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3 blissful days in Texas wine country

William Chris Vineyards Grape vines surround the tasting room at William Chris Vineyards in Hye, Texas. | Courtesy William Chris Vineyards

Small-town charm, lovely landscapes, and excellent wines are among the perks of a wine-tasting weekend in Texas Hill Country.

For almost three decades, the Texas wine industry has been maturing like—you guessed it—a fine wine. And nowhere else is this more apparent than in the Texas Hill Country.

Many of the area’s 80 or so wineries are along what’s been dubbed the 290 Wine Trail, a 32-mile stretch of US Highway 290 between Johnson City, hometown of President Lyndon B. Johnson (named not for him but for a distant cousin), and Fredericksburg, founded by German settlers in 1846.

Around 5 million people visit the area annually, many coming to sip wine and other adult beverages—more on that in a moment—and enjoy some of the prettiest countryside in the state. (Tours and tastings are often available only on specific days and hours, so it’s a good idea to call before visiting.)

Where to sip

Tasting room at Pedernales Cellars

Visitors sip wine at Pedernales Cellars' tasting room. | Courtesy Pedernales Cellars

Bending Branch Winery, Comfort. Winemaking is both an art and a science, and Bending Branch excels in both. Take the tour to see Texas’ only flash détente system, which heats grapes to 185°, then pumps them into a vacuum chamber, where they’re flash vaporized, extracting nearly 100 percent of the grapes’ color and flavor. Science never tasted so good, especially the winery’s cornerstone tannat. Tastings start at $15. 830-995-2948; bendingbranchwinery.com.

Pedernales Cellars, Stonewall. Specializing in Spanish and Rhône-style wines, including Texas favorite viognier, the Cellars beckons with its large, oak-shaded deck where you can kick back, imbibe, and enjoy views of the scenic Pedernales River valley. Tastings start at $20. 830-644-2037; pedernalescellars.com.

William Chris Vineyards, Hye. Owners and longtime friends Bill Blackmon and Chris Brundrett have been combining their talents for making fine wines since bottling their first vintage together in 2008. As it was then, it is now: 100 percent of production–35,000 cases annually–is made from Texas-grown grapes, including their flagship mourvèdre. Tastings start at $20. 830-998-7654; williamchriswines.com.

Garrison Brothers Distillery

Garrison Brothers Distillery produces straight bourbon whiskey. | Courtesy Garrison Brothers Distillery

After several days of wine tastings and wine with dinner (and perhaps lunch), even the most committed oenophile may want alternative sippables. And the Hill Country wine region doesn’t disappoint.

Altstadt Brewery, Fredericksburg. What better place to make German-style beer than in an ersatz German castle? Altstadt’s three beer styles—lager, kolsch, and amber—are made according to German purity laws, which date from 1516. Brewers lead free tours, which are limited to 20 people each. Flights start at $11. 830-304-2337; altstadtbeer.com.

Garrison Brothers Distillery, Hye. The first legal whiskey distillery in Texas, Garrison Brothers makes straight bourbon whiskey that has attracted such a loyal following that fans volunteer to help bottle it. Sit and sip tours (offered Wednesdays-Sundays) start at $10, but they’re free if you show up on a horse. 830-392-0246; garrisonbros.com.

Hye Rum Distillery, Hye. One of only a handful of rum makers in Texas, this modest distillery, located in a house with the still in a rustic metal building out back, produces five artisanal Jamaican-style rums: white, dark, honey, spiced, and aged. Tour and tasting, $20. 830-265-5644; hyerum.com.

Hye Cider Company, Hye. For something completely different, try the cyser, an intriguing blend of apple cider and mead. Made with chef-inspired ingredients such as bay leaf and Turkish figs, they’re surprisingly crisp and light, but not too sweet. With an average ABV (alcohol by volume) of about 9 percent, they still have a kick. Tastings are $11. 830-282-0143; hyecidercompany.com.

What to do

Fredericksburg, Texas

The central Texas town of Fredericksburg exudes a small-town charm that's popular with weekend visitors. | Richard A. Marini

If there’s a capital of the Texas Wine Country, Fredericksburg is it. With a population of about 11,500, Fredericksburg retains so much of its small-town charm that on pleasant weekends the sidewalks are filled with city folk soaking in the atmosphere.

