by Ron Bechtol
“This Texas Wine Region Has Been Dubbed ‘The New Napa,’” proclaimed an article in the Huffington Post. Claims that the Texas Hill Country is “the second-most visited wine tasting region in North America” abound elsewhere as well. October is Texas Wine Month — it’s a good excuse to get out and see for yourself. If you haven’t travelled Wine Road 290 between Fredericksburg and Johnson City lately, you’re in for a surprise.
At least a modest one. It’s not as though all the peach orchards and pastures have suddenly been given over to vines and tasting rooms. But where a dozen years ago you might have been able to number the wineries on this stretch of road on the fingers of one hand, today there are at least 17 and counting (a new one by the Yates family of Spicewood Vineyards should just have opened between Hye and Johnson City) — and this is without considering tasting rooms in Fredericksburg itself. The Texas Hill Country Wineries group boasts 51 members, and you can visit all of them during the 31 days that make up Texas Wine Month. (texaswinetrail.com) We’re going to stick to an edited few along and close to 290, east out of Fredericksburg. Check individual websites for hours of operation and tasting fees (an inevitable part of the Napa-ization process).
One of the first wineries you’ll come to is the Armadillo’s Leap. (The name is a cheeky play on pricey wineries such as Napa’s Stag’s Leap.) The setting, the historic Rocky Hill Compound, is a mini textbook of rustic Hill Country architectural styles; the wines are equally modest, meant for everyday drinking, but worth investigation nonetheless. They include Texas pinot grigio, mourvedre, muscat, viognier and blends such as the appealing Wine Wednesday white. 6266 US 290, Fredericksburg, (830) 998-3590, armadillosleap.com.
Wedding Oak This winery’s main facility is in San Saba, but such is the draw of 290 that they have established a tasting room at equally visit-worthy Wildseed Farms. Wedding Oak’s lineup of 18 wines includes several Texas-grown varietals whose ancestral homes are in Spain, Italy and Southern France. Look for a rosé of sangiovese, whites that blend Verdelho, viognier and vermentino, and reds that pay homage to Rioja — the very grapes that many feel to be the future of Texas viticulture. 100 Legacy Drive, (830) 997-2510 weddingoakwinery.com.
Messina Hof Hill Country A pioneer in the Texas wine industry, Messina Hof, with its roots in Bryan and Grapevine, is also an early-adopter, having seen the promise of 290 in 2011. The original winery produces over 50 wines that run toward the traditional and include cabernet, cabernet franc, chardonnay, gewürztraminer, primitivo and the popular Angel sweet riesling. Look for sherries and sparkling wines as well. Reserve and ultra-premium wines are also available. The property also boasts four B&B guesthouses. 9996 US 290, Fredericksburg, (830) 990-4653 messinahof.com/hillcountry.
Inwood Estates Winery & Bistro Dan Gatlin, 35-year Texas wine veteran, is a pioneer of planting Spanish tempranillo and palomino and also emphasizes Bordeaux-style wines; tempranillo-cabernet blends are a current focus as is another maverick combo — chardonnay-palomino. “Expect the Hill country’s most extensive educational experience,” claims Inwood of its tastings. The property’s bistro grill offers Texas barbecue, several salads, and meat and cheese boards. Taste with the Winemaker sessions take place in the winery itself. 10303 E. US 290, Fredericksburg, (830) 997-2304, inwoodwines.com.
4.0 Cellars If you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em — and also join together seems to be the philosophy of 4.0, a tasting room collaboration among three Texas wineries with locations elsewhere in the state. Brennan Vineyards, Lost Oak Winery and McPherson Cellars banded together in 2012 to open 4.0; together they also form a fourth winery. 4.0 is to be congratulated for not trying to evoke Tuscany in Texas; the facility’s design is robust, contemporary and welcoming. Three tasting menus are available, and pairings with Texas cheese are also a possibility. 10354 E. US 290, Fredericksburg, (830) 997-7470, fourpointwine.com.
Grape Creek Vineyards If you want to taste the wines of Grape Creek, you’ll pretty much have to belong to the wine club or do so at the winery — or at its Fredericksburg tasting room. But the facility features extensive patios and entertainment and offers sustenance at Stout’s at Grape Creek Trattoria. There are three options: at the bar, vineyard tour and tasting, and guided private tastings. Wines include viognier, pinot grigio and riesling among the whites and petite syrah, merlot, cabernet/syrah and a Rhône-style blend among the reds. 10587 E. US 290, Fredericksburg, (830) 644-2710, grapecreek.com.
Becker Vineyards Becker, now producing more than 100,000 cases of wine per year, began as a search by owners Richard and Bunny Becker for a log cabin weekend getaway. First plantings were made in here 1992; two other vineyards, in Balinger and Mason, also contribute grapes to wines such as the reserve viognier and rousanne, a dry riesling, a reserve malbec and tempranillo. The facility has expanded over the years to include a spacious, wood- and stone-lined tasting room and covered outdoor verandas and pavilions overlooking vineyards and lavender fields. Library tastings offer exclusive access to the winemaking process. 464 Becker Farms Road, Stonewall, (830) 644-2681, beckervineyards.com.
Pedernales Cellars Sited on Upper Albert Road just south of 290, PC offers daily tastings (reserve tastings are held on weekends by reservation). The winery (the same owners have Armadillo’s Leap) “is committed to crafting world class wines that are 100 percent Texan. This has meant identifying the grape varietals that thrive in Texas terroir” — principally tempranillo (the unofficial “official” red grape of Texas) and viognier. But red blends are also fashioned from Rhône varietals, and albariño and a dry rosé round out the offerings. 2916 Upper Albert Road, Stonewall, (830) 644-2037, pedernalescellars.com.
William-Chris Wines This young winery also highlights “varietals that work well in Texas,” here including mourvedre, sangiovese and tannat among the reds, and maverick whites such as blanc du bois and trebbiano. A brandy-fortified rousanne clocks in at 21.9 percent alcohol. Tastings are conducted in a 100-year-old farmhouse (reservations are required Friday through Sunday), and like many of the facilities along the Wine Road, wine club membership has its purchasing perks. 10352 US 290, Hye, (830) 998-7654, williamchriswines.com.
This is the end of our tour. However few or many you hope to cover, it’s probably a good idea to consider one of the shuttle services that now ply 290. (Further proof of creeping Napafication). One such is 290wineshuttle.com with its $25 all-day pass. Now you just need to get home from Fredericksburg.