So many wineries and tasting rooms have opened on U.S. 290 from Johnson City to Fredericksburg, that a simple weekend trip can’t do justice to visiting them all. We spent a three-day weekend and it still only made a dent. Four of us decided to spend Saturday to Monday visiting new and favorite wineries. I made the plans for Gloria, her brother and sister-in-law, Lucho and Patricia, and me for the weekend.
We started out early Saturday morning with an 11 a.m. appointment at 290 Wine Castle. We had made an appointment for their special Dungeon Experience tasting. During a previous visit, we had the chance to see the dungeon, hear about the experience, and we knew we had to come back to experience it ourselves. We were not disappointed!
From that experience, we went immediately to another experience, the Winemaker’s Table at CALAIS Winery. This is a special tasting which can be reserved in advance with owner and winemaker Benjamin Calais. During previous tastings in the front of the wine-cave, we saw people tasting in the rear of the cave with Benjamin. Being envious, we had to make reservations next time for the Winemaker’s Table. This was two experiences in a row that we were not disappointed.
Next was a visit to relax at somewhat new Ab Astris. All of us had enjoyed our last visit there, but we did not have much time to relax. This time was going to be different, especially since we had no more reservations for the day. The only deadline was the wineries we wanted to visit later that day and what time they closed. We each selected one of the wines on the tasting menu to get a glass and then we sat outside on the lawn in chairs surrounding a fire pit. The weather was hinting of rain, but it turned out to be a beautiful day in the Hill Country at just the right temperature. While we were enjoying our wine and conversation, winemaker Mike Nelson came to join us. We had a fun time talking with Mike about the winery and Texas wine. Unfortunately, the clock was ticking, and our relaxation had to end to meet those closing deadlines.
The next stop involved only needing to park in one parking lot for two tasting rooms. That is because the newly opened Wedding Oak Winery and Los Pinos Ranch Vineyards share the same physical building. The tasting rooms are separate, but you can easily walk from one to the next. We first went to Wedding Oak and enjoyed a tasting with tasting guide Mike. He explained in the room next to the patio that has tanks, that they may ferment some wine there eventually. We had a great tasting and left to walk next door. Speaking of winemaking, Wedding Oak Winery winemaker Seth Urbanek had just arrived, and we said a quick hello.
The Los Pinos tasting room was set up differently than Wedding Oak’s with the first difference being a station to check in first. We explained we wanted to do a tasting and were then directed where to go at the tasting bar. I have heard of some long wait times at the station from other people, but we did not need to wait this time. We enjoyed the Los Pinos tasting just as well, and it is nice that more people will get to enjoy the wines from Los Pinos Ranch Vineyards without needing to go a far distance to the East Texas winery. If you have the time though, a visit to the winery along with on-site restaurant, live music, and more is definitely worth the visit.
I need to correct myself earlier because we did have a reservation for later, but that was for dinner at Bryans on 290. We headed back to Johnson City, but along the way I told the others that I had not had the chance to visit Hye Cider Company yet. Since we had some time, we all agreed to stop and visit. We met co-owner Travis Graham behind the bar rockin’ to the tunes coming from the album on the record player behind the bar. Yes, kids, they actually had big discs larger than CDs in the “old days” to listen to music. And if you do not know what a CD is, then you are really young. 🙂
The ladies took a break from tasting and the gentlemen partook in a tasting of Hye Cider Company’s cider. I grew up with fresh apple cider from cider mills but have not had the chance to visit many cideries for the different style of cider. One of the first things Travis told us is they make cyser. This is a cross between cider and mead made by fermenting apple juice and honey together. He said most ciders are traditionally 5-9% in alcohol, but theirs are around 9%. I will call them ciders from now on in this post as that is how they name them on their website.
These are the ciders we tasted:
- Hye Note – 9.1% ABV.
- Hye Season Vol. 1. The grape skins came from CALAIS Winery’s Petite Verdot.
- Hye Bay
- Hye Hops
- Hye Heaven
Lucho and I both agreed that cider makes a refreshing change from wine and we will definitely visit again. During our tasting, we also had the chance to meet co-owner Cherry Graham.
The dinner at Bryans on 290 was enjoyable as always, and we all fell into a deep slumber to better tackle the rest of the weekend.
