By: Courtney Dabney
By: Courtney Dabney
By: Brian Kendall
To simply write that Fredericksburg Wine Road 290 is a collection of 13 wineries stretched out along 45 miles of U.S. Highway 290 from Fredericksburg to Johnson City would risk suggesting that this is merely a winegrowing community and U.S. 290 is just a road passing through. Such a suggestion would be far too limiting though. Fredericksburg Wine Road 290, in addition to being a young collection of great Texas winegrowers, is a Texas Hill Country experience akin to an Italian wine tour and
reminiscent of California wine country. The difference, and undoubtedly the advantage, to U.S. 290 is that visitors know, with each glass of wine, with each friendly winegrower and vineyard owner, and with each rolling vista, that they are in the heart of Texas wine country, sipping on a purely Texas-grown product.
With more than 100 medals in the last two years, including four wines that took double gold at three different competitions in 2013, Grape Creek Winery & Vineyards is one of Fredericksburg’s top wineries. Grape Creek produces 19 different wines of the highest quality like their super Tuscan, cab/syrah, Bordeaux blend (Texas Class Champion at the Houston Livestock Show) which pairs perfectly with the landscape and ambiance of the winery. In fact, if there were a competition for atmosphere, Grape Creek, often mistaken for a cozy Tuscan villa, would take top honors. Owners Brian and Jennifer Heath took over the vineyard and winery in 2006 and, inspired by a passion for wine, grew the business to its current state. The Villa at Grape Creek offers guests an opportunity to extend their visit to this Texas Hill County gem while basking in the comforts of a wine country bed and breakfast. For an in-town sampling of all Grape Creek wines and treats, visit Grape Creek’s tasting room, boasting its own historic flavor in the heart of Fredericksburg’s Main Street.
The philosophy under which Erik Hilmy and Hilmy Cellars operate emphasizes painstaking attention to not only the grapes they grow but also the environment that nurtures them and the hands that harvest their bounty. Erik and family planted their first vineyard in Fredericksburg in 2009, so the result of his meticulous process is limited to select restaurants and wine shops. However, a visit to this young vineyard rewards the worthy traveler with a taste of what awaits the rest of the world in those stored-away oak barrels and maturing vines. The construction of the winery, like the operation of the company, was a family-and-friends project from the ground up. It started shortly after the first vine was planted and culminated in an exceptional structure from the shaded pergola over the front door to the woodwork and rich character throughout the tasting room. The vineyard is always bustling with Hilmy’s natural pest control team, including fowl, goats, Leena the cat and a pair of Great Pyrenees who patrol the grounds.
The culmination of five generations of winemakers, established in northern Italy, refined in South America and California, and perfected in Fredericksburg, Rancho Ponte Vineyard is a small, family-operated operation that truly belongs in Texas. Their winemaking philosophy is simple: Break the rules. Wine snobs beware; Rancho Ponte “blends” and breaks the winemaking rules, creating some of the state’s most unique bottles of wine. Take their 2011 Sorelline, for example, blending sauvignon blanc, muscat, riesling and viognier.
Torre di Pietra Winery and Vineyards, a product of the Maxwell Family, continues a Texas winemaking tradition reaching back more than 100 years with roots in the Fort Worth area. With vineyards in both Fredericksburg and Doss, Torre di Pietra produces 10 grape varieties and a long list of wines like Parada, a Spanish-styled table wine, and Red Flirt, one of their most popular proprietary blends. This well-established winery offers samplings of all their wines along with a menu of cheeses, crackers and chocolates paired with live Texas music on the patio.
In 2009, three Texas wineries, representing Comanche, Burleson and Lubbock, joined winemaking forces to create 4.0 Cellars in Fredericksburg. Independently, Brennan Vineyards, in Comanche; Lost Oak Winery, in Burleson; and McPherson Cellars, in Lubbock, have proven themselves successful winemakers; together, they elevate the U.S. 290 experience to another level. Such a unique conglomerate of wineries allows Wine Road 290 visitors to gain a broader perspective of the Texas wine industry without leaving the comfort of 4.0’s tasting room.
