As a native Texan who’s been lucky enough to live on an Italian vineyard for a few weeks, I thought I was pretty familiar with what to expect when in wine country. Turns out I had a lot more to experience and enjoy.
At first blush, while Texas wine may not seem as impressive to some as Napa, Italian, Spanish or French wines, it wasn’t until this spring when Wine Enthusiast named our very own Texas Hill Country a 2014 Top 10 Wine Travel Destination in the world when I became promptly determined to make an in-person visit into our nearby wine country. Oh sure, I’ve enjoyed Texas wines over the years (usually buying them from the market) but this newborn acclaim left me thirsting to learn first hand about why the Texas Hill Country had so much to offer.
Setting The Stage
First off, let’s take note of some interesting stats about Texas wines that may surprise you (they surprised me):
- Texas is the site of the 1st vineyard established in North America by Franciscan priests (circa 1662). Texas wasn’t founded until December 29, 1845, almost 200 years later!
- Texas is currently the No. 5 wine-producing state in the U.S.
- Texas has 8 AVAs (American Viticultural Area) across 5 distinct regions in the state. The Texas Hill Country alone is the 2nd largest AVA in the nation, boasting over 9 million acres.
- There are 420 growers covering 4,400 Texas acres. Over 270 wineries contribute more than $1.83 Billion of economic value to the State of Texas.
A Texas-Sized Wine Experience
Day 1 into Texas Wine Country I wasn’t quite sure what to expect but our well-seasoned friends escorted us for our first outing.
We soon discovered that the wineries are as wildly unique as the wines they produce. Some are simple tasting rooms while others are fully operational vineyards that grow, harvest, craft and sell from the same location. My Wine Country cheat sheet:
Vineyard ~ A farm or plantation that grows vines; when a wine is labeled as coming from a “vineyard” it means that the winery and vineyard are on the same property.
Winery ~ A facility for the processing of grape fruits to become wine; it may not always be in the same place as that of the vineyard and it may process grapes from a different vineyard.
Tasting Room ~ Usually a part of a winery where guests may sample the winery’s products.
We experienced live music, great vistas, gift shops, a few food trucks and lots of conversation and drink. People were relaxed, approachable and happy. Hill Country charm is abundant here. I think one of our favorite moments was at Hilmy Cellars when we looked down and saw live chickens at our feet!
Tastings are a great way to sample the wild assortment of wines, often costing about $8-$12 for 5-6 samples. You may even be able to score a free sample or two if you’re specific about what you want to try. Some wineries will let you keep your etched wine glass, which will likely become a cherished memento and a beacon to return. You can often join a winery’s wine club which offers various perks including discounts, special picks or a “free” tasting or two for members’ friends each year. And of course bottles are available for purchase to enjoy live or to take back home.
You’ll likely find red and white varieties and the selection will vary throughout the year so check online before you go if you’re selective about your wine options.
Wine Country Tips
Here are a few of my tips for how to best enjoy wine country.
- Plan Your Visit. With over 40 wineries in the Hill Country alone there is no possible way you can consume them all in a day or in a weekend! Visit TexasWineTrail.com and use their handy interactive map to plan your route. We picked 3-5 wineries per day which allowed enough time to relax, unwind and enjoy the music and scenery. October is official Texas Wine Trail Month but special events are held throughout the year.
- Start Early / End Early. Some vineyards start pouring early in the day – actually the morning – at 10AM or 11AM. They also close shop around 5PM or 6PM, so don’t plan on heading out for a night of wine country.
- Expect Crowds. Wine Country is a communal experience and that means there will be other people around – possibly even cats, dogs and chickens. There’s no surprise that when the weekend weather is nice and in full bloom, so too, are the crowds. If you’re into more intimate experiences try going Monday – Thursday as you may find the crowds more palatable.
- Plan A Picnic. Some vineyards and tasting rooms offer light foods. Many have an open policy with regard to you bringing in food and light snacks (please, no B.Y.O.W.). We made a run to Central Market and grabbed some artisan bread, crackers, cheeses and pestos which everyone really enjoyed.
- Drink Responsibly. Nobody likes a sloppy drinker. If you’re making a day trip to Fredericksburg remember you have to get home safely so don’t put your life or the lives of others at risk in the twisty, curvy Hill Country roads which are sometimes hard to navigate fully sober – especially at night! Appoint a designated driver (and designated drinkers) – Even better yet there are tour companies that range from the fancy limos to the larger tour buses that can whisk you around and return you safely to home base. A super-tip from Home Style Austin follower Marcia from Grapevine: Did you know that Texas deer come out in droves after 5PM and it’s extremely hazardous on the roads? Drive safe!
I hope you have the chance to enjoy the special place that is Texas Wine Country!
~ Joe Paul Reider
Home Style Austin Founder
Keller Williams Realty, Inc.
Our Pick For 2014 : Most Romantic Texas Wine
Texas Wine & Grape Growers Association
Texas Hill Country Wineries
When In Texas Wine Country : Wildseed Farms
An Award Honoring Texas + Italian Wines