Unique destinations abound in the Texas Hill Country. No longer is 290 between Fredericksburg and Johnson City the only go to wine spot. Areas like Dripping Springs, Driftwood, Spicewood, Marble Falls, and even further into the northern reaches of the Texas Hill Country attract wine lovers every day. However, there is one, just to the west, that often gets overlooked. Mason County is home to some of Texas’s best vineyards and many great wineries.
On a rather dreary April Saturday, Sean and I, along with 50 other people, descended on Mason for the first ever Mason County Wine Tour. Area winemaker Brock Estes of Fly Gap Winery organized the tour to showcase all of the best parts of Mason County. Our day would consist of visits to five separate wineries. At each, we would have a small tasting (between 2-4 wines) paired with food. To help us all enjoy the day, transportation was provided by Cellar Rat Wine Tours and Hye Texas Wine Tours.
To facilitate the tour, Brock split the group of 52 in half. My group first went to visit one of the biggest wine draws in Mason, Sandstone Cellars Winery. Owners Scott Haupert and Manny Silerio offered up three healthy tastings. We sipped the XVII, a blend of Touriga Nacional, Cabernet Sauvignon, Petite Verdot, Barbera, and Syrah from one of Mason’s top vineyards, Robert Clay Vineyards. This wine, as well as the XIV, were paired with tacos featuring Barbacoa and Carne Guisada from Santos Taqueria. We ended with a fried dessert with sugar and cinnamon that went with their Cider Dessert Wine (a happy accident that has turned into quite a crowd pleaser).
Next up we visited Compass Rose Cellars. Most people are familiar with the tasting room in Hye, but they actually got their start right there in Mason. The recently transformed barrel room welcomed us. Owner Mark Watson poured the el Zopilote Grenache and the Madeira style Iron Spike with bites prepared by the new chef at Compass Rose.
But this stop also provided a sneak peek. Dan and Jeanie McLaughlin, owners of Robert Clay Vineyards, recently started making their own wine. These days they fill the Compass Rose production facility in Mason. They gave us a very early preview of their 2015 Merlot, as it will not be available for at least a few more years. We also heard their story. They relocated the family to Mason where Dan began to live his dream as a farmer. At first, they just cared for Robert Clay Vineyards, but these days they own the growing vineyard. Along getting into winemaking in 2015, they also helped to start a viticulture class at Mason ISD, teaching future Mason farmers how to take advantage of their unique terroir.
After these tastings, the sun started to come out and we headed out to Fly Gap. There, the two groups met at the future site of Fly Gap Winery. We gathered at a long table where Brock poured the currently available Johnny Rojo, the original Dank (from the library), and a barrel sample of his upcoming Tannat sourced from Reddy Vineyards in the High Plains. We nibbled on a bright salad and a filled pasta shell. We also got a chance to see the unique winemaking approach that Brock employs, as well as the future tasting room, dining room, and vineyard.
We ended our day in Pontotoc where we split up again. My group found themselves at Wines of Dotson-Cervantes. Alphonse Dotson and Martha Cervantes started as grape growers that found themselves making wine. They recently were able to open their cozy tasting room in Mason. There, Martha served a traditional Mayan meal of pork, beans, and rice. This was paired with a sampling of their wines. We tasted two wines, a Chardonnay, and a red blend (Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot from their vineyard and Sangiovese from Salt Lick in Driftwood) made for Fall Creek. We also got to taste their two signature wines, Something Red and Gotas de Oro.
We ended our day a few doors down at Pontotoc Vineyard. Like Compass Rose, most people are familiar with their tasting room in Fredericksburg, where owners Carl and Frances Money can be found. However, for the tour, we tasted at the winery alongside the estate vineyard. Winemaker Don Pullum talked us through a tasting of three wines, including the ever popular Estate Tempranillo.
Don paired the wine with his own vegetable terrine. For anyone who knows, Don is a superb chef; he even competed on the second season of The Taste on ABC. As we tasted through the wines, we also sampled pecan candies made by owner Frances Money, as well as some of her melt in your mouth brownies.
Satisfied and happy, we finished our day with a group photo in a field of bluebonnets, all of us eager to do this all over again. And lucky for us, and everyone else, there will be future opportunities. Brock hopes to organize more of the tours to get people out to enjoy Mason. And for those who want to see it all a bit sooner, there is an upcoming Mason Soirée on May 21st.
At the Soirée, guests will first enjoy music, food, and crafts. Those who really want the total experience can get a seat at the winemaker dinner. Top Hill Country chefs will offer a locally sourced menu paired with wines made from Mason County fruit including Robert Clay Vineyards, Fly Gap Winery, Compass Rose Cellars, Pedernales Cellars, Lewis Wines, Sandstone Cellars Winery, William Chris Vineyards, Dotson and Cervantes, and Pontotoc Vineyard. The evening will end with a moonlit concert featuring Reckless Kelly, Brandon Rhyder, and Goodnight Texas. There is more info on their Facebook page, as well as their website (where tickets are available).
Many do not know that a short drive west from Fredericksburg has a spot just made for Texas wine. The trip, which takes about 40 minutes, winds through the Hill Country offering views of rolling vistas and hill tops. For now, wine lovers can sip Sandstone Cellars wines, and other local wines, at their wine bar. Dotson-Cervantes in nearby Pontotoc is open for tasting as well. For more of the great wines of Mason, head out to Fredericksburg for the Pontotoc Weingarten, and Hye for Compass Rose Cellars and Hye Market (who features Fly Gap wines). That is until the next Mason County Wine Tour.