The Texas Wine Trail Beckons
When folks think of Texas, they often picture honkytonks, longnecks and kegs. But that image misses out on one of the most robust and impressive Texas industries — fine, handcrafted wines. Vineyards were planted here more than 100 years before they were introduced to California and Virginia. Today, we’re the third-largest wine producing state in the nation, yielding more than 4,100 tons from over 200 wineries.
It’s no surprise that the Hill Country, with it’s warm, humid climate and exceptional beauty, has become both a producer of note and a tourist destination. To introduce folks to our burgeoning industry, the Texas Wine Month Trail was born, leading aficionados through inspiring scenery and tempting them with the very best vintages. This year, 27 of the region’s finest vintners are opening their doors to the public, offering special tastings and discounts. At only $15 per ticket, even the most frugal can partake without guilt. We’ve rounded up a few of the must-visits, so grab a corkscrew and head on out — there’s a glass with your name on it just down the trail.
Over the River and Through the Vineyards
Twenty-seven wineries are taking part in this year’s Texas Wine Month Trail, so there’s almost no end to the variety of delicious diversions awaiting those brave enough to venture along the winding winery track. Each location will be offering one or more complimentary tastings to ticket holders, along with a 15% discount on 3-bottle purchases. There will also be entertainment and plenty of food pairings, a trivia hunt with chances to win tickets to another 2011 Wine Trail, and educational opportunities for intellectually curious connoisseurs. All this for less than the cost of a single bottle — just $15 per person.
With all these choices, it may be hard to decide which to visit first. We’ve rounded up some of the best vineyards to help you plan your journey, so warm up the GPS, grab your favorite designated driver and head on down the trail!
Flat Creek Vineyards
Since 1998, Flat Creek Vineyards has been planting a wide variety of vines, including Shiraz, Sangiovese, Tempranillo, Muscat, Canelli, and Pinot Grigio. This 80-acre estate can produce up to 10,000 cases annually. But these aren’t production line wines; Flat Creek carefully crafts an amazing number of award-winning vintages. In addition to more than 100 varietal medals, Flat Creek was named one of “America's 50 Most Amazing Wine Experiences” in 2006 by Food and Wine magazine.
There’s always something happening at Flat Creek. You may want to return for the Stars of Texas Charity Dinner this November, presenting five exquisite parings of food and wine. Or you may want to take advantage of the annual Thanksgiving shopping spree and wine tasting. You can skip the mall crowd and spend Black Friday sipping wine while shopping for handcrafted gifts, pottery, jewelry and stained glass.
Bell Springs Winery
This laid-back, family owned winery is located in Dripping Springs, which inspires the fanciful names given to their favorite vintages. Drippin' Sweet Red and Drippin' Sweet White are two of the most popular, followed by the Reston Outlaw Red, named after the family’s own little cowpoke. You'll also find some top-notch Chardonnay, Pinot and Sauvignon Blanc.
In keeping with their offbeat way of life, the Bell Springs Winery is among the first in Texas to offer environmentally friendly, self-contained kegs, eliminating packaging materials and waste while keeping the contents fresh for far longer than bottles. This is one of the most relaxed wineries in Central Texas, so come on out to sit a spell on the patio and enjoy the live music that always seems to be in the air at Bell Springs; check out their website for the lineup.
At Solaro Estate, Barbera and Montepulciano grapes from the areas of Tuscany and Northern Italy create deep, ruby red wines with exceptional fruit and soft tannins. This carefully constructed vineyard was designed around the specific needs of the Italian red varietals grown here. Brush and cedar trees were cleared to allow cool breezes to meander through the vines. An eastern exposure enables the grapes to cool off after hot summer days, retaining the flavor compounds that would otherwise be lost. The grapes are crushed in the cool of the evening, and fermented inside oak casks maintained within a very narrow temperature range — it deviates no more than 1.5 degrees. No wonder, then, that these wines received four medals in the 2011 International Wine Competition in New York. For a palette-inspiring experience, make sure to include Solaro Estate in your wine tour.
Dutchman Family Winery
Founded in 2004, the Dutchman Family Winery brings sophisticated Italian varietals such as Vermentino, Sangiovese, and Dolcetto to the culinary pioneers of Texas. You'll find these wines at some of the best Austin restaurants, including Hudson’s on the Bend, Paggi House, Jeffrey’s, and Fonda San Miguel. But they haven’t just imported the best of the Italian grape – the Italianate Villa and grounds create a spectacular location for all kinds of beautiful events, or the backdrop for a perfect autumn afternoon. Grab a loaf of crusty bread, an exquisite cheese or two, an old checkered picnic blanket and someone you love, then head on out to Dutchman Family Winery for a taste of the Italian countryside at the price of a staycation.
Wimberley Valley Winery
For almost 30 years, Wimberley Valley winery has produced a wide variety of wines, everything from fruity summer fair to special wines for the holiday season. These vintages explode with fruit — blueberry, plum, citrus, mango, tangerine and ginger flavors can be found lurking within these vintages. Located between Driftwood and Wimberley, these 30 acres of rolling Hill Country can produce as many as 25,000 gallons of handcrafted wines annually. But for many years, nearby residents couldn’t enjoy the fruits of all this labor; the winery was located in a “dry” county until 2008. So the winery opened a tasting room in Old Town Spring just north of Houston where folks can still sample the best of Wimberley Valley. Fortunately, Austinities don’t have to travel quite that far to enjoy these exceptional Texas vintages.
Sidebar of Related Information
A Variety of Varietals
Some grapes are more suited to the sweltering Hill Country summers than others. The Texas wine growing region includes more than 3,700 acres of producing vineyards, with approximately 600 acres here in Central Texas. A few select varieties do very well in this area.
- Cabernet Sauvignon — One of the most highly prized varietals in the world, the “king of the grapes” grows well in Texas, and especially well in regions over 3000 feet. This is a robust wine, commonly served with the steaks and game that Texas is famous for.
- Merlot — This varietal does well in the western parts of our area, and also enjoys higher elevations. It can endure hot weather better than the Cabernet, while providing a similar gustatory experience.
- Shiraz — Although originally from France, the Shiraz (also Syrah) became famous due to Australian cultivation. The vines are a little sensitive to cold — not much of a problem in Central Texas! It is a highly drinkable variety that compliments anything from steak to pizza.
- Tempranillo — A new variety for Texas vintners, this Spanish grape seems to be enjoying our climate and seems to be doing especially well in North Texas. This is a great wine to pair with Spanish-inspired foods like tamales and cabrito.
- Sangiovese — This Italian variety is named for the blood of Jove, the ancient Roman king of the gods. It has been widely planted in Central Texas, and does quite well in our climate and soil. It pairs with a range of food, including pasta and cheese.
- Chardonnay — One of the most popular wines in the world, the Chardonnay grape grows well here, only challenged by the occasional late spring freeze. It's a constant accompaniment to lighter fare and an easy, drinkable, omnipresent guest at cocktail parties.
- Chenin Blanc — This is a highly adaptable variety, which can produce everything from sparkling to dessert wines. It is also an ideal blending wine, creating blends of various degrees of sweetness. It is always welcome with salads and light summer fare, including chicken and fish dishes.