Downtown Austin winery Wanderlust Wine Company is now open, although in a different capacity than originally intended due to the novel coronavirus pandemic. Wanderlust is currently selling to-go bottles of wine from its location at 610 North I-35 between East Sixth and Seventh streets, and hosting virtual wine classes.
The wine shop’s current bottle list features partnering wineries such as Texas wineries Reddy Wines and C.L. Butaud Wines. Wines don’t have to be purchased for the wine tastings.
Owner Sammy Lam originally envisioned Wanderlust as a bar with self-serve wines on tap. However, he was unable to fully complete construction as his contractors were unable to fly— but the TABC mandate during COVID-19 limits alcohol to manufacturer-sealed containers anyway.
Native Texan Lam was inspired to open the winery after the death of his mother, who was killed in a car accident in 2010. Lam explained that she was fascinated by wine, and they enjoyed talking about travel as she drank the boxed wine Franzia.
After her death, he spent time traveling around the world, and used a portion of the life insurance money as a down-payment to start Wanderlust Wines (he also held a Kickstarter, which was not fully funded).
“So you may understand how emotionally invested I am to this project and to seeing it succeed,” explained Lam.
Lam still plans on resuming plans for on-tap wine when possible — and eventually making his own wine. The winery also planned to have a new Southern Italian food truck, The Heel of the Boot, on site, but that has also been delayed due to the pandemic.
Lam had originally planned to host events during South by Southwest and reported that he lost “a lot of money” setting up for those when the festival was canceled. Like others, he reported that he does not qualify for the relief programs that exist, and he is working a part-time job to support himself. “If I just let things pass by,” he explained, “I would essentially be giving up.”
However, Lam said the virtual tastings provide a “small but useful amount of revenue.” (The tastings are free, though attendees must buy the wine, which averages around $20). Lam originally planned to host a grand opening party on Saturday, April 11 (his mother’s birthday), but he now hopes to hold in-person festivities to celebrate the opening on Mother’s Day, May 10, assuming the “stay home work safe” order is lifted by then.
Lam remains almost relentlessly optimistic. “Overall, business has been very tough lately,” he said. “If any business wants to survive, they have to reinvent themselves on a daily basis and continuously invest in things that may or may not work.”
“I’m giving it all I’ve got,” Lam continued. “Needless to say, the future is uncertain.”