An interview with Coordinates Vineyards co-owner, Austin Kerr
Nestled at 417 E Main Street Fredericksburg, TX, you’ll find a historic blacksmith building, home to the beautiful tasting room of Coordinates Vineyards. Founded in 2021,Coordinates Vineyards is new to Texas, but the co-owners and brothers, Austin and Mahlon Kerr, are wine industry veterans. Austin and Mahlon have been traveling internationally for more than 20 years. Their off-the-beaten-track style has taken them to some remarkable vineyards. With a palate for fine wines, they have always looked for quality that outperforms the price.
Austin’s experience in wine dates back over 10 years. Austin was teaching in Taiwan when he started a company that imported South African wines into the booming Chinese wine market. For the next seven years, the company grew until COVID hit and importing wines to China came to a screeching halt.
Meanwhile, Austin’s brother Mahlon had been exploring Texas wines and was captivated by the amount of innovation and growth that he was seeing. “My brother went to Signor Vineyards for his birthday last year and wanted to get a bottle of white wine but was told they were out for the rest of the year. And his birthday was in June!” Austin said. Soon afterwards, the two brothers began discussing the possibility of a joint venture in wine.
“A lot of people compare the Texas wine industry in Fredericksburg right now to Sonoma in the 80s. There’s a lot of growth, so much potential, and it just made sense to bring everything here. So, we’re all-in on Texas,” said Austin.
Fast forward to February, 2022 and Coordinates Vineyards opened the doors of their new tasting room in historical downtown Fredericksburg.
Coordinates Vineyards is unique in that they have both wines that are made from 100% Texas grapes, and from other regions around the world. “We’re all about expanding people’s knowledge of wine through partnering with small producers. So right now we have wines from South Africa and Texas. We might get a California wine in the next few months, and we’re even looking beyond that. I’ve been talking to vineyards in New Zealand and Australia. I would love to get some Mexican sparkling wines as well.”
Sourcing wine from all over the world is one method of commercial defense against climate change. As Austin noted, “the Champagne region of France has been making sparkling wines for hundreds and hundreds of years. They had a really difficult year last year and lost about 60% of their crop due to climate change. They experienced massive loss from hail damage and the change in temperatures. And now you’re seeing untraditional wine growing countries like England becoming a great producer of sparkling wine. So while climate change might be a very big problem for a vineyard that is located in one area because they cannot change where they are producing that wine, we have the ability to go essentially anywhere in the world and look for wines that are unique and represent the terroir in a special way.”
Sustainability and sustainable growing and wine producing practices is front of mind for Austin, who noted, “Texas is newer to that market, but South Africa has been making wine for over 360 years and a lot of the vineyards we work with have been family vineyards for 150 years. That land is important to the winegrowers and oenologists in the field who want to preserve things for the future generations. It’s all about sustaining that and making sure it’s going to be there for their great-grandkids and beyond, and being good stewards for the planet.”
One challenge that Austin noted was that many people do not realize that Texas produces wine. And those that do often have the misconception that Texas wine is of lower quality. Although Texas has been growing grapes for hundreds of years, the wine industry didn’t really see much commercial growth until the 1970s. The Texas wine industry feels like it is in its infancy, but the amount of potential is enormous. “Texas is larger than France and we have so many different types of soils and climates. So there’s a lot of opportunity for Texas to expand as a wine producer.”
Austin shared that he thinks of the Texas wine industry as more cooperative than competitive, saying, “It makes so much more sense in the Texas wine industry for everyone to work together to get that message out there. Not only is there wine coming out of Texas, but there’s great wine coming out of Texas, and it’s right in your backyard. You don’t have to go to California, you can support local businesses. We spend a lot more time at Coordinates focusing on getting that word out there, and working with other wineries, as opposed to competing.”
One of Coordinate’s goals is to grow the Texas Wine brand – as a wine producing region and experiential destination. “At the end of the day, I really just want to focus on creating long-lasting relationships that are meaningful to us, and to the future of Texas wine,” Austin said. “And there’s a ways to go.”
Coordinates Vineyards is a mission-driven family business, with a people and community oriented focus. According to the site, “Our passion is connecting the stories of the wines to our customers. In our tasting room, nothing is more important than you!”
The people driven approach translates directly to the tasting room and a customized experience for each guest. According to Austin, “Wine appreciation is more about people than it is about wine, in that everybody who drinks a bottle of wine is going to experience it differently. Everybody’s palate is different. Every time you open a bottle of wine, you’re in a different place, surrounded by different people. And all of that plays a part in how you’re going to experience that bottle of wine.” This reminded Austin of his time in China when he met a man who would regularly put orange soda in his $300 bottles of Bordeaux wine. “There’s a very wide variety of people that walk into a tasting room. Some say they only drink sweet wine or big bold Cabernets. In reality, those people are telling me that they don’t have a wide range of experience with wine. And oftentimes they go through our tasting menu and they appreciate almost all of them when given the chance to do so. I truly enjoy educating people about wine.”
Austin first found out about Sommly through the This is Texas Wine podcast. “Shelly Wilfong is just amazing, we credit her quite a bit helping us prepare to join the wine industry here in Texas. Her show is just fantastic and her recommendations, point of view, and the interviews she hosts are honest. Her mention of Sommly on an episode helped me consider that the digital marketplace for wine could be something really powerful. Almost immediately, I emailed Sara and Erik and we met them at my brother’s condo in Austin; together we tasted our two Texas wines for the very first time – which is really cool. Sara and Erik presented themselves in a way that was almost more about betting on them, than betting on the product. Sommly was not much more than an idea at that point and had a long way to go, but I’m impressed with the progress and have enjoyed being part of the development process. The partnership works really synergistically for both of us. Like, we’re a new tasting room and we have no e-commerce at all so they’re providing an outlet for that. And we are at the same time growing and getting more press and if you want to buy our wines online, you have to do it through Sommly. Meanwhile Sommly is our access to eCommerce, and is helping increase our discoverability, cross promoting on social media, and interview features like this. It’s a very synergistic thing. We are a perfect fit for what they are looking to do, and vice versa.”
We at Sommly highly recommend you pay Coordinates Vineyards a visit on Main Street Fredericksburg, for a top notch tasting experience in the historic building. If you can’t make it to the Texas Hill Country soon, you can find all of Coordinates Vineyards wines available on the Sommly marketplace, and within a few clicks you can have their Texas and South African wines shipped right to your doorstep.