These days, one seemingly cannot drive more than a few feet along the stretch of highway that connects Johnson City to Fredericksburg in the Texas Hill Country without stumbling over a winery entrance. If you’ve never been, the area truly has what can be described as a “wine-country” feel, with bed and breakfasts, tasting rooms and even resorts breaking up the expanse of an erstwhile sea of ranch and farmland.
Sitting on about 16 acres located along that highway with about four acres of Tempranillo vines thriving in its soil, Ron Yates Wines in the Texas Hill Country AVA is among those that have risen from the dirt in just the past decade. The 6,000 square-foot contemporary winery includes a 20,000 case production facility, an adjacent 1,800 square-foot covered crush pad, and a tasting pavilion. Plans are in the works to build a new on-site 5,000 square-foot tasting facility.
The winery designed by Ron Yates winemaker Todd Crowell includes state-of-the-art equipment such as a custom designed crush pad complete with a variable speed crusher/destemmer and a programmable smart press, a two-inch diaphragm pump for gentle juice and wine transfers, and fully jacketed stainless steel tanks accessible via an aluminum catwalk.
But just 25 miles away in an unincorporated wide-open area of Texas, Ron Yates Wines’ mother ship is nestled in a thicket of live oak trees on a winding county road.
Spicewood Vineyards has been around since 1992 and under the ownership of Ron Yates since 2007. Yates, who grew up in nearby Kingsland, said there were a number of factors that led him to start with an existing winery and its vines rather than starting from scratch from the ground up…land prices being among them.
“When we first bought Spicewood in 2007, Becker was here and Pedernales had just gotten started, and there were probably a couple of other wineries on the road,” Yates said. “It wasn’t like it is now with 65 wineries. And we wanted to start with something established — we didn’t necessarily know what we were doing.”
So why did Yates decide to open a winery with a different identity so close to his first one? He had his reasons.
When he bought Spicewood Vineyards,Yates was a University of Texas graduate who attended law school and worked in the eclectic Austin music scene. It was the evolution of US Highway 290 that led him to take the plunge and later build his own winery not too far away. In his early days as a Vintner, he said he wanted to have his hands in the dirt when he got started, and Spicewood presented the best opportunity for that at the time.
But as the Texas wine scene evolved, so did the opportunities. And as Spicewood Vineyards grew, so did the need for a new production facility.
“Everything that was over here was mostly tasting rooms (in 2007),” Yates recalled. “We didn’t find what we were looking for over here. It didn’t have the draw or the market it does now. And at Spicewood, we had no room left over to build a new production facility and that winery there is really only suitable for like 2,500 to 3,000 cases. We were making 5,000 cases there already and it was not efficient trying to work there and get the barrels in and out.”
The original goal wasn’t to open a new winery with its own brand and new wines, but that’s what happened. Land prices elevated in Spicewood and after some looking, Yates and his crew found the land that is now home to Ron Yates Wines and began the task of determining what to do with it.
By this time, wine tourism traffic on 290 was taking off and more tasting rooms were opening. The wine trail had already existed, but now less ink was needed to connect the dots on the map.
“Originally, we were just going to have another tasting room for Spicewood,” Yates said. “We were going to have production here where all the people were, and a tasting room to go with it. But we had spent the first eight years of our time at Spicewood trying to get it from 12-15 acres to 32 acres so we could be estate driven. And if we tried to do over here what we did over there, we were just going to take away from what we were doing in Spicewood.”
Part of the reason for the new brand and new philosophy had to do with the fruit itself. Spicewood Vineyards now had the production to be a purely estate winery, but Yates still wanted to showcase the great fruit he had sourced from the Texas High Plains over the years. And beyond that, he had formed relationships with other Hill Country growers who were growing Italian varietals he wanted to showcase.
With a wide-ranging portfolio that includes Pinot Noir and Sangiovese, Ron Yates Wines has absolutely established its own identity, moving beyond the Spanish-style wines that have helped make Spicewood a favorite with aficionados and judging panels alike.
“We really dug all the high plains fruit we made wine from, but as our vineyard in Spicewood grew we needed less and less of it, but we still wanted to make all these wines,” Yates said. “So here, we showcase all of the great grapes grown by other growers in the state, and at Spicewood, we focus on what we grow.”
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