Cowboys, country music and BBQ might be the first things that come to mind when you think about Texas, but you shouldn’t forget about their wine! Wine has a long history in the Lone Star State. In fact, North America’s first vineyard was grown in Texas around 1662, which was started by Franciscan priests. Nowadays, the state ranks fifth nationally for wine production. At the heart of Texas’ wine production, is the Hill Country region, which boasts America’s second-largest and most southern American Viticultural Area (AVA). Stretching over 9 million acres, the Hill Country AVA encompasses 22 counties and contains over 100 wineries.
The vastness of its total acreage isn’t the only notable aspect of Hill Country. It also has achieved big-time critical success related to its wine-growing practices. Additionally, it has been hailed in Insider.com as an underrated U.S. wine region, listed first among Lonely Planet’s “6 great US Wine Regions You Haven’t Visited Yet” and spotlighted in Forbes.com’s article last year on Texas wines.
Although the legacy of the Hill Country’s expansion has depended on German immigrant settlers through the generations, the area’s climate and terroir have actually been more conducive to growing grapes similar to those found in places like Spain, Italy, and southern France. Consequently, you’ll find Viognier, Marsanne, Roussanne, Syrah, Tannat, Picpoul, Cinsault, Petite Sirah, Sauvignon Blanc, Malbec, Cabernet Sauvignon, Sangiovese and Tempranillo among the region’s most popular grape varietals.
The modern era for Texas wine began in the 1970’s with Hill Country’s Doc McPherson (McPherson Cellars), Ed & Susan Auler (Fall Creek Vineyards), Paul & Merrill Bonarrigo (Messina Hof Winery), and Bob & Evelyn Oberhelman (Bell Mountain Vineyards) as the pioneering vintners. Nowadays, Becker Vineyards, William Chris Vineyards, McReynolds Wines, Bending Branch Winery, and Chisholm Trail Winery are just some of the prominent Hill Country wineries. Texas Monthly’s wine editor, Jessica Dupuy, noted in Forbes.com that the old and new vineyards are helping to raise the status of Texas wines together, “The collaborative effort is inspiring, and Texas wineries now have a lot of great relationships to foster,” stated Dupuy.
This collaborative nature is deliciously epitomized in The Grower Project, which produces limited production, single-vineyard wines made from 100% Texas-grown grapes. The Project’s multi-leveled mission includes connecting Texas wines to a wider market, showcasing specific Texas vineyards, promoting sustainable labor practices, and building a more equitable wine industry. The Grower Project is the brainchild of Andrew Sides of Fredericksburg-based Lost Draw Cellars and Austin winemaker/sommelier Rae Wilson, whose Wine For the People similarly combines sustainable winemaking with social awareness. The Texas Hill Country Wineries trade association deserves praise too for its scholarship program for supporting university students across the state.
During the past decade or so, the Hill Country has become a go-to spot for wine enthusiasts to check out. Wine Enthusiast Magazine featured it as one of the “Top 10 Wine Travel Destinations in the World.” The Wineries’ trade association offers a wine passport program that lets you sample wine at dozens of local wineries (and receive discounts on bottle purchases too!). More than 20 tour and shuttle companies cater to tourists wanting to visit the area’s abundance of vineyards, but if you’re feeling adventurous, you can always plot your own Wine Country Trail by visiting https://texaswinetrail.com/map/.
The center of Texas Hill Country is Fredericksburg and Gillespie County, home to over 50 wineries and tasting rooms. Settled in the 1840’s by German immigrants, Fredericksburg reflects this cultural heritage in its architecture and restaurants. Besides its wineries, the city has also become well-known for its old-fashion charm, the myriad of shopping opportunities, and beautiful wildflower fields (particularly March-May). The grape harvests of August and September lead into October, which is filled with many fall festivals (like the popular Oktoberfest) and other Texas Wine Month celebrations. More fun can be had at the hundreds of annual local events as well as popular year-round attractions, like the Pioneer Museum, Sauer-Beckmann Living History Farm, the National Museum of the Pacific War, and the Enchanted Rock State Natural Area.
What makes the region even more attractive is its accessibility. Only about an hour north of San Antonio and west of Austin, Texas Hill Country is also less than an afternoon drive from Dallas-Fort Worth and Houston – all easy to reach by plane. So, make plans to discover the Texas Hill Country – you’ll toast yourself that you did!