Escape to Texas Hill Country: The Wine, The Food, The Fun

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Last month I spent a weekend in Fredericksburg for a wine experience combining the charm of a historic German town with the allure of award-winning wines.


I happened to be there during the Texas Hill Country Wineries spring self-guided passport event, the Wine & Wildflower Journey, which was scheduled from March 25th to April 19th. Passport holders can sip award-winning wines at 40+ unique Hill Country wineries during the event. For $100 per couple, participants can visit up to four wineries per day and receive a 15% discount on three bottle purchases. It’s a great deal and a fun way to navigate Hill Country. Bookmark the site and stay tuned for next year’s dates.


The History



Fredericksburg’s wine industry has deep historical roots dating back to the mid-19th century when German immigrants settled in the region and brought their winemaking traditions. The fertile soil and favorable climate of the Texas Hill Country proved conducive to grape cultivation, leading to the establishment of vineyards and wineries in the area. The region’s diverse microclimates and terroirs allow for the cultivation of a wide range of grape varieties.


The Hill Country soil is an ancient limestone seabed from the Late Cretaceous period. The terrain, coupled with an accelerated growing season and crazy Texas weather, has created some early challenges for winemakers as they learned what varietals grow best.


Currently, the Texas wine industry has 500 wineries, 340 growers, and 5,140 acres devoted to grape growing. Texas is ranked fifth in the U.S. for wine production (behind California, Washington, New York, and Oregon) — and adds $13.1 billion to Texas’ economy that generates close to $20.35 billion in total economic activity according to the Wine America report.


The Wineries 


Here are a few of my recommendations if you have a few days to spend. Because we tasted so many wines, I’m focusing on the place vs. the individual wines.



Escape to Texas Hill Country: The Wine, The Food, The Fun
Arch Ray Tasting Room


Arch Ray


Arch Ray Resort has a vision of becoming a five-star resort in Hill Country. It’s a big space with plenty of room to enjoy the Arch Ray Resort Experience. Today that experience features Arch Ray Winery, the Paul Bee Distillery, the Ogle Brewery, the 1984 Ranch to Table Restaurant, a concert venue, and the luxury RV Park. It is built to house the resort and auditorium that are coming soon.


The resort earned its name by blending family names from Owners Stephen and Sally Baxter – Archie and Ray.



Escape to Texas Hill Country: The Wine, The Food, The Fun
Wine Tasting Line-up at Arch Ray



We had a chance to tour and taste the wines and talk about how the Baxter’s used to make a sweet wine under the name of Fiesta Winery before evolving to this new style as their palates changed and their son-in-law, Weston McCoury, was named winemaker.



Escape to Texas Hill Country: The Wine, The Food, The Fun
The Specialized Brewing Equipment


We also spent time in the brewery and distillery.


Ogle Brewery



Escape to Texas Hill Country: The Wine, The Food, The Fun
Our Beer Tasting Line-up



This brewery is influenced by the Ogle Family, who settled in the Big Bend region in the 1800s in one of the toughest parts of Texas. Ogle Brewery makes craft beers from light ale and Lager beers to more complex IPAs, Stouts, and Schwarzbiers.



Escape to Texas Hill Country: The Wine, The Food, The Fun
Our Tasting at the Distillery



Paul Bee Distillery


Arch Ray Resort features a full-scale distillery with a German-made hybrid pot and column still producing a variety of spirits including bourbon, gin, vodka, and rum distilled on-site. The first bottle releases in January 2024 include 100 Proof Ranch Cut Bourbon, 110 Proof Ranch Cut Reserve Bourbon, vodka, and gin.


If you are a local, consider the membership, which includes different tiers and levels including alcohol, food, discounted concert tickets, and merchandise.



Escape to Texas Hill Country: The Wine, The Food, The Fun
The Cheese Plate of All Cheese Plates



And for the love of God, order the cheese plate. It’s amazing!


Wedding Oak Winery



Wedding Oak Tasting Line-Up



We met with Winemaker Heather McHenry at Wedding Oak Winery. I love how her parents, Mike and Lynn McHenry, spontaneously decided to buy 112 acres in San Saba following a trade show (I’ve been to those types of shows before for the paying gig and I get this). Right around the time of Mike’s retirement after a 33-year career with Ecolab, he met Jim Johnson from Alamosa Wine Cellars, who mentored him, and they planted Cherokee Creek Vineyards together.


The winery’s name pays homage to the centuries-old Wedding Oak tree. Heather grew up surrounded by the vineyards and winemaking traditions of the Texas Hill Country, fostering a deep appreciation for the land and the vineyards. After studying winemaking and gaining experience in the industry, Heather returned to her roots to join Wedding Oak Winery.


