Road-tripping through Hill Country: Texas’ up-and-coming vineyards
One of America’s great unsung wine regions lies right in the heart of Texas. Hill Country may be better known for barbecue, but its rich soil has proved ideal for producing top-quality vineyards. There are currently over 70 wineries scattered across the hilly, Mediterranean-like landscape, which makes a fine setting for an epic, Texan-style road trip.
Wining & Dining in Austin
Located just east of Hill Country, Austin makes a fine starting point for a road trip through Texas’ up-and-coming vineyards. Although it’s better known for its food trucks and live music scene, Austin has a growing array of atmospheric bars and crafty eateries where wine plays a starring role. The speakeasy-style Red Room Lounge (redroomaustin.com) is one not to miss with a superb selection of wines from Texas and beyond, including more than 20 selections by the glass. It’s tucked away on narrow downtown lane (look for the red light over the unsigned entrance), and has good sharing plates to match the quaffs. While you’re in Austin, be sure to catch a bit of live music – rockabilly-loving Continental Club is a classic – and take a (chilly!) dip in Barton Springs before heading out of town. A fine place to overnight is at the funky Austin Motel, with whimsically decorated rooms and a great location on South Congress.
Porch-side sipping at Bell Springs
A 45-minute drive from downtown Austin, small, easy-going Bell Springs Winery (bellspringswinery.com) is a great place to linger over a malbec or two. Have a seat on the porch and try the so-called Needy Bitch – a ruby-red blend of barbera and merlot named after a dog at the winery and which goes nicely with cheese and smoked meat platters on hand. On weekends, live music (from 3pm to 5pm) adds to the festive, feel-good vibe. At other times, it’s a peaceful spot for an intro to Texas wines. An added bonus is the winery’s Sidecar Tasting Room (bellspringswinery.com/sidecar), located 5 miles east in historic Dipping Springs. It keeps later hours and has a large patio where you can linger over small plates and wine cocktails.
A vineyard beauty on Lake Travis
Head northwest of Austin to reach Flat Creek Estate (flatcreekestate.com), an award-winning winery set on 80 scenic acres along Lake Travis. Visitors are welcome to stroll the grounds (stop by the Tasting Room for a walking path map). The lawn is a great spot for a picnic, though it would be a shame not to book in for a three-course menu, complete with wine pairings, in the bistro. Weekend brunch is also a hit. As for the wine, bold Italian-style varietals help put Flat Creek on the viticultural map. Its Super Texan Sangiovese blend was awarded a Double Gold medal in the prestigious San Francisco International Wine Competition – the first time a Texas red received such distinction. There are some fine places to overnight in the area, including peaceful Bella Vista Bed and Breakfast on Lake Travis (bellavistabedandbreakfast.com).
Hill Country heritage
Keep heading north to reach Fall Creek Vineyards, about an 80-minute drive from Flat Creek Estate. Opened in 1975, it’s Hill Country’s oldest vineyard and winery, with a photogenic location on the northwest shores of Lake Buchanan. Alluvial soil from the nearby Colorado River has created ideal growing conditions for premium cabernet, tempranillo, merlot and exquisite blends as well as buttery chardonnay and other whites. Aside from wine tastings, vineyard tours and scenic views, the winery offers occasional boat tours out to Fall Creek Falls. If you’re around in August, don’t miss Fall Creek’s Harvest Festival, with wine and food tastings and loads of activities, including the Grape Stomp, where guests kick off their shoes and help mash the grapes barefoot style. A fine base for an overnight is Canyon of the Eagles Resort (canyonoftheeagles.com), a peaceful lodge overlooking Lake Buchanan.
Cruising the Wine Road
Head 60 miles south to reach one of Hill Country’s highlights, the so-called Wine Road 290 (wineroad290.com). Over a dozen vineyards lie along this 30-mile stretch of rolling highway running between Johnson City and Fredericksburg. Start off at Lewis Wines (lewiswines.com), run by a young, dynamic winemaker who’s turning heads with his luscious Mediterranean and Iberian varieties. Lewis’ High Plains Rosé is the perfect drop on warm summer day. West of there, Pedernales Cellars (pedernalescellars.com) makes premium viogniers, tempranillos and various blends, which are best enjoyed on the patio overlooking the serene Pedernales River Valley. It’s under the helm of a sixth-generation Texas family who places sustainability front and center (the cellar even uses a geothermal cooling process). Heading towards Fredericksburg, Grape Creek Vineyards (grapecreek.com) has a wide range of wines on offer, served in a Tuscan-style villa. You can arrange a winery tour, book a private tasting or catch live music (on Saturdays). This is also a great place to stop for lunch, with a trattoria serving up salads, panini and stone-baked hand-tossed pizzas.
Delving into the past in Fredericksburg
The rambling journey ends in the lively town of Fredericksburg. Antique shops, historical attractions and atmospheric dining rooms make a fine add-on to a Hill Country wine tour. Spend an hour or two wandering through the Pioneer Museum, a three-acre site with exhibitions from the 1800s, then take a stroll along restaurant-lined Main Street. You can explore the city’s German culinary roots at the Auslander Restaurant (theauslander.com) and the more upscale Otto’s (ottosfbg.com), which is famed for its duck schnitzel and flourless Black Forest torte. Leave room for a final glass (or two) of wine at Lost Draw Cellars (lostdrawcellars.com), which has a tasting room just a few blocks from Main Street. With loads of B&Bs in the area, Fredericksburg makes a good base for exploring spots you might’ve missed on Wine Road 290. The Palo Alto Creek Farm (paloaltocreekfarm.com) has charmingly furnished rooms and cottages, plus a great location on West Main Street.