Slate Mill Wine Cooperative – The Hill Country Winery with a Super-Big Vision
It was a chilly and clear early-Spring evening when I attended a kick-off event at the newly opened Slate Mill Wine Cooperative just south of Fredericksburg. My last contact with the property was after doing a story on 1851 Vineyards for edible Houston on their Double Gold Medal win at the San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition about 9 months ago.
Well, 1851 Vineyards is now Slate Mill Wine Collective: a full-service winery incubator. The Fredericksburg based winery was acquired in 2019 by the Jones family with business ties in Midland. The family left the oil industry in 2019 to pursue a passion for viticulture and invested in 1851 Vineyards and included their seven children.
The property has undergone a transformation that includes significantly expanded production facilities, added vineyard acreage, and a fully remodeled tasting room and patio. In addition to continuing its core business as a winery, Slate Mill Wine Collective has a new mission to help provide other wine producers the ability to craft wines in its on-site custom crush facility.
When I saw the news release from Matt McGinnis at Big Thirst Marketing, I initially failed to realize the scale and multifaceted nature of the venture until I showed up at the winery the night of the event.
The new tasting room has undergone an amazing renovation with the inclusion of a namesake water mill, two new tasting bars, three times more space for seating and a gracious new design for relaxed hospitality. The makeover also includes the addition of a full wall of sliding glass doors that open to a multi-tiered patio with seating, a dance floor, and three new fire pits.
The winery production facility also underwent an extensive expansion with a new 9,600 square foot barrel room, improved crush pad, and enlarged storage capacity of up to 1,600 barrels and 24,000 gallons a year. The winery project is so expansive that the Jones’s felt they needed two winemakers to fulfill their vision. It is led by the director of winemaking Tim Drake from Washington State’s Chateau St. Michelle and most recently Flat Creek Estate near Marble Falls. Joining Tim is Josh Fritsche coming over from William Chris Vineyards in Hye. Completing the team as Emily Graff, viticulturalist (M.S. viticulture from Texas Tech University) and Chase Jones, director of vineyard operations.
Another part of this expansive venture is defined by the word “Cooperative” in the winery’s name. The next phase of the remodel will include individual tasting rooms available for lease to wine brands in a “Wine Village” and commercial rental space all under one roof.
In the startup start-up phase, 1851 wines will continue to be made and available. Currently, several of the other Texas wines made at the Collective are also featured in the tasting room and wine club including: C.L. Butaud — Produced by winemaker Randy Hester; Dandy Rosé — Produced by winemaker and sommelier Rae Wilson, Tatum Cellars made by Josh Fritsche; Farmhouse Vineyards — Wines crafted by Tim Drake for the Seaton and Furgeson families; and Majek Vineyard & Winery — Wines made by Tim Drake for Randy and Lynne Majek.
The Slate Mill Wine Collective property features a historic homestead, barn, and smokehouse restored to its original 1800s condition and a 35-acre estate vineyard. With a second winery also in development on Highway 290 and an adjacent 200-acre events facility in Fredericksburg, Slate Mill Wine Collective will be managing 150 acres of estate vineyards in the Texas Hill Country. These 150 acres, managed by Chase Jones and Emily Graff, are home to 35 different grape varieties well suited for the Texas climate. Slate Mill Wine Collective clients and partners have the option of selecting from these very varieties to use in their winemaking endeavors.
As you can see, Slate Mill Wine Cooperative is a step-change in hill country winery ventures, and this is why I’m calling it a paradigm shift that highlights the new investment potential in the Texas hill country and its wineries. This vision is a testament to the Jones family’s faith in the future commercial success of Texas wine.
P.S. What a difference two weeks make. We were all happy and celebratory that night. Now, we are responsibly practicing social distancing in the face of CORVID19 while we check up on our inventory or critical items like toilet paper and, of course, Texas wine – Wineries do ship to consumers, you know. I ask that you take this health emergency seriously and do what you can to protect you and yours. This will reduce the infection rate and lower the risk of overwhelming our health care system. I wish you all the best.