KERRVILLE — It’s common for folks in San Antonio to make the Hill Country their destination for weekend jaunts. While it takes only an hour to get to many Hill-sited destinations from the city, factor in another half an hour to cruise the quaint, heavily trafficked main streets where so many city dwellers are getting their dose of rural sanity with you.
Patrick Wilt is no exception in his appreciation for rural Texas. While working as a wine merchant in Dallas, he and his wife grew tired of the big city life; Patrick in particular grew tired of wine snobs who made ordinary people feel stupid for not knowing enough about the wine they were pairing with their entrees in fancy restaurants. So they moved to Kerrville and opened up Grape Juice, a wine bar that also has an exceptional beer selection and an inventive kitchen.
Though Wilt’s career has helped him foster exceptional relationships with wine distributors all over the world, don’t look for wine on the racks classified by region or by price. Grape Juice’s wine racks are divided into “Sanity by the Glass,” or “Back Porch Sippin’ Wine,” or “Not Your Average Bottle of Wine,” or “Blended, not Stirred.”
The Wilt’s philosophy is simple: If we don’t have it, you wouldn’t want to drink it. They understand that there’s no shame in discovering that your taste in wine may be in the $16 arena, rather than the $50 realm.
The beer selection is impressive as well. Grape Juice has 20 separate taps, and some bottled beers you’ve never heard of. Craft beers are their specialty. If you become a regular and ask for the same beer too many times, staff will give you a sample of something else and encourage you to try it. Manager Kyle Glover likes to help people broaden their palettes. I asked for the Belgian beer Kwak one too many times over the last year and was gently guided towards a Texas choice, Jester King from Austin. It proved surprisingly refreshing.
One word of warning: Grape Juice is a wine bar with a small kitchen, not a restaurant with a good sommelier. Fran Lagana, their chef, makes a soup of the day and a special of the day, and when those are gone, they’re gone. Sometimes that’s 3 p.m., sometimes it’s 9 p.m. They announce their specials on Facebook, so their regular customers tend to know when to get there. The loaded potato soup rarely survives past 6 p.m.
Other than the occasional scarcity of the menu, there is little to complain about. Lagana missed recently on a warm Vichyssoise — just a bit too thin, and it’s best served cold — but otherwise her kitchen is very reliable. The venison sliders are surprisingly moist, and the antelope Frito pie is the epitome of comfort food. They experiment with different kinds of hand tossed pizzas (such as the Funky Chicken, an Alfredo dish on dough rather than pasta), but when something from the kitchen hits the goalpost, they’re nimble enough to yank the item quickly and try something else.
Grape Juice isn’t terribly interested in becoming a tourist trap; instead, they are one of the few establishments that are more interested in helping you discover what you like rather than telling you what you should.
And unlike many places in the Hill Country, you won’t have to spend 30 minutes driving two blocks once you’ve gotten to town. Kerrville has remarkably avoided the small-town jam-ups so far. If you’re going to the Hill Country for a little sanity, you’ll find it here.
623 Water Street
Kerrville TX 78028
THE SKINNY: Offers the Hill Country’s widest wine selection in addition to the people who can help you find what you like.
BEST BETS: Loaded potato soup; antelope sliders
HOURS: 11am-6pm, Lunch: 11am-3pm; lunch and bigger bites: 3pm–9pm
PRICES: $7-$16 lunch/dinner, $7-$40 wine by glass