It seems to be a new anniversary tradition for my wife and me to visit a wine country. Last year we chose to travel to Oregon where we spent time visiting the spectacular waterfalls as well as wineries around Hood River and Willamette Valley. Several years ago, Tish got to come along on a “business trip” of sorts where we spent a few additional days driving the famed Pacific Coast Highway and tasted wines in Sonoma and Napa Valleys.
This year we chose more of a “staycation” and headed ourselves south to the Texas Wine Country. We are currently attempting to check off a visit to every winery in the Lone Star State and we are about halfway through. First thing we did, of course, was spend hours on the Texas winery map function found on the Texas Wine Lover website (a vital tool for novice and experienced travelers alike). Personally, I love the links that pop up when each winery is selected on the map as I used both winery websites and TWL input to determine our exact route and itinerary. (One caveat about this trip: The Texas Wine Month Trail (of Texas Hill Country Wineries) kicked off halfway through our trip and I did the math in my head and we chose not to purchase wine trail tickets, but for those who will be visiting (and revisiting) Hill Country wineries during October, this seems like a great deal.)
Our first stop of the five-day trip was in Salado. We are familiar with this sleepy little town as we like the Chopping Block brand of beef jerky sold at the Robertson’s store. Sure, there was a new Buc-ee’s a few miles up the road, but this is one of our favorite brands. Just across the interstate is our first winery stop of our journey, Salado Winery Company and Salado Wine Seller. They were just hanging out the open sign as we strolled in and met the winery cat. We are animal lovers and enjoy meeting the mascots at each winery we visit.
I probably should get a shirt with the word “YES” printed on it as each visit usually begins with a greeting in the order of, “Welcome to our winery. Would you like to taste some wine?” Um, yes please. We now split our tastings, Tish and I, and this trip would be no different. Sometimes we alternate wines and sometimes we just run the list and share the glass. I think we sampled six wines at Salado Winery and we left with a bottle of their Diamond Back red blend and the Big Bully red (mostly Malbec). While there, we discovered the Seller part of their name and found a McPherson Cellars Les Copains red blend to also purchase. I think I remember Tish buying a bottle with a Fiesta Winery label on it, but I cannot locate that one right now; she must have hidden that for her personal stash.
Next up was Georgetown Winery just down I-35 a piece. This location is nestled into a cozy town square and you can even purchase a drink and carry it with you as you walk around. We sample mostly dry reds here and purchased a couple of bottles (really like the Sangiovese) as well as one of their Ruby Red Reserve dessert wines that tasted of a scrumptious raspberry chocolate port. We inquired about eateries downtown and there are several, including Gumbo’s North, where we enjoyed some good Cajun-inspired cuisine.
Time to head west on 29 and drive through Burnet to visit Torr Na Lochs winery. Yes, this is the winery with the view we have all been hearing (and reading about) and yes, the view is spectacular. We had a brief discussion about wineries with views and we rate TNL just slightly ahead of Hawk’s Shadow because, as they pointed out, they have lakes views. They also have some amazing wines. We found the Albariño and Dolcetto to be our favorites in the white and red category, respectively, and we also took home a bottle of the 2015 MADS (Montepulciano, Aglianico, Dolcetto, and Sangiovese) blend. I think we decided we are going to let the MADS sit a while in our cellar as it still a bit young.
That is it for Day One winery visits on this tour. We head south to our accommodations for the long weekend at Settler’s Crossing just outside Fredericksburg and almost next door to Rancho Ponte winery. The deer and sheep roaming freely on the property, along with the great view of the stars at night, added to our enjoyable stay in a 1787 homestead relocated here from Pennsylvania. Is that the Milky Way? Yep, sure is, and we could see it with our naked eye.
Friday starts off with me learning how to fold back the Sunrider soft top on the Jeep Wrangler Unlimited Rubicon Hard Rock Edition I am road testing. I am a freelance automotive journalist and I test new vehicles each week, and along with that means resetting the radio presets, adjusting the mirrors, and seating positions, and learning how to fold back the top of a Jeep so we can ride around like we are in a convertible, of sorts. Success, so let’s hit the road. First up, a wine club pick up at the new Wedding Oak Winery at Wildseed Farms on US 290.
We had always driven past Wildseed Farms and marveled at the beautiful colors in the fields. Today we are stopping so we can pick up our wine club selections. We were able to select from the newly branded Wildseed Farms wines in the tasting room as well and fell in love with the 2015 Wine Cup red blend. We also got an extra bottle of the sparkling Bridal Bliss so we had something to toast with on our anniversary the next day.
OK, we are spending too much time here as we have a tasting appointment at Kuhlman Cellars at eleven. Hey, isn’t this the place where that Jeremy Wilson guy works as a sommelier? Sure is, and who other than Jeremy himself comes out to host our wine tasting with food pairings. This folks is how you should experience Texas wines (and food). The atmosphere is casual and the wines are excellent, but the knowledge you can gain by the intimate setting of a private tasting cannot be matched. After the obligatory “selfie” with Jeremy, we headed out with a bottle each of Alluvé and Barranca red blends. Starting to see a trend here? Yes, we are dry red lovers. We wanted to also leave with a bottle (or two) of the Calcaria Viognier/Trebbiano blend, but they just sold out. At least we got to taste some which means they have it in the tank.
