Everything really is bigger in Texas: It’s the No. 5 wine-producing state in the U.S., the Texas Hill Country AVA is the second largest in the nation and its most promising wines boast supersized flavors. But the explosion of new wineries and tasting rooms along scenic Highway 290 west of Austin hasn’t lessened Hill Country’s old-fashioned country charm. It’s still a sea of cowboy hats and pickup trucks, a place where you can sip award-winning wines in a landscape dotted with as many cacti as vines. Visitors may flock to Hill Country to sip wine, but they end up drinking in the romance of the Old West, too.
Where to Dine
Paying homage to Fredericksburg’s German heritage, Otto’s serves up local wines and delicious dishes that manage to be both rustic and elegant. Everything on the Wurst Plate (including liverwurst, sauerkraut and even the mustard) is made in house. Need a break from wine? Taste craft beer brewed onsite at Pecan Street Brewing in Johnson City. Try the Portobello fries here—even mushrooms get deep fried in Texas. Barbecue fans won’t forget a visit to Salt Lick BBQ in Driftwood, where the $19.95 all-you-can-eat special includes brisket, sausage and pork ribs, slow-cooked in true Lone Star State fashion.
Where to Stay
Though there are plenty of charming B&Bs to choose from, Hoffman Haus, located in Fredericksburg, is just a stone’s throw from Highway 290 and features historic, elegantly appointed guesthouses (one is a circa-1871 German homestead with stone accents). At 9 am sharp, a picnic basket containing a farm-fresh breakfast is delivered to your porch. For luxurious, resort-style accommodations, try Travaasa Austin, just 20 miles from downtown. In addition to fitness classes and a stunning spa, you can try your hand at (mechanical) bull riding.
Families will love the Pioneer Museum in Fredericksburg, where visitors can make their own rope, eat fresh-baked biscuits and soak up Texas Hill Country’s pioneer past (admission is $5). Antique and art lovers should stroll Fredericksburg’s West Main Street. On the first Friday of each month, shops and galleries offer extended hours and pour tastes of local wines.
Score five wine sips for $5 at Driftwood Vineyards, where the stellar Hill Country views are free. At Blue Bonnet Cafe in Marble Falls, “Pie Happy Hour” is 3–5 pm weekdays, when slices cost just $3.50.
When to Go
For cool weather and several activities on the Texas Wine Trail, visit in October (also known as Texas Wine Month).
Local in the Know
“In the Hill Country, you’ll find a more eclectic sense of Southern charm,” says John Rivenburgh, co-founder and vice president of winery operations at Bending Branch Winery. “A local favorite, Guenther’s Biergarten Grill has exceptional food and a unique atmosphere that reflects its fun-loving patrons. Live music is featured most evenings, but if you are seeking other Hill Country entertainment, journey the short road to Fredericksburg, Kerrville or Luckenbach. When Austinites look for live music, they start in the Texas Hill Country.”
Where to Taste
While John Rivenburgh and his father-in-law, Bob Young, don’t market their wines as organic, Bending Branch Winery is a trailblazer in sustainable winemaking in the region. Reclaimed wood tasting-room tables, affable staff and stellar Tannats make this stop a must. At Lewis Wines, 27-year-old winemaker Doug Lewis is producing some of the region’s most promising wines—so call ahead and make an appointment. All releases are made from 100% Texas grapes, including a delicate, fresh 2012 Viognier. The winery’s first bottlings of Portuguese varieties will be released this year. With 20 acres of vineyards, Flat Creek Estate boasts walking paths, a scenic outdoor patio, onsite restaurant and Tuscan-style tasting room. This Lake Travis-area winery is the perfect place to spend an entire afternoon, glass in hand. Laying claim to perhaps Hill Country’s most beautiful tasting room, Perissos Vineyards and Winery overlooks the family farm. Conceived and built by Seth and Laura Martin, this out-of-the-fray vineyard handcrafts estate-grown wines, including stellar Rhône and southern Italian varieties.
Because of the hot summers, Hill Country is more about big, hearty reds than cool, refreshing whites. Although some Rhône-style white wines show promise, much of the focus is on reds. “Tempranillo in Texas is paying off,” says Fredrik Osterberg, co-founder of Pedernales Cellars, and his 2011 Tempranillo is a fine example. Syrah also fares well, epitomized by Flat Creek Estate’s 2010 version. It’s a big, inky, full-bodied wine, with aromas of blackberry, bacon and sage, and a peppery finish. Petite Sirah is a different variety, but similarly dark and bold in the hands of Perissos Vineyards. Continuing the theme, Bending Branch Winery’s 2011 Estate Grown Tannat is a robust wine, with powerful tannins.