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For today’s #WineWednesday, TPG contributor Kristine Hansen takes us to one of the USA’s under-the-radar wine regions, the Texas Hill Country between San Antonio and Austin to try some wines you might not have heard of, all served with signature Texas hospitality.
Think of Texas and wineries might not immediately come to mind. Instead, you’re envisioning country music, cowboy boots and miles of tumbleweed. Maybe even a platter of Tex-Mex fajitas. But everything is bigger in Texas, including wine consumption and the state is one that distributors and importers clamor to grab a piece of, year after year, so what better region to engage in wine production?
For a trek to wine country that’s interwoven with Southern hospitality, and has an affordable bent, the Texas Hill Country in Central Texas is poised to deliver. As a bonus, it’s rare to find wines from this region distributed outside of the state, which means you’re going to want to sip like there’s no tomorrow while at tasting rooms. And don’t be surprised if you’re bumping elbows at the counters: about 5 million people visit this relatively new wine region each year, a combination of day-trippers and oenophiles on the hunt for something different than a well-worn path to Napa, Sonoma or even New York State’s Finger Lakes region.
Not only that, but Texas is producing styles of wine as diverse as sherry (Alamosa Wine Cellars, in Bend) and Aglianico (Grape Creek Vineyards, in Fredericksburg), as well as those that are as popular as Cabernet Sauvignon and Chenin Blanc. In most cases this means working with Texas fruit, proving once again the depth of this state’s agriculture.
From San Antonio, it’s about a 45-minute drive to the Texas Hill Country’s Texas Wine Trail, a wine region with 35 wineries that is quickly coming into its own. The largest carrier at San Antonio International Airport is Southwest Airlines.
Another option is to fly into Austin, Texas. After Southwest, the largest carrier here is American Airlines. The airport is also served by most of the domestic carriers as well, including Alaska, Delta, JetBlue, United and US Airways.
Texas Hill Country is defined as a swatch of land stretching from Fredericksburg to Austin, and Lampasas to New Braunfels, so you’ve got a lot of potential ground to cover.
Where to Stay
Fredericksburg is a good place to base camp as its Main Street is lined with adorable boutiques and restaurants (many reflecting the region’s German heritage (it’s not uncommon to hear German spoken), and on the side streets are guesthouses. Book through the Fredericksburg Lodging where you can also book a few nights in a former Pullman car, or at Bed & Brew above Fredericksburg Brewing Company. With a guesthouse as your accommodations, it’s nice to have a “home away from home” after a day of wine touring, especially when you have a full-size fridge to stock the bottles you picked up during the day, perfect when paired with cheese picked up at a local grocery store or artisan chocolates scored from Chocolat on Main Street. (Founder Lecia Duke apprenticed under a Swiss master chocolatier.)
Visit Becker Vineyards, in Stonewall in late April/early May and you just might catch a whiff of lavender from the three-acre fields out back, where a charming guest cottage is available for overnight stays. It’s beautiful at all times, of course, but especially fragrant in spring.
Becker Vineyards – a boutique winery run by a husband-wife team, Richard and Bunny Becker, who are often spotted flitting around the tasting room with smiles on their faces – jump-started wine tourism in this part of the country when it opened a tasting room in 1996, four years after the winery debuted. Its Rhone- and Burgundian-style wines are so popular they’ve even been served at the White House. Live music is hosted on the veranda on select Saturday afternoons. Try and visit on a Saturday around 1:00 pm to take part in a reserve tasting of single-vineyard Cabernet Sauvignons ($60, but definitely worth it), plus wine-and-cheese pairings, in the underground cellar. Note that this is also a sweet place to pick up lavender-accented gifts such as handmade soaps, lotions and sachets.
Ten miles east of Fredericksburg, Torre di Pietra Vineyards is run by Ken Maxwell, who spent 25 years in the semiconductor industry before returning to his family’s winemaking roots in 2004 to open this winery. Italian and Portuguese varietals are planted and harvested, then made into award-winning wines such as Super Tuscan, Midnight Nymph (including Touriga Nacional) and Sangiovese. Like Becker Vineyards, this winery hosts live music on weekends. Didn’t bring a picnic? No worries. An on-site market sells goat cheese, crackers and the winery’s own wine-infused chocolates.
One of the newer wineries is Rancho Ponte Vineyard, five miles east of Fredericksburg. Drawing upon five generations of winemaking that traces back to Northern Italy, the line-up of wines at this family-run winery draws from grapes like Semillon (blended with Pinot Grigio in the Caliche Cuvee) and Roussanne (with Cortese in a Port).
Quite a few San Antonio area restaurants have added Texas wines to their lists in recent years. These include the Westin La Cantera Hill County Resort, a posh property near major attractions like Fiesta Texas and Seaworld but also near the region’s most luxurious outdoor mall, The Shops at La Cantera. Simply hop on a shuttle from the hotel’s lobby and you’re there in minutes. Glasses of Texas wine are poured at the hotel’s fine-dining restaurant, Francesca’s at Sunset. This is a Starwood Category 5 property where rates in May start at $239, 12,000 points or 6,000 points + $110.