In 2010, they decided to open a destination winery in San Saba. The 1926 tasting room and 10,000-case production facility were restored. The wines are all from Texas grapes. We tried some really good wines including a special Eclipse blend (half Chenin Blanc and half Muscat blanc), Riesling, Chenin Blanc, Tioja (a Rioja blend with Tempranillo), Teroldego and Tannat.


Bending Branch Winery



Escape to Texas Hill Country: The Wine, The Food, The Fun
Dr. Bob Young and Jennifer Cernosek



I had such a special experience at Bending Branch, I’m going to do another post about my time there. Bending Branch Winery is known for its innovative approach to winemaking and its commitment to sustainability. Founded by Dr. Robert W. Young, a retired family and preventive medicine physician, and his wife Brenda, Bending Branch Winery has a unique backstory rooted in Dr. Young’s scientific background and passion for wine. Inspired by the potential health benefits of procyanidins found in high concentration in Tannat-based wines, Dr. Young sought to create wines that tasted exceptional and promoted wellness. Bending Branch Winery became a pioneer in Texas in utilizing cutting-edge winemaking techniques such as flash détente and cyro-maceration to extract maximum flavor and healthful compounds from the grapes. These processes also help to combat the harmful effects of climate change on Texas grapes. The winery’s commitment to sustainability extends beyond the vineyard to eco-friendly approaches. I’ll tell more about the wines and bourbons we tried next week.  Make sure this is a stop on your journey!



Rae Wilson, Wines for the People



Wine for the People


I had the chance to talk to Proprietor and Winemaker Rae Wilson last year prior to the opening of her new tasting room.


She started Wine for the People, a company inspiring community through wine culture and collaborating with nature to foster connection. They produce three wine brands: Dandy Rosé, The Grower Project and La Valentía. We tried rosé, dolcetto, and cinsault.




Escape to Texas Hill Country: The Wine, The Food, The Fun
Co-Owner Bryan Chagoly, Sandy Roads Vineyards



Sandy Road Vineyards


We met Bryan Chagoly, co-owner of Sandy Road Vineyards, who led a treehouse tasting of winery releases. In more than 14 years, I’ve ziplined in a winery, driven cross country across Europe on a press tour, and tasted with a blindfold, but I have never sampled wine in a treehouse. It was fun and the views of the vineyard were lovely.



Sandy Road Tasting Line-Up



Sandy Road wine is a special project from longtime associate winemaker at Ron Yates Wines and Spicewood Vineyards, Reagan Sivadon. Sandy Road Vineyards is family-owned and operated by our 2 native Texas families, Reagan and Kristina Sivadon, and Bryan and Adrienne Chagoly. Adrienne and Kristina are sisters, and their family has owned the Dixon Ranch, where Sandy Road Vineyards is located, for almost 100 years.  We tried Pétillant Natural, Good Company, Grenache, Sangiovese, Neighborly, and Tempranillo.



Escape to Texas Hill Country: The Wine, The Food, The Fun
The William Chris Winery Tasting Room



William Chris Wines


William Chris Vineyards is a family-owned winery that was formed when Bill Blackmon and Chris Brundrett, two friends with a passion for wine and a deep respect for the land, decided to pursue their winemaking dreams together.


With a shared vision of crafting exceptional wines that reflect the unique terroir of Texas, they embarked on their journey. They started small, planting their first vines in 2008. Despite the challenges of the Texas climate, their dedication paid off, and the vines flourished.




William Chris La Pradera



As they harvested their grapes and crafted their wines, Bill and Chris remained committed to sustainable and organic practices, respecting the land, the environment, and a commitment to growing Texas grapes.




Escape to Texas Hill Country: The Wine, The Food, The Fun
A Great Patio Lunch at William Chris



We tasted through the line-up of Grenache, Mouvèdres, La Pradera, Petit Verdot and Hunter blends and the history and had a fabulous lunch on the patio.




Ben Calais, Owner and Winemaker of French Connection and Calais



French Connection Wines


I was excited to finally visit French Connection Wines. My friend, Ben Calais, Winemaker at Calais Wines and French Connection, was the first person who taught me Texas wines were worth seeking out. The winery was founded in late 2018 and opened its doors in September 2019.


Ben is from France and the idea behind French Connection wines was to allow the Rhône-style wines that didn’t belong in the portfolio of the Calais Winery-style wines to have a place of their own.



Sheri Pattillo and Me



We had fun catching up and trying the La Connection, Counoise, Châteaneuf de Hye, Syrah and Petite Sirah.



