The countryside in Texas has never looked this beautiful. Is it, perhaps, the unseasonable amount of rain this year? More likely, the rural beauty of the Lone Star State presents a stark contrast to the four walls of the home after sequestering for three months. Whether you are in North Texas or the Hill Country near Austin and Fredericksburg, the Texas wineries are open for business.
Wineries in Texas are plentiful and eager for new visitors. Texas’ “opening” from the stifling pandemic comes with distancing rules, sanitizers on tables, and masked servers. Even so, winery staffs’ enthusiasm for welcoming customers is even more pronounced than the usual warm Texas hospitality.
The 2018 and 2019 harvests have yielded some exceptional wines to try. The patio settings in the wineries, inns, and restaurants show off the rustic vistas in both North Texas and the Texas Hill Country. With nearly 300 wineries in Texas, there are many choices of locations and wine styles to sample. Take a road trip or grab a quick plane ride to these wineries in Texas, and you will feel a refreshing “New Normal.”
An hour and a half outside of Dallas lie the St. Joe- Muenster wineries of Blue Ostrich and 4R Ranch Vineyards & Winery. Patrick Whitehead, Founder of Blue Ostrich, is also this year’s President of Texas Wine and Grape Growers Association (TWGGA). He had a significant influence on the Governor of Texas on how to open the state’s wineries after the 2020 spring shutdown.
The Blue Ostrich winery began on the site of a family-owned ostrich farm. Those beautiful creatures, still located on the farm, flutter their eyelashes at the visitors they love. Blue Ostrich wines and their event venue draw many customers from the big nearby cities of Dallas, Ft. Worth, Denton, Plano, and McKinney. The Red Blends are standouts, including Harvest Moon Blend, a dry red blend of Syrah, Tannat, and Cabernet Sauvignon; and the Trade Wind Blend, a Caribbean Rum Cask aged Syrah and Tempranillo red blend. The premier white wine is the crisp, dry Viognier, and dessert wine drinkers will enjoy the fortified Orange Muscat.
Nearby 4R Ranch Vineyards & Winery, Muenster, Texas, has won accolades for their dessert wine, Mountain Biking trails, and their spectacular wedding venues. The 2017 Nectar Nero was the 2019 San Francisco International Wine Competition Sweepstakes winner. This rose and gold-hued wine is laden with lush apricot and tangerine peel and is composed of 100% Moscato Nero. Walt Roper, the co-founder of 4R Ranch Vineyards & Winery, noted that this was the first time a Texas wine had won the top spot, Sweepstakes medal of the San Francisco competition, a milestone for the Texas Wine Industry. Brides favor this dessert wine as a complement to their wedding cake. We sat on the cliff-hanging patio while sampling both the 2015 Viognier Estate white wine and the 2017 Tempranillo/Malbec red blend, both winners in our opinions.
Dotting Highway 290 from Austin to Fredericksburg lies over 100 wineries and vineyards. Each bend of the road reveals yet another new winery, one larger and prettier than the next in true Texas fashion. Beyond the LBJ Ranch and famous wildflowers, you’ll find some of the most beautiful wineries in the U.S. Take a ride for a visit to some of my favorites.
Pedernales Cellars specializes in Spanish and Rhone-style wines, including their benchmark Tempranillo and Viognier. I first interviewed Julie Kuhlken, Pedernales’ co-founder, and her family at the TexSom wine conference six years ago when her Tempranillo wines stunned me. With cherry, spice, tobacco, and cedar notes, this wine has proven to be food-friendly especially accompanied with some local barbeque. The Rhone-style GSM blend – Grenache, Syrah, Mourvedre, recalls the best of Southern Rhone wines.
Now open after the Pandemic shutdown, reservations are required at Pedernales for a tasting on their expansive patio. The attractive vista from the terrace is worth the visit alone. The wine tasting favorites were the Pedernales 2017 High Plains Viognier Reserve (San Francisco Chronicle Gold medal), 2016 Texas High Plains Tempranillo (Gold and Best-in-Class Lone Star International competition), and the 2016 Family Reserve, a Tempranillo, Malbec, Merlot, Mourvedre, Sangiovese, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Petit Verdot red blend. During the lockdown, Pedernales offered club members and visitors virtual cooking demonstrations and tastings.
