative and inventive with the space. “We’re open and we have a big building. I like to say we’re a blank canvas, so you can brainstorm and do what you want here,” Ross says. Past events include holiday parties, executive retreats, wine tastings and meeting breakout sessions for convention guests at nearby hotels and resorts.
Tastings & Pairings
The Texas Department of Agriculture identified 18 wine trails that feature locally owned boutique wineries and vineyards that are clustered together and can be explored in a single day. Each of the trails features ideal venues for corporate retreats and breakout sessions because most of them are located around the convention hubs of Dallas, Fort Worth, Austin and Lubbock.
Going back to the wine industry lingo lesson, what exactly is the difference between a wine tasting and a wine pairing?
Wine tastings are all about comparing small samplings of several different wines, sometimes as many as a dozen in an afternoon. There may be a teaching component where someone from the vineyard describes the wine and the group can ask questions.
For this reason, wine tastings tend to be limited to smaller groups. Almost all vineyards and wineries have wine tastings that are open to the public for a few hours in the afternoon or on the weekend. Just like restaurant reservations, it’s best to call and find out if a group can be accommodated in the tasting room. Some venues prefer to host private wine tastings, so it pays to ask their policy.
Wine pairings are similar, but with food. Pairings are sometimes easier for large groups to schedule, because they involve a smaller number of wines paired with cheeses or small tapas-style dishes that complement the wine. This gives the winery or vineyard an opportunity to showcase its signature wines while guests enjoy a light meal with their sampling.
When contacting vineyards or wineries to schedule group tastings, find out if they have a group limit or if pairings are offered. At most vineyards or wineries, it’s possible to arrange pairings based on seasonal dishes or featured wines.
Beyond traditional wine tastings and wine pairings, wineries and vineyards often offer a combination of wine-centered event services, including private parties, classes and executive meetings.
Just for Fun
Delaney Vineyards in Grapevine is only a short distance from the Dallas-Fort Worth airport, but it has the atmosphere of an old-world chateau settled among 100-year-old live oak trees. It was designed specifically as an events space within a vineyard and it contains several rooms that are available at different price points.
The 5,200-square-foot Grand Barrel Room is the largest open space in the chateau. The 1,000-squarefoot Tank Room contains a catering kitchen. And the 1,500-square-foot Crush Pad is a covered outdoor patio with a view of the 10-acre vineyard. Combined, the space accommodates 300 people seated or 400 reception-style for corporate events. It can also be sectioned off to accommodate smaller groups.
For the public wine tastings in the tasting room, Events and Sales Supervisor Sheridan King recommends calling ahead for table service if there are more than six people in the group. However, she says the bulk of people hosting events at the vineyard are booking private parties, meetings and receptions. “People rent our space during the day or evening for either four hours or eight hours,” she says.
The vineyard’s event packages include everything from tables and chairs to event staff. The vineyard also has a lot of parking—a main parking lot plus street parking on a street that doesn’t have very much traffic. King says there is also an additional parking lot available in the evenings.
Parking is one of those obvious yet easy-to-forget details that get lost in the planning phase, but it’s especially important to consider for larger events when the winery is located in a historic district or an urban area where parking is in short supply.
Other important details to consider are case minimums and outside vendor fees. “We have a minimum purchase of three cases [of wine for events]. They can pick a variety and the caterers will serve it,” King says.
When planning an event, she says the vineyard works with a list of preferred caterers or they can charge an outside vendor fee if the client would like to bring in their own catering. “We are the only actual vineyard in Grapevine,” King says, pointing out that other wine venues in the area are wineries.
Grapevine is part of one of the largest wine-producing regions in the state, which helps explain the multitude of wineries in the area.
With a modern, industrial aesthetic, Wine Fusion Winery in downtown Grapevine might seem like an unlikely place to learn about traditional, old world wine making, but owner and Dallas native Nicholas Kaufman aims to bring wine education to everyone. “We’re a little more relaxed and down to earth,” Kaufman says. “We want to meet people at every level, so we built a space for everyone.”
The space Kaufman built and opened in October 2015 has more than 2,000 square feet that can be divided to accommodate groups of up to 100 people, or up to 60 people for his wine-blending classes.
Kaufman and his team of four wine educators run wine blending workshops for corporate team-building events or for anyone in the public who’d like to learn how to make their own wine blends. They also host wine tastings, private parties and corporate meetings in the newly built space. “Our forte is education. If people know more, they enjoy it more,” Kaufman says.
