The COVID-19 pandemic has hit all of us hard. One of the most heavily hit businesses in Texas though are Texas wineries. Once Governor Greg Abbott decided that wineries were just like bars and issued Executive Order GA-28, the tasting rooms were forced closed and new business models had to be developed to help pay the bills. Online sales drastically improved along with offering curbside pickups for those customers who lived near wineries. TABC (Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission) helped some months later by offering the ability for wineries to change their business model even more so they could meet the less than 51% of total sales from alcoholic beverage sales. Wineries then enhanced their existing kitchens to become more of a restaurant and third parties like food trucks were allowed to be counted toward the sales too.
Some wineries helped found the new Political Action Committee (PAC) called Save Texas Wineries. The goal is stated as: “It exists to support candidates and officeholders who share our vision of a Texas with laws that promote rather than inhibit the growth and prosperity of the Texas wine industry and to encourage public support of the industry and related businesses.” Consumers and businesses are invited to be involved with sharing the word especially that Texas wineries are not like bars. Customers come to winery tasting rooms to learn about the agriculture side of Texas wines and leave buying bottles of wine. The purpose is not to come to a winery tasting room and hang out all day (or night) like a bar. Unfortunately, it takes money to help with public relations and other costs, so donations are being accepted. Please check out #SaveTexasWineries.
I have been working remotely at home since March 13th, hmm…Friday the 13th. Maybe that was a sign of the things to come. I rarely ventured out of the house except for things like groceries and a couple short day trips. Gloria, along with her brother Lucho and wife Patricia, were getting antsy to get out and visit the Hill Country again. With everyone getting used to taking precautions by wearing face masks, social distancing, and more, I agreed to take the chance. Gloria’s cousin, Tony along with Suzy from New Mexico, joined us for a Labor Day weekend trip to the Texas Hill Country.
The first thing I realized after all these months is during these times especially, you really need to check with each winery you are thinking about visiting to understand their new rules and operating hours. Some only take appointments now and a lot have different operating hours. Be sure to do your research first by using tools like the Texas Wine Lover winery map, winery Facebook pages, and winery websites. If you find this all too difficult, then use a service like Booker & Butler which is a new concierge service to Texas and will help you plan your trip.
After weeks of planning and contacting wineries to confirm times and make appointments, I came up with a plan of wineries to visit. We had not been to the Hill Country in 2020 and there were a lot of new wineries or changes to wineries that we hadn’t seen yet. That was the primary focus for our trip, and we headed out early Saturday morning of Labor Day weekend from Houston. Our first stop is always Buc-ee’s for a short break, but especially to buy beef jerky for the trip. That keeps us going on the way to the different wineries.
We arrived at our first winery Adega Vinho in Stonewall. A lot of people had mentioned the winery on social media, and we couldn’t wait to visit. Rob Reynolds greeted us and since we had made an appointment, a location was already set up for us. Aleida Elwell led our tasting along with information about the winery and wines from co-owner Andy Bilger.
The winery likes to focus their wines on Portuguese varietals and so the winery name Adega Vinho is actually Portuguese. I learned the pronunciation of Adega but am still struggling with Vinho. I need to say that looking throughout the tasting room, everybody was socially distanced from the other groups and face masks were being worn until actually tasting. Our group was impressed with the wine selection and the quality of the wines which already includes winners from international wine competitions. The selection of wines included two whites, three rosés, and seven reds. Of course, foods are offered like a charcuterie tray. Also nice are tastings-to-go that allow you to buy small taster-size containers to bring home and taste there. It was a great start to the long weekend!
Next up was Kalasi Cellars in Fredericksburg. I have been waiting for them to open for awhile now after meeting owners Greg and Nikhila Narra Davis at the TWGGA (Texas Wine & Grape Growers Association) annual conference years ago.
Narra Vineyards was first planted in 2014 and currently provides all the grapes for the winery’s wines. A small vineyard of Teroldego was planted this year at the winery. The winery has two labels of wines: Heritage Collection and Reincarnated Collection. Heritage are wines we all know like Malbec, Sangiovese, and Roussanne. Reincarnated are wines that aren’t as well-known, but we will still love like Carménère and Teroldego. We look forward to visiting again after the winery has been open longer.
After a quick stop to Andreucci WineRoom to buy some Prosecco, we went to our next appointment at Slate Mill Wine Collective. Slate Mill is in the old location of 1851 Vineyards and has made tremendous changes since then. I made appointments for a tour which includes some wine sampling and was pleasantly surprised when we learned co-owner Randy Jones would be giving our group the tour.
