The Texas Hill Country has been a tourist mecca for decades. Remarkably, Texas wine tourism has increased so much that the Hill Country is now the second fastest growing wine destination in the United States behind Napa Valley, California. According to Texas Wine and Grape Growers Association’s Debbie Reynolds, Executive Director, the 7000 acres of vineyards planted make Texas the #5 state in wine acreage. It is no wonder Wine Enthusiast magazine chose the Texas Hill Country as one of the “Ten Best Wine Travel Destinations.” Over 350 wineries call Texas home.
Beautiful scenery, award-winning barbecue, Farm-to-Table cuisine, and unusual wine varietals draw a great mix of visitors. Some of the fastest growing cities in the U.S. are just a drive away – including Austin, San Antonio, Houston, and Dallas-Ft. Worth. Visitors can fly into the Austin and Fredericksburg area via American or Southwest Airlines to take advantage of the wide-range of ordinary and extreme outdoor activities, spas, museums, food, live music, and wedding venues. The Austin motto, “Keep Austin Weird” seems appropriate for this distinctive area.
In the last two decades, Texas winemakers have succeeded in matching the type of wine grapes to plant with the challenging growing conditions. These insights led to the adoption and planting of indigenous Mediterranean-zone grapes coming from locations like Southern France, Spain, Italy, and Portugal. It’s not your usual Cab and Chardonnay. These grapes have adapted to the heat of the summer and frost of the spring. Tempranillo from Spain, Tannat, Viognier, Roussanne, and Picpoul from Southern France, Montepulciano, Vermentino, and Aglianico from Italy, and Touriga National and Tinta Cao from Portugal make stunning Texas wines.
A group of highly-awarded wineries have banded together as Texas Fine Wine to promote their message of quality. These wineries dot the central Texas and Hill Country landscape from Comanche to Fredericksburg, Driftwood, Spicewood, Dripping Springs, and Hye, Texas. Each has a compelling story of their start-up growing pains and recent successes.
Texas wines have won international wine competition awards from the San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition, the Lyon (France) International Competition, as well as the Lone Star and Texsom Wine competitions in Texas. For example, McPherson Vineyards’ 2015 Piquepoul Blanc was voted “Best in Show White” at the San Francisco International Wine Competition this year, besting all California and international white wines.
Texas Fine Wine cellars offer panoramic views of the Hill Country from their welcoming and stylish tasting rooms. Drive or fly into the Texas Hill Country to savor these prizewinning wines. Choose a wine to pair with your favorite barbecue and discover the new ground-breaking Texas winemakers.
Brennan Vineyards, Comanche, Texas, was founded by the Brennans who purchased an 1879 rock house as the foundation for their winery. Experienced winemaker, Todd Webster, produces “sophisticated wine with Texas roots.” Their award chest and wines are impressive. Brennan specializes in 10 different wines including: Tempranillo, a Super Nero, Viognier, a rosé of Mourvedre, and Muscat of Alexandria. Brennan’s wines are also poured in Fredericksburg at 4.0 Cellars.
4.0 Cellars, Fredericksburg, Texas, is an established tasting room representing some wineries off the normal tourist path. Visitors can experience the extraordinary wines of McPherson Cellars, Brennan Vineyards, and Lost Oak Winery. Schedule a Wine and Cheese Pairing and experience the Texas natural cheeses produced by one of Texas’ premier dairies: Veldhuizen Family Farms. The McPherson Cellar’s Mourvedre paired with the Caraway Cheddar was a favorite.
Bending Branch Winery was founded by Dr. Bob Young, MD. Bob champions the use of sophisticated technologies like cryomaceration and thermoflash fermentation methods to extract the flavors and colors of his selected grape varietals. Bending Branch wines include: Tannat, Tempranillo, Vermentino, Petite Sarah, Picpoul, Roussanne, Cinsault rosé. The annual Bending Branch Kentucky Derby Party celebrates Dr. Bob’s roots. His Picpoul Bourbon-barrel aged wine makes outstanding Mint Juleps.
