Statewide NewsTexas Wineries and Distilleries Call on Governor Abbott to Open Tasting Rooms, Relax Operating Restrictions

As most state officials are preoccupied with students going back to school, Texas' wineries and distilleries are calling on Governor Abbott for a lifeline.
August 24, 2020
Texas’ alcohol manufacturing and retail businesses have struggled immensely since the pandemic — many fear that their final last call could come at any moment.

Bars and other similar establishments have received the lions’ share of attention for their opposition to the closure orders. But a group of wineries and distilleries are formally joining that group of businesses actively lobbying the governor to lower the barriers to operation.

Wineries and distilleries get most of their foot traffic from tasting room customers, but those have been closed along with bars in the wake of Abbott’s late-June executive order.

The line drawn by the state is a ratio of sales being alcohol-based. Establishments that make 51 percent or more of their profits from alcohol sales are mandated to cease all operations other than to-go or delivery services.

This was slightly adjusted in that businesses could revise their classification had they changed their operations, shifting more of their model to increase the percentage of profits that came from non-alcohol related sales. For example, many businesses fired up their kitchens and made more than they had previously food available for customers.

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But the main barrier to sustainable income is still in place: the closure of tasting rooms.

Patrick Whitehead, president of the Texas Wine and Grape Growers Association, said in a statement, “Tasting rooms are a significant source of income and marketing opportunities for Texas wineries and many wineries will not be able to survive a prolonged shutdown. The wine industry in Texas has a direct and indirect economic impact of close to $15 billion to the state of Texas every year, including over $1 billion paid in state and local taxes.”

According to the release, distilleries in Texas have lost 60 to 80 percent of their revenues. But this loss spans many different sectors of the industry. The Texas Craft Breweries Guild conducted a survey in late-July which found that one-third of breweries would close for good if the closure lasted three months. That total doubles after six months.

Roxanne Myers owns the Lost Oak Winery in Burleson and has been in the wine business for 13 years. She is one of the leading voices for the wineries’ coordinated political action committee (PAC) effort. The group launched “Save Texas Wineries” with a corresponding website.

Specifically, they are advocating that tasting rooms be freed up to operate as usual, with the necessary precautions.

Myers told The Texan that the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission (TABC) has been working with wineries and other manufacturers to tailor ways of operating that do not violate the governor’s order.

They’ve implemented programs like virtual wine tastings with their customers and are offering more food than previously. “We’re doing what we can but we’re not in the restaurant business,” she added.

The group is hoping to emphasize that due to the nature of their business, they are better suited to adhere to the social distancing requirements than others, such as bars. “Due to the spacing and outside spaces, wineries act much more like restaurants.”

And thus, Myers and other manufacturers wish to be treated more like restaurants in the eyes of the state. She also highlighted that wineries and the like operate during daytime hours and not primarily during the late nights that bars specialize in.

The PAC is meant to amplify that message. “The more people speaking our message, the better likelihood the governor will alleviate our concerns in the next executive order, whenever that comes.”

But with wineries especially, the reduced foot traffic has caused a ripple of repercussions to other businesses. Because the industry brings heavy tourist traffic, tour companies, hospitality businesses, and others are all feeling the effects. It also has cascaded to hit the farmers from which the wineries get their base product.

All that, notwithstanding, Myers said she remains optimistic that as soon as the pertinent restrictions are lifted, much of the pre-pandemic business will return because of what the industry offers: spacing, limited intermingling, and the outdoors.

Myers is hopeful that once school is underway and under control, the wineries’ concerns can be heard by the governor and his team.

Until then, much of their revenue is bottlenecked, leaving establishments anxiously awaiting the opportunity to get back to business as usual.


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Brad Johnson

Brad Johnson is a senior reporter for The Texan and an Ohio native who graduated from the University of Cincinnati in 2017. He is an avid sports fan who most enjoys watching his favorite teams continue their title drought throughout his cognizant lifetime. In his free time, you may find Brad quoting Monty Python productions and trying to calculate the airspeed velocity of an unladen swallow.

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