In the private tasting room of Hill Country Chocolate in Fredericksburg, wineglasses and gray slate plates filled with various chocolates are positioned along a wooden table. My guests and I are already grinning ear to ear, excited to dig in to the spread in front of us. We start with champagne, which is generously poured and handed out in proper glasses before the “official” tasting begins.
Then Dr. Dan McCoy tells us the story of his chocolate and wine shop, located about five minutes from Main Street.
He doesn’t look like a doctor, but he is wearing white, having traded the physician’s jacket for a chef’s coat.
The former dermatologist, national health-care communications consultant, and Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Texas president started making chocolates in 2002 as a hobby. Then, seven years ago, he included winemaking as one of his extracurricular pursuits.
“I was watching Netflix too much at night,” McCoy says, laughing. That was after getting home from his job as president of BCBS of Texas.
McCoy retired in 2020, the same year he graduated from Texas Tech with dual certifications in viticulture and Texas winemaking from the university’s department of plant and soil science, which is based at the Hill Country University Center in Fredericksburg.
Over the years, he’s also studied with various confectioners, including famous New York chocolatier Jacques Torres, who gave him some sage advice he still follows today: “Don’t make snobby chocolates; make chocolates people want to eat.”
So, in July, McCoy decided to bring his crowd-pleasing treats to the people with a four-thousand-square-foot “bean to bar” factory converted from an old woodshop.
“I feel like we have the most state-of-the-art artisan chocolate facility in the southwestern United States,” McCoy says. Crafting high-quality, ethically sourced, small-batch chocolate doesn’t come cheap, either: the shop is filled with $1 million of equipment. But, McCoy says, not everything is made in-house; he buys some of the chocolate for his confections from European suppliers and molds and flavors it on-site.
But what makes Hill Country Chocolate really stand out, according to Melanie Bopp, chief of chocolate operations, is “our combination of world-class chocolate training and equipment. That really doesn’t exist in the state of Texas, let alone a small town.”
Hill Country Chocolate features a retail store, a tasting room, and a wine shop. There are 264 bottles of wine on the wall in the tasting room and more than 1,000 stored on-site. The natural synergies between wine and chocolate inspired McCoy to include both in his business. “Both are agricultural products that grow in specific regions, they are both often harvested by hand, they both undergo fermentation as part of the production process, and there are post-production techniques on both that influence the final product,” McCoy says. “This fascinates me. And, frankly, they just work well together.”
And both sell well in the shop. When it comes to chocolate, the truffles—which are filled with ganache, a creamy emulsion of liquid and chocolate—are the best-sellers. But the store also offers milk chocolate graham crackers, dark chocolate espresso beans, caramel Rice Krispie–style treats, and chocolate-covered strawberries, just to name a few of its other indulgent sweets. Dark chocolate bars like the one called the Admiral—an homage to Fredericksburg’s celebrated U.S. Navy admiral, Chester Nimitz—are made and sold here too.
“We make all kinds of truffles but focus on two: classic French and molded Belgium style,” McCoy says. He airbrushes the truffles, painting them with vibrant bursts of color. The flavors inside are characteristic of Texas, like Rio Grande orange–black pepper ganache, peach yogurt, and a caramel ganache with a whole soft-shell pecan inside.
McCoy also sells wine made off-site with grapes sourced from vineyards across the world. The wine is sold under his DKM label (from his initials). There are three DKM-label wines on sale now, with three more coming by the end of the year.
Back in the tasting room, he pours from a bottle of his 2020 Grandi Amici Sangiovese red blend. It’s spicy with vanilla notes. It complements our starter—a graham cracker covered in chocolate—which tastes like childhood with a touch of class, like a sophisticated aunt coming into town for a visit from the big city. Nostalgic flavors and approachability are something McCoy strives for in all the chocolates he creates.
After the graham cracker, we move on to the truffles, and everyone gets a different flavor. The dark, rich Okinawa black sugar–and–coffee–ganache truffle on my plate is gone in two bites.
“When we craft a flavor profile for a chocolate truffle or bonbon, we want the sweetness to be balanced with the acidity as well as the darker flavor notes from the chocolate,” McCoy says. “We look for flavors that can stand out . . . but also are not overwhelming and would work to complement a glass of wine.”
The wine we’re drinking with the truffles is the DKM 2021 Nuovi Amici moscato. McCoy says moscato usually has a bad reputation, but he disagrees with this inherent snobbery. Although it’s too sweet for me, the rest of the women down this cool, crisp, and fragrant white and ask McCoy to “revisit” their wine glasses a few times with plentiful pours, which makes the $100-per-person tasting price a lot easier to swallow.
It might seem odd for a physician to encourage folks to eat chocolate and drink wine, but McCoy says there have been studies indicating the antioxidants in red wine and dark chocolate can be beneficial for the heart. But, like with all good things, less is more. “My personal thought for myself has been that if you want to enjoy a glass of wine and a piece of chocolate, make it a good one,” he says.
We finish the tasting with buttercreams, which are similar to truffles but filled with buttercream instead of chocolate ganache. The flavors laid out for us include strawberry, peanut butter, coconut, and lemon with hazelnut-candy crunch. I sample the last, and the creamy citrus flavor ends my relationship with heart-shaped boxes of drugstore chocolates for good.
Then McCoy goes downstairs and brings up a finishing touch: chocolate mousse in mini ice-cream cones. The gold-wrapped foil cones are almost too pretty to eat. Almost.
It’s clear that McCoy is curious and wholeheartedly pursues his varied interests, but why start a whole new track at age 55?
“I believe life is not a dress rehearsal,” he says. “This has always been a passion of mine. For me, it was a natural evolution of creativity, team building, science, flavor, and fun.”