Texas Hill Wine Country

Our May 2020 trip to Spain/Portugal was cancelled due to the world’s most obvious meanie, that is COVID. Like most everybody, my husband and I spent the rest of the year hanging out at home with the dog. We were fortunate enough to get fully vaccinated relatively early in 2021 and were eager to get out of dodge. Spain did not seem like the best choice for us just yet – maybe next year. So, we made the logical choice any Sommelier would make and went to Texas. Sounds strange, I know. Being a Sommelier I read about wine from all over the globe all-of-the time and, have some knowledge of the soils in Texas Hill Country mimicking those of Rioja, Spain where the world’s best Tempranillo grows. Texas Hill Country is home to over 100 wineries and vineyards with Fredericksburg being the epicenter of it all. There are over 400 wineries in the state of Texas making it the fifth largest wine producing state in the nation. Fredericksburg it was — coupled with a few days in San Antonio and Austin, to round it all out.

We flew into Austin but drove to Fredericksburg for the first leg of our trip. First, we checked in at the Creek Street Cottage, one of the Gastehaus Schmidt Lodging Services accommodations, 2 blocks from Main Street. It was a lovely cottage with a front porch, a screened in patio off the bedroom and, a shower. I am shrugging as to why I need to mention this but, trust me if you are shower people, and not bathtub people, be sure to look for that amenity. I did my research on wineries since I knew we had limited time; I picked 3 vineyards and, 2 tasting rooms on Main Street to visit. Our vineyard visits were scheduled for the second day so, we dropped our bags and walked the town in search of food and drink.

Due to COVID I recommend making reservations for dining and tastings as most establishments were quite strict about that. However, while strolling, we almost instantly walked past one of the tasting rooms on my list, Pontotoc Vineyard. Owners, Carl and Frances, along with their young children, were doing everything from greeting to serving to clearing tables. It was an impressive and admirable operation. Carl, a Judge Advocate General in his prior life, personally walked us through the history of Pontotoc and their wines. He explained how his wines are 100% estate and, that the vineyard soils were made of red sand and pink granite making it a natural spot to grow Tempranillo. We tasted the 2019 Estate Tempranillo and the 2019 Iron Smoothing Mountain, containing 75% Tempranillo and 25% Graciano on the quaint rustic patio. We enjoyed them with a picnic basket of fresh homemade bread and brownies, made by Frances herself, who is a phenomenal Pastry Chef. A beautiful start to our vacation.

Day two started with breakfast at The German Bakery, I had the Egg Croissant with sausage and my husband had the Ultimate Omelette. Fredericksburg is a town rich in German history and, food, of which I recommend indulging in. Aromas of fresh baked goods fill this restaurant and, the staff was charming and hard-working. Before heading to the 3 vineyards on my list, we stopped at Wild Seed Farms to walk amongst the wildflowers and take in the scenery. A plethora of red poppies stunningly covered the earth; apparently, we were too late for the blue bonnets as they typically show themselves from mid-March to mid-April.  We made reservations for lunch at our first stop at Stouts at the Grape Creek Vineyards. We had to join as wine club members in order to eat there which I made sure to arrange prior to our trip. We shared the Signature Meatballs appetizer, a mixture of veal, pork and beef with house marinara which had a beautiful unique spice full of flavor. I ordered the Spring Salad with orzo, broccolini and blackened tuna and, my husband ordered the Brie & Pesto Panini which were both wonderful dishes. As “members” we enjoyed a complementary glass of Stout’s Sangiovese, followed by a bottle of the same. The ambiance at Grape Creek Vineyards was beautiful and surreal. I highly recommend hanging here for an extended dining experience. We got our wine shipment after we returned home and were extremely impressed with the 2017 and, especially the 2018, Originalist blend of Sangiovese and Sangrantino.

Next up was Pedernales Cellars which was about 7 miles south in the city of Stonewall. Here we could order a glass from the tasting bar and sit out on the grass to relax with our vino. Tastings were for wine club members only, so we ordered a glass of the Texas High Plains Tempranillo and made our way to the giant green lawn. Although my palate did not pick up the Spanish influence in my glass, the views of hill country were beautiful. It was also quite lovely to see families, couples and, girlfriends scattered about the lawn enjoying the day with their wine and coolers of food brought in.

Lastly, we visited Messina Hof, it was quite busy but they allowed us to taste and sit outside. We chose the 2019 Private Reserve Pinot Noir and the 2018 Sangrantino Reserva, both were dry with intense minerality and, made in an old-world style. I highly recommend trying these lovely wines.

We made our way back to Fredericksburg to freshen up for some dinner at Martini’s Seafood House. We got lucky and got seats at the bar without reservations. We split the Fresh Maine Lobster Mac N’ Cheese and the Grilled Gulf Coast Oysters which were both excellent.  I generally like to immerse myself in the wine of the place but, there wasn’t much in the way of Texas wine on the menu. Therefore, we got a glass of J. Christopher Pinot Noir from Oregon which paired delightfully with our appetizers for dinner. The service was wonderful and, the people were a lot of fun. Everyone had a belly laugh when the younger gentlemen sitting next to us yelped, after accidentally gulping down a shot of Don Julio 1942 Tequila Anejo. He thought he was pointing to something much less expensive and, a bourbon. My husband, being from Kentucky felt the need to buy the poor thing (and himself) a shot of 1792 full proof Kentucky bourbon.