Duchman Family Winery, Driftwood, Texas, was voted by HGTV as one of the most beautiful wineries in America. Dr.’s Stan and Lisa Duchman founded the winery in 2004 to produce the Italian varietal wines that have earned them national acclaim. Winemaker, Dave Reilly, has been featured in Southern Living magazine for his innovation. Seventy weddings per year keep this beautiful venue active. GM Jeff Ogle suggests pairing their red Grape Growers Blend with the nearby famous Salt Lick Barbecue brisket. Duchman’s featured wines include: Aglianico, Montepulciano, Dolcetto, Viognier, Pinot Gris, and Trebbiano.
Spicewood Vineyards, Spicewood, Texas, was founded in 1992, but the Yates family purchased it in 2007. The Yates and their winemaker, Todd Crowell, have dramatically transformed the winery and vineyards. They make estate-grown wines and have selected the suitable varietals for their local soil and climate. Spicewood is currently making their first sparkling wine, a much-needed enhancement to this wedding destination. Their wines pair nicely with the well-known local Opie’s Barbecue restaurant – especially their rosé of Tempranillo. Spicewood wines include a full-bodied Tempranillo, Sauvignon Blanc, Vermentino, and Mourvedre.
Yates Winery. Ron Yates and his family are the veteran winery owners of Spicewood Vineyards founded Yates Winery in Hye, Texas. Ron recently opened his family’s new winery, and a beautiful tasting room is on target for a winter 2016 opening. Yates Winery sits right on Wine Road 290, beckoning the wine trail visitors. Yates specialties include Tempranillo, Mourvedre, Albariño, Vermentino, Viognier, and Pinot Noir wines.
Pedernales Cellars, Stonewall, Texas. Larry and Jeanine Kuhlken planted their first vineyard near Fredericksburg in the early 1990s. The children – David and Julie and their spouses Heather Kuhlken and Fredrik Osterberg – began the plans for what would become Pedernales Cellars. Pedernales utilizes the natural insulation of the local limestone and cooling Hill Country soil for barrel aging the wines. Their tasting room and patio offer one of the most stunning views of the Hill Country. A pioneer in making Tempranillo wines, Pedernales has won numerous gold and silver medals for its flagship wine. The Pedernales’ Reserve Viognier nabbed a Grand Gold award at the 2012 Lyon International Wine Competition in France. Pedernales also makes a Mourvedre, Syrah, Grenache blend and a rosé of Grenache.
If You Go to the Texas Hill Country
Where to Eat:
Salt Lick BBQ, Driftwood, Texas, (also in Round Rock, Texas) is a Texas institution. They ship nationwide and feature: Brisket, Pulled Pork, Ribs, Sausage, and unbelievable Chocolate Pecan Pie.
Opie’s Barbecue, Spicewood, Texas, features: Brisket, Sausage, Ribs TaterTot casserole and Cranberry Almond Cole Slaw.
Valeria Farm-to-Table Restaurant, Boerne, Texas, is known for gourmet Italian, fresh ingredients and natural products. Valeria made USA Today’s list of Best Farm-to-Table restaurants. Dr. Bob Young, my companions and I ran into the gracious Scott Pelley and his wife here. Scott is a Texas native and anchor of CBS News.
Where to Stay:
Camp Comfort, Comfort, Texas, was originally an outdoor German bowling alley. This striking inn was converted to a boutique Bed & Breakfast with cabins featuring fine linens, elegant bathrooms, S’mores by-the-fire, and a hip aesthetic.
Sage Hill Inn, Kyle, Texas, is a boutique restaurant, inn and spa with hiking trails and stunning vistas. Several “girls get-away” houses are onsite with private hot tubs and fire pits. The restaurant uses vegetables and flowers from their gardens. For our dinner, Executive Chef Autumn Wallace prepared a Brown Sugar meatloaf and a Handkerchief Pasta with Roasted Mushrooms, Venison and Pork Sausage. A hearty Texas breakfast of eggs cooked to order, oatmeal, and sausage links is included.
Rose Hill Manor, Fredericksburg, Texas, a Charleston replica plantation-style inn, is beautifully decorated for the holidays. Room choices include the main manor house and private cottages. The restaurant won one of only two Wine Spectator awards in the Fredericksburg area for its excellent wine list.