I’ll admit it. I’m a sucker for small towns. I’m drawn to their mom-and-pop stores, their slow moving feel, and their quaint main streets lined with brick buildings and window shoppers. One visit to Wimberley, with its wineries, art studios, and antique stores, and I was sufficiently smitten with this Hill Country hamlet.
Our first stop this particular Saturday was the Bella Vista Ranch, home of the First Texas Olive Oil Company. Bella Vista is one of five olive orchards in Texas, and it produced its first olive crop in the fall of 2001. Modeled after traditional Tuscan olive orchards, the ranch not only produces olives but also has a small vineyard, fruit trees, and a garden for vegetables and herbs. Ranch owner Jack Dougherty took us on a rainy walk through the orchard where eight hundred olive trees grow (all in various stages of development). Even though the Hill Country’s climate is similar to the environment in Tuscany, where olive trees grow abundantly, Dougherty explained a few problems that have thus far prevented Texas from becoming a major olive producer.
Dougherty told me that olive trees thrive in the area, but they face less stress here than in other climates. The stress helps grow a heartier olive. Blue northers are the other issue, according to Dougherty. The sudden cold snaps that can blow through in a matter of hours can wreak havoc, like the one that took out nearly half of Bella Vista Ranch’s trees in the nineties.
After our outdoor walk, we headed inside to check out the state-of-the-art olive press and try some of the olive oil. The tasting was enlightening: Just like with wine, there are subtle differences in flavor and spices. (Be sure to have some water handy, to drown the aftertaste.)
We took our newly purchased olive oil dipping sauce and headed to Wimberley’s most famous attraction, Wimberley Glass Works. Artist Tim de Jong founded WGW in 1992 as a small workshop; now WGW produces extravagant pieces, from vases to jewelry. If you’ve never seen a glassblower work, WGW is definitely worth the trip (WGW is open seven days a week and demonstrations are open to the public daily except Tuesdays). With some lung power, a bit of artistry, and a host of fancy tools, such as woodblocks, metal rods, desk surfaces, and folded newspapers, glassblowers create amazing pieces out of blobs of molten glass. Sit inside the studio for as long as you care to watch de Jong and the other artists work. We caught the production of a beautiful blue vase swirled in copper and yellow. WGW pieces will set you back a pretty penny, but avid collectors don’t seem to mind.
Our visit to Wimberley came to a close as we wandered around downtown, passing several antiques stores and galleries that called our names. But it was the chatter from our stomachs that ultimately won out. Ino’z Brew ’n Chew provided some much needed sustenance in the form of ribs and Mexitinis. And for dessert, stop by the Wimberley Pie Company, if you’re lucky enough to be there when it’s open. Our infatuation with Wimberley turned to love after one piece of homemade Toll House pie.