Happy Trails

Wanderlust for Wine Lovers

Happy Trails

We are at Ronnie's Pit Barbeque in Johnson City on a Tuesday at about one in the afternoon. Most of the lunch crowd is gone. Two crusty old farmers are sitting at the next table jawing. Sun-baked faces and hard-worked hands. Worn old Dickies Bib Overalls. Their conversation carries over to our table. "Sometimes you gotta add some sugar to those Cabernet Sauvignon grapes to get the alcohol level up," one of them said. Cabernet Sauvignon? The Hill Country is changing. Thirteen of Texas' Hill Country wineries are uniting to create a two-day Valentine's celebration of love and wine this weekend. They have assembled a tour of the wineries, all within an easy drive of Austin, which will include tastings, tours, food, and some interesting surprises. This provides a perfect opportunity to learn about the blossoming Texas wine industry, taste some new wines, and meet the people who are re-creating what was once a vibrant agricultural business. Many Texans don't even realize that our tradition of winemaking predates California's.

The Spanish missionaries produced the first wine in what is now the United States in El Paso using their native Mission grape. Unfortunately for them, they missed the local grape varietals. Of the 36 species of Vitis in the world, 15 are native to Texas. Our state has more native species of grapes than any other region on earth. Texas' grape stock even saved the European wine industry in the 1880s. Europe's growers were facing a total loss of vines from a little bug (Phylloxera vastatrix) until Thomas V. Munson of Denison started developing hybrids between European grapes and Texas native grapes, which were mostly immune to the bug, and sending them back to Europe. The Texas grapes literally saved the wines of Europe from being completely killed off. Ironically, 40 years later the Congress was successful in killing the Texas wines. They created Prohibition.

Currently, Texas wine is enjoying a resurgence in quality and reputation. We are lucky to be here during this rebirth, and this weekend is a perfect opportunity to get out into the beautiful Hill Country to see where the future of Texas wine will lead. The complete tour would take two days, but with some careful planning, you can see a good deal of the Texas Hill Country Wine Trail in one day. A good place to start fashioning an itinerary is http://www.texaswinetrail.com. The site shows a map for each vineyard and links to the wineries' individual Web sites. To help you sift through everything that will be going on, we've assembled some relevant information below. The numbers provided with each listing correspond to the winery's location on the map. Events at the wineries are free unless otherwise noted.

1. Alamosa Wine Cellars

Bend, 915/628-3313

Tasting at Rose Hill Manor, between Stonewall and Albert. From 290, turn left on RR 1623, just before Stonewall. Rose Hill Manor is on Upper Albert Road. Noon-5pm both days.

Alamosa is (wisely, we think) pursuing wine-grape varietals that are from the regions of Italy, France, and Spain that most closely resemble the Texas Hill Country. Jim Johnson, Alamosa's owner, has chosen to grow Syrah, Tempranillo, and Sangiovese, which are the classic grapes from those European districts. A victim of the archaic Texas liquor laws, he is unable to sell his wines at his winery because it is in a dry area. Consequently, he will offer his wines near Stonewall at the Rose Hill Manor. This is a good opportunity to taste what might be the future of Texas wines. Many other wineries have started these varietals, but Alamosa has them now.

2. Becker Vineyards

Stonewall, 830/644-2681

http://www.fbg.net/ beckervyds/ Located 10 miles east of Fredericksburg, off Hwy. 290 on Jenschke Lane. Open 10am-5pm on February 12; noon-5pm on February 13.

Happy Trails
Photo By John Anderson

The Becker family owns one of the most beautiful and romantic wineries in the Hill Country. They also make some of the best wines in Texas. All are worth tasting, but be sure to try the Viognier, Provence, Reserve Cabernet, and Port. For the Wine Lover's Trail, Becker will pour the 1998 Estate Merlot and serve it with Roscar Handmade European Chocolates created by chef Frans Hendriks. The winery has a charming porch with tables that makes an ideal picnic spot.

3. CanaCellars Winery & Vineyard

Austin, 288-6027

Five miles past the Y at Oak Hill on 290. Turn right on Fitzhugh Road; the winery is half-mile on the left. Open noon-5pm both days.

CanaCellars bills itself as the smallest winery in Texas. It is actually the cellar of owner Joe Turner's old rock house on his 90-acre ranch. They will be pouring Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Chardonnay, and Fumé Blanc. Turner says there will be plenty of room for picnicking and they are also offering cheeses, fruits, and bread.

4. Comfort Cellars Winery

Comfort, 830/995-3274

On Hwy. 27 just south of Interstate 10 across from the post office. Open noon-6pm both days.

The town of Comfort is notable for its friendly atmosphere and its antique shops. During the Wine Lover's Trail, go to the winery and pick up a wine glass and a map for a walking tour of the town. Each of the shops listed on the map have Comfort Cellars wine and some light food. The winery itself is very attractive and produces several wines. Be sure to try the Merlot and the dry Muscat Canelli.

