It’s that special (albeit short-lived) time of year when bright splashes of wildflowers begin popping up in the least expected places, and we welcome the shining sun rather than curse its existence. It’s spring in Texas, a season we vow each year to relish fully while it lasts. Pair the perfect patio weather with a glass of wine from a local maker for a scene so idyllic that you might just forget about the difficult winter behind us and the sweaty season ahead … or at least, you will after a few bottles of Hill Country red. To help make the most of the all-too-brief moment, we’ve gathered vineyards with a focus on outdoor seating and open-air programming. These crafty vintners have planted butterfly gardens, booked musicians, planned Girl Scout cookie wine pairings, and in the case of one must-visit, hired an Easter bunny … for adults.
Though 80 percent of our state’s grapes are grown in the High Plains region, the majority of the cellar doors in Texas are found in the Hill Country wine corridor that runs through Fredericksburg, Stonewall, and Johnson City. Farmhouse Vineyards brings together the best of both worlds, with locations in two storied wine regions. This brother-sister operation is currently farming seven thousand acres of cotton, peanuts, melons, and various grains, all in addition to grapes. The original farmhouse, dubbed Whitehouse Parker, is located in Brownfield, in the heart of the Texas High Plains American Viticultural Area. It boasts a 22-acre vineyard that guests can tour, glass in hand, plus spacious outdoor seating in the tasting room and a sprawling patio with live music on Saturdays throughout the spring and summer. The smaller, quirkier Johnson City location features umbrella-shaded picnic tables and a gazebo that seats up to ten, but the property’s pièce de résistance is “Tipsy the tasting trailer,” a 1978 Airstream positioned under live oaks with ample outdoor seating for you to enjoy wine to the sound of live music (also offered here most Saturdays). And with yard games spread around the grounds, there’s plenty to entertain both adults and children for the afternoon.
If space is what you seek, this family-owned winery has plenty of it. The property, located just south of Fort Worth, sits on 52 acres, which host a 2.25-mile hike and bike trail and ten acres of open lawn for picnicking. The winery holds regular concerts on the lawn—the perfect backdrop for a bottle of wine and a cheese spread—as well as other outdoor, socially distant happenings, like sip-and-shop events and seasonal celebrations, including an Easter event on April 3 that features an Easter bunny outside for the kids and an egg hunt inside the winery for tippling adults.
As if the unique, limited release wines—made with minimum intervention by the winemaker—weren’t enough of a reason to visit, Southold Farm + Cellar recently opened a full-service restaurant. The laidback menu is made up of dishes designed to complement food-friendly wines: butternut squash gnocchi with carrot top chimichurri, mussels with Thai coconut broth, and charred radicchio with yogurt and harissa. The dining room is technically inside, but it doesn’t feel that way, with two walls that open up to sweeping Hill Country views. If you prefer full access to the fresh air, opt for seating in the wraparound patio, which shares courtyard space with the tasting room next door. Plan to mosey on over for another glass after lunch. Not hungry enough for a sit-down meal? We recommend the Hill Top Tasting Menu, an ever-changing snack board featuring homemade pickles, crackers, cheese, and bagna cauda, a warm Italian vegetable dip that translates delightfully to “hot bath”—all best paired with a glass of wine while kicking back on a vineyard-facing swing.
In keeping with our pandemic times, this vineyard recently opened a multitier deck ringed by majestic oak trees, kitted out with fans to keep guests cool and fire pits to warm them back up. The space will be open year-round to serve as a socially distant extension of the indoor tasting room, as well as provide a home to winery events and a stage for performing musicians. And to really live up to its name, Texas Heritage also performs quarterly Texas flag retirement ceremonies—a patriotic, respectful way to dispose of the flag. To toast the arrival of spring and celebrate the opening of the outdoor space, winemaker Tyler Buddemeyer is releasing the 2018 Texas Heritage Vineyard Zinfandel, a lively red made with fruit from Narra Vineyards in the Texas High Plains and aged in neutral oak for 21 months.
If you like a side of relaxation with your beverages, hop from Fredericksburg over to nearby Johnson City to this luxurious new retreat in the heart of Hill Country that will host events dedicated to our much-loved state flower all season long. Guests who stay between March 16 and April 30 will receive a bar of locally made Texas bluebonnet soap from Fredericksburg Essentials, plus a packet of bluebonnet seeds to plant at home. The resort features villas with individual outdoor patios overlooking the vineyards, and when it’s time to get out of the room, a massive pavilion at the center of the property is surrounded by over 22,000 square feet of bluebonnet-studded sprawl. Each Friday and Saturday night from 6 to 9 p.m., the pavilion comes to life with the “Rhythm of the Vine” live music series. Before the sun sets, lounge on the lawn and nosh on offerings like coastal crab cakes and sweet ginger pork ribs alongside Carter Creek’s Old World–inspired wine, like the much-loved Gloriosa, a crisp blend of gewürtztraminer, Riesling and muscat canelli.
The family behind Rising Sun Vineyard, located in the Gulf Coast AVA , has been expanding their outdoor offerings throughout the year, with socially distant performances and happenings in the four-thousand-square-foot covered pavilion, where they serve custom pizzas baked in outdoor ovens. The event calendar here is stacked: live music every weekend, monthly wine classes, creative wine-and-food nights that pair wine with burgers and Girl Scout cookies, and themed date nights, which range from picnic baskets filled with surprises to murder mystery dinners. You might even get lucky and show up on the right day to take a selfie with an alpaca or take a walk with a hawk and learn about falconry from a local expert. Even on a regular night, there’s still a show: guests take part in the tradition of toasting the sunset with their glasses.
What started as rootstock from two experimental Concord grape plantings in 1969 has grown into 1,800 grapevines and a 25,000-square-foot winery. Haak is the largest producer of blanc du bois in Texas, and it’s famous for Madeira-style dessert wine made from blanc de bois as well as black Spanish grapes—all estate-grown in the Gulf Coast AVA vineyard. Try the full lineup of wines alongside shareable dishes from the kitchen, like burrata and hummus. A large picnic area includes spaced-out tables surrounded by grapevines, as well as a new patio deck just off the tasting room. The event pavilion has roll-up garage doors that allow for socially distant happenings with extra airflow. The winery will celebrate its twentieth anniversary on May 1 at a Kentucky Derby–themed party with live music, games, local vendors, and raffle prizes. Haak is also a participant in Harvest Hosts, which means adventurers in RVs can park onsite. After campers book online, they are greeted with a glass of wine and coupons to use at the winery for the duration of their stay. Haak currently has plans to build RV campsites on the twelve acres at the back of the property, each with its own fire pit and “fencing” in the form of vineyard rows.
The terroir of Texas is at peak vibrancy in the springtime and Kuhlman Cellars, with its wealth of wildflowers and butterflies, is the perfect place to take it all in. The winery’s horticulture team propagates bluebonnets, poppies, Indian paintbrushes, black-eyed Susans, and more on their fifteen-acre estate. Thanks to a butterfly garden filled with both host and feeder plants meant to assist butterfly migration, the property is also fluttering with monarchs. Kuhlman is one of the 43 wineries taking part in the Wine & Wildflower Journey from March 22 to April 16, and socially distanced picnicking is encouraged on their patios, lawn, and a rooftop terrace overlooking the wine garden. Wines can be purchased by the bottle or glass and enjoyed alongside Kuhlman’s bistro menu items like kalamata tapenade, red pepper hummus, and roasted pork spread with fig jam and crackers—all, as far as we’re concerned, picnic essentials.