In addition to shopping and dining, check out the National Museum of the Pacific War, which tells the story of the Asiatic-Pacific theater of World War II. 830-997-8600; pacificwarmuseum.org.

Hye Dance Hall

Old-time Texas thrives at Hye Dance Hall. | Courtesy Hye Dance Hall

All but abandoned since the 1950s, Hye Dance Hall recently reopened after being lovingly restored. Tourists looking for old-time Texas can enjoy music and dancing on Wednesdays, Fridays, and weekends, and the occasional two-step or other style dance lessons. 830-868-2300; facebook.com/Hyehall.

About 18 miles north of Fredericksburg in the Enchanted Rock State Natural Area, a massive, 436-foot-high pink granite dome dominates the countryside. It offers plenty of hiking trails, as well as climbing opportunities from challenging to easy. The small parking lot fills fast, so get there before 10 a.m., especially on weekends and holidays. Visitors can reserve and buy a day pass in advance. Timed entry day passes are available through the online park reservations system. 830-685-3636; tpwd.texas.gov/state-parks/enchanted-rock.

Where to eat

Hye Market

Hye Market dishes up gourmet sandwiches. | Richard A. Marini

Otto’s German Bistro, Fredericksburg. Hill Country has plenty of German restaurants, but the cuisine at Otto’s is more opera than oom-pah. Try the frikadellen (ground beef patties with red cabbage slaw and house-made pickles) or the duck schnitzel with späetzle (a German gourmet pasta) and rotkohl (a sweet-and-sour red cabbage). The small, covered front patio makes for pleasant dining on mild evenings. 830-307-3336; ottosfbg.com.

Hye Market, Hye. Sharing a Texas Historic Landmark building with the town post office, the market serves elevated deli sandwiches such as the BLT with house-smoked B and a pork belly sandwich dressed with—say this three times fast—salty pickles and pickled peppers. 830-868-2300; hyemarket.com.

Bryans on 290, Johnson City. Finding big-city cuisine in the country is rare, but Bryans is oh, so well done. Two recent favorites: Fried chicken thighs with braised collard greens and cast iron–seared salmon with jicama spinach salad. 830-868-2424; bryanson290.com.

Where to stay

The Hangar Hotel

The Hangar Hotel is next to Gillespie County Airport, and guests can watch planes take off and land. | Courtesy Hangar Hotel

Hangar Hotel, Fredericksburg. Built to look like a World War II Quonset hut airplane hangar, the 50-room, aviation-themed property is adjacent to Gillespie County Airport. (It’s restricted to guests 18 and older.) “Fly-in” guests flock to the on-site Officers Club to sip cocktails and watch takeoffs and landings from the observation deck overlooking the runway. Officers Club is open 5 p.m.-midnight Thursdays-Saturdays and seasonally on Wednesday nights. 830-997-9990; hangarhotel.com.

Hye-Way Haus, Hye. Built in 1924, this one-time farmhouse in the heart of the 290 Wine Trail has five comfortable themed suites. Guests have access to the full kitchen, dining room, and parlor area. 830-225-4051; hyewayhaus.com.

Cypress Valley Treehouse Lodging

A room at the Cypress Valley Treehouse Lodging is nestled in old-growth trees. | Courtesy Cypress Valley Treehouse Lodging

Cypress Valley Treehouse Lodging, Spicewood. Here’s your chance to sleep in a treehouse with glamping comforts. Five treehouse lodgings, from rustic to posh, are nestled in a grove of old-growth cypress trees overlooking a creek ravine and connected by suspension bridges. And, yes, they all have access to indoor bathrooms. There’s also a ranch house designed for larger groups. 512-264-8880; cypressvalleycanopytours.com/lofthaven.

For more info

Texas Hill Country Wineries, a nonprofit trade association, provides maps of wine trails and information on events, tasting hours, and more. 872-216-9463; texaswinetrail.com/visit.
 
Richard A. Marini is a reporter with the San Antonio Express-News.

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