Aside from their award-winning wines, Chisholm Trail Winery is a popular stop along U.S. 290 for its saloon-style tasting room. Since 1999, Chisholm Trail has been producing wines like the gold-medal-winning 2011 Belle Starr Blanc du Bois. Whether you consider yourself a true wine connoisseur or wine amateur, anyone who enjoys a rich Hill Country experience won’t be disappointed. With live music, wood-fired brick oven pizza and an energetic atmosphere, the Chisholm Trail experience is as unique as the names on their bottles.
Before leaving Fredericksburg, head down Main Street to the Fredericksburg Winery, one of the states best, and you’ll embark on a comprehensive Texas wine experience. The Switzer family and Fredericksburg Winery take pride is using only Texas grapes in all of their wines. Their wines represent great Texas vineyards like Pheasant Ridge and Bingham Family Vineyards, near Lubbock; Daimante Doble Vineyard, in Tokio; and Newsome Vineyards, near Plains. So a visit to the Fredericksburg Winery tasting room is equivalent to a comprehensive Texas-sized wine tour.
Since their first harvest in 1995, Richard and Bunny Becker have had their hearts set on a successful commercial vineyard in Texas. With 46 acres in Stonewall, growing 14 varieties, and two other vineyards in Ballinger and Mason, Becker Vineyards has exceeded all expectations producing almost 100,000 cases of wine each year. A 10,000-square-foot stone barn winery houses 64 tanks and more than 2,000 barrels. A behind-the-scenes wine tour includes the “Reserve Wine Library” where visitors can taste from an exclusive portfolio of wine personally reserved by the Beckers. Don’t be surprised if you find it difficult to choose your single favorite bottle. Five Becker Vineyards wines have taken gold and silver medals this year.
While in Stonewall, experience the handcrafted Spanish and Rhone-style specialties of Pedernales Cellars. From the underground winemaking cellar to the 145 acres of Hill Country oaks, Pedernales is a winery among wineries. This boutique winery is best known for their tempranillos, a grape that thrives in Texas’ harsh soil and climate. For a taste of the state’s finest, try Pedernales’ 2010 High Plains Tempranillo and discover why it wins so many awards. Before you leave, take a glass of their 2012 Texas Viogier beyond the deck to the shade of an oak tree and linger in the landscape that grew that wine.
Ever-expanding Woodrose Winery is another Stonewall winery joining the ranks of Wine Road 290 repute. In 2005 Mike Guilette took over the reins of the winery, bought a small amount of land, and has since nourished big dreams for his small winery. Visitors will appreciate the intimate setting and personal service of Woodrose, but their wine will prove itself the most unforgettable part of the trip. While Woodrose wines are all worth a taste, make time to savor a glass of 2010 Unfiltered Cabernet Sauvignon or 2008 Seven, the perfect blend of seven different grapes.
Outside of Fredericksburg in the town of Hye lies a genuine Texas treat—William Chris Vineyards. Founders Bill Blackmon and Chris Brundrett handcraft high-quality wine with the strictest of standards. When you stop in, be sure to sample the 2012 Blanc Du Bois made from grapes grown in Brenham or a glass of the 2011 Enchante, William Chris’ signature wine, blending merlot, cabernet sauvignon and malbec, produced from grapes grown in Willow City.
Hye is also home to Hye Meadow Winery—a winery built by one family’s fearless pursuit of their dream. Visitors will enjoy samples of Hye Meadow’s unique take on chardonnay—aged 9 months in stainless steel tanks and blended with a touch of Riesling—as well as their “obscenely tasty” Edelzwicker and their Texas High Plains style of viognier. Visit Hye Meadows on a Saturday for live music or Sundays for wine country open mic. Still, every day of the week offers access to the back 40—a great place to relax and explore this serene Texas winery.
In Johnson City, at the far end of Wine Road 290, lies Texas Hills Vineyard. Texas Hills strives to be as organic as possible, growing their grapes with a deep-seeded respect for the environment. Even the tasting room was built to reflect their respect. And like the soul and surrounding landscape of Texas Hills, the grapes grown here—pinot grigio, cabernet sauvignon, merlot and syrah, to name a few—offer the wine a particularly Italian flavor. A long list of awards, including two gold medals at the 2011 Lone Star International Wine Competition and a People’s Choice Award at the 2011 Grapevine, Texas Grapefest, prove Texas Hills’ respect for the land and the grape has paid off.
By: Courtney Dabney
By: Courtney Dabney
By: Brian Kendall