Many Texas businesses have been deeply affected by the economic consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic. But breweries, distilleries and wineries are especially vulnerable because of a series of orders by Gov. Greg Abbott that categorized them similar to bars.
Now, the Texas Wine and Grape Growers Association is responding by forming a political action committee to try to change that designation. Patrick Whitehead is president of the trade group. He told Texas Standard that those in the industry started organized after one of Abbott’s executive orders shut down winery tasting rooms.
“After a few weeks of trying to make our case to the task force and to the governor’s office, we realized we probably just needed to get together and try a different strategy. So the political action committee, Save Texas Wineries, was formed in August,” Whitehead said.
The goal of Save Texas Wineries is to change current state rules to allow them to reopen fully.
“Some of us have reopened, but we’re having to do it more under the guise of being a restaurant,” Whitehead said. “And there are several that haven’t opened.”
Whitehead hopes the winemakers PAC can engage wine lovers to lobby lawmakers on their behalf.
There are over 500 wineries in Texas, making it the fifth largest wine-producing state in the nation. Whitehead said despite that, the governor hasn’t yet been willing to relax the orders that have kept many of them shuttered.
“For all we know, the governor has heard the word ‘wineries” and lumped us in with bars,” Whitehead said. “Most of us close when the sun goes down. Most of us are serving people who are seated.”
Wineries can also ship their product within the state. And, Whitehead said, since the pandemic, some have even started hosting virtual tastings: a customer purchases wine, has it shipped to them, then they gather online for a presentation from the winemaker or an expert on the product they’re drinking at home.
But the ongoing closures could lead to permanent closure for some businesses, Whitehead said.
“I think there may be some people that don’t come back from this,” he said. “It’s very scary; it’s very sad. … We’ve got Texas wines that have been recognized on the world stage, at competitions in San Francisco and Lyon, France. We’d sure hate to see ourselves slide backwards.”