Updated: Sep 19
Visiting wineries in Texas Hill Country
When my wife and I travel, an important part of the experience is to sample the cuisine of the destination, and particularly the wine. In this lifestyle blog I have written about our viticultural exploits in Venice, Portugal and Western Australia (among other great places, including our home state of Virginia). It is an important part of our lifestyle in this ‘relaunch’ phase of life.
Twice a year I travel to Houston for alumni activities and on a recent trip my wife and I extended our stay to visit with friends. When they recommended an excursion to the Texas Hill Country for wine tours and tastings, we were all in. We both had been to the Hill Country in the late-90s and what we remembered is that the wine was pretty good and the viticultural industry surprisingly robust.
Wineries of Fredericksburg and the Texas Hill Country
According to Visit Fredericksburg, Texas is the fifth largest wine-producing state in the country and over 50 wineries, vineyards and tasting rooms can be found in the Texas Hill Country AVA. And while the AVA is the largest in the state and the second largest in the United States, more than 80% of the grapes used to make Hill Country wines come from the Texas High Plains AVA some 350 miles to the northwest of Fredericksburg.
What we found interesting was the eclectic nature of the grape varietals used for wine making in the Hill Country, ranging from Portuguese (Alicante Bouschet, Touriga Nacional) to Spanish (Tempranillo, Garnacha – or Grenache), and Rhone (Roussanne, Marsanne, Mourvèdre, Syrah). With a line up like that, we were keen to try a few vineyards with different specialties and personalities. Our hosts did not disappoint in their selection of options.
Visit to Heath Sparkling Wines
Our tasting started with Heath Sparkling Wines, a vineyard which seems a bit incongruous as it relates to the wine making traditions of the Hill Country AVA, and I do not mean that in a bad way. To begin with, Heath claims to be the only vineyard producing a collection of sparkling wines using the Méthode Champenoise in which the wine is naturally fermented in the bottle. What is even more extraordinary is that the grapes come from the Texas High Plains, but the wines are bottled and fermented in California! We tried four of their sparkling wines, including a traditional 2019 Blanc de Blancs from 100% Chardonnay grapes – but my favorite was the 2019 Ebullience made predominately from Pinot Grigio grapes.
Visit to Kuhlman Cellars
We proceeded to Kuhlman Cellars for a tasting and snack lunch on the patio under bluebird skies with terrific views of the estate and accompanying guitarist providing tuneful entertainment. A highlight of the tasting at Kuhlman Cellars was the 2021 Estate White comprising a blend of 70% Marsanne and 30% Roussanne. It was a classic Rhone white blend that was very pleasing on the palate. The star of the tasting, however, was the 2019 Alluvé red blend comprising Tempranillo, Malbec, Cinsault, Grenache and Sangiovese. We took a bottle of the Alluvé to pair with a cedar plank salmon we planned for dinner that evening and it was a perfect match.
Visit to Slate Theory
A most interesting stop on our itinerary was Slate Theory, which is a rebirth of the Torre di Pietra winery that reopened in late 2021. What is unique about the vineyard is the 9,000 square foot underground wine cellar, that contains ten different lounge areas for wine tastings. The wine bottle labels are artistic-driven and evoke Rorschach inkblot tests, which complement the dark atmosphere of the catacomb-like wine cellar. This was one of those rare moments in which we liked every wine that was selected for our tasting, among them the 2022 Nebbiolo Rose and the 2022 Carbonic Petit Sirah.
Because the region is 4 ½ hours by car from Houston, you would do well to maximize your time there with a couple of overnight stays in Fredericksburg, TX. Alternatively, a trip out to wine country is only an hour from San Antonio or approximately 90 minutes from Austin.