Another couple joined the six of us and we toured the production facility, crush pad, and then the barrel room. It was interesting hearing Randy describe the goal of Slate Mill Wine Collective and how they have multiple winemakers making the different labels offered at the winery. We then enjoyed a tasting of a few wines including some barrel samples. Randy described their other winery currently under construction, Slate Theory Winery, and how that will be located on U.S. 290 at the former Torre Di Pietra location. We all enjoyed the wines and will definitely make a point to return in the future.
Most wineries at this time were closing on a Saturday and I had expected us to have dinner at Carter Creek Winery Resort & Spa. Along the way back to Carter Creek though, we decided to stop at Hye Cider Company and do a tasting since Tony and Suzy said they liked cider. We started a tasting with co-owner Travis Graham and then I learned they meant real apple cider that is not fermented. Oh well. They and all of us still enjoyed the cyser (apple and honey fermented) tasting while watching people enjoy the food purchased at the adjacent Hye Thai food truck.
At Carter Creek Winery Resort & Spa, the restaurant at the resort was open along with being able to have their wine and beer along with dinner. Due to COVID-19, dining was outdoors on the patio where people could remain socially distant. After placing our order at a desk, we were directed to our table on the covered patio. The staff told us ahead of time that they were a little backed up so there would be a delay, and we enjoyed a bottle of Tempranillo while we waited for our food. When the food arrived, none of us was disappointed as it was very tasty. The dinner and wine were a nice ending to our first day back in the Hill Country.
On Sunday, I had previously made an appointment at Sandy Road Vineyards for noon. I knew the winery does not have a tasting room and they do their tastings in a treehouse adjacent to their vineyard, but I did not mention that to the others. We had taken two cars and when we drove along the road with the treehouse in the distance, I was wondering what the others were thinking. I soon found out as we got out of the cars and they loved it! We met co-owners Reagan Sivadon and Bryan Chagoly who led us upstairs to the treehouse.
Everybody thought it was such an unusual and unique opportunity, and the tree itself made the day much cooler along with the breeze gently caressing the vineyard. Some of the wines the winery has are Roussanne, Sangiovese Rosé, Sangiovese, and Mourvèdre. Everyone kept raving about the experience in the treehouse along with the excellent wines. In fact, Lucho and Patricia joined the wine club. Definitely make your appointment to visit Sandy Road Vineyards.
We then headed back into Stonewall to visit Arrowhead Creek Vineyard. The sun had started shining brightly and we were getting hot walking from the parking lot trying to find the tasting room. People were outside under a pavilion enjoying live music. When we found the buildings, we ran into co-owner Clara Aspra who I had previously emailed to learn of their hours. She led us around the building to the other side where the front doors of the tasting room are located. Arrowhead Creek has two options for tastings, and we all selected option two with some slight modifications. The wines are from Texas and California, and they have a couple wines from their estate vineyard.
Another appointment was waiting for us, but since we had a little time, we stopped at Ron Yates, always a favorite, where a glass of wine was enjoyed by all.
Our appointment was at 12 Fires Winery. 12 Fires doesn’t have a tasting room yet, but they have tables set up underneath trees outside a tasting trailer. We heard that normally service would be in the trailer but of course with the current pandemic, they are serving outside. We met co-owners Duke Meadows and Mike Nance who shared their vision of what will be coming in the upcoming years for 12 Fires Winery. We all plan on being there! The wines were very impressive, and everybody enjoyed them and the experience.
It was getting close to dinner time, but there was a little more time left, so we stopped at one of the few wineries open past 5 p.m. on a Sunday. Co-owner Daniel Kelada was serving people at Vinovium and we opted to share a bottle of sparkling wine to end the day of visiting wineries.
Monday came and it was time to head back to Houston. I learned of another new winery on the way home and we decided to stop there. That was Busted Oak Cellars in Carmine, right off 290 east of Giddings. We found the winery and there are a couple log-style houses there forming the winery next to a two-acre vineyard. The decision was made to sit on the back patio. The group made separate decisions with some doing a tasting, some enjoying the sangrias, and some having a glass of wine. All was enjoyed while snacking on a delicious charcuterie board. Co-owner Sherrie Cooke was our tasting guide and she enjoyed sharing her wines with the group. Everybody had a wonderful time, and we vowed we would definitely be back.
That was our experience visiting Texas wineries during the COVID-19 pandemic in the Texas Hill Country. Every winery we planned on visiting was new to us and they are showing they will be a nice staple to the Texas wine industry. All wineries were serious in maintaining all the safety precautions during this time and we enjoyed many snack plates while sipping on some delicious Texas wines. I would suggest if you have been hesitant on visiting Texas wineries during these times, do your planning, be safe, and you will have an enjoyable time as always.