West of Austin and Northwest of San Antonio lies the Texas Hill Country, home to historic Fredericksburg and the #2 Wine fastest growing Destination in America. Until last year, I didn’t even know there were wineries in Texas. Texas Hill Country is home to more than two dozen wineries. Laura and I set aside a few days recently to visit this unique wine region and came away with a true appreciation for the contribution Texas is making to the wine industry.
On our first morning, a wrong turn wound up becoming a blessing in disguise. We were heading to Becker Vineyards in Stonewall, just outside of Fredericksburg. We found ourselves on Sisterdale Road which took us straight to the front door of Sister Creek Vineyards. It was 9:30 on a Saturday morning. I parked the car and noticed the winery opened at 10:00, but I thought I’d try my luck and I found Fred Reissig on hand sweeping the floors and getting ready to open up. He welcomed us in, introduced us to winemaker Danny Hernandez and let us take a self-guided tour. Sister Creek is steeped in history. The building dates back to 1885 when it was a cotton gin. In 1927, the Boll Weevil decimated the cotton crop and the doors remained closed until 1988 when it reopened as Sister Creek Vineyards. They’re quite proud of their wines which recently picked up four silver medals at this year’s San Francisco International Wine Competition. We found the wines to be a bit drier than we like, but the hospitality and sense of history made the visit well worth our while.
We headed to Highway 290, the Hill Country Wine Road and stopped in at Becker Vineyards. Nichole Bendele was there to greet us and gave us a wonderful tour of their facility. They produce 59,000 cases annually and might hit 65,000 cases this year, making them the state’s third largest winery. Growing wine grapes in Texas is a tremendous challenge because of the extreme heat. Grapes ripen quickly and harvest begins in mid July. The heat produces high natural sugars. Dr. Becker likes to see some raisining on his fruit because he believes it produces more concentrated flavors. Nichole turned us over to Stepanie for some tasting. The tasting room is gorgeous, with vaulted ceilings and a wrap around bar in the middle. We again found the wines to be extremely dry and lacking in nose, with the exception of the ’07 Priairie Rotie, a blend of 68% Mourvedre, 14% Grenache, 12& Syrah and 6% Carignan. We found it to be fruit forward with a lovely nose and also enjoyed the ’07 Raven (80% Malbec, 20% Petite Verdot). Becker Vineyards was the Hill Country’s first lavender grower and they now host an annual Lavender Festival and feature several lavender based products in their gift shop.
We hit a home run on our next stop, heading West on 290 through Fredericksburg before turning onto Usener Road to Chisholm Trail Winery. Chisholm Trail is owned by Paula Williamson, who is also the winemaker. We had an appointment with Paula, but learned when we arrived that her dad had passed away earlier that week. Rebecca was a gracious hostess and told us all about this unique winery and its wonderful wines. We started with the first of two varietals I had never before heard of. Belle Star is made from the Blanc du Bois grape, a hybrid of Moscato and a table grape developed at the University of Florida especially for hot climates. As a side benefit it’s resistant to Pierce’s disease. The nose is delightfully floral and the wine is fruit forward and crisp. This has truly become one of our favorite white wines. Our next incredible find was the Lone Wolf, a 100% Lenoir varietal. Lenoir, also known as Black Spanish, is what Paula refers to as her secret weapon. I have never tasted a wine like this in my life. The nose is distinctive, and we found sour cherries and even a hint of tomato on the finish. We love this wine and everyone we have shared it with has raved about it. Diablo is a 70% Syrah, 30% Lenoir blend that is also wonderfully drinkable. She adds 5% Lenoir to her Lil’s Red Satin Cabernet Sauvignon and it adds its personality creating an extremely palatable and satisfying wine. The Almagres Lenoir Port was also magnificent. We returned a few days later and had a wonderful visit with Paula. Laura will go into depth on our conversation when she launches her Women On Wine feature on WINEormous.
It was time for lunch, so we stopped at the Peach Pit for some delicious Texas barbeque. With our bellies full, we continued East on 290 to Grape Creek Vineyards. We had been fortunate with overcast weather which kept the sweltering September heat in check. We even got a few downpours that afternoon. Moriah Schumann gave us a full tour of the beautiful facility which they refer to as “Tuscany In Texas”. We visiting with winemaker Jason Englert, a Texas Tech grad who shared with us the obstacles Texas winemakers face with their brutal summer weather. He believes in making a clean, fresh wine and believes picking up problems early on while they can be corrected is crucial. They have nearly doubled production to 9,000 cases and expect to plateau at 12,000 cases. Their magnificent two year old tasting room features two tasting bars: one for their White Label or everyday wines and another for their higher end Black Label wines. From the White side we enjoyed the Pinot Grigio (with grapes sourced from Temecula) and on the Black side we found their Port to be quite tasty.
Just down the road from Grape Creek is Torre di Pietra. We stopped in and introduced ourselves. We were told they don’t offer a complimentary tasting to media, so we continued East to Woodrose Winery. It was raining in earnest when we got there, but it was cozy inside and we found ourselves enjoying several of their wines, in particular their Blanc du Bois. It was slightly sweeter the Chisholm Trail’s, but equally enjoyable. We really love that grape. We had work to do in San Antonio, so we wound up paying a visit to Boudro’s on San Antonio’s renowned Riverwalk. There is always a line to get in and once you experience Boudro’s you’ll understand why. We started with their signature prickly pear margaritas and table-side guacamole. For entrees I had the Big Tails, Little Tails (lobster and shrimp with crawfish) while Laura feasted on the Seafood Platter (lobster tail with grilled fish fillet, crawfish fricassee, sea scallops, shrimp, jicama slaw and corn pudding). Both entrees were sublime. We had the good fortune to meet General Manger Andreas Esparza, who personally escorted us to their upscale Champagne bar Zinc and gave us a tour of their wine cellar and private dining rooms. Boudros easily moves into my all time top 10 restaurants list.
On our final day, we headed back to the Hill Country for a visit with Paula and to visit two more wineries. We took 290 East to Johnson City (birthplace of LBJ) and stopped at Pedernales (pronouced PER – duh – nal – us) Cellars. The tasting room is a remodeled 5,000 square foot building that was previously used as a summer home. President Frederick Osterberg was meeting with other visitors, so while we waited for him to finish up, we bellied up to the bar. The Pedernales philosophy is to focus on what does well in Texas. The Vino Blanco (Chenin Blanc, Chardonnay and Viognier blend) was refreshing, the Viognier was excellent and the Garnacha Rose had a wonderful color and was also quite tasty. The Tempranillo and Family Reserve (Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon and Tempranillo) reds were also noteworthy. Frederick gave us a thorough tour, showing us their underground caves which maintain a constant temperature while the wines are in barrel. Winemaker David Kuhlken is a co-founder of the winery with Frederick. Like all good winemakers, he is passionate about what he does and pays meticulous attention to detail.
We visited with Frederick in the private tasting room and sampled some selections that are not on the tasting list. They’ve come a long way in a very short time, having just opened their doors last year. He told us someone remarked they were “smoking dope” when they priced their Family Reserve at $49. “No one will pay that for a Texas wine.” It’s their best seller. Their wine club numbers a couple hundred members including one in Napa! On our way out, he showed us the “engagement bench”, which has earned its name on several occasions.
The day was getting late and we just made it into Texas Hills Vineyard. We didn’t have time to do it justice, but we enjoyed what we tasted and found it to be a charming place. We arrived just ahead of a group of 40, so we figured it was time to hit the dusty trail. We had an incredible time in San Antonio and the Hill Country and hope to return soon.