Day Trips

Robert Oberhellmann invites you on a wine-tasting journey at the Bell Mountain/Oberhellmann Vineyards, part of a tour that explores the ancient process of viticulture. This little winery north of Fredericksburg is steeped in the German wine-making traditions, but built on the pioneering spirit of the Texas Hill Country.

Oberhellmann was one of the pioneers of the renaissance of Texas wines in the 1970s. His dream of owning a winery was actually planted in the late Sixties when a Frenchman suggested that grapes be grown in Texas, and while traveling here on business, Oberhellmann noticed the similarities between the land and the wine-growing regions of Europe. He purchased a neglected Hill Country ranch in 1973, and construction on the first buildings began in 1974. Working in ice cream-processing science gave him the background to study German wine-making, and he began clearing the rough Hill Country terrain to experiment with grapevines in 1975.

It wasn't until 1985 that Oberhellmann released his first wines for sale. In the decade since, the winery has produced some world-class wines. The 1992 Chardonnay is surpassed only by the 1990 release that is now prized by collectors. Oberhellmann thinks the 1993 release is "a cut above" both. The wines are estate-bottled on the 56-acre vineyard, which rests 1,956 feet above sea level. (Nearby Enchanted Rock is 1,825 feet.)

Over the years, Oberhellmann has become philosophical about the business, realizing that not everyone may enjoy his product. An appreciation for wine comes with an educated palette, he says; "the general population was raised on Coca-Cola."

The best way to judge the superior maturation of Bell Mountain wines for yourself is to visit the winery. The tasting room is open between March 1 and mid-December on Saturdays, 10am-5pm with tours at 11am, 1pm, and 3pm.

As you drive up to the winery (14 miles north of Fredericksburg off TX16), you may be surprised to see pine trees towering over the road in a land of junipers and prickly pear cacti. The building at the end of the road resembles a European chalet, with a patio on one side and wine-making equipment on the other. Besides being one of the oldest, it is one of the most scenic of Texas wineries.

A visit to Bell Mountain almost demands a drive down the Willow City Loop, one of the most beautiful Hill Country drives any time of year. The road moves from creek bottoms to rocky peaks as it winds 13 miles around Bell Mountain. A trail (not on most maps) joins FM1323 and winds north from Willow City to TX16, 21/2 miles north of the winery.

Enchanted Rock State Park is seven miles northwest of Bell Mountain. As of Sept. 1, the park limits the number of visitors; once it has reached capacity, no additional visitors are allowed until 5pm. The new rule is in effect on weekends, holidays, and spring break weeks. For more information, call
915/247-3903.

For more information on Bell Mountain/Oberhellmann Vineyards, call 210/685-3297.

Coming up this weekend...

World Stone-Skipping Championships bounce on Onion Creek at the Salt Lick Barbecue Restaurant on FM1826 outside of Driftwood, Oct. 8. The day will be filled with music, skipping clinics, and exhibits. 512/847-2201.

Gruene Music Fest fills the historic district on the north side of New Braunfels with local musicians and special guests, Oct. 7-8.

Ladies State Chili Championship adds spice to Luckenback, Oct. 7-8, with the top three cooks going to the international cookoff in Terlingua. 210/997-3224.

Old Settlers' Bluegrass & Acoustic Music Festival takes the stage by the lake at Old Settlers' Park, east of Round Rock on US79. Oct. 6, 6-11pm; Oct.7, 12:30-11pm.

512/474-8527.

Oktoberfest offers a mixture of music, carnivals, and other fun at Market Square in Fredericksburg, Oct. 6-7. 210/997-4810.

Coming up...

Italian Festival in the little town of Italy, south of Dallas on I-35, features a spaghetti sauce cookoff and more, Oct. 14. 214/483-6198.

Cajun Catfish Festival in Conroe - they'll be eating Cajun food and listening to Zydeco around the courthouse lawn, Oct.13-15.

409/756-6644. - Gerald E. McLeod

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