Now we are headed east on 290 toward Hye where we grab a quick(ish) bite at Hye Market before arriving for our one o’clock tasting appointment at Lewis Wines. Our Russian-born hostess made us feel right at home as she poured some wonderful wines made in the facility adjacent to the tasting room. She gave us a quick history of Lewis Wines and pointed out what grapes were planted around the property. We love visiting wineries where we drive through the vineyards before stopping at the tasting rooms; we just wish more would put the grape name on the end of the rows. Lewis Wines is known for their Tempranillos, but we first sampled some nice whites and rosés. We took home a Swim Spot white blend (Blanc du Bois/Muscat Canelli/Viognier), a High Plains Rosé blend (Cinsault/Mourvèdre/Cabernet Sauvignon), a Texas Red Wine blend (Mourvèdre/Syrah/Cabernet Franc), and a bottle of 2012 Texas Tempranillo Reserve (mostly Tempranillo but has a bit of Garnacha and Graciano added in). Before leaving Lewis, our hostess asked if we had dinner plans and recommended a new restaurant on 290 in Johnson City called Bryans On 290. We were headed in that direction, so we stopped in and made dinner reservations for that evening, no problem.
Now it was time to visit some old friends who had relocated to the Hill Country several years ago and opened up an automotive and motorcycle customizing shop just east of Johnson City. We stopped in and found season two of their new show on The Velocity Channel was in production, but we were able catch up and visit in between filming. I can’t say what they are working on right now, but judging by the status of some of the vehicles in the shop during our visit, we can expect great things. As a funny coincidence, I learned one of the traditional gifts for a sixth anniversary (which is what Tish and I were celebrating) is iron – and we are visiting the set of Iron Resurrection.
Back on the wine trail, we stop in at 290 Vinery in Johnson City. We learn they do not have any of their own wines yet, but are sampling and selling a number of others – some Texas, some out of state. I enjoyed the Sangiovese from Val Verde Winery (Texas’ oldest) and we picked up a bottle of Old Vine Zinfandel from Lodi, California. We bid our host adieu and headed back west. I had not heard back from Ron Yates to see if we could visit his new place outside Hye, but we did stop in next door at Vinovium. This was a unique tasting experience as everything was being poured from a tap on the wall behind the tasting bar. Our host, Craig Mayer (AKA president and CEO of Vinovium) poured us a straight run of the taps in Old World-style table glasses. He gave us a quick education on the plastic keg system they use to supply their wines to commercial and private clients, and of course, my little brain began spinning around how I could modify this for home. The wines are sold to tasting room visitors in growlers, and we left with a bottle of Two World Red (Cabernet Sauvignon/Grenache/Carignan/Pinot Noir/Chardonnay) and a bottle of Aglianico (the surprise grape of the day).
Next stop was at Woodrose Winery where we split a red flight tasting. We had a difficult time deciding which were our favorites, but ended up buying a bottle of White Tempranillo (thanks to a surprise extra tasting by our hostess) and bottles of the 2012 Zinfandel, 2012 Unfiltered Syrah, and (appropriately) the Anniversary Blend (Syrah/Zinfandel). Yum.
Our afternoon of wine tasting was capped off with a visit to Alexander Vineyards. While owner Claude Alexander says he has plans for eventually growing grapes here, he currently features wines he personally sourced from around the globe. Currently he features four true Champagnes, five wines from Bordeaux, and a Riesling from Germany. The tastings are done in what is a converted porch/patio area of his home on the property. The separate trailer we parked near was actually their shipping/receiving facility. The tasting room is small and quaint and our end of the day tasting experience was wonderful. We started off with a nice Grand Cru Brut followed by his White Graves (Sémillon/Sauvignon Blanc), Bordeaux Rose (Cabernet Sauvignon/Merlot), Red Graves (Merlot/Cabernet Sauvignon), St-Émilion Grand Cru (Merlot/Cabernet Franc), and 2013 Sauternes (Sémillon) dessert wine. As we visited with Claude, he would disappear every once in a while and reappear with a bottle of “something for us to try.” Wow, what a great tasting experience and great way to finish our day on the wine trail. We ended up with a bottle each of Red Graves, St-Émilion Grand Cru, Bordeaux Rose, and the Sauternes. We also left with a slight French accent, funny. Claude pointed out that he has quite an assortment of all new wines arriving over the next few months including five from Spain.
Folks, what I am about to write next may be considered heresy in the Fredericksburg area. We have eaten dinner in the past at Cabernet Grill and we ate during this trip at Navajo Grill. But, our meal at Bryans On 290 was simply amazing, and blew those other two out of the water. This is the best food I have had in Texas, and I have eaten at a lot of “fine dining” restaurants. I had the trout with mussels over grits and Tish had the center cut grilled Angus beef loin. Wonderful! And served in a building that was once a gas station? Crazy. Since we had been out tasting wine all day, we did not pair anything with our meals, but we cannot wait to get back there and choose a vintage from his extensive wine list – or better yet catch the Tuesday “Supper Club” for the wine and food paired five-course meal. And we even got a chance to say “Hi” to our old friend Benjamin Calais who had just arrived for dinner as we were leaving.
Be sure to read Part 2 now!