When you are over 250 miles away from Texas Hill Country wineries, you must plan your visits well in advance to maximize your opportunities to taste ever-improving Texas wine. Through the years my wife Phyllis and I have found that wine club pick-up dates, Texas Hill Country Wineries (THWC) passport trail events, Texas Wine Lover (TWL) blogs about new wineries, and the new Texas Wine Lover mobile app are the resources that help us the most.
Fortunately, the 2023 THWC Wine Lovers Celebration event and the THWC Wine & Wildflower Journey occurred during our respective birthday months and occurred when four of the five wineries to which we have a club membership had pick-up parties scheduled. Since we wanted to visit new wineries or ones that we had not tasted in quite some time, we compare the list of wineries participating in the events with the TWL app to determine how to group our visits and plan travel time between wineries in the vast Texas Hill Country area. We also plan our hotel stays for convenience, economy, and to avoid as much of the weekend congestion as possible.
Since our February trip (which we wrote about as Constant Change on the TWL blog) focused initially on wineries to the north of the 290 Wine Trail, our April trip was planned first to visit wineries closer to Interstate 10. Even though we had purchased the $100 THWC couple’s passport to allow each of us to taste at up to four wineries a day at no additional fee, our Friday stops on the way to lodging in Kerrville was at two wineries that were not participating in the THWC Wine & Wildflower Journey. We also make it a practice to purchase a bottle of wine at the passport-participating wineries, usually zeroing in on a wine that is unique so that we end up with a mixture of whites, rosés, and reds. We also believe it is important to tip our server for their knowledge and service.
Driving from Humble northeast of Houston, we just had to stop in downtown San Antonio to taste at Re:Rooted 210 Urban Winery owned by our friend Jennifer Beckman. Sitting in the shadow of the Hemisphere Tower, we had a most enjoyable tasting and conversation with Jennifer. The highlights were tasting the Grüner Veltliner she is producing with Texas High Plains fruit and the production skills of Jason Centanni of Llano Estacado Winery, and enjoying the air-dried Bresaola beef drizzled with lemon-infused EVOO.
With time available before our lodging check-in, we pulled off I-10 to stop at Newsom Vineyards @ Comfort. In addition to renewing acquaintances with owner Nolan Newsom and personable server Chris, we tasted outstanding wines produced from Texas High Plain (THP) fruit grown at Newsom Vineyards while sitting outside listening to the guitar and banjo music of a local performer.
Friday evening found us returning to our favorite Kerrville dining spot, the 1011 Bistro on the Guadalupe River, where we ran into long-time wine country friends Bill and Suzy Kreitz. The lamb and the veal cordon bleu entries that we dined on, along with the nutty, dark chocolate cake I received as a birthday dessert, paired beautifully with a French Côtes du Rhône. While the wine was not from Texas, it is our belief that we need to drink wines from elsewhere across the world in order to measure how Texas wines are improving.
Finally on Saturday, we hit the THWC event trail and were pleasantly surprised then and over the next several days to see how many tasters were taking advantage of the THWC passport program. Our first stop was at Kerrville Hills Winery where owner John Rivenburgh joined a personable server to lead us through a tasting that focused on two things that John is best known for – producing wonderful wine with the Tannat grape and helping new and small wineries get started and grow through his incubator program. Even with those accolades, we chose to buy a Zinfandel to bring home because that is a grape not widely grown in Texas.
From Kerrville, we used the TWL app to guide us to Saint Tryphon Farm & Vineyards for an enjoyable hilltop, outside tasting along with many other people at a winery located off the beaten path. Here we chose to bring home a bottle of the 2019 Triptych Red Blend.
As much as we love to drink and promote Texas wine, our last two passport-event stops on Saturday were disappointing. At Sister Creek Vineyards, just south of the positive Saint Tryphon experience, the tastings in the small, crowded tasting room were skimpy with one being of a wine from California that was not identified as such until I questioned the source of the grapes. And at well-recognized Bending Branch Winery south of Comfort, the tasting room was so over-flowing with wine club members and paying customers that our passport tasting of four wines came from four two-ounce bottles that I had to carry outside to where Phyllis was seated and pour myself without having any information other than the year and name, but not the varietal.
