Texas Hill Country wineries produce world-class wines and make a great day trip or overnight stay.
With the same origin story as California wine, Texas wine was born centuries ago because Franciscan friars needed wine to celebrate Mass. By the 19th century, first and foremost in the Hill Country, immigrants from Germany and Italy were planting grapes and making wine to preserve their beloved Old World traditions.
Still, the modern Texas industry was a long way off. Some of the earliest research into soil and climate for Texas wine focused far from the Hill Country on the remote High Plains, and to this day the most and some of the best Texas grapes are grown there. Yet when it came time for visionaries with the pure Texas gumption to make their vision real, Ed Auler and his wife Susan found themselves planting grapes where they and everybody else figured Texas cattle ought to be.
At Fall Creek, the Aulers emerged not only as pioneers but as promoters, in much the same way Robert Mondavi did in Napa Valley. But one set of champions is never really enough. You might say the Hill Country nearest Fredericksburg came of age when Dr. Richard Becker and his wife Bunny decided that loving the wines and just about everything else about France wasn’t close enough to home. To this day, Becker Vineyards is a favorite stop on the 290 Wine Trail, for their exquisite wines, their fields of Provence-fragrant lavender and their Texas-sized hospitality.
Hill Country wine, therefore, was pioneered in the 1970s, developed in the 1980s and expanded from the 1990s into the 21st century. But that certainly doesn’t mean it’s all about history, recent or otherwise. Wineries with innovative business models and iconoclastic styles continue to pop up all over the region—places like Lewis, William Chris, Hilmy, Alexander and 4.0, the latter a cooperative tasting room venture by three impressive wineries in other, harder to-visit parts of Texas.
In the beginning, like it says in the Bible, there were…consultants. And in the early years of the Texas wine industry, listening to your consultants meant making wine from standard-issue grapes they thought you could sell, like cabernet, merlot and chardonnay.
Eventually, though, Texas stopped listening to the consultants and started listening to its own dirt. In the past few years, this new direction has produced Texas wines not only from famous grapes like the tempranillo used in Spanish Rioja and Ribera del Duero and the sangiovese used in Tuscan Chianti but so-called “no-name grapes” like mourvédre. The results have been nothing short of impressive.
At William Chris and other upstarts, some of the least expected success stories have involved a grape called Blanc du Bois. And since it was developed in the United States to make the best of a really bad situation, the fact that Blanc du Bois is now generating excitement should make all of us who rejected it early on think twice.
All in all, it’s easy to be optimistic about wine in the Texas Hill Country. Between winemaking and wine tourism, the entire region looks like the story of a lifetime. We should all feel fortunate to be here, sipping and swirling the unlikely past, the oh-so-pleasurable present and the unforeseeable future.