I have been sharing my enthusiasm about Texas wine with my parents for several years now, so they decided it was time to experience it for themselves. They always hear about how much my wife Maria and I love our trips to the Texas Hill Country where we enjoy the scenery, the friendly people, and the great Texas wines. Recently my parents decided to visit us from Louisiana, and I finally had the chance to take them on a Hill Country road trip.
Yes, I’m known to be quite the planner, and I wanted to give my parents an opportunity to learn more about what Maria and I have discovered while on an enjoyable getaway. I believe the wineries I picked for us to visit not only are enjoyable but also help tell the story of Texas wine.
From our previous experiences, we have learned that many Hill Country wineries and tasting rooms can get packed on the weekends. We were able to plan our trip over a few weekdays, giving us a chance to talk and learn more from the folks at the wineries, and have an overall more relaxing experience.
Our first stop was at Lost Draw Cellars in Fredericksburg. Roussanne? Picpoul Blanc? Cinsault? One of the first lessons is Texas is still working out what works best here, and a lot of the grape varieties we’re working with are not household names yet. So it’s important to have an open mind, and be willing to try something new. We also learned more about the High Plains AVA; how farming is done there, the climate, how it relates to other grape growing regions of the world, and the scariness of hail storms and late spring freezes that can destroy a lot of work in a few hours. I think hearing about the amount of effort that goes into making that wine helps consumers better appreciate the end product.
We next visited Becker Vineyards in Stonewall. The growth of Becker Vineyards is a great success story in Texas wine. Started in 1992, Becker now produces over 120,000 cases of wine per year making them one of the largest wineries in the state. In all of the times I’ve visited Becker, this was the first time I have been able to take the tour. I highly recommend it as it gave me a chance to learn a lot more about the Becker Vineyards’ story. Becker’s tastings are done in a “ticket for a tasting” fashion. Buy your set of six tickets, then trade them in for a tasting for one of the wide variety of wines they have available. Becker gives visitors a selection of 20+ wines to choose from. This might be overwhelming for some folks, but I’ve always found the tasting room staff helpful in the quest to find some new favorites. Becker’s grounds are also beautiful, providing a great first impression for those new to Texas wines.
We took a break from wine to do a chocolate tasting at Chocolates El Rey. Chocolates El Rey is a Venezuelan chocolate company, and their U.S. distributor just happens to be in Stonewall. They provide tastings of four of their chocolates each paired with a product made using their chocolates, starting with a white chocolate and working towards a few dark chocolates. I have been a big fan of Chocolates El Rey for years, so this will be a regular stop on our future Hill Country trips.
After visiting one of the largest wineries in Texas it was time to visit one on the smaller side, William Chris Vineyards in Hye. While William Chris has developed quite the positive reputation for themselves, their production is still in the boutique winery range. The folks at William Chris are very hands on when it comes to their vineyards and the vineyards they help manage. I have learned a lot about the various Texas AVAs and growing regions from the staff at William Chris. If you have a chance to visit William Chris be sure to check out their vineyard map. It really puts the scope of Texas vineyards in perspective. I have also learned a lot about different styles of wines here. On this visit we picked up a bottle of their new Petillant Naturel Rosé, a style of sparkling wine I wasn’t familiar with in the past. William Chris frequently releases new wines, giving guests a chance to try something new on each visit.
Being the peak time of year for wildflowers, we had to make a stop at Wildseed Farms. Last year Wedding Oak Winery opened a tasting room at Wildseed Farms, giving many more people easy access to their wines. This is another fine example of Texas wineries located beyond the Highway 290 corridor bringing their wines closer to the large number of Fredericksburg visitors. I like how Wedding Oak’s tasting room offers three tasting menu options, giving more flexibility and appeal to a wider audience. I got to try their new Texedo, a blend of three Italian grape varieties with a bit of Tannat, and I’m sure this will be a best seller for them soon.
On the last day of our trip we had time to visit a few wineries on the way back to Houston. First we stopped by Texas Hills Vineyard in Johnson City. One of the things I like about Texas Hills is most of their wines have vineyard or Texas AVA designations, providing another great opportunity for people to learn more about where their wine comes from. Texas Hills offers one of the best tasting room values in the Hill Country with the tasting fee waived with a purchase of one bottle. They also give guests about 20 wines to choose from, so there’s really something, likely a few things, for everyone.
Our last visit was to Duchman Family Winery in Driftwood. Duchman focuses on wines made from Italian grape varieties, so their wines are some of the first I recommend to friends that like Italian wines and want to try something from Texas. The fact that their wines are fairly widely distributed across Texas is another plus. Duchman has a very scenic setting and their production area, barrel room, and bottling line have windows so visitors can take a self-led tour for an inside look into their winemaking process.
We had a great Hill Country trip, and I’m pretty sure my parents learned quite a bit about Texas wine along the way. I am sure that I’ll get requests for Texas wines next time I head back to Louisiana to visit them.