New ‘winery,’ rental space opens

McALLEN — After years of slow decay, the repurposed church now smells like mahogany when no one’s inside. On Thursday, when roughly 50 people mingled inside the Old Church Winery for its grand opening, the smell of fajitas that were cooking out back for lunch wafted through the building.

This new project is the brainchild of Chamber of Commerce President Steve Ahlenius and City Commissioner John Ingram. The building sits at 700 N. Main St. across from Infusions, diagonal from the Creative Incubator, another one of Ahlenius’ projects. The building will feature wine barrels where people can mix wines, and the space will be available to rent for social events, mixers, luncheons, quinceañeras, small weddings and other sorts of gatherings.

The building was falling apart in the middle of Ingram’s District 5 so he asked Ahlenius if there was anything that could be done. Animals were the main residents of the building, and it needed plenty of work. Mayor Jim Darling and the city commission supported the project, which started construction late in the spring of 2016.

“Everything needed to be updated to meet code,” Ahlenius said. “That’s what a lot of the work had to do with. And of course make it look nice and comfortable.”

The project cost nearly $200,000, Ahlenius said, paid by the Chamber. There’s now fresh wood paneling throughout the building, giving it a rustic, barn feel. Everything in the building has been redone, including a newly installed kitchen, air conditioning units and handicap accessibility.

“You should’ve seen this place before,” Ingram said. “It was in awful shape. But thanks to Steve and the mayor, the city commission, it’s this beautiful place now in a beautiful part of town, right by the historic district and the middle of the arts district.”

There’s a room off the main hall that will serve as the wine room, kept at 65 degrees, with 20 barrels of wine. That will likely be installed this summer once they get specific alcohol certifications.

Ahlenius envisions people coming to mix and match different wines and ultimately create their own bottles to take home. There’s also a little bar for wine tasting.

Mayor Jim Darling, who enjoys wine, thanked the commission, Ahlenius, other Chamber members for their work, and said he’s excited to try out the new spot.

Then everyone went outside the building to cut the ribbon and pose for pictures.

Darling, often employing quick wit, received a phone call right before the ribbon cutting. He checked the screen, silenced the phone and put it back in his pocket before posing for the picture.

“It was the county judge,” Darling said, smiling. “He wanted to give his congratulations on the project.”