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Texas Hill Country for winelovers: the places to know

While High Plains might be the centre of grape-growing, Texas Hill Country is the home of wine tourism in the Lone Star State. Stacy Slinkard picks out five great cellars to visit, as well as top places to eat and drink along the wine trail.

As the fifth-largest wine-producing state in the US, Texas is home to more than 400 wineries and eight designated AVAs. Its wine industry contributes $13bn to the Lone Star State’s economy.

Spanish missionaries are credited with planting the first vines in the 1650s near the modern-day city of El Paso. However, the tourist hub of the rising Texas wine scene is undeniably the charming Texas Hill Country AVA, which sprawls in a loose triangle from Austin to Fredericksburg down to San Antonio.

From upscale tasting rooms to casual dog-friendly stops, featuring panoramic decks overlooking vineyards, live music, homemade pizzas and more, winery day trips promise a little bit of everything all packaged in legendary Texas hospitality.

While Texas Hill Country is the industry’s well-known tourist face, 80% of the state’s grapes (about 1,500ha) are grown in the 3.2 million ha expanse of the High Plains AVA surrounding the west Texas city of Lubbock. Today more than 75 different grape varieties grow in High Plains thanks to its continental climate, significant diurnal shifts and elevations ranging from about 900m to 1200m.

By contrast, scenic Texas Hill Country accounts for 18% of the state’s wine grape production with about 400ha under vine. It is home to the state’s most visited wineries and tasting rooms.

Texas Hill Country: wineries to visit

Duchman Vineyards, Texas

Enjoying a picnic under the oaks at Duchman Family Winery.

Duchman Family Winery

Situated about 50km southwest of Austin, Duchman (pronounced ‘Dukeman’) is a family-owned winery committed to producing wines with 100% Texas fruit. It has grown to become one one of the largest producers of 100% Texas wine in the state.

Duchman specialises in Italian varieties like Aglianico, Dolcetto, Montepulciano, Sangiovese, Trebbiano and Vermentino but Roussanne and Viognier are recent additions to the portfolio, with winemaker Dave Reilly sourcing most of the fruit from the Texas High Plains AVA.

Guests are welcome to enjoy tastings in the impressive Tuscan-inspired winery or at outdoor seating and picnic tables within the gorgeously sprawling 16ha of grounds. Texas hospitality shines bright with plenty of food options to accompany the various wine tasting formats, from homemade pizzas and charcuterie boards to truffle and parmesan fries.

  • Wine to try: The bright, supple lines of the 2019 Viognier or the nimble elegance of the recently released 2016 Aglianico.
  • Address: 11308 FM150 West, Driftwood, TX 78619
  • Open: Monday 12pm-6pm, Friday & Saturday 12pm-8pm; all other days 12pm-7pm
  • Contact: Call (512) 858 1470 or email info@duchmanwines.com for reservations (walk-ins welcome on weekdays).

Spicewood Vineyards

Decidedly dog-friendly, Spicewood Vineyards offers high hospitality with a super chill vibe. A 35-minute drive from Austin, the winery – boasting 13ha of beautiful grounds including estate vines, outdoor patio seating and event centre options – is family-owned and run by Ron Yates.

Working with a dozen grape varieties, Yates creates everything from a Grenache-based Pét Nat and estate-grown sparkling Semillon, to a gutsy GSM blend and structured Syrah. But it is Spicewood’s Tempranillo that is a showstopper. After time in Spain, Yates returned with an appreciation of what it takes to grow great Tempranillo, and believed Texas Hill Country was more than capable.

A former musician and lawyer, Yates is hands-on in all aspects of the business – he might even be the one serving in the tasting room. Spicewood showcases two tasting options of six wines each: $15 for the regular tasting or $30 for all-estate wines. Charcuterie boards are available, or visitors can bring a picnic from nearby Opie’s BBQ (see below).

  • Wine to try: The velvety-textured 2017 Estate Tempranillo or the 2017 Battle of Toro, a bold blend of Tempranillo with Touriga Nacional.
  • Address: 1419 Burnet County Road 409, Spicewood, TX 78669
  • Open: Daily 11am-6pm
  • Contact: Call (830) 693-5328. Reservations not required, but please give advance notice of parties of four or more.

Pedernales-David-Kuhlken

David Kuhlken, winemaker at Pedernales Cellars.

Pedernales Cellars

Established in 2006 by Texan siblings Julie and David Kuhlken, Pedernales Cellars was a natural offshoot from the family’s Kuhlken Vineyards, planted in 1995. David is the winemaker and Julie runs the operations, marketing and tasting room. They have about 7ha of estate vineyards and source 75% of their fruit from the Texas High Plains AVA.

Located off Highway 290, just 20 minutes’ drive southeast of Fredericksburg, Pedernales offers panoramic hill country views and exceptional tasting and tour opportunities for day trippers. Visit the winery and cellar and try some barrel samples ($60) or make an appointment for the reserve tasting ($35), which highlights the winery’s reds – including a selection of limited library wines and exclusive wine club offerings.

Tempranillo is the heart of the Pedernales Cellars’ wine program, with vivid appearances in single-varietal bottlings to red blends as well as Port-style fortified wines.

  • Wine to try: The 2018 Tempranillo Reserve, a gutsy blend of Hill Country and High Plains fruit. Or the vibrantly rich 2018 Viognier.
  • Address: 2916 Upper Albert Rd, Stonewall, TX 78671
  • Open: Monday to Thursday 10am-5pm, Friday & Saturday 10am- 6pm; Sunday 12pm-5pm
  • Contact: Reservations required on Saturdays via the online booking form.

