Moving Forward — The Texas Center for Wine and Culinary Arts

By Ernie Loeffler, Chairman of the Board, Texas Center for Wine and Culinary Arts

Work on the Texas Center for Wine and Culinary Arts (TCWCA) has been quietly moving forward with a fine-tuning of the location, facility and educational programing.

The mission of TCWCA remains “the awareness, understanding, and celebration of Texas food, wine and agriculture through educational programming and hands-on-experiences.”

The board of the TCWCA has asked for consideration to be located at the Hill Country University Center (HCUC), located on Highway 290 East, which was one of the top two choices for TCWCA in the original feasibility study completed in 2009.  The board of the Hill Country University Center Foundation has passed a resolution of support relating to TCWCA being located at the campus.

The City Council and HCUC Foundation Board currently have a consultant working on a new master plan for the HCUC campus, and the TCWCA board hopes that the consultant will indicate that there is indeed room for the TCWCA facility at the campus.

The location at the Hill Country University Center campus is appropriate after a conference center component was dropped from the TCWCA project.  Originally a part of the project, the conference center had made a downtown location with walkability to existing lodging an important factor.  The move by the TCWCA board to delete the conference center component also decreased the needed square footage from roughly 30,000 to 16,000.

As currently envisioned, the new facility will include a hands on teaching kitchen, a demonstration kitchen, a teaching winery, small wine lab, two classrooms, office space for graduate students, faculty and staff, and a small amount of flexible event space.

As the project has evolved, the TCWCA has become more focused on higher education and continuing education for employees in the hospitality industry, although consumer education in culinary and wine areas will still be an important part of the mix.

Pending approvals, the Department of Plant and Soil Sciences at Texas Tech University will begin to offer a new academic program in sustainable, local food and wine production, as well as hospitality management. With construction of the state-of-the-art facility, increased emphasis will also be placed on the existing degree concentrations in viticulture and enology.  Additionally, Texas Tech will continue to offer viticulture and winemaking certification programs for wine industry entrepreneurs and prospective vineyard managers seeking to extend their knowledge of commercial grape production practices.

Discussions are also occurring with Central Texas College (CTC), the community college partner at the HCUC, on both the horticulture and the culinary front.   CTC and Texas Tech are working on articulation agreements for the new academic programs. Students will be able to take their first two years of college at CTC where they will earn an associate degree. The students will then transfer seamlessly to Texas Tech where they can earn a bachelor degree in a number of areas relating to food, wine and hospitality. All without ever leaving Fredericksburg!

Importantly, community partners like the Fredericksburg Independent School District and Hill Country Memorial Hospital have also indicated an interest in the new TCWCA facilities for programing relating to their educational missions.

The importance of the TCWCA to the local hospitality industry is multi-fold.  First of all, to enhance the visitor experience in Fredericksburg and Gillespie County we need to continue to offer advancement opportunities for our industry employees through education.

Secondly, we hope to introduce the travel and hospitality industry as a career — not just a job — to local and regional high school students and offer them a cost effective way to study in the hospitality field while continuing to live and work in the region.

And third, we hope to grow the opportunities for internships in the local hospitality industry for university students from across Texas.  As we all know, lack of workforce is a dramatic issue.

I would like to take this opportunity to offer the sincere thanks of the TCWCA board of directors to all of the financial supporters of the Texas Center for Wine and Culinary Arts over the years, with a very special thanks to H-E-B for their significant continuing support.

We are moving forward!