With Saturday having turned hot, we had a much more pleasurable experience at Ursa at Branch on High, which is Bending Branch’s downtown Comfort location featuring wines from California’s Sierra Foothills. Seated comfortably in air conditioning, we discovered a 2018 Mencia, a Spanish grape also being grown at Sandy Road Vineyards north of Highway 290. Having tasted bottles of Mencia previously in Galveston and Houston, I was thrilled by the find and had to purchase a bottle to bring home in addition to what we enjoyed at Ursa at Branch on High. And with music in the air as we exited Ursa, we again visited Newsom Vineyards @ Comfort to enjoy a glass of wine while seated in the “Comfort Backyard” listening to a variety of live musical numbers.
Sunday was a combination of wine club and passport events that again highlighted the emergence of Grüner Veltliner as a new varietal in Texas and the consistent high quality of Tempranillo regardless of the grower and the winemaker. At the lightly attended Lost Draw Cellars pick-up party in Fredericksburg, Grüner Veltliner was blended with Riesling to produce the refreshing 2022 THP Gemültlichkeit, and at Vintners Hideaway in downtown Fredericksburg a 2019 Grüner Veltliner from Yoder Cellars led off the tasting menu. The Vintners Hideaway partnership between Rustic Spur Vineyards owners Jim & Ranae Mills and John Rivenburgh Wines also offers a place for smaller wineries around the state to showcase some of their production in one spot to visitors without extensive travel.
Our wine club membership at Texas Heritage Vineyard enabled us to enjoy a quick glass of the 2021 Oaked Albariño for me and the 2018 Stella Solitaria for Phyllis while listening to the American Country stylings of husband/wife duo Surrender Hill from Georgia. We followed that stop with a most enjoyable tasting conducted by personable server Analee at the new Meierstone Vineyards, a fifth generation working family farm and ranch on the southside of Highway 290 just before the LBJ State Park. A bottle of the 2021 THP Rosé came home with us.
Even though the five wineries we belong to are THCW passport event participants, we again used our wine club membership status to enjoy an outside tasting at Ron Yates conducted by friend/tasting room director Dan Cook. I enjoyed the refreshing 2022 Picpoul Blanc from the Rowland Taylor Vineyards in the THP while Phyllis loved the 2021 Friesen Vineyards Tempranillo. However, we succumbed to the case special allure and classic taste profile of the 2019 Tempranillo produced with THP fruit from the Freisen, Newsom, and Timmons vineyards.
Not starting until noon Monday, we picked up our six-bottle allotment at Kuhlman Cellars and had a tasting that featured three one-ounce pours selected by the winery and two that we selected. Again, I showed my partiality to dry, aromatic whites and rosés while Phyllis went to the reds.
While we try not to visit the same wineries on back-to-back trips (except for those we belong to), we had to go back to the new Bingham Family Vineyards location in Hye. We had visited with Cliff Bingham, AKA “The Dirt Farmer,” in February when the family was remodeling the former Zero 815 Winery into its new home, and our stop eight weeks later enabled us to see and enjoy the comfortable finishing touches that have been made. After an enjoyably informative tasting with tasting room manager Forrest, we again opted to bring home a bottle of the award-winning 2019 Dirt Farmer.
We concluded Monday’s Texas wine tastings with an outdoor tasting at Becker Vineyards where the “Wine & Wildflower” theme of the second of four THCW passport events lived up to its name. For Phyllis & me, Becker has a special place in our hearts since we brought our Humble Wine Group to Becker in 1995 for the first wine dinner in front of the original bar. Becker is also where we reserved the former German Honeymoon House next to the winery for our son when he got married in Luckenbach a few years later, and it is where our daughter and son-in-law have had a club membership.
Facing a long trip back to Humble in an off-and-on rain on Tuesday, we timed our departure from Fredericksburg to make the 11:00 a.m. opening at Driftwood Estate Winery in Driftwood west of Austin. In addition to the beautiful but misty valley view from the winery, we enjoyed a special tasting of the usual “weekend-only” Dry Riesling and of the 2019 Syrah that won Best of Class honors at the 2023 San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition. We then drove to nearby Duchman Family Winery to pick up not only our wine club allocation but bottles of the 2021 Sangiovese from Reddy Vineyards and the 2018 Grenache Syrah Mourvèdre.
Needless to say, the five-day trip was long and tiring, but it was filled with wonderful people interactions and memories, and with enough bottles of Texas wine that will keep us filled for some time!