Patrons gather to taste vintages at Texas Sun Winery, an affiliate of Water’s Edge Wineries in Midland, Texas. Image via Water's Edge
Written by Edward Smith
If you’ve ever wanted to open your own winery but are unsure of investing in acres of vineyards, a company out of Southern California may have a franchise for you — and one business owner in Madera is already taking advantage.
Ken Lineberger opened the first Water’s Edge Winery in 2004 in Rancho Cucamonga. By 2012, he and his wife had rebranded it to Water’s Edge Wineries, offering franchises as a way to run “a winery and not be attached to the agriculture side of the business.”
By sourcing grapes through a network of growers from around the globe, franchisees can make their own vintages without the need of land.
“We cut the cord of what the traditional wineries thought of throughout the world,” Lineberger said.
This model allows for Water’s Edge Wineries to be located in urban areas and in states that don’t have much in the way of grape production. It’s also a fit for people who have wanted to open a winery but don’t have the knowledge or the resources to do so.
“They don’t know where to start, they don’t know anything about winemaking, and they certainly don’t usually have millions of dollars to go and invest in someplace like Napa,” Lineberger said.
That’s what Ron Patterson in Madera liked about the model.
Patterson’s Balbas-American Winery will be a bit different than the typical Water’s Edge Winery location.
Patterson’s wife, Barbara, has family in Spain, and their winery — with the Balbas name — has been in operation since 1777. They wanted to retain that tradition. They also wanted the venture on property along the storied Madera Wine Trail.
Patterson had been wanting to get into the wine business for almost 10 years, he said, and he had been in talks with Lineberger since then. He has been a real estate investor most of his life, and has also made wine as a hobby, but wasn’t sure how to do it on a larger scale.
Water’s Edge showed Patterson how to produce in volume, how to use commercial-grade equipment and how to navigate regulations.
“You’re not having to learn everything from the ground up,” Patterson said.
Typical franchisees have around $500,000 in net worth and come from a variety of backgrounds, Lineberger said. The franchise includes barrels, tanks, equipment and training to be able to produce wine worthy of selling.
What separates them is they can locate in high-traffic, class-A retail spaces.
“The typical footprint is 3,000 square feet and it’s next to nice restaurants, movie theaters, higher-end retail space,” Lineberger said.
Owners get a list of available juices from the company’s network that will be shipped directly to them.
Chardonnays from Australia or South African can be fermented, bottled and served in places such as Kentucky or Oklahoma. “We’re not limited to the fruit that can be grown regionally,” Lineberger said.
This allows the winemaker to be able to speak about the experience with patrons, to share the process that went into each bottle.
It also allows consistent production. Because grapes are sourced around the world, owners don’t have to wait for a region’s harvest to be inundated with grapes, Patterson said.
The stakes are also lower when you don’t have to grow the grapes.
“If we have a bad batch, we throw it away and start over again,” Patterson said.
In Madera, about half of the grapes will be sourced from Water’s Edge, and the other half will come from local growers. That is what the Madera Wine Trail requires for inclusion. Patterson plans to start producing in 60 days, and hopes to open Balbas-American in July.
The entire building on Root Creek Road, currently under construction, will be around 3,000 square feet with 1,200 square feet for a tasting room. The property will include an outdoor patio and gazebo.
Patterson hopes Balbas-American will set him up for retirement. And if he can produce 3,000 cases a year, he said, he’ll be happy.