The first time we explored the wines of Texas Hill Country was in 2011. Our daughter was attending freshman orientation at UT in Austin, so we dropped her off and headed towards Fredericksburg. We had tasted some Texas wine prior to that – and we weren’t very impressed. Jim kept saying, “there has to be a drinkable wine made in Texas.” So, we went wine tasting in Hill Country with a mission to find that drinkable wine.
In 2011, there were about fifteen wineries that had tasting rooms. We tried out most of them and found that there were a few winemakers that were serious about producing quality wines from Texas grapes. Fast forward to December of 2018, we were staying in Austin for a few weeks and decided to revisit Texas wine country because we had heard that there were over fifty wineries now.
William Chris was the first winery we visited in 2011, so we made it the first winery we visited in 2018. We tasted five wines that were all pretty good. They have definitely grown since we were there the first time. Their first tasting room was in a renovated (and haunted) farmhouse. Since that time, they have added a larger tasting room to the property and they now have multiple tastings available, small bites for snacking, merchandise for sale, and tours of the estate. Reservations are recommended.
From there we went to Kuhlman. They were pretty busy, but squeezed us in. We were beginning to get the impression that the “wine experience” was what was on the menu now at several places. We were presented with two choices, The Signature Pairing and Casual Pairing; both sit down experiences with food pairings for each wine. For us, wine tasting is just that – wine tasting. We don’t need all the bells and whistles. So after expressing our desire to just taste the wine, we were shown to a small table and tasted five wines. All were pretty good – nothing that knocked our socks off.
Lost Draw Cellars
After lunch, we stopped in at Lost Draw Cellars and tasted their Viognier, Roussanne, Sangiovese, Tempranillo, and Mourvèdre. They were nice and laid back in the tasting room and we found all of the wines to be good, just not a lot of complexity there.
Next, we made our way over to Comfort, TX where we had our best experience on our previous trip – at Singing Water. This time around they had several more wines on their menu. Our favorite again was Freedom, which is a Syrah/Cab/Montepulciano/Merlot blend. Another perk at Singing Water is being able to buy a jar of Jump’s Gourmet Almondized Peanuts. If you get a chance – try them out.
In 2011, we wanted to visit Bending Branch but they weren’t open the day we were there. This time, we were able to taste several of their wines, and we were pretty impressed. The staff was very friendly, and poured a few extra wines that weren’t on the menu. We met the owner on our way out and he recommended that we go to the satellite tasting room in town.
Branch on High is on High Street in downtown Comfort. They have a completely different tasting menu than the one at the main winery. At Bending Branch we tried their Vermentino, Malbec, Petite Sirah, Estate Tannat, and Cuvée. At Branch on High they offered their Semillon, Ursa Major Red, D’Elissagaray Basque Blend, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Double Barrel Tannat. We really liked the Ursa Major and the Basque Blend, but the most unique wine was the Double Barrel Tannat. Part of the fermentation process is done in a Bourbon barrel and it imparts a very unique aromatic quality to the wine.
Newsom’s tasting room is around the corner from Branch on High, so we ended our day there. Newsom Vineyards supplies fruit to twelve wineries in the state of Texas. They also make several wines under their own label including Orange Muscat, Pinot Grigio, Merlot, Tempranillo, Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, and Malbec. Their wines are solid – showing complexity, and depth of flavor.
The next day, we tasted at two places before making our way back to Austin. When we are trying wines in a new area, we seek out collectives where they feature some of the smaller production wineries. Fredericksburg happens to have one called Vintners Hideaway. We ended up spending a couple of hours there and had a great experience. Sherah led us through our tasting and was very eager and knowledgeable. Her family makes Rustic Spur wines, which are featured there. Rivenburgh Wines are also part of the tasting, as well as Dandy Rosé (yummy!).
Our final stop on the wine tour was Calais – which ended up being our favorite. Adrienne, the assistant wine maker, poured for us and we were impressed with her knowledge and passion. She gave thoughtful answers to our questions and we came away with a better understanding of the Texas vineyards and what the goals are for the region. And the wines…spectacular! When Frenchman Benjamin Calais found out that there were people making wine out of grapes grown in Texas, he was intrigued and decided to make his own wine as a hobby. He was working in the tech industry in Dallas when he opened a tasting room in Deep Ellum. He eventually moved to Hye, TX (north of Fredericksburg) and opened his own winery in 2015.
We tasted the Sauvignon Blanc, two of the Cabernet Sauvignons, the Merlot, and the reserve blend called Gravitas. All were layered and full of nuance. Something we never thought we would find in a Texas wine. We highly recommend visiting Calais Winery – it’s kind of a bunker just off of Hwy. 290 (be sure to use your GPS to find it!).
Since our first trip to the Texas Wine Country, things have changed a lot. There are a lot more wineries, and a lot more yet to come, too. We heard that this year over one hundred wineries have been approved by the TABC (Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission). As with any wine region, there are some good ones, and some not-so-good ones. But we can honestly say that there are some pretty darned good wines coming out of Texas – and that’s pretty awesome!