In 2015, an unassuming spot on 290 just west of the square in Johnson City started to attract attention. A sign, a building, and then a small vineyard went up. Today, 290 Vinery is open and ready to welcome those wanting to sit back, relax, and enjoy some wine.
290 Vinery is owned by Susan Kirchman and Warren Vilmaire, owners of TASTE Wine+Art, in the square in Johnson City. TASTE Wine+Art mainly houses an art gallery, but it has offered tastings for some time. Unfortunately, it seemed the space could not contain the dreams of wine and art, so 290 Vinery was born. The location on the square remains an art gallery where wine by the glass and bottle will remain available. 290 Vinery will be home to the wine tastings and some of the art. Susan’s daughter, Alison Lanik, and Lon Yaeger oversee 290 Vinery. And since Warren is the wine guy, he sees to the offerings.
Sean and I stopped in during their soft opening over the July 4th weekend. We arrived around 1:30 p.m. as one group was leaving. Before long, we had the entire place to ourselves. We settled into a comfortable spot to cool off and started a tasting.
Tastings include five 1¼ ounce pours from a choice of reds, whites, and sweets. A good half or more of the options come from lesser known, further away Texas wineries, which currently include The Vineyard at Florence, Valley Mills Vineyards, and Red Caboose Winery. They want to carry ten Texas wineries in the future, focusing on wineries not in the Hill Country; the goal of the variety is “cross pollination.” They also offer several wines from out of state and out of country. The wines offered here are generally not available anywhere else; currently, that includes the Escondido Valley Cabernet Sauvignon and the Campus Oaks Old Vine Zin from Lodi. And these boutique wines will be available through a wine club as well.
Tastings are as interesting as you make them. An entire tasting of just one type – red, white, or – or one made up of entirely Texas wines is possible. One neat option is a horizontal tasting. While we were there, we tasted a Tawny Port from Portugal, and a port wine, Socrates, a blend of Lenior and Norton from The Vineyard at Florence. We did enjoy the available Texas rosé Valley Mills Grenache – but opted not to have the French rosé from Languedoc. I found the horizontal tasting fascinating, comparing the lighter, dryer, fruit driven Texas port to the silken, caramel sweetness of the traditional Tawny.
To start a tasting, we went to the main bar. There, we paid for the tasting, had our first wine, and were given four wooden nickels. The slow day meant only one bar was open; however, they have five bars in the main room that can be moved around as needed. In the future, at least one bar will be used outside. With the rosé in hand, we found ourselves a comfortable spot to sit and sip the wine. In fact, the goal of the tokens is so guests do not need to remain at the bar during the tasting. They can settle into a comfy spot – inside or out – or wander about the wide open tasting room viewing the art.
Though 290 Vinery has no wines of its own, they plan on making a port-style wine from the Tannat vines in front (going on their 5th leaf). To help make sure the small vineyard is well cared for, they use a new underground irrigation system. All elements are underground, so the water gets right where it is needed. And to help, the system has its own app that alerts Warren when to water. It takes note of current conditions, weather, and soil before making suggestions for watering. If it might rain, the app will recommend holding off, which it recently did.
The more relaxed tastings are one way 290 Vinery encourages guests to stay awhile, making it more of a destination and not just a stop. The wide open, large tasting room has seating throughout for lounging and sipping. They also have a “private room” that can be used for events and tastings. In fact, Warren would like to have educational and horizontal tastings in the room. Outside offers plenty of seating under a large tree right next to the vineyard, as well as spots on the patio. For those who opt to stay inside, they can enjoy paintings by established Texas artists chosen by Susan, and those outside can marvel at the unique sculptures from other Texas artists.
To make a stop more of a visit, there are plans to provide more than just wine. 290 Vinery currently has one on-site food truck; however, the hours do not line up well with their own. They would like the owners to extend the hours, as well as bring in more options. Live music is also planned for both inside and outside. When the weather permits, there will be outside activities to enjoy. There are ample reasons to stay and have a glass or a bottle.
290 Vinery is in a learning process. We came in on their second day, and they were already thinking about how to improve the experience. Alison told me they hope to create something special to add to the Hill Country, and so they are constantly looking at ways to enhance a visit. And for now, they have some time. Though they are open on weekends, the Grand Opening is not until October.
This new spot is one not to miss. Between the chance to taste unique wines and enjoy a charming new environment, 290 Vinery has so much to offer.