Often touted as the recreational playground of Texas, the Hill Country is a rolling landscape of rustic hills and valleys dotted with rugged limestone outcroppings, sprawling live oaks, and an impressive roster of wineries. While the Fredericksburg area serves as the hub for wine touring—the town boasts more than three dozen wineries within a 25-mile radius—there are also excellent wine excursions to be had in nearly every direction well beyond that epicenter.
In our last story about Hill Country wineries, we focused mainly on our top picks on what is called the “State Highway 290 Wine Trail.” This time, we’re looking at a handful of wineries in a different part of the Hill Country, south of Texas Highway 190, where the winding country roads between Tow, Bend, Llano, and Burnet are part of the “Top of the Hill Country Wine Trail.” There are eight vineyards on this tour, and hitting all of them in a weekend is fairly manageable. But if you only have a day to visit, here are our top suggestions:
Fall Creek Vineyards:
For more than thirty years Ed Auler has been a strong believer in the potential for Texas wines. In fact, he and his wife, Susan, became some of the first pioneers in the Texas wine industry with the creation of Fall Creek Vineyards near Lake Buchanan in the mid-seventies. Located on an expansive stretch of ranch land that has been in the Auler’s family for generation, Fall Creek Vineyards was carved out to foster another form of agricultural endeavor. Originally inspired by the great wines of Bordeaux, Fall Creek focused on red and white wines made from Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Sauvignon Blanc, and Chardonnay. Today, the winery has expanded their portfolio to include wines made from warmer climate grapes including Tempranillo (grown at the Salt Lick Vineyards in Driftwood), and an award-winning GSM (Grenache-Syrah-Mourvèdre) blend that mimics the great wines of the Northern Rhône Valley. With the addition of Chilean winemaker Sergio Cuadra, Fall Creek is well on its way to building sky-high on its already-strong foundation.
Alamosa Wine Cellars:
Near the small town of Bend, Alamosa Wine Cellars staked its claim on Mediterranean grapes—including Tempranillo, Viognier, Syrah, Graciano, and Sangiovese—when Jim and Karen Johnson opened it in the late nineties. One of the first wineries to champion Tempranillo as a defining grape for Texas wine, the Johnsons released El Guapo in 1999 as one of the first Texas Tempranillos. The current 2011 El Guapo release is an earthy balance of mushroom and tobacco backed by notes of blackberry. The 2012 Jacques Lapin white wine made from Viognier and Portuguese native Verdehlo is a refreshing, lemon-y treat for summer sipping. Just be sure to visit soon, as the Johnsons have listed the winery for sale in anticipation taking more time to travel the world’s iconic wine regions.
Perissos Vineyard and Winery:
Located in Burnet, Perissos Vineyards is a lovely estate vineyard situated in a fertile spot in the Colorado River Basin. Owners Seth and Laura Martin live on their 16-acre estate vineyard with their five children. A former homebuilder, Seth designed and built the winery’s elaborately trussed tasting room and event space. But aside from the rustic beauty of the landscape and the artistic touches throughout the event space, the wines are the reason you should visit Perissos. Most of the wines are made from estate fruit with the exception of a couple of the white wines. Both the 2012 Syrah and 2012 Petite Sirah will appeal to those who love opulent fruit characteristics backed by ruddy tannin and broad structure. For a more rustic palate, the 2012 Aglianico balances dark fruits and hints of mushroom with a grippy, yet silky tannin.
Wedding Oak Winery:
Named for an historic 400-year-old tree in San Saba, Wedding Oak is the creation of former chemical labs exec Mike McHenry and a few of his entrepreneuring friends and investors. As part of an effort to revitalize downtown San Saba, the tasting room is housed in building from 1926, right next to the winery. With noted Texas wine expert Penny Adams, a former advisor for the Texas Agrilife Extension as head winemaker, Wedding Oak began releasing wines in 2012. Among their top selections include the 2013 Muscat Canelli with floral aromas and a touch of sweetness (perfect for spicy foods); the 2013 Terre Blanc, a beautifully balanced white blend of Viognier, Marsanne and Rousanne; and the luscious 2012 Tempranillo with expressions of black fruit, tobacco, and oak-kissed vanilla.
Pilot Knob Vineyard — One of the newest additions to the region (located near Bertram) showcasing a promising lineup including the 2012 Franco-Rojo Reserve Tempranillo blend
Fiesta Vineyard and Winery — Wine made at this expansive, family-owned Baxter Ranch near Bend offers a variety of sweeter wines as well as an increasing balance of dry wines.
Texas Legato Winery — This winery near Lampasas offers dry and sweet wines, including a unique blueberry and blackberry wine called “Fight Night.”
Pillar Bluff Vineyard — Owned by the brother of Texas Legato Winery, Pillar Bluff offers a variety of dry red and white wines inspired by old world, European styles in Lampasas.