Hill Country Grape Harvest

Though the weather this year was somewhat less than congenial for growing grapes, all the Hill Country vintners we contacted were very optimistic about their respective harvests. Becker Vineyards general manager Jim Brown reported a "better-than-expected" quantity of the temperamental viogner grapes, which is great news to those of us who enjoy that varietal. At Fall Creek Vineyards, where they grow mostly French Bordeaux varietals, Charles Fisher says that even though they've seen a slight decrease in overall tonnage, this year's grapes are some of the best they've ever seen. The Manigolds at Spicewood Vineyards are pleased with their yields, as are the Gilstraps at Texas Hills Vineyards, where they're concentrating on Italian varietals. At the northernmost wine property in the Hill Country appellation, Alamosa Wine Cellars, Jim and Karen Johnson are excited about using the equipment in their brand-new winery building for the very first time. They've harvested good crops of viogner, San Geovese, and the first tempranillo grapes grown in Texas. If all goes according to plan, the Johnsons will eventually release the tempranillo as "El Guapo," the handsome one, with a Texas horned toad gracing the label.

Though the actual grape harvest happened earlier in the summer and it will be a while before this year's grapes are rendered into wine, three Hill County vintners would like you to join in their annual harvest festivities. Designate a driver and prepare to stomp some grapes! -- Virginia B. Wood

Fall Creek Vineyards & Winery

FM 2241 in Llano County, 2.2 miles north of Tow post office, on the northwest shore of Lake Buchanan,
915/379-5361 (winery);
476-4477 (Austin office)

This year Fall Creek celebrates its 10th Annual Grape Stomp and Harvest Festival on Saturday, August 21 and Saturday, August 28, 11am-5pm, rain or shine. Come kick off your shoes and stomp some grapes, so you can leave a juicy footprint on the commemorative T-shirts they'll have for sale. Then move on to the winery tours and tastings, miniature train rides and a petting zoo for the kids, hayrides through the vineyard, Vanishing Texas River Cruises that depart from the shoreline, and cooking demonstrations by Austin chef David Garrido of Jeffrey's and Fresh Planet Cafe (Aug 21 only). Picnic food from Fresh Planet Cafe will be for sale both weekends. Admission is free.

Becker Vineyards

Jenschke Lane, three miles west of Stonewall, off Hwy 290W, 830/644-2681

Grape stompers are wanted at Becker Vineyards on Saturday and Sunday, August 28 and 29, and September 4 and 5, noon-5pm. All you need to bring is good balance and bare feet. There will be winery tours and tastings, live music, and plenty of fun. Bring a picnic and relax under the shade trees after you've stomped.

Hill Country Cellars

1700 North Bell Blvd (Hwy 183 near Cedar Park), 259-2000

The Ninth Annual Hill Country Cellars Harvest Festival offers a grape-stomping competition for both adult pairs and kids, and that's only one of the many entertaining activities planned for the weekend of August 28 and 29, noon-5pm both days. Ponty Bone will provide live music while food vendors and craft booths will tempt the crowd with their wares. Kids can enjoy pony rides and miniature train rides and there will be belly dancing, too. Admission is free.

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