On Sunday, we were back to appointments again. A lot of wineries are doing tastings by appointment now, so be sure to check the winery’s website or Facebook page before you visit so you can plan your time accordingly. Our first stop was the newly opened Esperanza Winery in Blanco. We met our friend and owner Judith Raven and had a nice tasting of her wines to start the day.
Our next planned visit was to Becker Vineyards, but I realized on the way that we were going right past Pedernales Cellars where Lucho and Patricia needed to stop during the weekend to pick up their wine club wines. Since we were early for our next time, we enjoyed a glass of wine in the front of Pedernales Cellars overlooking their view of the hillside.
I had previously worked with Becker Vineyards winemaker Jon Leahy on his winemaker profile, and in return he offered a barrel tasting next time we were in the area. Unfortunately, this next time we were there, he was out of town, but our wonderful friend Nichole Bendele, Public Relations & Tasting Room coordinator, offered to lead a tasting. We started in the tank room next to the tasting room with a couple of white wines. Please realize that when you are tasting from the tank or barrel, these are unfinished wines. Most likely they will taste differently when finished and in the bottle, so you have to imagine what the eventual product will taste like. However, some of the wines we tasted we would have gladly taken home right then!
After the tank room, we headed to one of the barrel rooms and also enjoyed some of the wines there. If you have never taken a tour of Becker Vineyards, you should make a point in doing so. One of the best tours is the Reserve Library Tasting. During that tour, you visit the production area, do tank and barrel tastings, and then end with a fantastic tasting of library wines.
Next was an appointment at Southold Farm + Cellar. The van made it up the hill again and assistant winemaker Adrienne Ballou greeted us as she was going to lead our tasting with the group. Also there was Rusty Meador, father of co-owner Regan Meador. Adrienne led us through a nice tasting of the Southold wines. The group tasting allows them a chance to talk about the wines, the vineyard, location, etc. One interesting fact about the vineyard was that it was planted growing only rootstock for the first two years to establish a strong root system. The grape vines will then be grafted in the vineyard. This unfortunately means they will not see a harvest for another four years. This along with doing dry farming will require another visit in the future to taste the estate wine. After the tasting, the group joined others who were already on the back patio loving the incredible view of the hillside.
We then headed into Fredericksburg and just south of the city to 1851 Vineyards. While enjoying a glass of wine on the front porch listening to live music, we were asked if we wanted to join a tour group that was just starting. Of course! Co-owner John Hollimon led the tour group through a very interesting and hilarious tour. I didn’t realize John was such a comedian. The winery has grown tremendously from the first time we were there to do a preview in 2016 before they opened. In recent news, it was announced since our visit that the Jones family has purchased the winery and the Hollimons can now really retire. I hear good things about the new owners, so a return visit is definitely in order.
On the way back through Fredericksburg, we had to stop at Lost Draw Cellars to pick up more wine club wines. Of course, we couldn’t just pick up the wines, but had to enjoy a glass out on the patio while listening to their live music.
We were headed to dinner at Altstadt Brewery, but first we needed to make a quick stop at Andreucci WineRoom so Gloria could buy some Prosecco. It was then on to the brewery where we enjoyed a nice dinner along with a change of pace beer flight.
Our last day in the Hill Country arrived and the only appointment was our first one at William Chris Vineyards. The new wine club lounge was under construction and looked to be a nice addition for wine club members. During our tasting, we were surprised to see our old friends Dave and Kelli Potter from Frisco walk in for their tasting. They had taken advantage of the weekend too in order to visit wineries in the Hill Country. We were all told of a new arrival at the winery of a big concrete ball called Galileo. This is a winemaking vessel that holds 1,500 liters (165 cases) of wine. We were invited to take a look at it in the production area and we all readily joined in. The ball is motorized so it can turn, and it will always be used to make a red wine. It is only the third one made and the first in the U.S. It will be interesting to taste the first wine made from using it.
Since it was still early, we made a nearby visit to Zero 815 Winery. We had not had the chance to visit the winery since the unfortunate fire in the tasting room, so it was nice to see things are back in order.
We had to start heading back to Houston, but we had to stop at Ron Yates where we always have a fun time. Our final visit was a tasting at Lewis Wines. Lucho and Patricia had never been there, so it was nice that they had a chance to taste the wonderful wines coming out of the winery.
Unfortunately, our day was quickly shutting down and we eventually made it back home. It turned out that even three days was not enough time to really enjoy the numerous wineries in the Hill Country, and we have already started planning our next trip!
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