Many newcomers to the Hill Country are struck by a beauty that bears a lot in common with Mediterranean landscapes: the sun-washed limestone hills, the scrubby and aromatic vegetation, the peaceful valleys sheltering pristine creeks. To round a bend on a backroad in the Hill Country and see a sign promising “Wine Tasting, 2 Miles Ahead” doesn’t seem out of place at all. Touring the area’s wineries is in fact one of the most satisfying of Hill Country pastimes (with a designated driver on board, of course).
With more than 9 million acres under cultivation and 51 wineries, the Hill Country region is the second largest AVA (American Viticulture Area) in the nation. Surprising, huh? But hold on to your corkscrew, Texas—not California—is actually the site of North America’s very first vineyard, established by Franciscan priests around 1662. While Napa may get more press, Texas wineries have been steadily polishing their reputation for creating great wines for some time now and are regularly awarded prizes at the most prestigious festivals and tasting ceremonies.
Lots of sunshine and host of different soil types favor the cultivation of many types of wine grapes in the Hill Country and Texas vintners have planted a wide variety including tempranillo, syrah (or shiraz), viognier, cabernet, zinfandel, Muscat blanc and Muscat canelli. Here are some Hill Country wineries to watch for on your next outing.
Kuhlman Cellars is all about educating your palate. They take their wine very seriously and want their customers to do likewise. And for them wine does not exist apart from enjoying delicious food in the company of friends. You can schedule a visit that includes a sampling of several wines along with complimentary bites. Or you can attend their Vina Vita University which holds special events and elaborate dinners conducted with sommeliers who inform and engage guests. Plan a visit.
Known for their signature wine, the Viognier Reserve, Pedernales Cellars tempts visitors with its charming oak-shaded deck overlooking an idyllic Hill Country setting. Drop in to sample six wines and take home a complimentary glass. Or book a seating at one of their more extensive weekend private or reserve tastings. Plan a visit.
In 1990 Bunny and Dr. Richard Becker, both avid gardeners, bought some land outside Fredericksburg for a second home. They took careful notice of the wild Mustang grapes growing on the land, and you might say one thing led to another. Now Becker Vineyards is one of the region’s largest enterprises, with year-round production corking 55 bottles per minute. With many award-winning vintages, their elegant tasting room is always bustling. Plan a visit.
Perissos Vineyard & Winery is a family-run boutique operation that proudly bottles 100-per-cent Texas-grown grapes in their wines. Seth and Laura Martin grow aglianico, tempranillo, viognier, syrah and petite sirah vines in the granite soils of their 16-acre farm near Burnet while also raising five children. The family vibe imbues the winery with an unfussy welcoming air as does the smaller scale charm of their lovely property. Their tasting room fee of $10 is refunded on the purchase of 3 bottles. Be sure to taste their Petite Sirah on your visit—it’s been listed on numerous “Best” lists. Plan your visit.
HGTV named Duchman Family Winery as one of the 20 most picturesque wineries in the country, so prepare to be delighted by its stunning Italianate villa set amidst gorgeous landscaping reminiscent of Tuscany. Bring a picnic and feast on the grounds under massive oaks. You can wander the windowed hallways and peek into the barreling and fermentation rooms. Helpful guides can walk you through tasting flights. Their Montepulciano is a perennial favorite as its notes of ] plum, tobacco and vanilla play nicely with many savory dishes. Plan your visit.
Singing Water Vineyards in the little town of Comfort is representative of many smaller wineries in the Hill Country. A labor of love begun by Dick and Julie Holmberg, the operation that started out as a hobby turned into a thriving business. Its diminutive six acres produces five varietals of grapes and they bottle several merlot and merlot blends, along with sauvignon blancs and pinot grigios. A renovated historic barn serves as their tasting room and the rustic “treehouse” deck nestled among oaks and elms is the perfect spot to savor a glass of their Sweet Lupe, a buttery merlot named after their yellow lab. Singing Water has regular special events on weekends that include movie nights, paired wine and food tastings, and live music. Plan your visit.