Each year the Lone Star International Wine Competition is held on a Monday and Tuesday. When I am a judge, coming from Houston to Grapevine means I need to drive up Sunday evening. Since I am driving that far, I leave earlier either on Friday or Saturday to take the opportunity to visit new wineries or other wineries in that area of the state which I do not get the chance to visit often. This year I left early Saturday morning.
The first winery I planned on visiting was KFire Winery and Vineyard when they opened at 11 a.m. KFire is located in Bertram so it was a three hour drive. When I arrived, there were only a couple cars outside, which was fine since the winery building is not large. But as soon as I went into the tasting room, it was packed with people! I just stood there stunned trying to determine where all these people came from. They were having a great time though, but after I realized I could not make it through the crowd to one of the two tasting bars, I decided to go back outside.
I asked someone out there where everybody came from, and they explained they were on a chartered bus and the bus was currently at Pilot Knob Vineyard. I looked over at Pilot Knob which is a stone’s throw from KFire, and could see the bus parked outside. After taking some photos of KFire outside, I tried to decide what to do since there was nothing I could do in KFire’s tasting room. I decided to go over to Pilot Knob since the winery is larger and it was now 12 p.m. when they open on a Saturday.
Upon entering Pilot Knob, there were only a couple people at the tasting bar, so it was a good decision. I looked at the tasting menu to see what was new, and an employee who was busy behind the bar asked if she could help me. I asked a question about one of the wines and she told me the answer. I replied that I would have a glass of that wine. She asked if I was with the bus group and I said no, I had come over from KFire before the bus group got there. From there the conversation went downhill. She said the bus group was already there, but they do not open until noon. I looked at my watch to confirm and said it was already noon. She was too busy apparently getting wine for the bus people who must have been out on the patio to help me, so I decided it was time to go. This trip was not starting out well.
I sat in my car trying to decide what to do next. I knew I needed more photos and information from KFire since I needed to write a post, so I decided to go back there. At that time, the people from the bus were standing around outside waiting for the bus to pick them up to bring them to Pilot Knob. There were no more customers left in the winery and everybody was picking up from the group that had been there. I asked some questions I needed and in the meantime, the group outside had decided to just walk to Pilot Knob instead of waiting for the bus. It was obvious that both wineries were not used to a large group of people from a chartered bus, which is understandable as the only wineries who probably are used to that number of people are the wineries along U.S. 290 in Fredericksburg. I usually call or email to confirm winery times, but next time I think I might also ask if they are expecting a bus.
I left and headed for my next winery which was Spirit of Texas Winery. At this point I had not had any wine, so I was looking forward to arriving at Spirit of Texas. When I did arrive, the parking lot had a lot of water puddles since it had rained the previous day. Owners Brian and Moira McCue happened to be outside and directed me to where I should park which was partly under a covered area. Brian told me because of the parking lot, they decided to open up later, but even so, they welcomed me in for a tasting. It was nice seeing them again from previous conferences and visiting the new winery for the first time. I finally had some wine so the day was looking better. Other people came to the winery, so they apparently had not seen the Facebook post either about opening later. It did not matter though as they were still welcomed in. I had a nice visit, said goodbye, and headed to my next destination.
The next winery to visit was also new and was Rancho Loma Vineyards in Coleman. It was already around 2 p.m., so I was getting hungry. I always bring some kind of snacks or food on my trips, but sometimes a nice meal is welcomed. I knew the owners of Rancho Loma, Robert and Laurie Williamson, also owned Rancho Pizzeria across the street, so I thought I might stop in for a slice of pizza after my winery visit.
The inside of the winery was definitely different from the bare exterior and was very nice. Some people were already there enjoying some wine seated in comfortable couches, so I decided to sit at the bar. I ran through a tasting while having a nice conversation with the tasting guide who only had worked there for a couple months. The previous customers went on a tour of the winery, so I had a chance to see more of the tasting room without bothering them and took a peek inside the production area. After my tasting, I decided to stop at the pizzeria. As is common with that part of Texas, there is considerable driving between wineries, and I had two more places I wanted to visit before the end of the day. I asked at the pizzeria if they had pizza slices and unfortunately, they did not. I did not have the appetite or have the time to wait for a whole pizza, so I got back in the car and headed north.
The next winery I had not been to yet was going to be Blue Duck Winery in Albany north of Abilene. But since I was driving near Abilene, I had to take a slight detour and visit The Winery at Willow Creek again. I have seen owners Brian and Kimberly Scalf since my first visit at conferences and festivals, so it was going to be nice to visit and see them again. As it turned out, Brian was out, but I enjoyed a tasting of new wines with Kimberly. The winery is making more Texas wines and I enjoyed a very nice Texas Sangiovese. During the Lone Star Wine competition, out of town guests are invited to a dinner and often bring a bottle of wine to share. I decided to buy a couple bottles of the Sangiovese, one to share and one for home, and the dinner guests were really impressed with the wine.