Our final full day in Fredericksburg started with breakfast at Squeeze In/Heavenly Pizza & Wings. I had a biscuit and gravy with bacon and my husband got the Food Network Star, the Racy Tracy Omelette with mushrooms, bacon, Monterey jack cheese topped with avocado. We finished eating and headed out to a gorgeous hike to the summit at the Enchanted Rock National Park. The drive up to the rock was an integral part of the morning as it really captured why this area is called Texas Hill Country. After taking in the scenery, we headed back to town to try a few final spots before our 4:30pm dinner reservation at Otto’s. By the way, do not try walking into Otto’s without a reservation. It must be made online and, you must prepay to reserve your spot. But I digress, we made a quick stop in the Chocolat shop to pick up a few treats for after dinner. The local shop makes their chocolates on site and, you can watch them in action while you drool. We chose a few dark chocolate cashew clusters, a few pieces of German Chocolate Silk Fudge and Dark Chocolate Fudge.

The last winery on my list of musts was Becker Vineyards so we popped in their tasting room on Main Street. We got a glass of the Prairie Rotie blend of Merlot, Mourvedre, Carignan & Barbera. They have a lovely patio overlooking the strip and a sizable inside area for social distancing. We had a bit more time before dinner and The Elk Store Winery & Distillery came highly recommended by the locals so, we made a stop for a cheese plate a glass of Cotes du Rhone Red.  This is an interesting place with multiple areas set up for drinking and eating inside and out back on their patio.

We were finally off to dine at the infamous Otto’s German Bistro which, is tucked behind Main on Austin Street and is a dinner icon in Fredericksburg. We ordered the EIEIO (yes, just like it sounds in Old MacDonald) Pinot Noir from Willamette Valley, Oregon to start with our Flammkuchen appetizer, a crème fraiche, spanish chorizo sugo with arugula, picked red peppers and blue cheese crumbles. We wanted to fully embrace the German culture of the place so, for dinner I ordered the Duck Schnitzel, which is breaded duck, kasespatzle, rotkohl, blueberry syrah aigre-doux, and picked peppers. My husband ordered the Wurst Platte, which is smoked paprika gruyere sausage, german potato salad, senfgurken, house made sauerkraut with house made spicy mustard.  Both were authentic and delicious. A must stop for Fredericksburg – reservations please!

In the morning we had breakfast again at The German Bakery, I continued to stick with the German theme and ordered the Holstein Schnitzel, which is breaded veal topped with 2 eggs (sunny side up), served with pan fries and wheat toast. My husband stuck with the trusty Ultimate Omelette. We tipped our hats to the town of Fredericksburg and headed to San Antonio to spend the next few nights at the Hilton Palacio del Rio, on the Riverwalk. But, not without a quick pit stop to see the ‘you’ll know it when you get there’ Luckenbach, Texas. It was morning so nothing was happening but, if you are a country fan its worth seeing. Even if you just to pop your head in to check out an empty venue.

The wine scene directly on the Riverwalk was not plentiful except for boudro’s texas bistro and, Paesano’s. As you can probably tell by now, we are grazers and love to eat and drink throughout the day, popping in and out of places trying out what makes them special. We never got a chance to eat at Paesano’s due to reservation restrictions. However, the Seared Scallops and Gulf Coast Seacakes at boudro’s were fantastic. Many of the restaurants directly on the Riverwalk are chains so, we went back to boudro’s twice and always got a seat on the Riverwalk patio. The Fairmount Hotel on S. Alamo St came recommended for a change of scenery so, we went up for some oysters and a cheese plate which was quite nice – the views were minimal though as it does not face the Riverwalk. Last, but not least on the restaurant scene was Mi Tierra Café and Bakery, a refreshingly locally owned spot in Market Square for authentic Mexican cuisine. Our good friends who live in San Antonio recommended it and met us there for a 4-hour lunch with great conversation. Mi Tierra is open 24 hours a day and never closes. A great stop for a frozen strawberry margarita made right, not machine style.

We arrived in Austin with high hopes of old country and blues music but, unfortunately the city caters to the college kids and a much trendier style of music now. It is also more of a beer and cocktails kind of town; if you order wine on 6th street or Rainey street it is most likely canned wine. We struggled to find wine at all as many places do not even serve it. We did however, find a quaint little establishment called Caroline’s on Congress which was a great place to enjoy a bottle of wine and regroup. There was not a Texas wine on the menu so, I went for the beautiful familiar Au Bon Climat Pinot Noir from Santa Barbara, CA.

Our final day in Austin, we stumbled upon a must-go-to spot called Moonshine Comfort & Cocktails on W. Parmer Ln. I had a glass of McPherson Cellars Sangiovese, made from grapes from Lubbock, Texas which was delightful. I felt validated in my developing opinion that Texas is making very, nice Italian wine. Moving on to food — we split the Street Corn Queso, I got the Blackened Catfish with baked macaroni and, my husband got the Backyard Chicken Sandwich. Everything was spectacular. If this place had country music and more seating on the patios, we would have planted ourselves there for the rest of the day. Unfortunately, due to COVID they were not yet functioning at full capacity.

Milking our final day on vacation, we walked around the city a lot and got about 11 miles in around Lady Bird Lake which was beautiful – boats and paddle boards were out and about on the water. I could tell by the surroundings this is a neat way of life for the young locals. As day turned into night, we felt the need for one more stop which happened to be Vince Young’s Steakhouse. We split a beautifully prepared grilled steak salad and a bottle of Chateau Saint-Georges Bordeaux to finish off our Texas adventure. In a nutshell, the food was wonderful, and our dining experience was great in all 3 cities. My favorite Texas wines were those made from Italian grapes mainly Sangiovese and Sangrantino – even though the state is better known for its Tempranillo. All in all, it was a great trip and, we have fond memories to add to our book of travel. Until next time, explore what you love in the places you love to visit.

Carl of Pontotoc

Stouts at Grape Creek Vineyards

Messina Hof Hill Country Winery

Wildseed Farms

Gastehaus Schmidt Lodging

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