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Salt Lick BBQ wants to open an on-site winery, but Texas law won’t allow it

Arianna Auber
Salt Lick owner Scott Roberts can serve wine from Texas wineries, like these glasses of Fall Creek vino made from grapes grown in the Salt Lick vineyards, but he wants to be able to also make wine. Rodolfo Gonzalez / AMERICAN-STATESMAN)

The picturesque Driftwood location of Salt Lick BBQ already boasts a 50-acre vineyard, but the current owner wants to open an on-site winery, too — if only Texas law would allow it.

A Texas Tribune article today detailed Scott Roberts’ fight to have a winery on the same property where the Salt Lick operates as one of the most popular restaurants in the Austin area.

There’s a simple reason why it’s not currently allowed, according to the Tribune: Texas lawmakers abide by “a particularly strict interpretation of the ‘three-tier system,’” post-Prohibition regulations that keep alcohol producers, distributors and sellers monetarily separate. And for Roberts, they won’t make an exception.

He aims to greatly expand what’s already on the Salt Lick property. A lodge, two new restaurants and an events center are in the works on his family’s longtime land, but he hasn’t been able to acquire an exemption — what’s called a carve-out — from the three-tier system to add the winery. 

Proponents of the three-tier system say it’s in place to protect small businesses from large corporations and to discourage excessive consumption of alcohol, keeping the public healthy and safe. But Roberts, among others, thinks he knows the real reason Texas lawmakers won’t update alcohol regulations: the wholesale beer distributors who have poured millions into state campaign coffers.

They have donated almost $11 million, with the largest share, almost $1.8 million, going toward Texas Governor Greg Abbott, according to the Texas Tribune. The distributors have argued against changes the Texas craft brewing indutry has been seeking for years, and they have also pushed through laws, like 2017’s HB 3287, that placed further restrictions on the industry.

Though Roberts seeks a foray into winemaking, he has failed so far to receive a carve-out that would allow the Salt Lick to produce wine.

Rick Donley, president of the Beer Alliance of Texas, said in the Texas Tribune piece the exemption can’t be permitted because then many others could follow. 

“The fear is you make that carve-out and somebody else wants a carve out, and somebody else wants a carve-out, and then all of a sudden the whole three-tier regulatory system has holes big enough you could drive a beer truck through,” Donley said in the article.

Regardless, Texas’ 2019 legislative session remains Roberts’ best hope.