Back on the road, I made my way to the town of Albany and easily found Blue Duck Winery. Laurinda Thomas had previously done a nice post about the winery so I was able to just enjoy a tasting of their wines. All the owners were there and Austin Chamness helped me get started on a tasting. I had met co-owner Adrian Allen at the TWGGA Conference earlier in the year, so it was nice seeing him again. After you select the wines you would like to taste, the glasses are put in a wooden holder in the shape of Texas. A piece of paper in the same shape is given so you can easily identify the wines in your tasting flight. I sat in a corner table of the tasting room, listened to the live music, and enjoyed a nice tasting.
I was ready for a real meal this time and Adrian suggested I visit the local Beehive Restaurant. I took his advice and I am really glad I did. They are noted for their steaks and I had a fantastic prime rib, which I love but have not had in a long time. Residents of Albany are fortunate to have a great restaurant and winery in their town.
I made it to my hotel for the night in Graham, Texas before it got dark. After driving over seven hours during the day, needless to say, I had a very peaceful sleep.
Sunday came with a strong chance of rain, and sure enough I went through a lot of it on the way to my first winery. It amazes me when I find myself on some new backroads of Texas for me, and then I realized how huge Texas is. I was cruising along in the rain on a curvy backroad, and suddenly came across an accident where an SUV apparently had slid on the wet road and backed into the high bank beside the road smashing in the back of the vehicle. Police were already there with a few other cars, but it reminded me to slow down and always try to drive safely.
I arrived at OG Cellars in Sunset with the rain still coming down, and made it up their dirt road to the winery. I had met co-owner James Hanger a couple times before and was looking forward to trying his wines. His wife Sammi and their daughter Olivia Grace were in the tasting room. Sammi started me on a tasting, and when I told her I knew James, she found him in the back of the winery where he had been working. James then took over my tasting telling me about the winery and the wines he makes. After a very nice tasting, he took me to the back of the winery to show me the production area.
If you did not read Laurie Ware’s post on OG Cellars, the winery is named after their daughter Olivia Grace. I tried to get a photo of all three, but Olivia Grace did not want to participate. However, later during my visit, I was able to snap a photo of just her when she wasn’t looking.
I had made plans to visit the rest of the wineries for the day with Laurinda Thomas and her mother Irene Powell, so I said goodbye to the Hangers to meet them at the first winery. I had yet to meet Laurinda, so it was going to be fun spending the rest of the day with them at the wineries instead of going alone. We had planned on meeting at Arché, but I was late arriving (I’ll blame it on the rain) and Laurinda texted me to let me know they were moving on to the second winery.
I arrived at Arché and said hello to Amy Sterling. For this trip, I decided not to check ahead with any of the wineries, so it was fun seeing them and having them wonder why I was so far from home. I asked Amy what wines were new and then tried a few wines. While tasting, I made the comment their new parking lot was really nice and she said it had been done a year ago. We were both sure that I had visited more recently, but it must have been over a year ago. I needed to catch up to Laurinda and Irene who were now at Blue Ostrich Winery & Vineyard, so I said goodbye to Amy and Arché.
When I got to Blue Ostrich, I found them at the end of the tasting bar having recently started a tasting. We officially met and I quickly caught up with the tasting to where they were. Co-owner Julie Whitehead came over to say hello and then later Patrick Whitehead heard we were in the house. I mentioned that I had not seen their new pavilion yet and Patrick took me outside to show me everything. It is definitely going to be a very nice place to enjoy a glass of wine and depending on the weather, the doors can be raised or lowered. Even a kitchen and outside tasting bar makes the pavilion a perfect place to hold an event.
During our tastings, the Whitehead’s daughter Presley and her fiancé and the winemaker at Arché, Grayson Davies, arrived, so I got the chance to see them again. Overall, it had been another great visit at Blue Ostrich, but we had one more winery to visit before closing time, so we had to say goodbye and head a little bit further away.
We took a turn down the road and soon ended up at the entrance to 4R Ranch Vineyards and Winery. After a drive up the winery’s road, past their vineyard, and up the hill, we arrived at the tasting room. Laurinda and Irene had previously visited the winery, so this was their chance to be tour guides for me. A lot of work went into building the winery and it showed. You can read more about our visit from my previous post.
It had been a busy two days of visiting wineries, so I said goodbye to Laurinda and her mother, and made my way to Grapevine to get ready to help judge the 2017 Lone Star International Wine Competition.