You know about California wines. Everyone knows about California wines and the madness that is Napa (for once not the auto parts store—which is also madness). New York and Washington wines have their claims to fame as well. Let’s not forget some of the best wine we’ve ever had in Michigan too. But did you know about the Texas wine trail?
State Route 290 stretches from Houston to Austin and then on into Fredericksburg. Along the way—or at least just off the route—are over 100 wineries and a couple of cideries and meaderies just to keep things interesting.
We first discovered the Texas Hill Country Wine Trail, as it is locally known, when we drove down here in the early days of the pandemic to buy the ill-fated and ultimately unwarrantied motor from a shady shade tree mechanic who inflated his talents on the Samba. As we veered off the interstate to the state routes, we were pleasantly surprised to see the plethora of vineyards, how they spread out mile after mile. There’s too many to hit in all actuality and the best you can do is try the ones you think you’ll like and talk to the locals who have a similar palate.
So here’s a rundown of the wineries we tasted and what we liked best about them:
This one is off by itself, but take the drive and stop in. The owner is a super nice guy and former educator who loves to talk wine. Even though he says they are still learning, the B2 Red Blend is fabulous with a heavy mix of Tempranillo, which makes sense given the climate.
If we had landed here later in the day we would have made a Harvest Host request from them. This is a fun spot with a breadth of wines and a few slushy options. The stand out wine for me was the Voignier. Compared to the Voigniers I had in the Finger Lakes, this one was much crisper, drier and hit the front of the palate.
While we were at Blue Mule, we picked up a brochure for this place after the word cider caught my attention. Like Blue Mule, this is a farm setting with plenty of outdoor space. They had a really low key and fun band playing outside. I got a flight of cider and mead. All of them were very good. But our favorite thing there was the pizza. I wish I could have gotten a pizza flight.
We had the unfortunate timing of being in Austin during SXSW, which turned the downtown into a gridlock of cars and hipsters. But out aways from the action is a very cool wine shop called Meteor that has a great selection of vino, especially if you’re trying to hunt down a pet nat or a sparkling red (two of our favorites). The price is a tad high for a couple of Ohioans, but is actually on the mark for Austin itself. Just sigh, pay, and take the bottle back to your free campsite and consider it the price of admission.
In Johnson City you can find the boyhood home of LBJ and a few wineries. We stumbled into this one solely because it had a kickers vintage Airstream parked outside and I really wanted to see it. As it turns out, the wines here are as excellent as the venue. This woman-owned business has a variety of sparkling, whites, and reds. I had the Mourvedre and Miracle had the rose sparkling. Both were just the right feel for sitting outside on a clear, Texas afternoon.
William Chris is one of the largest and most impressive wine stops on the 290. The sheer magnitude of the place is astounding and the architecture of the tasting room is something to behold. The only issue is that you are paying for the venue and less for the wine. Don’t get me wrong—the wine was good. Very good. But the wine alone did not justify the price, which was steep. People up and down the wine trail rave about this place and, yeah, it’s worth a stop, especially if you have more regular income than we do.
I made a wrong turn when we left William Chris and ended up taking a back road. Then this place popped up and we hung a hard right turn. It was the best possible thing that could have happened. Easily our favorite wine we’ve had in Texas, this place did a full tasting of their reds and each one was a showstopper. Not a bad one, not even a merely average one in the bunch. These are light, dry and complex wines. Plus, the decor is straight up midcentury modern and the staff was incredibly friendly. We would make this a must-stop venue.
More accurately Hye produces cizer—a blend of apples and locally-sourced honey. The result is a cider unlike anything you have ever had before. The honey boosts the alcohol content up to about 9%, so you’ll want to take it easy. But do yourself a favor and get a full tasting. Each one is dry and delicious, carbonated to just the right amount and complex in its profile. Being in wine country has paid off for this cidery. Each cider was amazing, but if I had to choose one, it would be the bay leaf infused cider—a flavor combination that was truly inspired.
We ended our wine tour at this Fredericksburg winemaker and it was fine. Again, the pricing was such that it made more sense to grab a bottle than a glass, which is a regrettable trend on not just this wine trail, but wine trails all over in general. Miracle got a bottle of sparkling which they said was close to pet nat. It was not—too sweet and fruity, almost candy-like across its entire profile. We also got a Tempranillo for later and it was nothing to write home about except its price. We will say the front of house management was chaotic, but the courtyard was lovely and quiet.
Texas now boasts a larger wine scene than Napa. We probably won’t be going to Napa anytime soon because it is crowded and overpriced. (Besides, the best California wines are Russian River Valley.) Unfortunately, crowded and overpriced seems to be the trajectory of the Texas wine scene too. Many of the locals we spoke to over the past week have issue with the influx of tourism and the veteran winemakers are worried the market is being flooded with overpriced, subpar wine. I’m glad we came here when we did and found a few good places with unique flavors before things really blow up here. Plan to come soon.