Whiskey business

Texas winery owner turns his wine-tasting hobby into a thriving business

For Judith Raven, wine was a hobby before being a vocation. Her growing business, Esperanza Winery, LLC., is a labor of love born out of her passion for wine.

SAN ANTONIO – Many people would find the art of making wine a daunting process. With a rich history dating back thousands of years, the process involves fruit picking, fermentation, bottling of the finished liquid and everything in between.

For Judith Raven, wine was a hobby before being a vocation. Her growing business, Esperanza Winery, LLC., is a labor of love born out of her passion for wine.

See the full conversation with Raven in the video below (article continues below).

how it started

“I belong to a wine tasting group and we took it very seriously,” Raven said. “We would go to each other’s house to study wine once a month, kind of like a potluck dinner.”

The group was very dedicated to their studies. Raven developed not just a love of wine, but a true understanding of it.

“They would all be so different because the winemakers were different, and we would study what foods would go with it and how it would taste,” Raven said. “And we made really in-depth notes on all of that because we were really studying wine.”

The band had always talked about members making their own wine, but that conversation came true when Raven bought a ranch in Spring Branch, Texas.

“And the conversation started. ‘So when do you put vines?’ And so they all thought it was a good idea. If we put vines, we could each have our own wine and that would be great,” Raven said. “Of course there’s a lot of work before that, but that is exactly what happened. And so we started with the vineyard.”

Esperanza Vineyard was established on March 3, 2000, and the winery portion was established in 2015. It was the first winery in Spring Branch and the first winery in Blanco, Texas. Using fruit produced on the estate itself and supplementing with fruit from the high plains of Texas, the winery has produced six varietals with multiple vintages.

The details

Of course, every new business has its challenges. But, according to Raven, the delicate art of winemaking has added unique challenges.

“The struggle of making wine is, of course, when things go wrong, you know. And it’s fine to pour six gallons of something gone wrong. But it really breaks your heart to pour 60 gallons of something wrong, or 600 gallons of something went wrong,” Raven said. “So the biggest challenge was consistency and making a palatable wine…that someone would have want to drink.”

Much like the careful planning of winemaking, Raven used a careful strategy to build her business, starting small and eventually opening a tasting room in Blanco, Texas.

“When we started, we were selling our fruit to other wineries. And that’s kind of how we got our foot in the door. But, when we still had wine, we were ready to sell. “Being at the ranch without anyone coming out that way wasn’t a good idea. So we looked for a public place and here we are on Main Street in Blanco,” Raven said. “We have car traffic all the time and people have slowly started seeing us. But we’ve been building steadily and we’re marketing on social media for wine groups.”

Lessons learned

“No matter the business, I recommend that you don’t overspend, go out and buy all the colors of coffee mugs and t-shirts you need to market your best. Don’t start small, you know, don’t overdo it too soon. Small bites, you know?” said Raven.

Raven recently retired after spending 40 years as an accountant. It was a valuable and crucial experience that prepared her for the realities of growing a business.

“Business owners fail in the first year or two because they overwhelm themselves. They expect way too much revenue and they won’t be there and they will trickle in,” Raven said. . “That’s how you have to spend. Understand that you have to do some start-up costs, but keep them. Keep them normal. Keep them small. And then, as the business grows, you can do more, just in proportion.”

We asked Raven what makes her bottles stand out from the pack.

“I think it’s because we’re a winery. I don’t try to be everything to everyone. I don’t have any more. We sell wine, which is a good/bad problem” , said Raven. “We are, I call it ‘Prix Blanco’. We are not expensive. I think this is a good quality wine for the price. We have accessibility. I am not on the 290 wine route , which I really wanted to be. But, Blanco had no winery, so I was the first winery in Spring Branch. And now there are three and I’m the first winery in Blanco.

Dedicated follow-up

Raven’s business attracted a devoted clientele to its Hill Country location. While visiting the cellar, we met new customers as well as several regular customers.

A regular customer, an independent caterer, even brought Raven a tasty cheesecake from a recipe he made especially to accompany one of his red wines. It’s dedication!

“I get a lot of feedback from customers, especially those who are going up [Highway] 290, you know, attend other tastings at other locations. And they want it not to be too expensive. They don’t want to be taken advantage of. They want variety and they want to be heard,” Raven said. “It’s almost like being, you know, not the shrink, almost like your hairdresser. People want to talk to you and exchange ideas and be validated and do it around wine. You know, I’ve had a lot of whiskey drinkers here, and they don’t want to drink wine, ‘OK? You don’t have to drink wine. It’s OK, you know? And then they’ll end up wanting to drink wine and then they’ll buy bottles before they leave. And it’s amazing the transformation when you say ‘I’m fine’.”

weather the storm

Like the hearty grapes that can weather any storm, his business weathered the anxious and uncertain first months of the COVID-19 pandemic and emerged even stronger.

“One of the benefits of being a winery and not a bar or just a tasting room is that there are different rules. And TABC has set different rules during the COVID pandemic,” said said Raven. “We didn’t have to close our doors or become a restaurant, so we were fine there. Customers wanted their wine, and so we made it to go. I felt a bit like Sonic, where we let’s put on our roller skates and go outside, serve everyone by car, but it worked.”

The future

As for the future, Raven hopes to add a tasting room to the Spring Branch winery. She hopes providing on-site tasting opportunities where the vines are grown will enhance the experience.

“It will not affect the tasting room here [in Blanco]. It just expands what is available. And I think that’s always nice. People want to sit and drink wine and watch the vines, and they really can’t do that here,” Raven said. “It’s such a small space, but it’s more of a cafe feel, and it would be completely different. experience if we had a tasting room at the ranch, you know? »

If you want to learn more about Esperanza Winery, LLC, you can visit their website, Facebook page Where PageInstagram!