Escape to Texas Hill Country: The Wine, The Food, The Fun
Ron Yates, One of the Most Fun People in Texas Wine, Owner and Winemaker



Ron Yates Wines


Ron Yates Wines, established in 2016 by Founder and Texas Pioneer, Ron Yates, focuses on making small-lot, handcrafted wines that are unique to Texas terroir. Ron Yates Wines specializes in varietals suited to the Texas climate, including Tempranillo, Viognier, and Mourvèdre. Ron’s winemaking philosophy emphasizes sustainable practices and minimal intervention, allowing the grapes to express their true character and the essence of the land to shine through in every bottle.


I had a chance to taste at Ron Yates Wines and toward the end I had an opportunity to catch up with Ron. I first talked to Ron when he was part of a group of Texas pioneers talking about the evolution of Texas wine, but this was my first time visiting the tasting room.   Other than being one of the most talented Texas winemakers, he’s a fantastic guy that you want to call a friend.  We tried Picpoul Blanc, Grenache Rosé, Sangiovese, Tempranillo and Cabernet Sauvignon.




Escape to Texas Hill Country: The Wine, The Food, The Fun
Heath Sparkling Wines Tasting Room



Heath Sparkling Wines


I just wrote a story in March about the brand of Heath Family Wines, which includes several wineries under one brand. Heath Sparkling Wines was one of those wineries.



View From the Heath Tasting Room



The winery was spectacular with gorgeous views and sparking paired with exceptional bites.  Each group had a private tasting area with a magnificent view of the vineyards. It reminded me of the tasting rooms in Napa, where wine, food, and scenery are part of the experience.




Our Heath Tasting Line-Up



Heath Sparkling Wines is a producer of sparkling wines that are made from California grapes.With a focus on traditional methods, the winery produces a range of sparkling wines. We tried a Blanc de Blancs with a ginger mint melon, verte sauce and feta (not pictured because it looked so good I ate it); the Euphora with a Grape Creek port poached peach with blueberry cream, polenta cake and granola; the Ebullience with chicken salad, turmeric cream pomegranate syrup, toasted pecan, and romaine; and the Adoration with white chocolate panna cotta and raspberry gelée. It was a brilliant end to our trip!


Restaurants/Wine Bars




Escape to Texas Hill Country: The Wine, The Food, The Fun
A Great Salmon Dish from Otto’s



Otto’s German Bistro


Otto’s German Bistro is a bistro serving German cuisine. The menu changes seasonally and the menu features a German-Austrian wine list, craft beers, and a great cocktail list.




Pesce del Giorno



Alla Campagna


This restaurant focuses on libations and cuisine inspired by the Italian countryside.




Delicious Tacos!



Hill and Vine


This restaurant focuses on farm fresh food sourced locally at a mid-scale price range.



Finally Made It To The Cabernet Grill



The Cabernet Grill



Another Awesome Salmon Dish (Clearly I Was On a Salmon Trend)



I’ve wanted to try this iconic restaurant for ages. Known for their extensive Texas wine collection, local ingredients, and great service, award-winning chef Ross Burtwell creates a masterpiece in the kitchen. I can’t wait to visit again and try some more menu items that caught my eye.



Escape to Texas Hill Country: The Wine, The Food, The Fun
Andre Boada, Co-owner and Sommelier



Six Twists Sparkling


This is a place that I wish we had in Dallas. It’s the first dedicated sparkling wine bar in Texas (meaning every offering is sparkling). Located in downtown Fredericksburg., they offered bubbles from around the world. Andre Boada, co-owner and Sommelier, and I bonded over a bottle of Franciacorta.


Recommendations for Not Driving


We had two very different types of drivers depending on the experience you are looking for and I’d hire both of them again.




Escape to Texas Hill Country: The Wine, The Food, The Fun
All The Fun Things to Make Your Day Unforgettable



Hello Sunshine Tours


Hello Sunshine Transportation Services offers hourly personal driver services to visit all Central Texas wineries, breweries, and distilleries. Sunshine runs the company and she’s super fun. She has a car ready for an experience (think glasses, microphones for singing and stories), but at the end of the day, she’s a pro and you’ll have a great time. Contact Hello Sunshine Tours or (325) 805-0583.


Vintage Car Service


A little more buttoned up, but Josh was great. Vintage Car Service is Fredericksburg’s Original Premium Private Car Service and serves all Central Texas. Josh had great stories and had obviously been doing this for a while based on all the people he knew at the wineries. Contact Vintage Car Service or 830.202.1844.


Texas Hill Country stands as a testament to the flourishing wine culture in Texas. With its unique terroir, pioneering winemakers, and dedication to quality, the region has emerged as a destination. From the historic vineyards and family-owned wineries to the innovative tasting rooms and acclaimed varietals, Texas Hill Country offers a unique wine experience.


And a special shout out to Morgan Perry, Denise Clarke and Matt McGinnis for all of their help on making this trip fabulous!

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