Texas Hill Wine Country

Our May 2020 trip to Spain/Portugal was canceled due to the world’s most apparent meanie, which is COVID. Like almost 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 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 the Texas Hill Country mimicking those of Rioja, Spain, where the world’s best Tempranillo grows. The 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 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 researched 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 searching for food and drink.

Due to COVID, I recommend making reservations for dining and tastings as most establishments were strict about that. However, while strolling, we almost instantly walked past one of the tasting rooms on my list, Pontotoc Vineyard. Owners Carl, Frances, and 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 previous life, personally walked us through the history of Pontotoc and their wine. 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.

Fredericksburg is a town rich in German history and food, which I recommend indulging in. Day two started with breakfast at The German Bakery, I had the Egg Croissant with sausage, and my husband had the Ultimate Omelet. The aromas of fresh baked goods filled 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 bluebonnets as they typically show themselves from mid-March to mid-April. We made reservations for lunch at our first stop atStout’ss at the Grape Creek Vineyards. We had to join as wine club members to eat there, which I arranged before 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, both beautiful dishes. As “”members”” we enjoyed a complimentary 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 out here for an extended dining experience. We got our wine shipment after we returned home and were highly impressed with the 2017 and, especially 2018, Originalist blend of Sangiovese and Sagrantino.

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 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, hill country views were beautiful. It was also 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 Sagrantino Reserva; both were dry with intense minerality and made in an old-world style. I highly recommend trying these lovely wines.

We returned 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 MacN” Cheese and the Grilled Gulf Coast Oysters, 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, and Monterey jack cheese topped with avocado. We finished eating and headed out on a gorgeous hike to the summit at the Enchanted Rock National Park. The drive up to the rock was integral to the morning as it captured why this area is called the 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 reservation. It must be made online and prepay to reserve your spot. But I digress; we quickly stopped in the Chocolat shop to pick up a few treats 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 into 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 stopped for a cheese plate and a glass of Cotes du Rhone Red. This is an interesting place with multiple areas for drinking and eating inside and out 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, pickled 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 a breaded duck, kasespatzle, rotkohl, blueberry syrah aigre-doux, and pickled peppers. My husband ordered the Wurst Platte, smoked paprika gruyere sausage, german potato salad, senfgurken, and 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 you’ll know it when you get there” Luckenbach, Texas. It was morning, so nothing was happening, but it’s worth seeing if you are a country fan. Even if you just want to pop your head in to check out an empty venue.

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 and trying out what makes them unique. The wine scene directly on the Riverwalk was not plentiful except for boudro’s texas bistro and, Paesano’s. e never got a chance to eat atPaesano’ss 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 was recommended for a change of scenery, so we went up for some oysters and a cheese plate, which was quite lovely – 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 in San Antonio recommended it and met us there for a 4-hour lunch with great conversation. An excellent stop for a frozen strawberry margarita made right, not machine style. Mi Tierra is open 24 hours a day and never closes.

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 any wine as many places do not 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 no Texas wine on the menu, so I went for the beautiful familiar Au Bon Climat Pinot Noir from Santa Barbara, CA.

On our final day in Austin, we stumbled upon a must-go-to spot called Moonshine Comfort & Cocktails on W. Parmer Ln. I had a delightful glass of McPherson Cellars Sangiovese, made from grapes from Lubbock, Texas. 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 total 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; that this is a neat way of life for the young locals. As day turned into night, we felt the need for one more stop, VinceYoung’ss Steakhouse. We split a beautifully prepared grilled steak salad and a bottle of Chateau Saint-Georges Bordeaux to finish off our Texas adventure. The food was terrific, and our dining experience was excellent in all 3 cities. My favorite Texas wines were those made from Italian grapes, mainly Sangiovese and Sagrantino – even though the state is better known for its Tempranillo. Overall, it was a great trip, and we have fond memories to add to our travel book. 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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