Incubator Master
August 11, 2023


Texas First Wine Incubator
Texas has its first wine incubator, but what is an incubator? According to the Small Business Encyclopedia, An organization designed to accelerate the growth and success of entrepreneurial companies through an array of business support resources and services that could include physical space, capital, coaching, common services, and networking connections. Texas has its custom “crush pads” such as at Messina Hof Winery in Bryan or on the Texas High Plains where grapes are brought in to de-stem and crush in order to make wine. This is all about product. However, an incubator does this and provide the business resources to teach vineyard owners and winemakers about the business of growing grapes and making wine along with the marketing aspects. States like Washington have a State-Run wine incubator to incubate or grow the vineyard and winery businesses. A wine incubator is a communal space where neophytes along with the well-seasoned vineyard owners and winemakers meet to learn, grow, and incubate vineyards and wineries so they become successful. The watchful eye of an experienced professional is there to help those interested in the wine business to grow and become successful.
John Rivenburgh is the man behind Texas’ first ever wine incubator, a communal space for those that are interested in trying their hand at Texas wine. John took the State-sponsored Washington Wine Incubator and brought it to Texas and adapted it to a more business-oriented regime. Headquartered at Kerrville Hills Winery in the Texas Hill Country near the art community of Kerrville, John’s incubator concept supports its members in all aspects of the wine industry. “Our goal is just to give people a safe set of training wheels to learn winemaking and everything that it encompasses,” John said. “It’s not just ‘here’s the yeast, here’s how you start a fermentation.’ It’s all the things that go into it, including the logistics, the network.” The services offered by the incubator encumber almost all aspects of the wine industry and are extensive in nature. Everything from starting a vineyard to growing grapes, pruning vines, pest control, and managing a vineyard, to establishing when grapes are ready to pick, to fermenting, operating tanks in a winery, bottling, labels, to running a tasting room, regulation compliance, permitting, and marketing is fair game. “They can learn front of the house, learn about the regulatory process, marketing, all sorts of things,” John said. Where some similar programs may simply offer use of the space or crush pad facilities, Rivenburgh’s company goes beyond. “We’ve integrated consulting, both from a vineyard and winery business standpoint, and coupled that with winemaking facilities.”
Even before the incubator was officially born, Rivenburgh had been laying the foundation. The idea evolved during his consulting days after John had left winemaking at Bending Branch Winery in Comfort, Texas. “I’d like to think that we are part of the reason that the incubator started,” says Mike Nelson, winemaker at Ab Astris Winery. “We were dabbling with the idea of starting a winery and that was honestly as a result of John.” Earlier, Nelson and his family had visited Bending Branch Winery and found themselves amazed at the quality of the wines. That visit helped plant the concept to get involved in the wine business. The success of Ab Astris Winery is proof that the incubator concept works. Not only did the Nelson Family plant an estate vineyard in 2018, the fruit for the 2023 harvest will be processed in their own facility. “2022 was our last harvest at Kerrville Hill Winery. We definitely wouldn’t be where we are without John,” says Nelson. The wines of Ab Astris have been met with widespread acclaim, garnering numerous awards and medals. “When we started, there were other wine consultants; but, in retrospect, I wouldn’t have wanted to work with anyone else. What John brought to the table in creating an environment to teach me, but also giving me enough leeway to do my own thing, was huge.”

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