5. Dry Comal Creek Vineyards & Winery

New Braunfels, 830/885-4076

6.6 miles west of New Braunfels off Hwy. 46 on Herbelin Road. Open noon-5 both days.

Dry Comal Creek Vineyards has recently moved into a new building and will be showing it to all visitors. They will be serving 1998 Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay, and a sweet French Colombard. Call ahead for more information about activities.

6. Fall Creek Vineyards

Tow, 915/379-5361

2.2 miles north of Tow by the northwest side of Lake Buchanan. Open noon-5pm both days.

The Auler family has operated this vineyard since 1975. Their product line now encompasses 12 wines, including the Meritus blend, which sells out as soon as it comes on the market. The winery itself is picturesque and very pleasant. During the Wine Lover's Trail, there will be a "romantic lunch" in the vineyards for $48 per couple. Reservations are a must. While there, be sure to try their Granite Reserve, one of the best bargains in Texas wine.

7. Fredericksburg Winery

247 West Main Street, Fredericksburg, 830/990-8747

http://www.fbgwinery.com Open 10am-8pm on February 12; noon-6pm on February 13.

Becker Vineyards
Becker Vineyards (Photo By John Anderson)

If you like sweet wines, this is your place. While the Fredericksburg Winery produces dry wines, they make most of their products with a good deal of the natural fructose left in. Their most expensive wines are like drinking honey. The Two Sisters and the Fort Martin Scott wines are the standouts here and are well worth trying ($5 charge for tasting their top wines). Getting in and out of this place quickly is impossible. They sell a huge variety of wines and are anxious to have you taste all of them. During the Valentine's weekend, they will have roses for the ladies plus various foods and lots of deserts.

8. Grape Creek Vineyard

Stonewall, 830/644-2710

On Hwy. 290 between Stonewall and Fredericksburg (four miles west of Stonewall or 10 miles east of Fredericksburg). Open 10-5 on February 12; 12-5 on February 13.

The featured wines for the tour are the newly released 1998 Cabernet Trois (made from Cabernets Sauvignon, Ruby, and Franc) and 1998 Cabernet Sauvignon. Both wines are excellent representations of Texas wine and well worth trying. While there, also try the 1995 Fumé Blanc which is an excellent bargain at the winery's marked-down price. In honor of Valentine's Day, they will offer chocolate-dipped strawberries.

9. Hill Country Cellars

Cedar Park, 259-2000

http://www.hcc.citysearch.com Just north of 1431 on 183. Open noon-5pm both days.

This winery is emphasizing their 1996 Don Tomas Port, which is made solely from Ruby Cabernet from the Texas high plains. The winemakers are considering something quite gutsy -- a head-to-head comparison with a Portugese Port. Chocolates, Stilton, and other matching foods will be served with the Port. In addition, they will be presenting a port seminar Saturday from 1-3pm ($10 per person).

10. Pillar Bluff Vineyards

Lampasas, 512/556-4078


Tasting at Rose Hill Manor, between Stonewall and Albert. From 290, turn left on RR 1623, just before Stonewall. Rose Hill Manor is on Upper Albert Road. Noon-5pm both days.

Like Alamosa, Pillar Bluff can't sell their wines at the winery. They are joining Alamosa in Stonewall at the Rose Hill Manor on Upper Albert Road. They will be pouring the new vintages of their Founder's Red and Founder's White wines.

11. Sister Creek Vineyards

Sisterdale, 830/324-6704

On FM 1376, 12 miles north of Boerne. Open noon-5pm both days.

This vineyard is in a delightful old cotton gin along the Sister Creeks. During the tour, they are offering barrel samples. This is an excellent opportunity to see first-hand what wine is like before it is bottle-aged. You can also tour the winemaking operation and taste their released wines. The 1997 Chardonnay and the 1998 Merlot are both very attractive wines that are worth tasting.

12. Spicewood Vineyards

Spicewood, 830/693-5328

http://www.lighthousesystems.com/ spicewood Hwy. 71 to Spicewood, left on County Road 409. Open noon-5 both days.

Ed and Madeline Manigold have built a gorgeous new winery that will be opening just in time for the Wine Lover's Trail. Spicewood Vineyards is also stuck in an area that doesn't allow wine sales, but they will provide tastes. Ask to try a barrel sample of the different Chardonnays, one residing in American oak, the other in French oak (if they have enough to share). This is an excellent education in the difference that barrels make in the final product. Their Merlot and Sauvignon Blanc are also very good.

13. Texas Hills Vineyards

Johnson City, 830/868-2321

http://www.texashillsvineyard.com One mile east of Johnson City on RR 2766. Open noon-5pm both days.

The Gilstrap family is trying to develop an Italian style winery in the Hill Country. To this end, they are growing Sangiovese, Moscato, and Pinot Grigio. All three are wonderful wines worth trying. On Sunday, February 13, chef John Russo will prepare an Italian-influenced meal which the Gilstraps will serve by candlelight in the winery. Cost is $55 per person and reservations are essential. end story

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