Kaufman worked for a major food retailer and studied with wine makers across the country before opening Wine Fusion. He says he uses a combination of 14 different varietals for the wines in his wineries, and a few additional ones are available just for the blending class.
The information he provides to his classes include an overall view of the wine industry, how to evaluate wine, what to look for in a wine and how to read a wine label. “It’s usually about one-and-a-half to two hours per class. We start with 15 to 20 minutes of education on the history of the grapes, the trials through the years—we try to give people knowledge about the wine industry and address misconceptions,” Kaufman says.
Elements of wine education come into play during any wine-tasting or wine-pairing event, particularly the aspects of learning how a wine presents itself and how to properly identify and evaluate different types of wine.
“We have them taste wine and [talk about] aroma, visual clarity, legs, how to smell the wine … how to order wine in a restaurant, how the waiter presents it and what to look for,” Kaufman says.
When planning a wine tasting, a wine-themed breakout session or group activity, find out if the facility has a sommelier who can provide an overview and answer questions as part of the event.
Team-Building & Breakouts
During conferences and large events, there are hotels and resorts in Texas Hill Country and other wine regions that partner with area wineries and vineyards to create one-of-a-kind breakout sessions and executive meetings.
Horseshoe Bay Resort on Lake LBJ has its own ballroom, party yacht and golf course, making it a popular destination for executive meetings and larger corporate events. It is also located near Stone House Vineyard, which makes the vineyard a convenient spot for smaller breakout sessions and wine events for the resort’s conference attendees and executives.
At larger conferences, executive-level groups sometimes opt for a wine tasting or a wine-themed class as a team-building session. When booking conferences and larger events at hotels and resorts, find out if there’s an existing partnership with local vineyards and wineries.
Most vineyards and wineries have an events coordinator or staff member who can also coordinate anything from a morning meeting to a breakout session. There doesn’t always have to be a wine tasting involved. “We have company meetings where they just rent the space—we cap out at about 40 for executive-level events,” Ross says.
As vineyards and wineries grow in popularity as meeting and event spaces, venues are starting to turn their attention to technology. “We have Wi-Fi and we’ve got a [technology] partner that works with us on weddings, speakers, projectors and presentations,” Ross says.
Before booking a meeting at a winery or vineyard, find out what technologies are available, such as broadband access and audio-visual equipment. Ask whether presenters will need to bring their own laptop or one will be available as part of the presentation setup.
Because Wine Fusion Winery was only recently built in 2015, Kaufman made sure it was outfitted with the latest technologies. The winery has an in-house audiovisual team and equipment, including a 70-inch screen in their larger room and a 55-inch screen in a secondary room. “We’ve had a lot of groups that host breakout sessions and presentations,” Kaufman says.
Whether imbibing or just learning about the wine industry, wineries and vineyards across the state are becoming viable meeting spaces from morning through happy hour and beyond.
TEAM-BUILDING WITH WINE
Not every winery or vineyard opens up their wine collections for blending classes, but Nicholas Kaufman, owner of Wine Fusion Winery in Grapevine, welcomes corporate groups and has created a fun, competitive way to build team comradery.
Wine blending has caught on as a team-building exercise in California and New York, but it remains a relatively new activity in Texas. Wine Fusion Winery is one of the few places to specifically offer wine blending as a corporate team-building activity for its guests.
Starting with a base of red or white wine, Kaufman leads blending groups through a quick how-to and education session before turning teams loose with graduated cylinders and several varieties of wine.
“They pick their foundation wine—that’s about 60 percent of base— then they go back and decide how they want to modify it,” Kaufman says.
Guests use a 100 milliliter graduated cylinder to create a single glass of wine, carefully measuring out 60 milliliters for the base and adding additional wines in 10 milliliter increments. The percentage of each wine used is noted and used to create the final blend. Once the final blend is chosen, a full bottle is made using the volume percentages.
“It’s fun for bigger groups and team-building—we can do a blind tasting and award prizes,” Kaufman says. Groups as large as 60 have participated in the blending and blind tasting, and Kaufman says there is no minimum number of participants.
WINES USED FOR BLENDING:
—Cabernet Sauvignon —Zinfandel —Malbec
—Petite Syrah —Merlot —Cabernet Franc
—Syrah —Pinot Gris —Chardonnay —Muscato