The Austin Chronicle

https://www.austinchronicle.com/columns/2005-05-20/271750/

Day Trips

By Gerald E. McLeod, May 20, 2005, Columns

Lavender and wine make for a perfect Hill Country destination, and nobody does the pairing better than the Lavender Fest at Becker Vineyards between Johnson City and Fredericksburg. Along with award-winning wines, the vineyards have added three acres of lavender.

The evergreen bushes look like neat rows of turtles placed on the reddish fields. By late May or early June purple flower stocks shoot out of the foot-to foot-and-a-half-tall clumps of greenery. The fragrance of the blooms fills the breeze with a subtle perfume.

For centuries, the people around the Mediterranean Sea have known the medicinal uses of lavender. The dried leaves and oil have been used to treat headaches, acne, insect stings, and to calm tattered nerves. The fragrance has long been associated with seduction and romance. What better pairing with a chilled bottle of Becker Viognier?

"It's amazing that so many people love lavender," Chris Perrenoud, lavender production manager at Becker Vineyards says with a laugh. "People seem to come to the festival and spend a lot of time. Everybody seems to be so relaxed after they get here."

The two-day festival is a celebration of all things lavender from plants to lavender chocolate. There will be about 45 different vendors under the tents and the big shade trees on the winery grounds. For a fee, visitors will be able to partake in the four-course Lavender Luncheon, with each offering using the fragrant herb. Sampling lavender products is a lot like sampling wines. "Some people will buy lavender soaps from each maker, because each one is a little different from the others," Perrenoud says.

The festival runs Saturday, May 21, from 10am to 2pm and Sunday, May 22, from noon to 6pm. In addition to wine tastings and shopping, there will be speakers on everything from gardening to wines plus cooking demonstrations. New to the program this year will be information on growing another import for the Mediterranean in the Hill Country – olive trees.

It was on a trip to southern France that Richard and Bunny Becker noticed the Hill Country's similarities to the European lavender growing regions. They have now inspired eight other lavender farms in Gillespie County – most are not open to the public – that help fulfill the demand for lavender-flavored products. "Most of the products are locally made," Perrenoud says. "For instance, we have a group of gals that come in to help us, and a lady in Bastrop makes the candles."

Remarkably, about the same time that the Beckers were having their epiphany in France, Jeannie Ralston and Robb Kendrick had the same idea for their property a few miles to the east. While Kendrick completes assignments as a photographer for National Geographic magazine and other publications, Ralston manages Hill Country Lavender a few miles west of Blanco off FM 1623 at the 1672 McKinney Loop.

Since the lavender bushes were first added to the Central Texas landscape, Ralston has steadily added new products to the farm's product line including culinary additives, foot cream, shaving cream, and aromatherapy aids available online and at their store in Blanco. Last year, she added a mobile distillation plant to help area growers extract the essential oils from the lavender leaves and flowers.

On the same weekend as the Becker Vineyards' Lavender Fest, Hill Country Lavender will be hosting the Blanco Lavender Festival with the 4.5 acres of plants open for cut-your-own bouquets, cooking classes, and craft classes. Ralston's retail shop on the edge of the field will also be open Saturday and Sunday, May 21 and 22 from 9am to 4pm.

The farm will also be open for gathering the flowers on weekends through June 19. For more information on Hill Country Lavender, call 830/833-2294 or visit www.hillcountrylavender.com.

Five other lavender growers in the Fredericksburg-Stonewall area will be offering field tours, barbecue, antiques, and special events to coincide with the Becker Vineyards' open house. For information on the other participants in the Lavender Fest weekend, point your browser to www.beckervineyards.com.

Eight lavender farms surrounding Blanco will also be open to the public on the May 21 and 22 weekend. For more information and maps, call 830/833-5101 or visit www.blancolavenderfestival.com.


727th in a series. Day Trips, Vol. 2, a book of Day Trips 101-200, is available for $8.95, plus $3.05 for shipping, handling, and tax. Mail to: Day Trips, PO Box 33284, South Austin, TX 78704.

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