A Valentine's weekend Hill Country winery tour.
A Hill Country winery tour takes wine lovers down some of the area's most beautiful roads and to some of the most unusual places. In the past 20 years, Texas wines have grown up to be national and international contenders for the palates of serious and casual connoisseurs. Nothing seems to go better with flowers and chocolates than a bottle of Texas vintage wines.
Out of the 36 wineries in the state that are open or preparing to open, 13 are within an easy day trip from Austin. With exception of the state's largest wineries, such as St. Genevieve and Messina Hof, most of the state's wineries rely on visitors to their tasting rooms for a large percentage of sales. One, Fredericksburg Winery, only sells their wines through their tasting room.
Because of this heavy reliance on retail sales, the local wineries make a special effort to ensure that your visit is a pleasurable experience. Along with friendly and knowledgeable wine stewards comes a park-like atmosphere that can be as relaxing as it is educational, especially if you participate in a tour.
On Valentine's weekend all of these wineries except Slaughter Leftwich are participating in a Hill Country winery tour with special events planned, but any weekend can be a good time to visit one of the Hill Country wineries. It is always best to call the winery before driving long distances because they are occasionally rented out for private parties.
1. Becker Vineyards, 830/644-2681 (http://www.fbg.net/beckervyds) at 464 Jenschke Ln. off U.S. 290 west of Stonewall is surrounded by fields of grapevines and wildflowers planted by the nearby Wildseed Farms. Open Monday-Saturday 10am-5pm and Sunday 12-5pm, tours are on the hour and half-hour. The winery offers 14 different wines and also has a small cabin that is rented out as a bed & breakfast through Gastehaus Schmidt Reservation Service, 830/997-5612 (http://www.fbglodging.com).
2. Bell Mountain Vineyards, 830/685-3297, sits 2,000 feet above sea level. Begun in 1974, this is one of the first new generation of wineries to be built in Texas and offers eight different wines to taste. The German chateau-like tasting room opens to visitors for the summer months beginning the first Saturday of March, 10am-5pm, with tours at 11am, 1pm, and 3pm. The winery is off TX 16 and is 14 miles north of Fredericksburg, 26 miles south of Llano, and 10 miles from Enchanted Rock State Park.
3. Cana Cellars Winery, 288-2582, opened in 1996 at 11217 Fitzhugh Rd. five miles west of Oak Hill about half a mile off U.S. 290. A very pretty little winery, they have three acres of vines and offer five different varieties of wine. The tasting room opens Saturday and Sunday, noon-5pm or by appointment.
4. Comfort Cellars, 830/995-3274, is across the street from the post office in Comfort at 723 Front St. The tasting room opens daily noon-6pm with special extended tastings with hors d'oeuvres on Saturdays 6-9pm. The vineyard is east of Comfort. Tours of the winery will begin in April. The winery offers four wines, with two more scheduled to be released soon.
5. Dry Comal Creek, 830/885-4076, is about six miles west of New Braunfels off TX 46 at 1741 Herbelin Rd. Opened in May 1999, they have three current releases and three more to be offered soon. The winery opens Wednesday-Sunday noon-5pm with tours whenever someone asks.
6. Fall Creek Vineyards, 915/379-5361, is another of the original Texas wineries. Established in 1974, the winery is 2.2 miles north of the Tow post office on FM 2241 on the banks of Lake Buchanan. Tastings of their current 12 wines are available Monday-Friday 11am-3pm, Saturday noon-5pm, Sunday (March-November) noon-4pm.
7. Fredericksburg Winery, 830/990-8747 (http://www.fbgwinery.com) is a family affair with the Switzer family. Making wine since 1996, the nectar of the vine is an obsession, not a business, with the family members. For their New Year's Eve party, the Switzers hand-bottled a special, limited edition red wine called "First Second" in French cobalt blue bottles. Tastings typically include 19 of the winery' s 40 wines. At 247 W. Main in downtown Fredericksburg, the tasting room hours are Monday-Thursday 10am-6pm, Friday & Saturday 10am-8pm, and Sunday noon-6pm.
8. Grape Creek Vineyards, 830/664-2710, is one of the nicest little wineries in the state. Scenic and friendly, you can't help but enjoy a visit so much that you might want to spend the night in their bed & breakfast overlooking the vineyards. Three miles west of Stonewall on U.S. 290, the winery opens Monday-Saturday 10am-5pm and Sunday noon-5pm.
9. Hill Country Cellars, 259-2000 (http://www.austin.citysearch.com/E/V/AUSTX/0001/97/95) has Lady Bird Johnson as a silent partner. Currently, the winery opens daily noon-5pm with tours at 1pm, but in March the hours will be scaled back to Friday-Sunday noon-5pm with tours on the hour between 1 and 4pm. With eight of their own wines and two favorites from other wineries, the tasting room is 2.2 miles north of FM 1431 in Cedar Park on U.S. 183.
10. Sister Creek Vineyards, 830/324-6704, in Sisterdale north of Boerne offers a beautiful drive as well as a scenic tasting room in an old barn. The tasting room is open daily noon-5pm.
11. Slaughter Leftwich Vineyards, 266-333, offers a panoramic view of Lake Travis from their stone tasting room at 4301 James Ln., off FM 620 one mile west of Mansfield Dam. Tastings are Saturday and Sunday 1-5pm with tours at 1:30 and 3:30pm.
12. Spicewood Vineyards, 830/693-5328, is open only by appointment. The winery has 17 acres of vineyards and offers five wines. They are west of Spicewood off TX 71.
13. Texas Hills Vineyards, 830/868-2321 (http://www.texashillsvineyard), offers five different wines, with Pinot Grigio wine being their speciality. Opened in 1999, the tasting room is in a "cave above ground" and opens Monday-Saturday 10am-5pm and Sunday noon-5pm. The winery is one mile east of Johnson City on RR 2766, not far from Pedernales State Park. The winery often sponsors special programs like guest chefs fixing elaborate meals paired with their wines.
Coming up this weekend ...
Troy King Memorial Hug-In turns Luckenbach into a weekend love fest with music and games all day and a dance at night, Feb. 11-13. 830/997-3224.