Hill Country Grapevine
Texas Wineries Bar None
Texas wineries, breweries and distilleries are not bars and that fine distinction is absolutely necessary to understand at this time, especially during the anecdotal closing of the economy. Liquor stores were considered essential and allowed curbside services, but bars had to be shut down because of social gathering and distancing. The current definition of a “bar” falls within the flimsy guidelines of a “51% sales” of alcohol bracket. Alcohol is not the questionable factor. Apparently, how and where one consumes alcohol becomes the crux of the matter and although wineries have been forced to resort to curbside sales, this mis-classification is unnecessarily closing essential business doors.
Both liquor stores and bars are retail outlets, not producers and TABC makes the distinction very clear in the Three Model Tier of Producers, Distributors and Retailers. Wineries are producers. In fact, wineries are agricultural production facilities. The entire operation is far more intricate than the mere application for a permit to sell alcohol. Many of these wineries are family owned with hard earned savings and loans at risk. A raw agricultural product is responsibly grown and harvested, then carefully transported to a facility where it is crushed, fermented and placed into appropriate containers to be bottled. The retail outlet of the facility is a Tasting Room where samples are offered in order for the customer to make a bottle selection and purchase. This agricultural product is no different and just as essential as any produce being grown and made available at your local HEB.
Besides being a production facility, many Tasting Rooms in the Texas Hill Country are situated on several acres of land, enabling all customers to exercise the required social distancing mandate. In fact, the State of Texas has more land than most states and the Texas Hill Country is the largest designated Agricultural Viticultural Area in the state and the second largest in the United States with nine million acres. Most any winery would have enough space for a football field. On the other hand, most urban bars, simply do not have that sort of space. The bars that do, are usually features of a larger entity like a restaurant or a resort.
Finally, Tasting Rooms are very family oriented. Children and even pets are welcome at most wineries, but minors and pets are not allowed in most bars.
The disparity and discrimination between a bar and a winery is clearly seen by the Texas Agricultural Commissioner, Sid Miller, who has recently appealed to Governor Abbott to reopen our wineries and Tasting Rooms immediately. He understands the devastating effect that the shutdown will have on this mult-billion dollar industry. This will effect the agricultural cycle of grape growers, wine production, sales and the entire infrastructure supporting it.
Clearly, wineries are not bars. Wineries are Texas agricultural business entities and it is essential that this distinction between winery and bar be recognized immediately by Governor Abbott and appropriate executive measures be taken before we lose many of the family owned Tasting Rooms and infrastructure which make the Texas Hill Country so appealing to millions of visitors annually.