Bending Branch Winery

Bending Branch is the Tannat house of Texas. This red variety, normally seen in Uruguay and Madiran in Southwest France, is created in multiple styles here, from still and sparkling rosé to various blends and single-vineyard Tannats.

With a keen interest in the health benefits of red wine, physician-turned-winemaker Robert Young founded Bending Branch in 2007. Young focused on Tannat as his signature grape, thanks in part to its high levels of phenolic compounds like procyanidins, shown to contribute to cardiovascular health.

Young uses cryomaceration to increase tannin levels as well as thermovinification to remove pyrazines and extract phenolic compounds, while also reducing fermentation times to five days instead of the traditional 10 to 15 days. The result is a Tannat of great density, body and robust fruit character plus well-integrated tannins.

  • Wine to try: The 2018 Tallent Vineyards Tannat for its tight-knit tannins and ripe black fruit character wrapped in peppery spice.
  • Address: 142 Lindner Branch Trail, Comfort, TX 78013
  • Open: Daily 12pm-6pm
  • Contact: Call (830) 995-2948 or email info@bendingbranchwinery.com for reservations.

William-Chris-Tasting-Room

The luxurious Members Tasting Room overlooking the vines at William Chris Vineyards.

William Chris Vineyards

William Chris is an elegant and hospitable family-owned winery established on an historic pioneer farm settlement in the town of Hye. It offers a diverse portfolio of wines all made with 100% Texas-grown fruit, including red Bordeaux and Rhône varieties plus Tempranillo and Sangiovese, as well as Roussanne and Marsanne.

Visitors can experience older library wines in the luxurious Members Tasting Room, or enjoy wines al fresco under the cosy covered pavilion just steps away from the vineyards. Weekdays draw fewer crowds and more reservation options, but you’ll need to book well in advance to enjoy weekend tastings and their hallmark live music sessions.

The food-pairing options at William Chris are top notch too, boasting everything from gourmet picnics, snack plates and delectable charcuterie boards to seasonal culinary creations.

  • Wine to try: The 2018 Bingham Vineyards Mourvèdre for its full-bodied aromas and flavours of spice, ripe cherry and dark chocolate.
  • Address: 10352 US Highway 290, Hye, TX 78635
  • Open: Sunday to Wednesday 11am-5pm, Thursday to Saturday 10am-6pm
  • Contact: Reservations required via (830) 998 7654 or info@williamchriswines.com

Texas Hill Country: where to eat and drink

Texas is home to a booming food, wine and craft beer scene. In addition to ample culinary options at Duchman and William Chris wineries (see above), there are plenty of chef-driven ventures along the Hill Country wine trails.

Cabernet Grill

Tucked into the Cotton Gin Village B&B, this Fredericksburg favourite showcases an all-Texas wine list with more than 40 producers represented by 190 wines. The engaging menu is locally inspired too, with classic Angus beef alongside Texas Gulf Shrimp and quail as well as fried Castelvetrano olives, cheesy grits and Mexican street corn.

  • Address: Cotton Gin Village, 2805 South State Highway 16, Fredericksburg, TX 78624
  • Open: Tuesday to Thursday 5pm-8:30pm, Friday & Saturday 5pm-9pm

Hill and Vine, Texas

Enjoy live music and drinks from Das Bar Bus at Hill & Vine in Fredericksburg.

Hill & Vine

A must-stop on the Hill Country wine trail, this charming, eclectic venue focuses on Texas wines, beers and ciders. Serving happy hour drinks, Hill & Vine’s retro VW bus – Das Bar Bus – pays tribute to Fredericksburg’s German influences, and the spacious outdoor seating welcomes live music on weekends. Across the street is Hill & Vine’s Sunday Supply – a quick stop for fantastic coffee, freshly baked pastries and light lunches of salads and sandwiches to go.

  • Address: 210 South Adams St, Fredericksburg, TX 78624
  • Open: Monday to Friday 11am-9pm; Saturday & Sunday brunch 9am-3pm, Saturday dinner 4pm-9pm

Opie’s BBQ

From the big metal barn-like building, welcoming wisps of mesquite-spiced smoke and the sprawling pit cookers, Opie’s is exactly what you picture an authentic Texas Barbecue joint to be. A stop at Opie’s requires some serious choices. Will it be a tub of tater tot casserole, traditional pinto beans and onions, spicy creamed corn, turkey breast, smoked brisket or maybe sweet and spicy baby back ribs? Or will you brace yourself for the unforgettable heat-meets-sweet jalapeno cheese sausage served with a side of bacon-seasoned green beans? The options are endless and the food is divine.

  • Address: 9504 East State Highway 71, Spicewood, TX 78669
  • Open: Monday to Thursday 11am-4pm, Friday to Sunday 11am-7pm

Tillie's Dripping Springs

Antiques adorn the beautiful dining room of Tillie’s at Camp Lucy in Dripping Springs.

Tillie’s

Tucked into the Camp Lucy luxury resort in Dripping Springs, Tillie’s teams with innovative, seasonally inspired dishes. Both indoor and outdoor seating options bring plenty of beauty and historic intrigue: owners Whit and Kim Hanks have adorned the restaurant and resort accommodations with antiques from France, Vietnam, Ecuador among others. Perhaps the most remarkable being an exquisite, reconstructed Vietnamese town hall building that serves as the frame for Tillie’s private dining room, Mr Kiem’s. Recent menu highlights include spicy roasted brussels sprouts, shrimp and grits and cowboy ribeye.

  • Address: Camp Lucy, 3509 Creek Rd, Dripping Springs, TX 78620
  • Open: Wednesday to Sunday 5pm-9pm

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