William Chris Vineyards, Hye, Texas, is one of the most highly regarded wineries in Texas. Founded by Bill Blackmon and Chris Brundrett, they are proud to make their wines with 100% Texas grapes from over sixty-four different family growers. In 2018 Chris Brundrett was named by Wine Enthusiast magazine as a “winemaker that is changing the face of American Wine.” Socially and philanthropically conscious, Chris and William showcased a new Hill Country red wine, with the proceeds benefiting Texas restaurant workers in need through the Southern Smoke Foundation. The 2019 Wanderer Series Relief Project Red Blend began in conjunction with Master Sommelier, Craig Collins. It was blended, labeled, and bottled within an astonishing 3 1/2 weeks of the Pandemic lockdown. The red blend consists of 95% Cinsault and 5% Mourvedre grapes from Texas High Plains vineyards.
The patio setting gives visitors a serene location to sample some of the best of William Chris Vineyards. Recommendations include the 2019 Sangiovese Rosé, the 2018 Marsanne, and the 2017 Hunter – a peppery blend of 75% Merlot and 25% Malbec. William Chris Vineyards found that their Zoom Virtual Tastings for club members were a hit during the Pandemic lockdown. They plan to continue this program indefinitely.
While meeting with the dynamic co-owner, Sheri Pattillo, at French Connection Winery, Hye, Texas, I realized why my fellow sommelier, and PrimeWomen writer, Courtney Quinn, recommended the French Connection wines. The French Connection patio lies off main Highway 290 and offers a peaceful setting for sampling the wines. Most well-known for their beautifully extracted and aromatic Rosé wines, the winery also offers many traditionally French varietal wines that are 100% Texas-grown. These include Roussanne, Marsanne, Viognier, Syrah, Petite Sirah, Cinsault, and Mourvedre grapes. Standout wines included the 2015 Roussanne Reserve, the 2018 La Connection Red – a blend of Petite Sirah, Cinsault, Syrah, and Mourvedre- and the 2015 Roussanne (Port-Style) – a fortified and 4-year aged treat.
Signor Vineyards, Fredericksburg, Texas has one of the most stunning settings of any tasting room winery in Texas, or anywhere else.
This winery traces its two-family residency in Central and West Texas back three generations. Two of the 3rd generation sons built the vineyard and winery along a creek of the Pedernales River. They have previous winemaking experience from wine country areas such as Oregon, New Zealand, California, and Australia. The wines they make reflect this heritage. Standout wines included the 2019 Viognier, 2019 Pinot Gris, and the 2017 Pinot Noir.
At Inwood Estates Vineyards, Fredericksburg, Texas, Dan Gatlin, owner, and winemaker, was an early Texas wine pioneer in planting European Bordeaux varietal grapes like Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Cabernet Franc. He was one of the first to plant the Spanish Tempranillo grape, suited so well to the Texas climate. Gatlin, a Dallas native, also produces Burgundian-style Chardonnay with his Chardonnay vineyards located in the center of upscale, uptown Dallas. The wine clubs at Inwood Estates offer high-end, multi-clonal red blends that are savored by their members. Brian Hatfield, Inwood club member in McKinney, Texas, noted, “I used to think Napa Valley owned the rights to high-end American wines until I discovered Inwood. Who knew that such complex, full-bodied wines could be produced from 100% Texas grapes? Dan has changed my whole perception of what is possible by combining years of experience with modern techniques of growing. The possibilities are endless.”
Messina Hof Winery, established over 40 years ago, is one of the largest wineries in Texas. It owns several tasting rooms, dotting Central and Southern Texas. The Messina Hof Winery & Resort in Fredericksburg features over 50 Messina Hof wines, an event center, and a Bed & Breakfast of four individually themed cottages. During the Pandemic, Messina Hof offered a“Bottle of Thanks to your favorite Medical Worker” program, which included free shipping. Knowledgeable tasting room sommeliers welcome guests to select from a wide choice of wines ranging from bone-dry to sweet wine selections. Impressive wines included the 2019 dry Grenache rosé, the 2017 Sagrantino Reserva, and the 2016 HC Black Label Port. Don’t miss this beautiful winery on your trip down Highway 290.